Google Docs crashed when fed 'And. And. And. And. And.'

Cloud grammar police more Keystone Kops

Google Docs, the search giant's web-based word processing app, has been resuscitated after it was found choking on a series of conjunctions and other parts of speech.

Web developer Pat Needham noticed that typing, "And. And. And. And. And." into Google Docs, capitalized thus but without the quotation marks, caused the application to crash. This would occur after entering the text and refreshing the page.

"It's case-sensitive," wrote Needham in a post to Google Support. "So trying with 'and. and. And. and. And.' doesn't cause it to crash."

Needham said he tried to reproduce the crash in three different Google Accounts and got the same results.

"When filtering the Chrome Dev tools network tab with the text 'error,' one can see a POST request being made to url starting with https://docs.google.com/document/u/1/jserror, and the payload says it's 'Caused by: TypeError: Cannot read properties of null (reading "C")'," he wrote.

Needham in a Hacker News post credits the friend of a co-worker, Eliza Callahan, with finding the bug that was "triggered by a poem in the middle of her novel."

Google staff acknowledged the issue in less than 45 minutes and said a fix was being rolled out.

Shortly thereafter another Docs user posting to the thread reproduced the crash in Firefox 99.01. And a different Docs user caused a crash using "But. But. But. But. But." with the same Mozilla build.

After Needham disclosed the issue to Google Support, reports surfaced on Hacker News that other parts of speech – capitalized adverbs and pronouns – could take down Google Docs.

The words "Also, Therefore, And, Anyway, But, Who, Why, Besides, and However" allegedly had the same effect if typed with an initial capital, in a series.

"Although, Besides, and Moreover," too, as well as, "Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly, and Fourthly." Not "Fifthly" or beyond, however.

Those weighing in on the issue believe the bug has to do with Google's grammar suggestions, because the crash only occurs, it's claimed, when "Show grammar suggestions" has been checked (Tools -> Spelling & grammar -> Show grammar suggestions).

The Register asked Google whether anyone was willing to explain the cause of what appears to be a JavaScript error, and we've not heard back. One theory proposed among those commenting on the issue is that the bug could be due to a regular expression, or regex, gone awry as a result of catastrophic backtracking.

In any event, Docs has been revived and is evidently no worse for wear. On Friday, Google Support updated its post: "We have fixed an issue in Docs related to repetitive use of the word 'and.' This fix should soon be in place for all customers." ®

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