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I feel robust is used too often and incorrectly when describing processes and systems. What would be other possible words to describe processes and systems besides: effective, efficacious, and sound?

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    I think it's unclear what you actually want to express. You say that robust is misused and then mention words with different meanings. Are you seeking a synonym for robust, one of the other words, or something else altogether? The actual question, "What would be other possible words to describe processes and systems besides: effective, efficacious, and sound?", leaves a huge number of possibilities, both positive and negative. Jul 12, 2015 at 12:15
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    In my opinion, while the word may or may not be overused, the concept does not occur nearly often enough.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 12, 2015 at 13:14
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    I'm a fault tolerant system, myself. Homeostasis will be maintained! Jul 12, 2015 at 14:00
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    I think of robust as a synonym for "godlike." ^_^
    – Robusto
    Jul 12, 2015 at 14:04
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    There are indeed several different but related conditions when it comes to handling failures/errors well: fault-tolerant, fault-resistant, fail-safe and redundancy/fail-over. However, there is only one word used by system engineers that covers all the above: robustness. Unfortunately, since it covers all the above it may mean any of the above, all of the above or any combination of the above.
    – slebetman
    Jul 12, 2015 at 18:03

5 Answers 5

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Robust is an established technical term that means something specific to engineers and scientists in the context of systems and control theory, so substituting another word for robust when it is used correctly could cause confusion or create the impression of ignorance. Technical terms cannot really be used "too often". If the word fits, it should be used, since anything else will be less precise. You could throw more words at it and say that a control system "maintains an adequate phase margin irrespective of moderate variations in system parameters", but saying it is "robust" conveys a very similar meaning in fewer words.

You also state that you think the word is often used incorrectly but don't state how- there are terms such as reliable or high-availability, fast-failover or redundant that might fit in such cases.

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  • Exactly. In this context, 'robust' is arguably a term of art. (I say arguably only because some definitions specify that a term of art has a very specific technical meaning, not just a well-understood one.) Jul 13, 2015 at 4:25
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    AT&T (when it was still the giant telephone company) even had a rule for documentation to avoid synonyms. I can't recall if " robust" was in it, but the idea was that every writer used the same word, even if a perfect synonym was available. It produces boring but highly readable documentation.
    – MSalters
    Jul 13, 2015 at 11:21
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Robust in the context you are describing normally means that the process or system can handle (or bounce back from) problems caused by unexpected events or circumstances.

I think that robust is perfectly fine and well-understood if this is the meaning you are looking for.

Resilient may be an alternative with similar meaning.


If you are looking for a word with some different meaning you may want to explicitly define which meaning you desire.

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The word robust has a specific meaning in the context of computer systems. It refers to systems that are not fragile, meaning that they are not easily crashed or put into an error state, or are able to gracefully recover from error states. Since robust essentially means not fragile, it sounds like the word antifragile is a synonym, but antifragile has a different, more esoteric meaning. According to http://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/anti-fragility.asp "anti-fragility goes beyond robustness; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock but actually improves because of it". If you're using "antifragile" to describe a computer system, you're probably using it wrong, because computer systems as a rule cannot be made to function better by being put into an error state or being given bad input.

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    Netflix is the exception to the rule. They deliberately crash theirs servers to improve their system as a whole. Partly as a form of continuous error-recovery testing that happens every minute but mostly to force programmers to avoid single-point-of-failures when coding. (google Chaos Monkey)
    – slebetman
    Jul 12, 2015 at 17:51
  • You say that robust and fragile "have a specific meaning". Are they quantifiable metrics?
    – ChrisW
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:57
  • @ChrisW Attempts to quantify robustness have been made, but to my knowledge there is no general-case method of quantifying it. Jul 12, 2015 at 22:05
  • I can only guess then that it means "reliable" i.e. a long (ideally infinite) time between failures.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 12, 2015 at 22:07
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    I apologize, you are right: it does have a relatively specific meaning, when compared with the other words "effective, efficacious, and sound" mentioned in the OP.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 12, 2015 at 22:26
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I feel robust is used too often and incorrectly when describing processes and systems.

Some related words (from system or network engineering) include:

  • Available (spends most of its time being up).
  • Reliable (doesn't go down very often).
  • Recoverable (fixable when it does go down)

    • Resilient (self-recovers from failures).
    • Maintainable or Repairable (operator recovers from failures).

"Reliable" can be a measure of MTBF (mean time between failures).

"Recoverable" is a measure of MTTR (mean time to recover).

"Available" is the fraction of time that it's 'up', calculable as ((MTBF) / (MTBF + MTTR)).


Some examples of phrases which mean "highly available" include "zero downtime" and (a phrase that was probably never commonly-known except in network engineering) "carrier grade".


What would be other possible words to describe processes and systems besides: effective, efficacious, and sound?

These other words (i.e. "effective, efficacious, and sound") don't mean "robust".

Alternatives for some of these other words include "useful", "usable", "widely used", "well designed", "well implemented", and/or "well run".

Not to mention "feature rich", "multi-platform", "mobile", "affordable", etc., but you can't really ask here for a list of all adjectives which can be applied to processes and systems.

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For processes I would like sound, strong, or vital.

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  • Thanks, just discovered this forum and think the concept is great. Jul 12, 2015 at 12:01
  • Press the robust up button on my answer. Jul 12, 2015 at 12:09
  • And welcome ... : D Jul 12, 2015 at 12:09
  • If you really like an answer? And it fills the requirements you were after? There is an ACCEPT where you can click it, @Ben Daniels, and a cool little green check appears. Again, welcome! Jul 12, 2015 at 14:09
  • "Vital" could very easily be construed as "essential" rather than "robust." Jul 13, 2015 at 7:27

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