How To Start an Open Source Project

Personal experience on the open source project; doing it effectively without mistakes
26 January 2018   2518

My name is Dmitriy Strukov and I’m Ruby developer. Today I want to share my experience creating an open source solution. I will talk about what steps the project should take, how to choose the right functionality for the first release, and what mistakes I faced personally when creating my open source project.

Half a year ago, I got the idea that it would be good to create an open source project. Instead of test tasks for the interview, it would be enough for me to send a link to the repository. The prospect of helping colleagues with the solution to their everyday problems inspired me.

I’ve always disliked gems for creating administration panels. Any extra movement needs to redefine the class, and for change fields you need to make changes to the files. After thinking and conversing with colleagues, I decided to create a new library which would be flexible and would not require dashboards or configuration files.

SimpleAdmin

Initially, the project was focused on the Ruby ecosystem, but this would limit the target audience of such a solution. SimpleAdmin is a cross-platform solution for administrative panels, working as a third party service. Obtaining data from the database from the main application works with the help of a plugin. In the Ruby on Rail it engine, in which the necessary endpoints are created. In the near future, the launch of a prototype is planned.

Determine the goals

Every open source project solves a specific problem. Talk with colleagues, chats, forums, and share your idea. It all helps you on the first steps to understand important things, like which solutions already exist, and to hear criticism. Talk with people who already have open source projects. They can give you very valuable advice, so don’t be afraid to ask and take the initiative.

One important bit of advice which I got at that stage is to pay attention in the first place on the documentation of the project. You can have a very good project, but no one will spend the time to understand how it works.

The most important aspect, without which further steps are impossible, is motivation. The idea of the project should inspire you primarily. Most often people get used to the tools with which they work and fall into a comfort zone, so external opinions may be ambiguous.

Planning

The choice of a certain task manager is a matter of taste. It should have a clear picture of the tasks and stages of your project.

Divide tasks into sub-tasks. Ideally, if one task does not take more than 3–4 hours, it is important to enjoy the implementation of small tasks. This will help to avoid burnout and loss of motivation.

I use pivotal tracker . The main advantage is a free version for open source projects where you can sort tasks by type (feature, bug, chore, release), and group them into releases and determined deadlines.

Documentation

Every open source project should contain these things:

  • README
  • Open Source license
  • Contributing guidelines
  • Changelog

The README file not only explains how to use your project, but also the purpose of your project. If you do not know how to properly write a README file, you can look at other known open source projects or use a template .

The license guarantees that others can use, copy and modify the source code of the project. You need to add this file to each repository with your open source project. MIT and Apache 2.0 GPLv3 are the most popular licenses for open source projects. If you are not sure what to choose, you can use this convenient service .

The CONTRIBUTING file will help other developers contribute to the project. At the first steps of the project, it is not necessary to pay close attention to this file. You can use the already prepared template from another project.

Changelog contains a supported, chronologically-ordered list of significant changes for each version. As with the CONTRIBUTING file, I do not advise paying special attention to this at an early stage.

Versioning

To track important changes for users and contributors, there is a semantic version . The version number contains numbers and adheres to the following pattern X.Y.Z.

  • X major release
  • Y minor release
  • Z patch release

Continuous integration / Continuous delivery

To automatically run tests and build, I use Travis CI. It’s also a good idea to add badges to display the successful assembly of the build in the wizard, the test coverage (Codecov), and the documentation (Inch CI).

After each new commit or merge in the master, I automatically have a deploy on Heroku (very convenient integration with GitHub). All tools are absolutely free for an open source project.

My mistakes

To analyze the initial stage, I had an idea, but there was no clear plan. I decided that I wanted to do this without having a clear idea of how much time it would take or a specific representation of the functions that would be in the first version of the library. I had just a lot of desire and lack of a clear plan.

Also, after reading the history of other projects (not only open source), I noticed that at an early stage, some plans are too optimistic. They need a reassessment of their strengths and capabilities. But it’s not easy to find time each day to write a new feature in the project. Most of the tasks eventually had to be weeded out, leaving the necessary minimum for MVP.

Charles Nutter. How to move your Ruby project to JRuby and why

Charles Nutter works on JRuby and JVM language support at Red Hat.
03 October 2018   622

— How did you get into programming and into Ruby world?

— In 2004, I was working at a government contracting firm as a Java Enterprise Architect. I was in charge of a large mainframe conversion for the United States Department of Agriculture, which meant I spent a couple weeks a month in the Washington D.C. area. One of those trips coincided with RubyConf 2004, and since a close friend had been recommending I look at Ruby, I decided to attend. So there I was sitting in a Ruby conference without ever having learned Ruby...and I understood every piece of code, every example. I was amazed and vowed to find a way to bring Ruby into my Java world.

— Which projects are you working on now?

— My primary role is as co-lead of JRuby. This also means supporting several side projects like our native-library backend (Ruby's FFI library is maintained by us using this backend on JRuby) and our String encoding subsystem (an elaborate port of the logic from CRuby). I also do much of the outreach to the community and try to make sure our users are getting their issues addressed. There's always plenty to work on!

