The Object Teams Blog

Adding team spirit to your objects.

Posts Tagged ‘open source

Let’s talk straight with our users

with 2 comments

Users of Eclipse trust in its quality. But what happens when they install additional plug-ins that are not part of the original download package? We tend to say that plug-ins only add to the installed system, but by saying so we’re actually spreading a myth:

“Adding plug-ins to an Eclipse install does not affect anything that is already installed.”

This simplest way to falsify this myth is by installing two plug-ins that together produce a deadlock. Each plug-in in isolation may work just perfect, but adding the other will cause Eclipse to freeze.

No zero-risk software install

Sure, in the absence of any correctness proofs, we can never be sure that adding one more plug-in to an already complex system will not break anything. Concurrency is just one of the most cumbersome issues to get right. Other reasons exist, why installing more is not always better.

Install-time risk assement

Actually, the p2 UI already distinguishes two kinds of installs: signed and unsigned artifacts, and warns the user when unsigned content is about to be installed. This is great, because now the user can decide whether s/he accepts unsigned content or not.

But this question is just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind the scenes of p2

When you tell p2 to install a given feature a number of things can happen that a normal user will not be aware of:

  • Additional required software may be pulled in, possibly from different projects / vendors / repositories
  • New features may replace existing plug-ins (patch features).
  • Installation may trigger touchpoint actions that modify central parts of the system
  • Installed plug-ins may access non-public classes and members of existing plug-ins
  • New plug-ins may hook into the Equinox framework (adaptor hooks)
  • New plug-ins can weave into the bytecode of existing plug-ins.

Is this bad?

Don’t get me wrong: I believe all these ways of influencing the installation are very useful capabilities for specific goals (and Object Teams utilizes several of those). However, we may want to acknowledge that users have different goals. If you need to be 100% sure that installing a plug-in does not delete anything on your hard disk you will not be happy to learn about the touchpoint instruction “remove”, while apparently others think this a cool feature.

Touchpoint actions have no ethical value, neither good nor bad.

Negotiation over rules

Drawing the line of how a plug-in may affect the rest of the system can be done up-front, by defining rules of conduct. Thou shalt not use internal classes; thou shalt only add, never modify etc. But that would impose a one-size-fits-all regime over all plug-ins to be published, and installations that can or cannot be created from published plug-ins. This regime would never equally suite the anxious and the daring, users with highest security constraints and users loving to play around with the newest and coolest.

Better than one size would be two sizes (conservative & bleeding edge), but then we still wouldn’t meet en par with our users, with all their shades of goals (and fears). Instead of imposing rules I suggest to enter negotiation with our users. By that I meen:

  • Really tell them what’s in the boxes
  • Let them decide which boxes to install

Proposing: Install capabilities

I could think of a concept of install capabilities at the core of a solution:

  • Each artifact may declare a set of non-standard capabilities required for installing, which could include all items from the above list (and more)
  • During install a security/risk report will be presented to the user mentioning (a summary of) all capability requests
  • Based on that report a user can select which requests to accept, possibly blocking risky plug-ins from installing
  • The runtime should enforce that no feature/plug-in uses any install capabilities which it didn’t declare

In this context I previously coined the notion of Gradual Encapsulation including a more elaborate model of negotiation.

More specifically I filed bug 316702. Where I’d love to read some comments.

Are you going to Eclipse Summit Europe? Shouldn’t we talk about this in a BoF?

I strongly feel it’s time to talk straight to our users: adding new artifacts to an existing Eclipse install is not always purely additive. Installation can indeed modify existing parts. In an open-source community, we should tell our users what modifications are requested, what potential risks are associated with a given artifact. They are grown-up and able to decide for themselves.


Written by Stephan Herrmann

October 31, 2010 at 00:07

Posted in Eclipse, Object Teams

Tagged with , ,

Why I’m sometimes a bad bug reporter

with 5 comments

OK, I use Eclipse for getting some work done. Eclipse is software so we know it contains bugs. Given that Eclipse is open source software, we all can only expect it to run smoothly if we diligently report back all errors we encounter (and provide steps on how to reproduce etc.). I know all that and I really want to be a good bug reporter because I really want a good experience using Eclipse because I really want to get the work done (and I may even want to sustain the impression that I’ve got everything under control and thus working with Eclipse is a delight).

A task

The other day, I was a very bad bug reporter, and only today I find some time to reason about what happened. This was my task: In preparing the initial contribution for the Object Teams Project I had to rename a bunch of things from org.objectteams to org.eclipse.objectteams. Simply, huh? Back in the days of emacs+bash I might have chosen to just use one big

find . -exec /bin/sed -i -e "s/org.objectteams/org.eclipse.objectteams/g" {} ;

and voila, if fortuna was with me, I might have been done at the return of that single command. But things were actually just a little bit more challenging, like, a few occurrences would have to remain unchanged plus while touching about every single file in our software I was going to also do some clean-up: rename some packages to, fixing some copyright headers, etc. Also I preferred to change one plug-in at a time which would mean that all references to plug-ins not yet processed should stay unchanged, too. Plus a few more little deviations from the grand search-and-replace-globally.

