Yann Vernier’s Blog

2010-04-02

Fossil: project management on the quick

Filed under: Free software, Programming — yannv @ 11:11

Sooner or later, development projects need some revision tracking. Usually right about when you either need an experimental branch for a new feature or sharing the project, which would include releases. You’ll also need to document the work, and if you’re maintaining it at all, probably track issues. Even better if this can all be done publically.
Traditionally, all these tasks are done in central repositories with specialized tools – perhaps RCS (with descendants like CVS and Subversion), Bugzilla, and so on. They’ve been more or less difficult to set up and serve, which lead to services like Sourceforge, Github, and Google Code. There are tools to handle the combination, like Trac. Most of these work, and sometimes they’re just the thing – because you know you’ll want to share the project and spend the time to set up that infrastructure.
Other times, you’re just doing a quick hack. And then you give it to someone. And, two months later, you run into an indirect friend who’s using that same hack, with their own changes, and experiencing an issue you solved later on.. but the code has grown so much you can’t easily track down the changes needed, let alone figure out which release their version is based on.

We’ve seen a move lately towards distributed revision control, with the likes of Git, Mercurial, Darcs, Bazaar and so on. They can, and do, solve the issue of independent development – but only if people use them. Mostly that tends to get stuck on either learning how to use them, or having the tool available. The first is an issue mostly because each tool is different, and the second because they have varying requirements. This is not at all unique to revision control; people hesitate all the time to install software because of complex requirements and so on.

Fossil is a project management tool intended to solve some of these issues. It’s not necessarily best at anything it does, but it does it with a minimum of setup. It has a discoverable web interface, works as one program file, stores data in self-contained files, and offers revision control, a wiki, account management for access, and issue tracking. All set up at a moment’s notice, anywhere. Of course there’s a command line interface too.

I intend to use it for a few minor projects so I get a good sense of how it’s used. At this moment, the most nagging question is if it does anything like Git’s bisection (also available in Mercurial), which is very convenient when tracking down regressions.

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