OSS Bugs and the Participatory Community

I pushed the official StructureMap 3.0 release a couple weeks ago.  Since this is a full point release and comes somewhat close to being a full rewrite of the internals, there’s inevitably been a handful of bugs reported already.  While I’d love to say there were no bugs at all, I’d like to highlight a trend I’d love to see continue that’s quite different from what supporting StructureMap was like just a few years ago.  Namely, I’ve been getting failing unit tests in GitHub or messages on the list from users that demonstrate exactly what they’re trying to do and how things are failing for them — and I’d love to see this trend continue (as long as there are really bugs).

One of the issues that was reported a couple times early on was an issue with setter injection policies.  After the initial reports, I looked at my unit tests for the functionality and they were all passing, so I was largely shrugging my shoulders — until a user gave me the exact reproduction steps in a failing test on the GitHub issue showing me a combination of inputs and usage steps that brought out the problem.  Once I had that failing test in my grubby little hands, fixing the issue was a simple one line fix.  I guess my point here is that I’m seeing more and more StructureMap users jumping in and participating much more in how issues get fixed, where the exact problem is, and how it should be fixed and that’s making StructureMap work a lot less stressful, more enjoyable for me, and bugs are getting addressed much faster than in the past.


Pin down problems with new tests

An old piece of lore from Extreme Programming was to always add a failing test to your testing library before you fix a reported bug to ensure that the bug fix stays fixed.  Regression bugs are a serious source of overhead and waste in software development, and anything that prevents them from reoccurring is probably worth doing in my book.  If you look at the StructureMap codebase, you’ll see a namespace for bug regression tests that we’ve collected over the years.


The Participatory Community and .Net

In a way, now might be the golden age of open source development.  GitHub in particular supports such a more collaborative workflow than the older hosting options ever did. Nuget, for all the flaws that I complain about, makes it so much easier to release and distribute new releases.

In the same vein, even Microsoft of all people is trying to encourage an OSS workflow with their own tools and allowing .Net community members to jump in and contribute to their tools. I think that’s great, but it only matters if more folks in the greater .Net community will participate in the OSS projects.  Today I think that there’s a little too much passivity overall in the .Net community.  After all, our tools are largely written by the official .Net teams inside of Redmond, with OSS tools largely consigned to the fringes.  Most of us probably don’t feel like we can exert any control over our tooling, but every indication I see is that Microsoft itself actually wants to change that with more open development processes as they host more of their tools in GitHub or CodePlex and adopt out of band release cycles happening more often than once every couple years.

My case in point is an issue about Nuget usage that came up in a user list a couple weeks back that I think is emblematic of how the .Net community needs to change to make OSS matter.  The author was asking the Nuget team to do something to Nuget’s package restore feature to fix the accumulation of outdated Nuget packages in a codebase.  No specific recommendations, just asking the Nuget team to fix it.  While I think the Nuget team is perfectly receptive to addressing that down the road, the fubu community has already solved that very technical issue with our own open source Ripple tool that we use as a Nuget workflow tool.  Moreover, the author of that user list post could get a solution for his problem a lot faster even if he didn’t want to use our Ripple tool by contributing a pull request to fix Nuget’s package restore himself rather than wait for Microsoft to do it for him when they can get around to it. My point here is that the .Net community isn’t fully using all of its potential because we’re collectively just sitting back and waiting for a finite number of folks in the Gu’s teams to fix too many of our problems instead of just jumping in and collectively doing it ourselves.

Participating doesn’t have to mean taking on big features and issuing pull requests of outstanding technical merit, it can also mean commenting on GitHub issues, proving specific feedback to the authors, and doing what I think of as “sandpaper pull requests” — small contributions that clear up little usability issues in a tool.  It’s not a huge thing, but I really appreciate how some of my coworkers have been improving exception messages and the logging when they find little issues in their own usage of some of the FubuMVC related projects.  That kind of thing helps a great deal because I know that it’s almost impossible for me to foresee every potential usage or source of confusion.

We obviously use a lot of the FubuMVC family of tools at my workplace, and something I’ve tried to communicate to my colleagues is that they never have to live with usability problems in any of those frameworks or libraries because we can happily change those tools to improve their development experience (whenever it’s worth the effort to do so of course).  That’s a huge shift in how many developers think about their tools, but given the choice to be empowered and envision a better experience versus just accepting what you get, wouldn’t you like to have that control?


I wish MS would do even more in the open

Of course, I also think it would help if Microsoft could do even more of their own development in public. Case in point, I’m actually pretty positive about the technical work the ASP.Net team for one is talking about for forthcoming versions, but only the chosen ASP Insiders and MVP types are seeing any of that work (I’m not going to get myself yelled at for NDA violations, so don’t even ask for specifics).  They might just get a lot more useful involvement from the community if they were able to do that work in the open before the basic approach was completely baked in.




One thought on “OSS Bugs and the Participatory Community

  1. serialseb (@serialseb)

    I think another side of that problem is that, in the OSS MS world, there are still very prominent components that tend to force things down people’s throats with non-squiturs such as “it’s done now” or “we won’t support it”. Not all parts of the community are inclusive and respectful of dissenting opinions, and the feeling of being crushed by the big machine is still as present now as it was when MS was OSS. It is a sad state of affairs, and it may well be changing, but I don’t believe we are yet at a point where individuals can take ownership of their proposals when, for all intent and purposes, it is still very much a David and Goliath.


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