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Open Source Development: Diplomacy Training

Posted by davidvc on October 4, 2005 at 5:00 PM PDT

My friend has a story of how he was sitting on his deck with a
beer, and he noticed a little bit of wood flaking off of a post. He
got up and picked at it, and it was clear it was dry-rot. He took a
screwdriver and started working it, and it went deeper and deeper.
So, being a handyman, he decided to replace the post. But then he
discovered that the leak had affected his foundation, and he ended up
having to jack up his house and replace some of the foundation.

I thought that was a great metaphor for the task I am currently
working on in Derby. All I wanted to do was internationalize the
network client driver error messages. Then I noticed that there were
similar error messages and SQL States already defined for the
embedded driver. So I thought it would be great to share these
messages between the two drivers so I wouldn't have to create new
ones or cut-and-paste the existing ones (and all their translations).

Ah, the heady days of youth. Little did I know what I was walking
into. The initial proposal on the derby-dev mailing list seemed
simple enough. It is now a mail thread with 93
in it. On and on and on the discussion went. What
really opened my eyes was realizing that, in the Apache open source
world, you can't just have your “chief architect” make a
call when there is a difference of opinion. There is no chief
architect. All committers are created equal. If any committer votes
down your proposed change, you can not move forward. And heaven help
you if the committers start taking sides on two alternate approaches
(yes, that happened). You need to have serious negotiation skills or
you are at a deadlock. Consensus must be reached.

So, this has been a very enlightening experience. And actually in
some ways it has helped gel the Apache Derby team. We're getting to
know each other, warts and all. It's like being in a big boarding
house. You all have to get along, because you're all living
together. If someone starts flaming out and throwing things, nothing
gets done. So you work, and you work, and, at least in this case, we
finally have reached consensus (yes, there are still some nits left,
but no major roadblocks). Concessions have been made, points
clarified, religious doctrine has been set aside.

I think that open source veterans should be on the “A”
list for countries looking for good diplomats.

Just for edification, the big sticking point in our discussion was
about that old humbug of Real Product Development, compatibility. We
want to allow a single VM to be using version N of the client driver
and version M of the embedded driver. If both the client and
embedded drivers are using the same shared component, depending on
the order of your classpath, if you don't have compatibility between
versions of a shared component you are going to get surprising

If you're curious to see how we're resolving these issues (at
least, I hope so), take a look at this Derby
Wiki page
that summarizes the proposal.

And I haven't even broached the issue around what mechanism we
should use for dependency injection in our common code. We have a
service manager for the core engine, but it's pretty heavyweight for
the network client. Just wait until I start that
discussion! :)