Simon Wistow (deflatermouse) wrote,
Simon Wistow

I’ll just shed tears all over the place

I have to admit that I haven't played around with Git much beyond familiarising myself with the commands enough to get by with the various projects I know that are using it.

That's not to say I don't appreciate aspects of its design - it has a certain inherent elegance that seems to invite experimentation and it certainly follows the Unix philosophy of small tools designed to be chained together which also facilitates that.

But to be honest I've just not needed to use it. I use SVN which, for all its flaws (I've never really had a complaint about speed to be fair but every time I need to roll back I have to go looking for a blog post I read one time that explains how to do it) does me just fine. When I need to do more distributed work I just fire up the awesome SVK and Bob, is as they say, your Mother's Brother.

One of the questions that niggled at me though, especially in the wake of the democratising GitHub, was whether it would encourage siloing.

Back in the dark days when modem speeds were measured in baud and people still thought Digital Watches were a pretty neat idea there was the NCSA http daemon and Lo! many people maintained various patch sets against it and, when you wanted to run it you went and downloaded the main package and then you downloaded all the patches you wanted and then you tried to apply them, massaging bits here and there where the patch set hadn't tracked the main app.

It was, to be frank, a giant pain in the huevos.

And then came Apache. Literally "A Patchy Webserver" which rekickstarted (is that even a word?) the stalled development of httpd and collected together the various patches. In my opinion this was a good thing - it's possible some people disagree I suppose - and I fear a return to those early, bad times.

And what's this got to do with Git?

See, Git was designed to help with Linux and Linux doesn't really have a master code base - it has various trees representing different flavours and patches flow between them like, I dunno, bad ideas at a conspiracy theorists' convention. Or something.

That model works well for Linux. Maybe. I'll presume it does. Git eases the pain points expressed by Andrew Morton, the maintainer of the -mm tree, in this message entitled "This Just Isn't Working Any More"

In short, it makes siloing easier.

And that's awesome for them. But it's not what I want for 99.99% of open source projects I use. No matter how good the tools are I don't want to be spending time tracking fixes and feature patches round various Git repositories and assembling my own custom version. And as a developer I live in fear of someone saying "I know everyone else is running your code perfectly but when *I* run it under FooBar v1.6 with patches from here, here and here then it fails mysteriously"

I did console myself with the fact that this was a worst case scenario and that it was unlikely to happen for small libraries ... except this morning I was chatting with someone and

17:12  * jerakeen finds that someone has actually fixed the ruby-oauth code to actually
17:12 <@jerakeen> assuming you pick the right one of the _27_ forks of the codebase on

then later

17:17 <@jerakeen> I forked pelle-oauth a while ago to make my local code actually
                  _work_, because that was important to me
17:17 <@jerakeen> so it was going to get siloed _anyway-
17:17 <@jerakeen> thanks to github, I can tell who else has done what, and where things
                  have gone
17:17 <@muttley> did you push the changes back?
17:18 <@jerakeen> no, not at all. My changes were the equivalent of duct-tape round
                  things. I ripped half of them off from the mailing list, which was 30
                  messages deep in a discussion over what was the Right Way to do it

Now to be fair to jerakeen - he's one of the smartest and most pragmatic programmers I know so I'm pretty sure he doesn't enjoy the situation but he was forced into it by the prevailing development methodology of the library he wanted to use which ended up that way because the version control tool it uses explicitly encourages it.

To use an old and overdone meme

I'm hoping this is a one off case and that people are just relearning good development manners after forgetting them when presented with a new shiny, sparkly toy. But the cynic and the pessimist in me died a little inside.
Tags: git, programming, silos, svk, svn, version control

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