29 Sep 2018

A Return to Open Source

Today marks the first month of my return to open source. I say return even though I never really left, it's more of a return to active participation in the community. As I wrote about earlier, one of my courses right now focuses on open source development, so I have been able to contribute much more regularly and I hope to be able to continue to do so even after the course is over.

This past month has been all about getting back into the swing of things by contributing to filerjs/filer, a port of NodeJS' fs module to the web using backends like IndexedDB. My first contribution to filer, which I have already blogged about, was to update a development dependency to resolve package vulnerabilities as reported by npm audit. This issue was logged as filer#384 and fixed in filer#385 by updating the vulnerable dependency. This issue also spawned some discussion as filer#386 about automating the process of keeping project dependencies up to date so it is much easier to stay on top of new versions of dependencies.

Open source isn't just about contributing code and documentation though. It's also about the community, interacting with other developers, discussing issues and potential solutions, as well as reviewing and helping out other members of the community. In addition to helping out my classmates over Slack and in-class throughout the month, I also reviewed a few pull requests opened against the filer repository.

The first issue I reviewed, filer#478, is a pull request that adds a test to fs.watch() to verify the event type emitted when renaming an existing file. Other than the boilerplate mocha test code, the test logic itself is fairly straight forward. However, fs.watch() and related watching functions are an interesting set of methods because they are not guaranted to be consistent due to the underlying implementation details. I actually had to go back to this pull request and re-review it because it turns out that filer doesn't currently have support for rename events at all. This issue was also interesting because I picked out a minor style nitpick in the form of a missing semi-colon that the Travis build didn't seem to pick up for some reason. Rerunning the build resolved the issue, but it's always worrying when you run into issues with your build infrastructure and tests because it can shake your faith in them a bit.

Another issue that I reviewed was filer#472. This pull request adds a test to ensure that reading from a nonexistant file results in an error. The submission is well done overall, with one minor nitpick that lead to me filing filer#498 to reduce small nitpick-type comments on reviews. Nitpicks are generally a waste of everyone's time because style should be automatically enforced by some kind of automated tool before code is pushed; JavaScript doesn't have anything quite like gofmt or rustfmt, but tools like xo and prettier can help. In this review I also cautioned the original author of the pull request about changing multiple variables at a time in a test, which we ideally would like to avoid as we can easily end up testing more code paths than we either need or want to, thereby complicating the test or making it fragile against future changes to the code.

Looking ahead, October marks the beginning of Hacktoberfest. I'm really excited to be participating this year; I participated once before but I either missed the cutoff or something happened to my package because I never received my t-shirt from DigitalOcean. I'll be writing a lot more short blog posts throughout October as I chronicle my participation in this event, and I'm hoping to find some interesting projects to contribute to for at least the rest of this year and hopefully well into the next.

13 Sep 2018

Third Time's The Charm

I've been meaning to start blogging for a while. Not even blogging consistently, just writing some long-form-ish pieces on projects that I've been working on, things I've learned, or things that I might want for my own reference. I've tried at least twice before - once when I purchased this domain back in December of 2013 and again at the end of 2016 - and as evidenced by the utter lack of content it's pretty clear I haven't been successful.

I made a real attempt to begin publishing at the end of 2016 with the release of that year's Advent of Code, but coursework kept me pretty busy and I never managed to finish and publish any of the posts I was working on at the time. I'll probably revisit some of them, clean them up, and post them - if I still remember what I was writing about - and the rest I may throw into a backlog so that if I ever run into a similar topic again I can incorporate my draft.

The reason I'm giving it another try now is I'm taking a course that specifically focuses on open source and includes a requirement that the students blog about their work and experiences as they gain exposure to the open source community. I'm not exactly a stranger to open source work, but I haven't had time to be as active as I would like to be so this course is giving me a good excuse to commit more time to getting involved and getting my hands dirty with some contributions.

On the technical side, this site is built using the static site generator Hugo. I've been learning a lot about the ins and outs of Hugo's project structure as I set this blog up, but so far I'm pretty happy with the results. Hugo is written in Go, the Google-sponsored C/++ replacement, and Hugo has a very active community that keeps improving the project.

One issue that I did run into was some confusion over themes in Hugo. Each Hugo site has a config.toml that sets parameters for how the static site content should be generated. Those parameters also include information like social media links that get embedded in certain parts of the Hugo theme that structures the site content and controls the look and feel. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be standard keys for many of these parameters, so the key name for your GitHub or StackOverflow account information needs to be updated if you decide to change your site theme. You can see some of the work I had to do in this commit to update these values when I changed my theme from hyde-x to purehugo.

I've been keeping my eye on other static site generators as well, but Hugo is very popular and has a lot of great community contributions and support so I'll be using it for a while yet. Now that things are up and running I might take a stab at customizing my theme a little bit more, an opportunity I wouldn't have if Hugo and its public themes weren't open source. Where many static site generators use things like Handlebars or Liquid for templating, Hugo actually delegates straight to the built-in text.template package in Go. This makes it immediately familiar to most Go developers, but I haven't had the opportunity to use Go much - especially recently - so I'll likely be spending a lot of time reading the documentation.

Hopefully this third attempt will be the one that sticks. Stay tuned for more posts on topics including open source, NodeJS, Rust, functional programming, and anything else I might get up to.