Error message

Error message

An error message is information displayed when an unexpected condition occurs, usually on a computer or other device. On modern operating systems with graphical user interfaces, error messages are often displayed using dialog boxes. Error messages are used when user intervention is required, to indicate that a desired operation has failed, or to relay important warnings (such as warning a computer user that they are almost out of hard disk space). Error messages are seen widely throughout computing, and are part of every operating system or computer hardware device. Proper design of error messages is an important topic in usability and other fields of human–computer interaction.


Common error messages

The following error messages are commonly seen by modern computer users:

Access denied
This error occurs if the user has insufficient privileges to a file, or if it has been locked by some program or user.
The Blue Screen of Death
On Microsoft Windows operating systems, this screen appears when Windows can no longer run because of a severe error. It is roughly analogous to a kernel panic on Unix or Mac OS X.
The device is not ready
This error most often occurs when there is no floppy disk (or a bad disk) in the disk drive and the system tries to perform tasks involving this disk.
File not found
The file concerned may have been damaged, moved, deleted, or a bug may have caused the error. Alternatively, the file simply might not exist, or the user has mistyped its name.
Low Disk Space
This error occurs when the hard drive is (nearly) full. To fix this, the user should close some programs (to free swap file usage) and delete some files (normally temporary files, or other files after they have been backed up), or get a bigger hard drive.
Out of memory
This error occurs when the system has run out of memory or tries to load a file too large to store in RAM. The fix is to close some programs, or install more memory.
[program name] has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.
This message is displayed by Microsoft Windows XP when a program causes a general protection fault or invalid page fault.

Infamous error messages

Message format

The form that error messages take varies between operating systems and programs.

Error messages on hardware devices, like computer peripherals, may take the form of dedicated lights indicating an error condition, a brief code that needs to be interpreted using a look-up sheet or a manual, or via a more detailed message on a display.

On computers, error messages may take the form of text printed to a console, or they may be presented as part of a graphical user interface. Error messages are often presented as a dialog box, which makes them to cause a following mode error in the user interaction. In many cases the original error can be avoided by error prevention techniques. Instead of raising an error message the system design should have avoided the conditions that caused the error.[1]

While various graphical user interfaces have different conventions for displaying error messages, several techniques have become common:

  • A dialog box, or pop-up message, appears in a window on the screen, blocking further interaction with the computer until it is acknowledged. On Mac OS X, sheets are a form of dialog box that are attached to a specific window.
  • Notification icons appear to notify a user about a condition without interrupting their work. On Windows, notification icons appear in the System Tray. On Mac OS X, notification icons may appear in the menu bar, or may take the form of an application's icon "bouncing" in the Dock. The GNOME user interface for Unix systems can display notification icons in a panel.
  • Minor errors may be displayed in a status bar, a small portion of an application's window that can display brief messages to the user.

The three main factors[2] that influence the design of error messages are technical limitations, the amount of information to be presented, and what kind of user input is required.

Some systems have technical limitations that may constrain the amount of information an error message can contain. For example, a printer with a sixteen-character alphanumeric display can only show a very limited amount of information at once, so it may need to display very terse error messages. Even with computer monitors, the programmer must consider the smallest monitor that a user might reasonably use, and ensure that any error messages will fit on that screen.

The nature of the error determines the amount of information required to effectively convey the error message. A complex issue may require a more detailed error message in order to adequately inform the user of the problem.

See also


  1. ^ Raskin, Jef 2000.The Humane Interface, Addison-Wesley ISBN 0-201-37937-6. See chapter 6-4-2, Messages to the User
  2. ^ "Non-Fatal Errors: Creating usable, effective error messages". Retrieved 2007-02-16. 

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