Erlware Progress Update
The other maintainers and I have been coding feverishly to get the Erlware system to version 1.0 by the end of January. This has taken up an enormous amount of my time, leaving me very little to time to blog. It has been so long now that I feel sorry. So I decided that I needed to spend a bit of time talking how development in our new model is going.
All I can say is wow! This Open Development Model has proven to be a huge boon to the project. Not only has it encouraged user participation by a large margin, but it has also encouraged quite a bit more design process. Rather spontaneously the maintainers have started to submit design specs when they are preparing to do major changes. These design specs are usually one pagers that give a high-level overview of the problem and describe the nature of the fix the developer is implementing. It lets the community and the other maintainers know and comment on whats upcoming. It also makes the developer think more closely about the changes he is planning to make to the system. All in all, it doesn’t take a significant amount of time and its helps increase the quality of our offering. Since each design spec goes to the mailing list, it fits right in with the low-level patch model. I like it.
Another significant development is that we have moved our website to the Open Development Model. Initially, we used dokuwiki for our site. Dokuwiki is a great product, but its a wiki with the attendant problems that a wiki has. In our case, we had kept wiki access pretty limited. Only the core maintainers had access to it. This made it hard for the community to fix issues and expand docs. What we wanted was to combine the easy editing of the wiki with our, somewhat more careful, patch-based approach to changes. We spent some time thinking about the problem and decided that it would be best if our site were updatable, via git, just like the rest of our projects. However, we didn’t want to hand edit HTML and do all the manual work involved. We liked the readable, usable wiki syntax. We needed some mix of wiki with static source files. We went to google with low expectations. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of good offerings in various languages. Eventually we settled on webgen. This is a nice little ruby framework for static site generation. It supports various markups, including our choice Markdown. What we ended up with is an open site with very nice wiki-ish syntax that is easy to extend and change via a model that our contributors are familiar with.
Once a change is in our official git repo getting the changes onto the site is completely automated. A cronjob on our server pulls the site from the repository and runs the generator. Then runs rsync to push the changes into the area that they are served from. This is a very recent change so we don’t know if it will accomplish our purpose of more contributions to the site. One unexpected side benefit is that our site is now really fast. All the work is happening at generation time, so the server just needs to serve static HTML files.