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October 22, 2020

The bug stops here! Fixing online hang-ups -- that frustrating spinning wheel that never stops

You've experienced them: Hang bugs -- when software gets stuck but doesn't crash. They frustrate users and programmers and can take weeks for companies to identify and fix. Wtih support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, researchers at North Carolina State University have developed new software that can spot and fix the problems in seconds.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

The bug stops here.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

You're on a website and you get that little spinning icon on your screen. Spinning -- still spinning -- not stopping spinning. Yet the program won't crash. (Sound effect: sound of exasperated user)

This scenario is what's known as a 'hang bug'. It can take programmers weeks to ID and fix certain ones. Very frustrating, especially if you've got a retail site, 'cause it can affect the bottom line and drive away customers.

Now, NSF-funded research out of North Carolina State University brings us the hang bug zapper! (Sound effect: sound of arcing bug zapper) It's called "HangFix", and in seconds it can detect bugs, diagnose the problem, and fix the root cause of the error.

The team prototyped their software and put it up against 42 real-world hang bugs that affected various websites. Most that took weeks or months to identify and fix when they originally showed up. HangFix squashed all but two -- in seconds.

The developers hope their tool will make hang bugs easier to deal with, and most of all dial down the frustration factor. (Sound effect: sound of exasperated user)

(Sound effect: sound of insect) Just hangin', little hang bug, you're hangin' on. 'Til your hung up by HangFix. (Sound effect: slap!) Now the hang bug is gone.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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