Accepting code from the community means accepting full responsibility for all time

time to read 4 min | 657 words

Sometimes, we’ll reject a certain pull request from the community, not because it doesn’t meet our standards, or doesn’t do things properly. We’ll reject it because we don’t want to accept the responsibility for this.

This seems obvious, but I got a comment on my recent post saying:

If you e.g. say that you're willing to accept a new F# module within RavenDB that does scripted deploys and automation of various tasks, I bet people would jump in with enthusiasm.

I wouldn’t accept such a PR. Not because there is anything wrong with F#, or because it wouldn’t be valuable. I wouldn’t accept such a PR because none of the core team of RavenDB has great expertise in F#. Oh, we have a few guys that played with it, and would love to do some more. In fact, I’ve got a guy that is pushing hard for allowing RavenDB to run computations via F#. It is a pretty cool feature, and I’ll talk about that in detail in a future post.

But imagine the scenario outline in the comment. A F# module that does some automation, scripted deploys, etc in F#. We go over the code, we are happy with it, we have a need for this feature. And at that point, we would have to make sure that it is written in C#.

Why? What is wrong with F#?

Pretty much nothing, except that any piece of code we ship (yes, even pieces that were contributed) has support requirements. A 2 AM call for one of the support team on that component means that the person answering the phone need to: Figure out the problem, decide if this is a misuse / feature / bug, fix this by either suggesting work around or supplying a hot fix.

And if the component with the issue is written in F#, that means that you need to have all the support group (now just over 20 people) be able to understand and work with that. And to the nitpickers, yes, it doesn’t take a long while to learn a new language, but it takes a good long while before you can be effective with it, especially at 2AM. Now multiple that by 20+ people, and you might see where we are starting to have an issue.

There is also the community angle to consider, code that is written in a language more people know gets more contributors.

Now, I’ve actually have run an real live study on that. In 2005 I wrote a view engine for MonoRail (MVC framework for ASP.Net) written in Boo. (You can read all about that here). Naturally, building a DSL that is based on Boo, I wrote that in Boo. And it was mildly successful. It was a pure OSS project, with multiple contributors. And I was the sole person that would actually modify the Boo code. Boo code looks pretty much like Python, and there isn’t any FP aspect to it. I find it imminently approachable and easy to work with.

The Brail codebase had pretty much zero outside contributions. At that point, I ported the Brail codebase to C#, the post is from 2006. Note the discussion around the reasoning. After that happened, we started getting more outside contributors and people were actually willing to take a look at the code.

For fun, this is actually in a situation where anyone using Brail was actually writing Boo code. It isn’t like they weren’t aware of how it worked. They pretty much had to, because Brail was a very thin DSL over Boo code. But moving the codebase to C# significantly improved the level of involvement.

Something that I think people miss is the fact that this kind of decision has pretty much nothing to do with the language or its merits. It is all about the implications on the project as a whole.