Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

We had a failure in our software today and after investigating discovered that the failure should have been occurring for weeks, but it waited until this morning to rear its ugly head. Is there an accepted name for such a bug that I can use when referring to it with other programmers?

The closest I could find was a Schrödinbug, but I'm don't think it applies, since nobody was inspecting any code. The bug was just lying in wait.

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by ChrisF Feb 9 '12 at 22:41

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

stealth-ninja-bug? –  Pemdas Jan 26 '11 at 20:25
We call that a feature. –  John Kraft Jan 26 '11 at 20:27
I call it "your luck just ran out". –  Aaronaught Jan 26 '11 at 20:32
Man people like to write nonsense on Wikipedia. Its just a bug. Any other term is just used for amusement. Its not as if anybody goes through there bug list and classifies bugs using these names. –  Loki Astari Jan 26 '11 at 20:33
@MystereMan not all questions need to have a home on Stack Exchange. Just because it's off-topic on Stack Overflow doesn't mean it's necessarily on-topic here. –  user8 Jan 26 '11 at 21:45

12 Answers 12

I'll suggest a new one, Sleeper Cell. Seems apt to me.

A sleeper cell refers to a cell, or isolated grouping of sleeper agents that belong to an intelligence network or organization. The cell "sleeps" (lies dormant) inside a target population until it receives orders or decides to act

share|improve this answer
I like this neologism. It fits the case and it is all cool sounding. –  Adam Crossland Jan 26 '11 at 20:33
I think you're on the right track. Have there been any famous sleeper cells in history? Who are the most famous members/organizers of sleeper cells? Maybe anything in popular culture (TV, movies, etc.)? –  splattered bits Jan 26 '11 at 20:51
@splattered bits, those guys in that Eric Bana movie who killed all those Israeli olympians, I think they were a sleeper cell. –  Peter Turner Jan 26 '11 at 20:58
I reconsidered. Chapmanbug should be a Sleeper Cell bug that is hidden in some sexy feature. –  Mchl Jan 26 '11 at 21:06
I'd consider a sleeper cell to be intentionally malicious code that executes under certain pre-determined conditions. Definitely a feature, not a bug. –  Evan Plaice Jan 28 '11 at 1:39

Latent bug

Latent: "potentially existing but not presently evident or realized"

share|improve this answer

I and a few others I have worked with call those a Timebomb.

I know that this would give it a dual meaning; often "timebomb" is used for a piece of malicious code put in by a programmer that is set to go off at a certain point in time. However, when no circumstances seem to change other than the time (as you said had happened with your bug) then "timebomb" seems very appropriate. Plus, I would argue that a bug is an accidental piece of malicious code, in a way.

share|improve this answer
Sleeper Cell is amusing, but there's intent there. There is in Timebomb as well, but much less culturally. Latent is the most correct, but the least fun. :P –  Hack Saw Jan 27 '11 at 7:07
I think of timebomb as malicious code. Which would make it a feature not a bug :) –  Evan Plaice Jan 28 '11 at 1:37
+1 for "a bug is an accidental piece of malicious code." –  StriplingWarrior Sep 11 '12 at 17:07

A Cicada

That's my nickname for it anyways.

Cicadas are insects that spend most of their lives hidden underground. They then suddenly bore to the surface to spread their wings and wreak havoc!

Alternate pronunciation: Sick-a-duh!

share|improve this answer
interesting fact about Cicadas is that their life cycle is always a prime number: 13 or 17 years. There is a (contentious) theory that this is so that their life cycle will not synch with that of predators - a predator with a life cycle of say five years will only be around at the same time as a generation of cicadas every 65 years for the 13 year cycle or 85 years for the 17 year cycle. –  stib Jan 27 '11 at 5:48
+1 cool, this fits the OP's description perfectly. –  Evan Plaice Jan 28 '11 at 1:41
It works well in the US. In other parts of the world Cicadas don't exhibit this trait. The other theory is that it's a form of predatory satiation. By exposing themselves in such large numbers at once, there's a greater chance any given individual will survive and reproduce. I have to admit...it's quite annoying when they show up. –  Mike Brown Mar 30 '12 at 13:55

I call these sorts of bugs "Submarine Bugs", sort of like "Submarine Patents", something that is present, but unseen until it surfaces. The other kinds of bugs mentioned, like Heisenbugs, and Schrodingbugs are quite different in that they are bugs that you are know are there, but change during observation.

share|improve this answer

A dormant bug -

enter image description here

Heraldic, so dormant bug as opposed to a rampant bug that is right now affecting EVERYTHING.

Also has a nod to dormant and active volcanoes and super volcanoes like Yelowstone park..

(image credit, Wikicommons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_Dormant.svg)

share|improve this answer

There was a special terminology that just evolved at a company I used to work out. Many of the developers since have moved on and seemingly have spread the language.

Pixies: when things mysteriously break, seeming with(out) reason. Fairies: when things that were once broken mysteriously fix themselves, seeming with(out) reason

i.e. "The damn pixies are at it again!"

share|improve this answer

Hambug? You go along all fat, dumb, and happy enjoying life, until WHAM, heart attack.

share|improve this answer
That would be an EggsAndBaconAndSpamBug... wait... a Pythonbug? –  Mchl Jan 26 '11 at 21:33

After reading the wikipedia article I would say:

Ghost in the Code

but I´ve never heard that before.

share|improve this answer

How about using a "dormant bug" from Dan McGrath's answer ... ?


share|improve this answer

Stepping on a long forgotten landmine perhaps.

share|improve this answer

It is the Detonator pattern :


The Detonator is extremely common, but often undetected. A common example is the calculations based on a 2 digit year field. This bomb is out there, and waiting to explode!

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.