Yesterday, we held another Schneide Dev Brunch. The Dev Brunch is a regular brunch on a sunday, only that all attendees want to talk about software development and various other topics. If you bring a software-related topic along with your food, everyone has something to share. The brunch had less participants this time, but didn’t lack topics. Let’s have a look at the main topics we discussed:
Sharing code between projects
The first topic emerged from our initial general chatter. What’s a reasonable and praticable approach to share code between software entities (different projects, product editions, versions, etc.). We discussed at least three different solutions that are known to us in practice:
- Main branch with customer forks: This was the easiest approach to explain. A product has a main branch where all the new features are committed to. Everytime a customer wants his version, a new branch is created from the most current version on the main branch. The customer may require some changes and a lot of bug fixes, but all of that is done on the customer’s branch. Sometimes, a critical bug fix is merged back into the main branch, but no change from the main branch is transferred to the customer’s branch ever. Basically, the customer version of the code is “frozen” in terms of features and updates. This works well in its context because the main branch already contains the software every customer wants and no customer wants to update to a version with more features – this would be another additional branch.
- Big blob of conditionals: This approach needs a bit more explanation. Once, there was a software product ready to be sold. Every customer had some change requests and special requirements. All these changes and special-cases were added to the original code base, using customer IDs and a whole lot of if-else statements to separate the changes from each customer. All customers always get the same code, but their unique customer ID only passes the guard clauses that are required for them. All the changes of all the other customers are deactivated at runtime. With this approach, the union of all features is always represented in the source code.
- Project-as-an-universe: This approach defines projects as little universes without intersection. Every project stands for its own and only shares code with other projects by means of copy and paste. When a new project is started, some subset of classes of another project is chosen as a starting point and transformed to fit the requirements. There is no “master universe” or main branch for the shared classes. The same class may evolve differently (and conflicting) in different projects. This approach probably isn’t suited for a software product, but is applied to individual projects with different requirements.
We are aware of and discussed even approaches, but not with the profound knowledge of several years first-hand experience. The term OSGi was often used as a reference in the discussion. We were able to exhibit the motivation, advantages and shortcomings of each approach. It was very interesting to see that even slightly different prerequisites may lead to fundamentally different solutions.
Book (p)review: Practical API Design
In the book “Practical API Design” by Jaroslav Tunach, the founder of the NetBeans Platform and initial “architect” of its API talks about his lessons learnt when evolving a substantial API for over ten years. The book begins with a theory on values and motivations for good API design. We get a primer why APIs are needed and essential for modern software development. We learn what are the essential characteristics of a good API. The most important message here is that a good API isn’t necessarily “beautiful”. This caused a bit of discussion among us, so that the topic strayed a bit from the review characteristic. Well, that’s what the Dev Brunch is for – we aren’t a lecture session. One interesting discussion trail led us to the aestethics in music theory.
But to give a summary on the first chapters of the book: Good stuff! Jaroslav Tunach makes some statements worthy of discussion, but he definitely knows what he’s talking about. Some insights were eye-openers or at least thought-provokers for our reader. If the rest of the book holds to the quality of the first chapters, then you shouldn’t hesitate to add it to your reading queue.
Effective electronic archive
One of our participants has developed a habit to archivate most things electronically. He already blogged about his experiences:
Both blog entries hold quite a lot of useful information. We discussed some possibilities to implement different archivation strategies. Evernote was mentioned often in the discussion, diigo was named as the better delicious, Remember The Milk as a task/notification service and Google Gmail as an example to rely solely on tags. Tags were a big topic in our discussion, too. It was mentioned that Confluence has the ability to add multiple tags to an article. Thunderbird was mentioned, especially in the combination of tags and virtual folders. And a noteworthy podcast of Scott Hanselmann on the topic of “Getting Things Done” was pointed out, too.
Schneide Events 2013
We performed a short survey about different special events and workshops that may happen in 2013 in the Softwareschneiderei. If you already are registered on our Dev Brunch list, you’ll receive the invitations for all events shortly. Here is a short primer on what we’re planning:
- Communication Through Test workshop
- Refactoring Golf
- API Design Fest
- Google Gruyere Day
- Introduction to Dwarf Fortress
Some of these events are more related to software engineering than others, but all of them try to be fun first, lessons later. Participate if you are interested!
Learning programming languages
The last main topic of the brunch was a short, rather disappointed review of the book “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks” by Bruce Tate. The best part of the book, according to our reviewer, were the interview sections with the language designers. And because he got interested in this kind of approach to a programming language, he dug up some similar content:
- The A-Z of Programming Languages – Computerworld interviews with language designers
- Masterminds of Programming – a whole book with interviews
- Coders at Work – another book with interviews, not only with language designers
The Computerworld interviews are directly accessible and contain some pearls of wisdom and humour (and some slight inaccuracies). Highly recommended reading if you want to know not only about the language, but also about the context (and mindset) in which it was created.
As usual, the Dev Brunch contained a lot more chatter and talk than listed here. The high number of attendees makes for an unique experience every time. We are looking forward to the next Dev Brunch at the Softwareschneiderei. And as always, we are open for guests and future regulars. Just drop us a notice and we’ll invite you over next time.