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Tue, 17 Jul 2012

Stop The Rewrites!


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What follows is a rant. If you're not in the mood to read a rant right now, please stop and come back in an hour or two.

The Internet is full of people who know better than you how to manage your open source project, even if they only know some bits and pieces about it. News at 11.

But there is one particular instance of that advice that I hear often applied to Rakudo Perl 6: Stop the rewrites.

To be honest, I can fully understand the sentiment behind that advice. People see that it has taken us several years to get where we are now, and in their opinion, that's too long. And now we shouldn't waste our time with rewrites, but get the darn thing running already!

But Software development simply doesn't work that way. Especially not if your target is moving, as is Perl 6. (Ok, Perl 6 isn't moving that much anymore, but there are still areas we don't understand very well, so our current understanding of Perl 6 is a moving target).

At some point or another, you realize that with your current design, you can only pile workaround on top of workaround, and hope that the whole thing never collapses.

Picture of
a Jenga tower
Image courtesy of sermoa

Those people who spread the good advice to never do any major rewrites again, they never address what you should do when you face such a situation. Build the tower of workarounds even higher, and pray to Cthulhu that you can build it robust enough to support a whole stack of third-party modules?

Curiously this piece of advice occasionally comes from people who otherwise know a thing or two about software development methodology.

I should also add that since the famous "nom" switchover, which admittedly caused lots of fallout, we had three major rewrites of subsystems (longest-token matching of alternative, bounded serialization and qbootstrap), All three of which caused no new test failures, and two of which caused no fallout from the module ecosystem at all. In return, we have much faster startup (factor 3 to 4 faster) and a much more correct regex engine.

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