— Which one would have the biggest general impact from you opinion?

— I like to think that JRuby, while not the most popular JVM language, has at least helped to change the JVM platform. Because of our collaborations with Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and others, we have solid dynamic language support at the JVM level along with many other projects to support alternative languages. The JVM today is a much more hospitable home for non-Java languages than it used to be, and I hope we've played some small part in that change.

— Which languages are you writing on in your everyday life? Which one do you like most? Why?

— Most days I write in a mix of Ruby and Java, since JRuby is implemented using both. I like both languages for different tasks. Ruby is a better language for building applications that need to evolve and adapt quickly. Java is a great language for writing high-speed, reliable libraries and services. JRuby gives you the best of both worlds!

— Do you like to program in Java?

— I do, especially with all the language improvements that have been added recently, like lambdas (closures or blocks in Ruby) and the new "var" syntax for declaring local variables when the static type is unambiguous.

— What do you think about Rust?

— Rust is a great language! I did a lot of C++ development in my college years, and I can tell you right now if I'd had Rust available then I would have used it. I'm especially jealous of the static-typed ownership model, which helps avoid thread-safety issues like races and data corruption. I hope to see other languages adopt this pattern in the future.

— What do you think about the Ruby language perspective? Is it or its community dying?

— After all these years working on JRuby, I do still love Ruby syntax and the Ruby way of doing things. However I worry that the language is held back too much by limitations of its primary runtime. JRuby has been fighting to make true parallel threading a reality for Ruby developers, but still today the vast majority of Ruby services are run using multiple isolated processes, wasting tremendous amounts of CPU and memory resources. I believe this is due to the C API for writing Ruby extensions being so large and so invasive...it prevents many improvements -- including parallel threading -- from being developed. Hopefully we'll see this change some day.

— Which upcoming or not well-known features of Ruby language would rush in future?

— I look forward to strings becoming immutable-by-default, as they are in most other languages. Parallel programming would be much simpler if more of Ruby's objects supported pure-immutable or "deep freeze" semantics. It's a bit like the Rust ownership model...if you're going to be sharing an object across threads, choose the version of that object that you know can't be modified anymore. This extends to arrays, hashes, and just about every other mutable object in Ruby: we need to make it easier to lock down mutable data.

— Could you give me an advice on how to move my ancient monolithic project to JRuby? And should I?

— The first question really is whether such a move would benefit you. There's many good reasons to consider a move to JRuby:

  • Reducing CPU  and memory costs in a shared hosting environment by utilizing JRuby's true parallel threading
  • Deploying a Ruby application into a JVM-heavy environment, such as used by larger financial or government organizations
  • Needing access to libraries that only exist on the JVM, or that are more portable or scalable on the JVM than their Ruby or C equivalents
  • Getting a little performance boost out of CPU-heavy or concurrency-heavy applications.

— I would say if your application is scaling well and not costing you too much today, perhaps you don't need to make a move. But if you decide you need more out of Ruby, here's the process for migrating:

  • Do a clean bundle of your application, paying special attention to C extensions you may be using. You can also do this bundling *on* JRuby, and then deal with missing or unsupported libraries one by one.
  • For each extension, search for a JRuby equivalent. We have some pages on the JRuby wiki to help with this. Most popular libraries have JRuby versions. If no JRuby version exists, you may look for a pure-Ruby version (it might be fast enough on JRuby) or a JVM library (in Java or Scala or Clojure or whatever) that could be used as a replacement.
  • Once your bundle completes, you should have a working JRuby application! We've worked very hard on compatibility, and try to be responsive if users find new issues, but a successfully-bundled application is expected to work.

The steps beyond this involve deciding how to take advantage of your newfound power: how many threads to throw at a given server, what you're going to do with all the money you're saving, etc.

— What should nowadays students learn to become good programmers?

— When I was at university, my earliest computer science courses used the Scheme language, a Lisp-like functional language that's great for teaching the fundamentals of programming. I still recommend that serious new programmers work through at least some of the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs book from MIT. Beyond that, I'd say learn as many different and unusual languages as you can; they'll all give you new ideas and new ways to look at programming problems.

— How do you keep yourself motivated for programming? Have you ever been "burned-out"?

— Burn-out is a real problem in our industry, and working in open source brings with it huge amount of stress. We've all felt that way sometimes...too much work to do and not enough time to do it, missing out on time with family and friends, ignoring our own health so we can fix one more bug. These days I try to center myself by keeping up with hobbies: playing video and board games, learning to play guitar, studying foreign languages, and traveling around the world to meet new friends. There's always this nagging workaholic telling me to get back on the job, but I'm learning how to maintain the right balance.

— What do you think about Russia and what do you expect of the upcoming RubyRussia event?

— I love Russia, and my speaking trips the past few years have been some of the most rewarding of my life. This will be my fourth visit, having been to Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk (!!!) previously. I'm looking forward to returning to Moscow and meeting the RubyRussia community I've heard so much about!

Questions by Dmitry Matveyev PM at Evrone https://www.facebook.com/matveyev.d