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Ayende Rahien is working for Hibernating Rhinos LTD, a Israeli based company producing developer productivity tools for OLTP applications such as NHibernate Profiler (nhprof.com), Linq to SQL Profiler(l2sprof.com), Entity Framework Profiler (efprof.com) and more. Ayende is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 462 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Send me a patch for that

02.11.2012
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This post is in reply to Hadi’s post. Please go ahead and read it.

Done? Great, so let me try to respond, this time, from the point of view of someone who regularly asks for patches / pull requests.

Here are a few examples.

To make things more interesting, the project that I am talking about now is RavenDB which is both Open Source and commercial. Hadi says:

Numerous times I’ve seen reactions from OSS developers, contributors or merely a simple passer by, responding to a complaint with: submit a patch or well if you can do better, write your own framework. In other words, put up or shut up.

Hadi then goes on to explain exactly why this is a high barrier for most users.

  • You need to familiarize yourself with the codebase.
  • You need to understand the source control system that is used and how to send a patch / pull request.

And I would fully agree with Hadi that those are stumbling blocks. I can’t speak for other people, but in our case, that is the intention.

Nitpicker corner here: I am speaking explicitly and only about features here. Bugs gets fixed by us (unless the user already submitted a fix as well).

Put simply, there is an issue of priorities here. We have a certain direction for the project that we want to take it. And in many cases, users want things that are out of scope for us for the foreseeable future. Our options then become:

  • Sorry, ain’t going to happen.
  • Sure, we will push aside all the work that we intended to do to do your thing.
  • No problem, we added that to the queue, expect it in 6 – 9 months, if we will still consider it important then.

None of which is an acceptable answer from our point of view.

Case in point, facets support in RavenDB was something that was requested a few times. We never did it because it was out of scope for our plan, RavenDB is a database server, not a search server and we weren’t really sure how complex this would be and how to implement this. Basically, this was an expensive feature that wasn’t in the major feature set that we wanted. The answer that we gave people is “send me a pull request for that”.

To be clear, this is basically an opportunity to affect the direction of the project in a way you consider important. What ended up happening is that Matt Warren took up the task and created an initial implementation. Which was then subject to intense refactoring and finally got into the product. You can see the entire conversation about this here. The major difference along the way is that Matt did all the research for this feature, and he had working code. From there the balance change. It was no longer an issue of expensive research and figuring out how to do it. It was an issue of having working code and refactoring it so it matched the rest of the RavenDB codebase. That wasn’t expensive, and we got a new feature in.

Here is another story, a case where I flat out didn’t think it was possible. About two years ago Rob Ashton had a feature suggestion (ad hoc queries with RavenDB). Frankly, I thought that this was simply not possible, and after a bit of back and forth, I told Rob:

Let me rephrase that.
Dream up the API from the client side to do this.

Rob went away for a few hours, and then came back with a working code sample. I had to pick my jaw off the floor using both hands. That feature got a lot of priority right away, and is a feature that I routinely brag about when talking about RavenDB.

But let me come back again to the common case, a user request something that isn’t in the project plan. Now, remember, requests are cheap. From the point of view of the user, it doesn’t cost anything to request a feature. From the point of view of the project, it can cost a lot. There is research, implementation, debugging, backward compatibility, testing and continuous support associated with just about any feature you care to name.

And our options whenever a user make a request that is out of line for the project plan are:

  • Sorry, ain’t going to happen.
  • Sure, we will push aside all the work that we intended to do to do your thing.
  • No problem, we added that to the queue, expect it in 6 – 9 months, if we will still consider it important then.

Or, we can also say:

  • We don’t have the resources to currently do that, but we would gladly accept a pull request to do so.

And that point, the user is faced with a choice. He can either:

  • Oh, well, it isn’t important to me.
  • Oh, it is important to me so I have better do that.

In other words, it shift the prioritization to the user, based on how important that feature is.

We recently got a feature request to support something like this:

session.Query<User>()
   .Where(x=> searchInput.Name != null && x.User == searcInput.Name)
   .ToArray();

I’ll spare you the details of just how complex it is to implement something like that (especially when it can also be things like: (searchInput.Age > 18). But the simple work around for that is:

var q = session.Query<User>();
if(searchInput.Name != null)
  q = q.Where(x=> x.User == searcInput.Name);

q.ToArray();

Supporting the first one is complex, there is a simple work around that the user can use (and I like the second option from the point of view of readability as well).

That sort of thing get a “A pull request for this feature would be appreciated”. Because the alternative to that is to slam the door in the user’s face.

References
Published at DZone with permission of Ayende Rahien, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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