There is a huge discussion going on on hackers@ about how FreeBSD is not suitable for large installations (anymore?). As of this writing, the discussion seems to get some discussion-clusters. We have some sub-topics which could lead to some good improvements.
One subtopic is the release engineering. Some changes like a more guided approach of what should be merged to which branch, the frequency of releases and maybe some kind of long-term-branch(es). There is some discussion to get maybe some joined-funding in some way from interested parties to pay someone to take care about long-term-branch(es).
Another subtopic is the way bugs are handled in our old bugtracking software and how patches go unnoticed there.
And both of them are connected (parts more, parts less) by what can be done in a volunteer project.
To me it looks like the proposals “just” need some refinements and some “volunteers” to put value (this means man power and/or money) to what they said.
What I want to discuss here is, how tools could help with making PRs/patches more visible to developers (there is already the possibility to get emails from the small bugbuster-team about patches in PR database, but you have to ask them to get them) and how to make it more easy to get patches into FreeBSD.
Making bugs more visible to developers
The obvious first: We need a different bugtracking system. We already know about it. There is (or was…) even someone working IIRC on an evaluation of what could be done and how easy/hard it would be. I am not aware of any outcome, despite the fact that it is months (or even a year) since this was announced. I do not blame anyone here, I would like to get time to finish some FreeBSD volunteer work myself.
In my opinion this needs to be handled in a commercial way. Someone needs to be officially paid (with a deadline) to produce a result. Unfortunately there is the problem that the requirements are in a way, that people do not have to change their workflows/procedures.
IIRC people ask that they should be able to send a mail to the bugtracker without the need for authentication. Personally I think the bugtracking issue is in a state where we need to change our workflows/procedures. It is convenient to get mails from the bugtracker and only have to reply to the mail to add something. On the other hand, if I report bugs somewhere, and if I really care about the problem resolution, I am willing login to whatever interface to get this damn problem solved.
Sending a problem report from the system where I have the issue in an easy way is a very useful feature. Currently we have send-pr for this and it uses emails. This means it requires a working email setup. As an user I do not care if the tool uses email or HTTP or HTTPS, I just want to have an easy way to submit the problem. I would not mind if I first have to do a “send-problem register me@tld” (once), “send-problem login me@tld” (once per system+user I want to send from) and then maybe a “send-problem template write_template_here.txt” (to get some template text to fill out), edit the template file and then run “send-problem send my_report.txt file1 file2 …”. That would be a different workflow, but still easy.
Email notifications are surely needed, but if I really care about a problem, I can be bothered to register first. So in my opinion, we need a different bugtracker desperately enough that we need to drop our requirements regarding our current workflow/procedures (even if it means we can not get a command line way of submitting bugs at all). The primary goal of the software needs to be to make it easy to track and resolve bugs. The submission of bugs shall be not hard too. If I look at the state of the world as it is ATM, I would say a webinterface with authentication is not a big burden to take if I really want to get my problem fixed. Some command line tool would be nice to have, but regarding the current state of our bugtracker it needs to be optional instead of a hard requirement.
Apart from making it easy to track and resolve problems, the software also needs to be able to make us aware of the biggest problems. Now… you may ask what is a big problem. Well… IMO it does not matter to you what I think is big or small here. The person with a problem needs to decide what is a big problem to him. And people with the same problem need to be able to tell that it is also a big problem for them. So a feature which allows to “vote” or “+1” or “AOL” (or however you want to call it) would allow to let users with problems voice their opinion upon the relevance of the problem to our userbase. This also means there needs to be a way to see the highest voted problems. An automatic mail would be best, but as above this is optional. If I as a developer really care about this, I can be bothered to login to a webinterface (or maybe someone volunteers to make a copy & paste and send a mail… we need to be willing to rethink our procedures).
Getting patches more easy into a FreeBSD branch
It looks to me that this topic is requires a little bit more involvement from multiple tools. In my opinion we need to switch to a distributed version control system. One which allows to easily create my own branch of FreeBSD on my own hardware, and which allows to let other users use my branch easily (if I want to allow other to branch from my branch). It also needs to be able to let me push my changes towards FreeBSD. Obviously not directly into the official sources, but into some kind of staging area. Other people should be able to have a look at this staging area and be able to review what I did. They need to be able to make some comments for others to see, or give some kind of (multi-dimensional?-)rating for the patch (code quality / works for me / does not work / …). Based upon the review/rating and maybe some automated evaluation (compile test / regression test / benchmark run) a committer could push the patch into the official FreeBSD tree (ideal would be some automated notification system, a push button solution for integration and so on, but as above we should not be afraid if we do not get all the bells and whistles).
If we would have something like this in place, creating some kind of long-term-release branch could be used more easily in a colaborative manner. Companies which use the same long-term-release branch could submit their backports of fixes/features this way. They also could see if similar branches (there could be related but different branches, like 9.4-security-fixes-only <= 9.4‑official-errata-only <= 9.4‑bugfixes <= 9.4‑bugfixes-and-driverupdates <= …) could be merged to their in-house branch (and maybe consequently push-back to the official branch they branched from if the patch comes from a different branch).
It does not matter here if we would create a fixed set of branches for each release, or if we only create some special-purpose branches based upon the phase of the moon (ideally we would create a lot of branches for every release, companies/users can cherry pick/submit what they want, and the status of a long-term-branch is solely based upon the inflow of patches and not by what the security team or release manager or a random developer thinks it should be… but the reality will probably be somewhere in the middle).
I do not know if tools exists to make all this happen, or which tools could be put together to make it happen. I also did not mention on purpose tools I am aware of which already provide (small) parts of this. These are just some ideas to think about. Interested parties are invited to join the discussion on hackers@ (which is far away from discussing specific tools or features), but you are also free to add some comments here.