opinionated or not

June 2, 2012

Opinionated framework on top of an unopinionated toolkit. If I had to choose my favorite engineering principle behind Gradle, there you go.

Sticking to the principle is challenging. Imagine a subdomain where the are no clear conventions, no popular, easy-to-harvest patterns. How do you come of with the “opinion” in such a field? We gather use cases and then try to resolve them in the best way we can. Sometimes the convention emerges organically and we can unanimously rejoice. Sometimes several conventions emerge and we are not quite sure which one to pick. We might choose the one most fitting or wait until we gather more knowledge, more use cases. Sometimes, we don’t see any reasonable conventions and we refrain from the opinion for the time being.

Good old ant doesn’t have many opinions. It is a toolkit. It lets me script the project automation in an imperative fashion. Kick starting a new software project almost always started with taking the build.xml from the previous project. The level of copy-paste in the build.xmls is legendary. Yet, back in the days, I loved ant as it allowed me to do amazing automation in projects. Thank you ant!

Maven delivers plenty opinions. It is a framework. However if my context does not quite fit maven’s opinion then I might be in trouble. It was a great technological leap from ant to maven. I can still remember my feverish efforts advocating maven2, pulling my conservative team mates into the new era of declarative dependencies and convention-over-configuration. Thanks, maven!

We want Gradle to offer the inspiring technological leap you might remember when you migrated your first project from ant to maven. This time, though, you will taste it when upgrading from maven. Some of you have enjoyed that feeling already and I am so glad to have you on board. Some of you will come along at some point I’m sure. We want to deliver opinionated conventions so that you can build your standard projects with a one-liner build scripts. We also want to provide an unopinionated toolkit so that you are never lock down with the design choices we have made.

I’ve just got back to Krakow from the amazing city of Berlin. I had a pleasure to brainstorm, debate and drink cytrynowka with the fellow Gradle gang members. Among many things that are crystal clear to me now is this one: The question is not IF Gradle will dominate the space of project automation but WHEN. Have a great weekend everybody :)

Develop incrementally!

July 16, 2011

– “There’s this feature X we should take on!”
– “Hmmm, we cannot deliver it now. We should refactor some parts of our app and deliver feature Y. Then it will be easy to add feature X and Z”
– “I guess we can wait. Feature Y is also interesting.”

I think the concept of incremental approach is somewhat missing here. There’re red warnings blinking when hear such conversation: features X, Y, Z may have different priorities among other features in the team’s backlog. Implementing them in one leap step means that we may not be working according to team’s priority queue.

To solve a problem the software engineer often has following alternatives:

  • quick & dirty solution that causes maintenance headache and other problems down the road
  • ultimate general solution that solves the particular problem… and a bunch or surrounding problems with varying level of priority

The first path is considered the easiest. The unethical and anti-craftsmanship way. The latter is much more respected in the engineering community. Nevertheless, it’s an easy path as well. The really challenging path, the one with the biggest potential value is the one that leads through the middle ground. It’s quite an engineering challenge to solve a particular problem without hacking, yet without embarking on solving too many problems at once. That’s the essence of incremental approach and that’s the software engineering skill of real importance.

Taking the incremental path does not mean that we want to avoid implementing the general solution. We still want the general solution, oh yeah. Yet, we want to get there step-by-step, maintaining the team’s capability to work according to priorities. I like to couple incremental approach with simple design. They both feed of each other. Simple design makes the code easy to change, refractor and accommodate new features incrementally. Simple design may mean some additional overhead down the road. Again, it’s an important engineering skill to keep this overhead minimal.

Finally, remember that context is king. There might be situations or working environments where going incremental may not be the best way to go. Nevertheless, if the team too often favor ultimate general solutions chance is they are not as effective as they could be.

Here’s my message for today: Architect your solutions so that it is possible to work according to priorities. Don’t let the the general solution get out of your sight. Reach it incrementally.

IDE & patterns for huge maven project

December 11, 2010

I started working on a huge multi-module maven project these days. Trust me, working with ~150 maven modules at a time is a pain for a developer. On the other hand there’s a lot of room for me to improve the development environment & make dev cycles efficient.

Some more context: The team is pretty big; over 100 developers on a single codebase working in a ‘continuous integration’ fashion: little branching, keeping the integration gap small, automated testing, CI servers etc. Each developer checks-out entire trunk that contains ~150 maven modules linked via the default ‘x-SNAPSHOT’ dependency. Maven veterans probably flinch now because this way of managing internal dependencies in a large project is probably considered ‘lame’. Maven ‘by-the-book’ approach may put emphasis on keeping the internal dependency links to a specific version. I’m a pragmatic developer and I see pros & cons of both approaches. This blog post, however, does not dwell on the subject of internal dependencies. I want to focus on the most effective dev environment set-up and the choice of the IDE.

“Toggle IDE/local-repo dependency” pattern

Couldn’t find a good name for this pattern. Theoretically, it can give a nice dev performance boost in a huge multi-module project. Here’s the idea: out of the 150 modules we will work on the handful only. Therefore I want to be able to quickly decide which module should be a concrete project/module in the IDE and which should a mere jar dependency resolved via the local maven repo. It is a sort of a toggling dependency IDE/local-repo.

