Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Long term decisions

In Software on Jun 11, 2010 at 00:01

This post is a question, but maybe I’m already answering it by posing the question in the first place …

The question is: what to do with the Jee Labs source code?

As you may remember, I went through a few mad gyrations recently w.r.t. setting up a community site using TikiWiki, and then quickly abandoning it again.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t buy into TikiWiki. Too many compromises, and for my particular needs, far fewer benefits than I had originally hoped to see.

The current Jee Labs Café that has replaced it is very crude, visually, because I haven’t yet done the work to bring over the layout and style sheets from this weblog. But far more importantly, IMO, is that the information is finally organized in a sensible way – until someone tells me otherwise, anyway!

Screen Shot 2010 05 24 at 21.03.33

The pages are maintained by subversion (svn), a version control system which is well-known and widely used by software developers (as are the older “cvs” and the newer “git”), although I do find that a surprising number of people are not used to the whole idea of “source code control systems” and “code repositories”. Frankly, I couldn’t live without something like svn anymore, these days. It’s the only way to develop software and not lose your mind w.r.t. change management and long term maintenance – IMO.

Maybe I should go into the features and benefits of such an approach in another post.

My point here is that the entire Café website is managed by svn. This means that all older versions of pages, sources, documents, pictures, etc. are available. At least as importantly in this context, is that the pages can be edited by anyone with write access to the repository. It’s pretty simple: get a copy (“check out”) of the website, make changes, and write it back to the repository (“check in”). Writing is only allowed to those with a user name and password in the repository, so this is wiki-like, but not publicly writeable.

The interesting tidbit about the Café website is that all changes are automatically published on the web. I’m using ikiwiki as tool to take care of all that. Thats why all the pages for the Café can be maintained as simple Markdown text pages, and how the result ends up as HTML, with links and embedded images. I’m only using a very small subset of ikiwiki’s features, btw.

Another great side-effect of using ikiwiki is that the entire Café website consists of static web pages. No server load, inifinite scalability for free.

In practice, it’s all working out really well. I can easily update, extend, and maintain the Café website this way. And if anyone wants to participate and contribute more content for the wiki (one can always hope, eh?) then that would be very easy to fit in, since subversion can be used over the internet.

As far as I’m concerned, the daily weblog and the Café / wiki are in good shape for a long time to come.

There are two other areas. One is the Talk discussion forum, which uses bbPress. I’m not terribly excited by its functionality, nor by its (lack of) progress, but it’s holding out fine, sooo… if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

The fourth area of public Jee Labs activity is the source code being developed for use with JeeNodes and JeeMon. It’s been in my subversion repository for a while, then I moved it to Google Code, en then I moved it back to my subversion repository again, which is where it has been for many months now.

As fas as the repository goes, this way of managing source code works well, at least for me. But there are some sharp edges. For one, the web-browsing interface is based on ViewVC – which is a bit quirky, and which turns out to be CPU resource hog on my server. Probably just web-crawlers, constantly triggering CGI execution of the ViewVC Python scripts.

Also, I currently have no issue tracking system in place. Would be nice to get something going one day.

I’ve been looking into GitHub, which seems to attract a lot of attention (and open source projects), these days. It has git-based code repositories, with an optional svn interface, and it offers a wiki, issue tracker, and download area. Reminds me a bit of SourceForge, which seems to have fallen out of grace, these days.

My main concern with GitHub is that it’s yet another big central site, offering a mix of features and functions to attract as many developers as it can, with no guarantees that it won’t be gone a few years from now, or start doing “targeted” ads, or selling email addresses, or other nasty stuff.

There is, however, one tempting option out there: GitHub + JekyllJekyll is similar to ikiwiki, in that it takes text files (including Markdown, yeay!) and generates a website from it. Jekyll even offers a migration path for WordPress sites. The interesting bit is that GitHub supports Jekyll out of the box, and that it can be set up to work with custom DNS domains. IOW, I could merge this daily weblog, the Café, and the code repository into a single consistent system. The result could be one or two static websites (hm, I guess that rules out blog comments), fully under version control, and using the Markdown format I’ve already standardized on. Needs more thought!

As it currently stands, I think I’m going to stick with WordPress + subversion, which is rock solid and has some really nice software tools for it (like Versions on the Mac). Maybe just integrate the source code areas with the Café, and use ikiwiki to allow browsing the latest version on the web, right next to the supporting doocumentation.

It feels a bit like “going it alone” by placing everything in my own subversion repository and maintaining it all on a privately managed server, but all I can say is that a lot of what I’ve done in the past has been around a lot longer – and still is! – than some of those fads…

The web is somewhat too ephemeral for my tastes…

  1. It is not simple to decide the correct tools for project collaboration…! For the code source I guess you’d need two levels, the main repository and a ‘public’ repository. This way you can compare the code proposed by others and decide to integrate in the main repository. I’ve been using mercurial for a while and it is great for this kind of thing. I don’t know git but I guess mercurial is similar.

  2. probably you already know this, but If you are worried about the lack of guarantees of github then gitorius could be an interesting alternative: it is a similar service, but its source code is available and licensed under the AGPL.

  3. We use mercurial hosted on with a custom CNAME entry (to be able to move to another hosting service) and provide a link to the current release as a ZIP file ( for those who don’t want to use version control.

  4. Bitbucket is nice but it unfortunately does not have anything like Yekyll. Even if GitHub closes you still have your source code and Yekyll repos so migrating won’t be a problem (Yekyll is Open Source and you can run it without problems on you server).

    As far as comments are concerned most people seem to use but I don’t have any personal experience with that.

  5. II would definitely go for git. Linus’ main objective for developing git was a higher participation. This is greatly enhanced by the (social) features of Github. I would not worry about Github closing. First, Github is profitable (paid accounts, no outside funding see Second, if Github would close, you not only have your source code, but your complete (local and on a other remote site) repo as well! Third, there are other git hosting alternatives to fall back on like,, Furthermore, you’ll become more productive with git and merging a branch is a great joy with git (in contrast to subversion). BTW, jekyll (also in combination with disquss) is awesome.

  6. BTW rubycoop is hosted on my own server.

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