Why reading CVS commit logs matters

Let me tell you a lit­tle secret — part of my suc­cess with OpenBSD has to do with the fact that I read their CVS com­mit logs.

Why ?

Imag­ine if you could track every bug fix, every fea­ture enhance­ment, every dri­ver addi­tion or every doc­u­men­ta­tion change done by the OpenBSD devel­op­ers ? Well, you can and it does not have to take up much of your time.

Every sin­gle change to the OpenBSD source tree is doc­u­mented through their source-change mail­ing list and the OpenBSD project is kind enough to pro­vide ordi­nary users with read-only access. You can fol­low the changes done to CURRENT, the OpenBSD devel­op­ment branch, to see what’s going to be in the next release, to watch how devel­op­ers tweak the per­for­mance of dri­vers or to learn about changes done to soft­ware that you rely on.

The list is low vol­ume so it easy to fol­low and after a while you get to “know” the dif­fer­ent devel­op­ers. You will often see the same indi­vid­u­als com­mit changes to the same sec­tions of the OpenBSD source tree, like pf, bgpd or cer­tain net­work dri­vers. After a while you start to pay more atten­tion to those devel­op­ers that work with the parts of the source tree that inter­est you the most and fol­low their com­mits more closely.

I can only encour­age peo­ple with an inter­est in OpenBSD to sub­scribe to the source-change mail­ing list. The knowl­edge gained from fol­low­ing that list has saved my butt more often then I like to admit and has pre­pared me for any changes in the upcom­ing release that might be of impor­tance to me :)


10 Comments

  • Nice. After half a year after Microsoft released Visual Stu­dio 2005 SP1, I’m still unable to find, what has changed.
    But then again, I still pre­fer MS over free soft­ware projects (not nece­sar­ily OpenBSD), because I have a rather strong feel­ing that MS will be there in few years while I have no idea if Ubuntu will not be an aban­don­ware by that time. After all, aren’t linux sys­tems mul­ti­ply­ing like rabbits?

  • admin wrote:

    Why ? A major point of open source is that you have the entire source code avail­able so you don’t have to worry about ven­dor avail­abil­ity :)

  • True, but also keep in mind that major­ity of open source soft­ware users are not pro­gram­mers and even if they were, it is vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble to take over sup­port of your own “open source based sys­tems” becuase this would equal devel­op­ing them by your­self, which is exactly why you’ve used the ready solu­tion in the first place.
    You can also pay some­one for main­tain­ing your open source soft­ware but mostly it is exactly because they were free, that you started using them.
    And finally, pay­ing for cus­tom main­tanance will be much more expen­sive than just pay­ing for a nor­mal prod­uct with nor­mal sup­port.
    I’m not say­ing that every paid soft­ware guar­an­tees that there will be sup­port for you when you need it — mostly not. I’m say­ing that there are com­pa­nies, that make money on soft­ware that you can safely assume, will not dis­s­a­pear in a near fea­ture and although most of the open source com­pa­nies will also be there in few years, I wouldn’t bet my money, on which ones.

  • admin wrote:

    I mostly agree with you but it seems that you have over­looked an essen­tial point; the com­mu­nity. Many open source projects such as OpenBSD have a fanatic com­mu­nity of users and devel­op­ers alike. Many of them are ready to step in and pro­vide time, knowl­edge and fund­ing if needed. It is not uncom­mon that projects get new main­tain­ers or that skilled users pro­vide patches and sup­port for dead or aban­doned stuff …

  • I was a Debian user once. Can you assure me that not most of its com­mu­nity will not move to Ubuntu?

  • admin wrote:

    It’s not likely. Ubuntu heav­ily relies on Debian exper­i­men­tal — not the other way around even though spe­cific changes to Ubun­tus source tree are merged back into the Debian exper­i­men­tal tree. Per­haps this is of inter­est to you : http://www.desktoplinux.com/news/NS6170488551.html

  • It was just an exam­ple. I don’t know linux mar­ket that well, but, what hap­pens if the next “best” linux comes out and on the buzz, most of the peo­ple switch to it.
    Back in old times, Slack­ware was very pop­u­lar as far as I know. I even had a server run­ning Slack, but today it seams like a sys­tem for fanat­ics.
    If we look at the pic­ture:
    http://img142.imageshack.us/img142/5090/linuxdistrotimeline75cr6.png
    We can plainly see that there are many dis­tri­b­u­tions that are dis­con­tin­ued. Much more are still in some kind of devel­op­ment. Which one would one choose? There is no way for all of them to have decent sup­port. There is no guar­an­tee that the one you choose will be there in a year.
    Choice is good, but to the limit. Do you ever buy cola other than Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola?

  • admin wrote:

    In fact I do — jolt cola :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jolt_Cola

  • Levent wrote:

    i just wish there was a rss ver­sion of cvs changes. much eas­ier to read and maintain.

  • admin wrote:

    I seems that nabble.com also pro­vides RSS / ATOM feeds of mail­ing lists that they have a copy of :) See http://www.nabble.com/openbsd-dev—tech-f12613.xml

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