Which one should I use of the following:

Compile Error

Compiler Error

Compilation Error

I think the "Compilation Error" is way too long for everyday use, even though it's the "correct" term. So, which one?

  • Please fix my tags if I used the wrong one (word-choice). Mar 5 '11 at 6:28

Looking at the number of results on Google Books and Google Scholar, and also Google:

|                    |Google Books|Google Scholar |Google   |
|                    |            |               |         |
|compiler error      |7,480       |1,950          |386,000  |
|compile-time error  |6,620       |1,850          |311,000  |
|compilation error   |5,260       |1,620          |1,660,000|
|compile error       |2,280       |710            |2,550,000|

Books and Scholars show a clear order of preference, for compiler error over compile-time error over compilation error over compile error, but unfortunately the general public seems to show the opposite tendency.

Grammatically, all four (or at least all but the last one, which is ironically the most popular) are fine:

  • compiler error: an error detected by the compiler, an error message produced by the compiler, an error within the purview of the compiler. Not an error in the compiler.

  • compilation error: not an error in the compilation (the compilation did what it was supposed to do), but an error found during compilation, etc. Same as above.

  • compile-time error: an error found at compile-time (cf. "runtime error")

  • compile error: …

Google n-gram viewer tells a similar story (click on the image), though, as if underscoring its unreliability, compile-time error seems to be missing from its corpus for some reason (zero results).

Google N-gram viewer

[Aside: broadening the date range gives a few results in 1890–1910… what's with that?]

  • See @Bian Hooper's answer - compiler error means som,thing different to the others
    – mmmmmm
    Mar 5 '11 at 12:44
  • @Mark: I saw it before I posted; that's why I replied to it in the answer. :-) "Compiler error" doesn't necessarily (and in practice, doesn't ever) mean an error in the compiler. (If it did, by that logic, compilation error would also mean an error in the compilation rather than in the source code.) Mar 5 '11 at 13:46
  • Interesting answer. Would imagine that a "compiler error" in the 1800s referred to an error on the part of a e.g. dictionary compiler, for example (just as a "computer" would have referred to a person, not a machine). Mar 5 '11 at 15:52
  • @Neil: Actually, if I click on those results, I find no results… I now suspect it's some confusion with 1990–2010 being mistaken for 1890–1910. (The Y2K problem again.) Mar 5 '11 at 15:56
  • 1
    @ShreevatsaR: In practice, "compiler error" can mean an error in the compiler. For instance, from Google Scholar snippets, I found full text of these two such usages: DSP Code Optimization and Massive testing of SQL. The meaning of compiler error is ambiguous and context dependent.
    – mgkrebbs
    Mar 5 '11 at 21:26

I'd prefer compilation error myself, as it is the "correct" term, as you say, and only a few letters longer than the alternatives. Compiler error would mean that there is a problem with the compiler, rather than the source code. Compile error sounds a bit baby-talk to me.

  • 1
    I agree compilation error is the most correct. To me compiler error does suggest a bug in the compiler but is ambiguous, and so I avoid use of the term, using compiler bug for one and error, error message, or diagnostic for the other. Note that many fewer people try to write compilers than try to write non-compiler programs, so compiler error is more frequently used for compiler diagnostics than for compiler bugs.
    – mgkrebbs
    Mar 5 '11 at 21:39

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