Sunday, January 31, 2010

On The Subject of Bugs, or Help Wanted and Needed!

As bug master for Pidgin, I bear a lot of the responsibility for triaging bugs--getting them assigned to the appropriate developers, weeding out the invalid bugs, etc. I admit that lately I’ve not been doing such a good job at this. I’ve been ignoring Pidgin so I could relax and unplug somewhat after the stress of work. Thankfully, in my increased absence, my fellow developers, particularly Paul, Daniel, and Elliott, have been picking up the slack. All the while, however, not much has changed as far as actual ticket resolution goes.

As much as I hate quoting numbers, let’s take a look at some (as of 2010-01-31, 0500 UTC) to get an idea of scope:
  • Historical ticket count: 11270
  • Currently open tickets: 1818
  • Open bugs: 958
  • Open bugs awaiting response from reporter: 11
  • Bugs that can’t be fixed until we’re ready for 3.0.0: 19
Obviously, 958 open bugs is unacceptable. But to put those bugs in perspective, let’s look at how they break down:
  • AIM: 64
  • artwork: 9
  • Bonjour: 4
  • custom emoticons: 2
  • finch: 7
  • Gadu-Gadu: 19
  • Google Talk: 3
  • Groupwise: 7
  • ICQ: 47
  • IRC: 26
  • libpurple: 68
  • MSN: 70
  • MySpace: 17
  • pidgin: 198
  • plugins: 28
  • QQ: 23
  • Sametime: 13
  • SILC: 6
  • SIMPLE: 3
  • trac: 4
  • unclassified: 160
  • Voice and Video: 11
  • webpage: 3
  • winpidgin: 81
  • XMPP: 47
  • Yahoo!: 35
  • Zephyr: 3
Now, yes, on an IM service level, MSN has more open tickets than any other listed service. However, looking at the underlying protocol for these services, AIM and ICQ combined give the OSCAR protocol a 41-ticket lead. Google Talk is an XMPP service, but even combining Google Talk and XMPP numbers, we come up with 50 tickets, trailing MSN by 20. None of our other listed IM services share an underlying protocol with another. In fairness, the unclassified bugs really should be sorted into proper components, which would change these numbers, but at this time I don’t know by how much.

Now, looking at the IM services we support, many of them don’t have a current “maintainer” who is ultimately responsible for the plugin. Currently, Zephyr, Yahoo, SIMPLE, SILC, Sametime, MySpace, Groupwise, Bonjour, and QQ either have no “official” maintainer, have no one at all working on them, or haven’t had meaningful development activity in at least three months. Obviously, protocols without an active maintainer are not going to see much in the way of quick bug resolution.

We‘re often asked, “Why don’t protocols have maintainers?” or “Why don’t you spend time working on bugs?" or a hundred other questions about the lack of time spent working on Pidgin. The reasons for this are many:
  • We’re all volunteers. Not a single one of us gets paid to put any time or effort into Pidgin.
  • Not all of us use all the services we support. I’ll use myself as an example here. I use AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, and XMPP regularly. I also have an MSN account that I couldn’t possibly care less about and a couple IRC accounts for the rare instance that I need to test something with the Purple Plugin Pack. I don’t use, nor do I have interest in using, any of the other services.
  • We all have families that we’d like to spend time with. Many of us have spouses/significant others, and a few of us also have children. Family is a demand on our time that should never be ignored.
  • All (or almost all) of us have jobs. Since, as I already mentioned, we’re volunteers, the jobs with which we earn our paychecks have to take priority.
  • We’re human too--we get burned out, experience stress, need to unwind after work, etc.
  • Not all of us know anything about a given protocol, nor can we be reasonably expected to. For example, I don’t know how the MSN protocol works, and I have no desire to learn about it. We don’t have to be experts in a given protocol if we don’t want to be. Also, the fact that MSN is allegedly the most-used protocol in the world is not a valid reason for anyone to expect us all to be experts on (or even to care about) the protocol.
  • Pidgin largely just works for us. If we don’t see a bug, we’re not going to be irritated by it and sit down to try to fix it.
So yes, we have been “neglecting” Pidgin to a certain extent. Our time is a precious resource, and in many cases we simply have better things to do or simply don’t have the time to sit down and attack bugs to get them closed. That’s not to say that our development process is coming to an end or that we’re abandoning Pidgin, though. We do, however, readily admit that we need fresh blood.

In that vein, I’m calling for you, the Pidgin community, to help us. Take a look at the open bugs and feature requests and submit patches to resolve them. Pidgin is a fairly complex beast, and there’s a lot of code to maintain, but it is manageable if people work on small changes at a time (instead of completely rearranging things unnecessarily). Additionally, Pidgin uses a distributed version control system, monotone. Contributors who want to seriously work on Pidgin can use this to their advantage by creating their own branches in monotone. When contributions are ready, those contributors can submit the changes from their branches either by attaching patches to tickets on trac or by asking a Pidgin developer to pull and review the changes. At that point a developer can commit or merge the changes and push them on to the central repo at

The only problem with the model of a developer pulling changes from a contributor is that in order for someone to pull revisions, the contributor must be able to run mtn in server mode, which isn’t always possible or feasible. I’m trying to come up with some custom lua code to help in this regard, to do something similar to what git and hg can do with emailing patches, but that’s going to take some time, as I need to learn some more of the internals of monotone first. But none of this should stop anyone from trying to contribute! We will still accept single one-off patches or sets of patches and series of patches from longer-term contributors, and using monotone to develop against is going to produce patches that are the easiest for all of us to work with.

So, yes, in short, Help Wanted and Needed!