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Subject: [boost] RE process (prospective from a retired FreeBSD committer)...
From: Sean Chittenden (sean_at_[hidden])
Date: 2011-01-27 14:24:30

[[ whoops! I double tapped the send keyboard shortcut on a foreground message and sent this before I'd finished cleaning it up. Apologies for the near-double post. The last few paragraphs are different ]]

I originally sent this to Eric but am cleaning it up and reposting here per his suggestion.

From an outsider's perspective it appears as though the lack of branching/merging tied to release management is the biggest issue for Boost at present.

As a retired FreeBSD committer (and a boost-digest lurker since 1.33), I wanted to point out how the FreeBSD community deals with release engineering and see if there are a few nugget policies that could be cherry picked for boost. FreeBSD's process has been in place and refined for the last 15 years and comes with already written documentation as a starting point. It's not perfect, but there's a pound of prevention that comes via policy that no tool can replicate.

head/trunk/tip is known as the -CURRENT branch. Released versions for production used (or are in prep for being released) are known as -STABLE branches. When FreeBSD 8 was being developed, people committed to HEAD (aka -CURRENT). When the re@ team called for a freeze for release and -CURRENT was in sufficiently good condition, they branched HEAD in to RELENG_8_STABLE. Everything in RELENG_8_* is expected to be production quality (or nearing it). Upon release of 8.0, RELENG_8 was branched again to RELEASE_8_0. 8.1, 8.2, etc were all created from RELENG_8_STABLE. Fixes for things in stable go to -CURRENT first, then are back patched to the appropriate stable releases, colloquially known as MFC's or Merge From -CURRENT.

-CURRENT is the wild west of OS development and repo trash. Use at your own risk. Stability and likelihood of all tests passing is marginal, at best. Towards the end of a given major version -CURRENT becomes more stable, but once -STABLE has been branched it quickly degenerates some as people implement the impetus to checkin new features.

-STABLE should always be passing 100% of the regression tests present in the branch at all times.

A quick doc on merging between branches:

I don't know how wide spread it is and despite svk having gone in to maintenance mode, but the use of svk has merit (partial checkouts):

A schedule and handoff of hats/responsibilities for each of the branches is pretty well documented and is now time driven (it used to be feature driven, which didn't work as well as they'd hoped):

The way that FreeBSD handles its permissions and merging from one branch to the next is via the commit message, commit hooks and approvals from different people wearing different hats. A few examples:

The above has an MFC line in there to denote the changes included. The commit handler verifies that the diffed files largely match (at least it used to back in the day when I was committing via CVS).

A 'Reviewed by' commit header. This gives greater latitude in terms of what can be included in the commit.

And the 'Approved by' commit header. Once a release is frozen, all commits need to have this tag otherwise the commit will fail. If someone commits with that line and didn't have permission to do so, as a policy, the commit is always reverted 100% of the time as a matter of principle. Frequently it's re-committed, but it's a big slap to the back of the hands to have to go through the process again. Needless to say, the commit mailing list is the most active and widely read list as a result. And tons of code gets reviewed with many eyes viewing it as a result. Unlike boost, FreeBSD uses an abridged commit message that doesn't include the actual diff itself (if you're a committer, then you see the diffs to areas of the tree that you subscribe to).

I don't know how many people actually follow boost's commit log on a per commit basis, but given 100% of all commits go to a single mailing list and the diffs can sometimes be massive, it seems like the current list infrastructure makes that kind of review process unsustainable for Joe Reviewer (vs. the shorter abridged commit messages w/ a link to the actual diff). Links to each of the diffs is useful and lets people click through if reviewing the diff is of interest.

I can't stress the organizational difference and peer pressure a widely used commit mailing list brings about.

There are other bits worth noting, acls apply to different parts of the tree (doc commit bits and a doc-re@ hat vs a src-re@ hat and even ports@), but the mailing list/commit reviews and branching/merging are the biggies that I wanted to point out. Branching trunk in to a boost_1_46_prerelease branch three weeks before the release (or some sane interval) so that people can fix up the code seems like a pretty painless adjustment, then snapping/releasing boost_1_46_0 when the pre-release is ready. Post-1.46 release fixes could go in to 1.46.0 and (heaven forbid), maybe even a micro version with specific fixes for the .46 minor version.

PostgreSQL ships with a contrib/ directory of "soon to be" or "possible candidates for being a core component" which serves the same purpose as FreeBSD's ports structure. This gets yet-to-be finalized modules out in the wild and helps garner interest. PostgreSQL's autovacuum went from being a fringe project to a contrib/ module and a core feature in 2 minor releases because of the huge interest in its use/adoption. Boost.Log or Atomic or any of the other "we all really want this but it's not quite finalized" modules seem like ideal candidates for inclusion in such a directory because it could generate additional interest/eyes. A contrib/ or proposed/ would go a long way towards keeping boost lean-ish, too. At present it seems like boost-*.tar.bz2 is on track to including boost/kitchen/sink.hpp and boost/bath/water.hpp and that's something that is a bit concerning to me on the long-term scale.

Me personally, I keep running 'svn ls' to see if a branch pops up for release but I haven't yet. The structure on the server is largely there, but it the svn tree looks pretty disorganized with lots of legacy clutter so it doesn't look like it's being used well.

And lastly re: VCSs, lots of people fork FreeBSD to do experimental work out of the tree via git and hg, but the monolithic and serialized commit/review process seems to be working quite well from my perspective. A little bureaucratic but very stable and democratic without reliance on any one person to push the release forward. Anyway, food for thought. Hopefully there's something there that you can pick out of value.

If you have questions, feel free to ask on or offline (CC if online since I'm a digest subscriber).

Cheers. -Sean

Sean Chittenden

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