OK, since I like to see myself an Eclipse-wizard this was a nice challenge for its refactoring support. Plug-in by plug-in I renamed, I renamed packages with / or without subpackages, and after each step I wanted to see that compiler and PDE agree with all changes and signal that everything is still (or again) consistent, ready to be built, actually. Perhaps things started the get wrong when I estimated the effort as one or two hours. So, after a day or so, I wasn’t perfectly relaxed any more. My fault, should’ve known better about that estimate. BTW, one of the reasons it took so long was simply the size of my workspace in comparison to the power of my computer / hard-disk: every time I performed a rename with updates in non-Java files, I was nervously looking at the screen: “should I sit and wait for the preview page, or should I go to the kitchen, get a chocolate, coffee, just something?“. I did some emailing in parallel, but let’s just keep this: due to those response times
I wasn’t perfectly relaxed any more.

A story of bug reporting

What I was going to tell here is a story of bug reporting, because as a safe bet doing a real-life stress test to an Eclipse component should give you a good chance to discover and report a few bugs that have not yet been reported by others. And indeed, I was successful in discovering some bugs, in various components actually.

I think one of the first things that occurred was that the svn synchronize view would sometimes fail to open the compare editor, more precisely, I had to explicitly close the compare editor before comparing the next file. At first this really **** me off, because the error dialog was popping up in some kind of infinite loop. Fun!#$ Once I’d figure out how to work around this problem it soon became a habit to just close the compare editor before clicking the next. Next, the svn plugin made a refactoring fail, because it was trying to create a directory which the previous refactoring had already created. The most creative bug having to do with subversive was a chain-reaction of first failing to undo a refactoring and than during reporting this error blocking the UI of Eclipse so I could only kill the Eclipse process, insert a new coin and start a new game.

I don’t intend to blame a particular component. For clean-up of license headers I have a little home-grown plugin that I just wanted to quickly install into the running Eclipse instance, so I went for the cool new feature to export/install into the host. Oops, my plugin depends on another plugin that only exists in the workspace but not in the host, install failed for good reasons. I removed the dependency and tried again. Installation still failed for the same reason: the ghost of this removed dependency prevented installation into the host Eclipse. Oh, I should have incremented the version or let a version qualifier do this automatically, of course. Tried again, still failed. Tried something so slightly different I cannot recall, from there on it worked. Can I reproduce the two or three different levels of failure? I didn’t even take the time to think of it. Well I would’ve been disappointed without a bug from p2 in this list 😉 .

PDE did its share by reporting overlapping text edits in plugin.xml and therefore disabling its refactoring participant. What the **** caused those overlapping text edits, and how do I re-enable the refactoring participant to give it one more chance to behave well?

The list could go on if only I could remember. Instead I was happy to finish this 1.5 hours task after 2.7 days, ready to submit our initial code contribution, wow!

Looking back, I / we missed a great opportunity: we could have identified plenty of bugs in various components of Eclipse. With only a few more days of debugging I might have been able to present reproducing steps for all those bugs. And, if triaged and fixed by the corresponding devs, this might have contributed to M6 containing fewer of those bugs that just only occur in real world, never during testing. I failed, I managed only to submit two bug reports, with very little information on how to reproduce.

Lesson learned

Susan McCourt responded to an earlier bug report of mine in a very descriptive comment:

That is one of those things I’ve been meaning to fix forever, never wrote a
bug, and so keep forgetting to fix. And it seems like if I’m actually
[doing what triggers the bug], it’s because something is wrong, and so I again postpone
writing a bug.

Sure, when we hit a bug (or a bug hits us) we are always in some context of doing something challenging. Something that requires our mind to stay in focus. Something we want to get done.
Well, work isn’t perfectly linear, so we know how to react to interrupts. Bugs are such interrupts. Sometimes I like the challenge of isolating a bug etc. Sometimes I’m sufficiently relaxed when the bug occurs so I actually take the challenge. Sometimes the bug is sufficiently good-natured so making a small note and going back to the bug after the actual work is done is a perfect strategy. Some bugs, however, smell like depending on so many factors from your current context that reproduction an hour later seems extremely unlikely.

I think I have a solution to all this: given we don’t want to be distracted from our actual work, given also that some bugs need immediate care or they will escape our attempts to identify. Given some of the worst moments are when we start to isolate a bug and during that task a second bug stops us from working on the first bug etc. The only way to relentlessly follow all those tasks is to enable branching universes in your working environment. The frequent use of the work “task” may give a hint that I should finally start using Mylyn (I have no excuse for not doing so), but I would need a Mylyn that is able to capture full contexts: the complete state of my machine plus the full state of my brain. As a start I’m dreaming of always working in a virtual machine, and whenever something strange happens, I quickly (!!) create a snapshot of the virtual machine. Then I could first isolate (and fix 🙂 ) the bug that just occurred, and then go back to the exact point where I
interrupted my work and act as if nothing had happened. Branching universes with the ability of back porting fixes between branches is what I need. Of course the clock needs to be reset when returning from a bug reporting / fixing branch.

Yeah, that’s why I can’t quite live up to my dreams of good participation in open source development: I haven’t figured out how to enable branching universes for my character. If anybody has a hint on how to do this or any other strategy to not get overwhelmed between work and bug reporting, I’d really appreciate.

And if I don’t smile while writing a bug report, please excuse, I might just be terribly stressed because your bug interrupted my work on isolating another bug that stopped me from doing …

”Always look at the bright side of life…” 🙂

Written by Stephan Herrmann

February 7, 2010 at 18:31

Posted in Eclipse

Tagged with , , , , ,