Here’s how I see it working:

1. The developer pulls in a smaller module set into an IDE by selecting a relevant sub-parent in the multi-module tree.
2. At some point the developer needs to perform changes in the module that is not pulled into the IDE. He pulls in the relevant module(s). Dependencies inside IDE are updated from jar-dependencies to: project-dependencies (Eclipse) or module-dependencies (IDEA).

Here’s how my team so far coped with the project and how the above pattern could be used.

eclipse:eclipse or idea:idea

At the moment I think more than half of the team uses maven eclipse:eclipse plugin to generate configuration that is consumable by Eclipse. In our environment it is not very efficient because after every svn update developer has to regenerate project configs (in case someone changed internal/external dependencies) and restart Eclipse (‘just’ refreshing Eclipse didn’t work well occasionally).

Team members who use IntelliJ IDEA never use idea:idea maven plugin. I cannot confirm that but I heard feedback that it was not generating the correct configurations for latest & greatest IDEA. However, most devs simply don’t need idea:idea because maven support built-in to IDEA 9+ is simply brilliant. I hardly imagine someone wanting to step back and generate configurations via idea:idea.

Toggling dependencies IDE/local-repo is possible but somewhat inconvenient. It requires specifying project names by hand at command line; then refreshing/restarting IDE.


I don’t recall anyone using it in my team. The plugin seems to be making progress – I heard several good reviews. In our particular environment developers complained on reduced perceived performance of Eclipse and they fell back to generating configs via eclipse:eclipse. I tested m2eclipse myself recently with our project; there were things I liked about it. Yet, I still found Eclipse choking (even If I fine-tuned the plugin).

Toggling dependencies IDE/local-repo is possible but I cannot comment how it behaves as we haven’t used m2eclipse too much.

IntelliJ IDEA

The built-in maven plugin for IDEA is getting more & more popular in my team. It does not seem to reduce the perceived performance of the IDE. However, IDEA tends to be a bit slower than Eclipse anyway. IDEA 9+ is fast enough for me – I tend to use it more often than Eclipse. My experience with IDEA 8- is limited because I rarely had enough patience to wait until it started. Spanking new IDEA 10 is marketed as faster than 9. I have not tested it yet but I want to extend my thanks to JetBrains for working on it!!!

Back to the maven support in IDEA and the context of our huge multi-module project. Options that we absolutely needed to tweak were:
1. Disable files/folders synchronization on IDEA frame activation. In our case, IDEA choked every time one ran any maven goal outside of the IDEA.
2. Disable automatic maven project reimporting (it’s the default anyway). It is related to the #1.

Also, be sure to read some of the posts on how to improve IDEA performance in general (most notable: choose wisely the plug-in set enabled at IDEA; get SSD drive; etc.)

In our project we found this feature very useful: the separation of 2 different actions: ‘reimporting maven projects’ and ‘updating folders’. The first one makes sure the project internal/external dependencies are linked well. The latter makes sure sources are generated for modules that need them (generate-sources).

Finally, toggling dependencies IDE/local-repo works like a charm in IntelliJ!!! Basically, all I need to do is “Import module from existing model”, point out the relevant pom.xml. IDEA takes care of updating the dependency links of my existing modules to use IDE links rather than local-repo links. How cool is that?!

I still keep myself using both Eclipse & IDEA as I work with various developers. However, it’s going to be harder to get back to Eclipse…

Disclaimer: Please notice the date of this blog post! I don’t know if the problems I mentioned with some of the tools will still be valid in future. Hopefully all those tools will be great, fast & very convenient for working with huge maven projects. Respect to all the people who work on the dev tools that we use today (Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, eclipse:eclipse, idea:idea, m2eclipse). Thanks a lot!!!

XML please, I don’t want to recompile

November 15, 2010

There’s one quite naive argument that sometimes determines the technology choice. I want to write about it because this argument I’ve been hearing on and off for years. It’s about favouring XML to avoid recompilation.

I remember in the late days of EJB2, one of the selling points of Spring was that you can reconfigure the wiring of your beans without recompilation. At that time I was quite enthusiastic about this feature… even though the argument was almost completely negligible.

My friend said today:

“Another advantage [of XML workflow] is you can do some modification to the flow without recompiling the whole app”

It’s true that you don’t need to recompile. However, if you want fully implement the change to the XML workflow you probably still have to:

  • run tests
  • validate the app works
  • check-in the change to your VCS (new revision created)
  • make sure the integration build on newly created revision works OK
  • validate the application (built with the new revision) works on the integration box

In most cases, updating XML by hand on the integration/prod box is not practical. Don’t fall for the ‘no recompilation’ argument because it is negligable. Usually you still need a build & QA cycle.

This post is not intended to claim that XML is bad for you (although I probably agree with that statement =)). This post claims that ‘no recompilation’ argument is void.

Nevertheless, If I have to use a workflow in my java app it will declared in java and not in xml. I’m great fan of fluent, type-safe & intellisense-ready configurations!

Code Retreat in Wroclaw

October 21, 2010

Next weekend there’s a Code Retreat in Wroclaw: http://coderetreat.wroclaw.pl. I’ll be there so If you want to cut some code together retreat with us =)