Sunday, April 8, 2012

And the winner of the most committing committer to src/sys over the last 12 months is ..

.. well, it was me. Up until last week. marius@ snuck in to take my place. I guess all of those commits I did about this time last year to start bringing FreeBSD's ath(4) support up to scratch are finally expiring out of the 12 month window.


.. but I wouldn't call myself the most important committer. Or the most active. What I'd call myself is the "most active fixing a sorely needed corner of the codebase."

What I _could_ have done is simply do all my work in a branch and then merge it back into -HEAD when I was done. And, for about 6 months, this is what I did. The "if_ath_tx" branch is where I did most of the initial TX aggregation work.

But as time goes on, your branch diverges more and more from the master branch (-HEAD in FreeBSD) and you are faced with some uncomfortable decisions.

If you stay on the same branch point and never merge in anything from your master branch, you _may_ have a stable snapshot of code, but who knows how stable (or relevant) your work will be when you merge it back into master.

You have no idea if your work will break anything in master and you have no idea if changes in master have broken your work.

As time goes on, the delta between your branch point and the master branch increases, making it even more difficult to do that final merge back. It also has the side effect of making it increasingly likely that problems will occur with the merge (your code breaking master, master breaking your code, etc.)

So as uncomfortable as it was - and as much as I wanted things to stay stable - I did press through with relatively frequent merging. This means:
  • I would pick specific development targets to work towards, at which point I'd stop developing and go into a code review/tidyup/testing phase;
  • I'd do frequent merges from master back into my branch during active development - I wouldn't leave this until I was ready to merge my work back into master;
  • Once I reached my development target and had done sufficient testing - including integrating changes from master back into my branch - I'd kick off a semi-formal review (read: email freebsd-wireless@) and call for testers/review;
  • Only _then_ would I merge what was suitable back into master.

I wouldn't merge everything from my branch into master. In my instance, there were some debugging extensions that were easy to maintain (read: lots of device_printf() calls) but weren't suitable for FreeBSD-HEAD. But I merged the majority of my work each time.

But that doesn't always work. I managed to merge a bunch of ath(4), ath_hal(4) and net80211 fixes back into -HEAD as appropriate. But the TX aggregation code was .. well, rather large. So I attempted to break up my commit into as many small, self-contained functional changes as possible. Yes, there was a big "here's software TX queue and aggregation" as a big commit at the end but I managed to peel off more than 30% of that in the lead-up commits.

Why bother doing that?

Two words - version bisection. Once I started having users report issues, they would report something like "FreeBSD-HEAD revision X worked, revision Y didn't." (If I were lucky, of course.) Or, they'd note that a certain snapshot from a certain day worked, but the next day had a regression. If I had committed everything as one enormous commit after having spent 6 + months on the branch, I'd be in for a whole lot of annoying line-by-line debugging of issues. Instead, I was able to narrow down most of the regressions by trying all the different commits.

Now that 802.11n ath(4) TX aggregation and general 802.11n support is in the tree, I only use branches for larger scale changes that take a couple of weeks. For example, when fixing up the reset path to not drop any TX/RX frames. I do most of the bugfixing in FreeBSD-HEAD. I could do it in a branch and then do monthly merges, but I then have the same problems I've listed above.

In summary: don't underestimate how helpful it is to break down your commits into little, piecemeal, self-contained functional changes. It has the side effect of making you look really good in the committer statistics.