2007-02-23

Development Tactics

I recently set up an account with hosted-projects.com, because I wanted a Subversion repository more accessible & stable than the one running on my home desktop. I shopped around for a while, and decided on this place - it's a small project, and a starter account is only $7/month, so I figure, what the heck.

My account was set up within a few minutes, even though I ordered after business hours - I'm guessing they've got a pretty good automation system going. I get fast, secure access for unlimited users to unlimited projects in 100M of space, plus a free Trac - not a bad deal. As far as reliability and support, well - only time will tell.

The host is all well and good, but what I really wanted to talk about is Trac. I had looked Trac up some time ago, and decided to take a pass on it - it just wasn't mature enough at the time, and didn't have most of the features I was looking for.

Now, however - after some time, and a few bug tracking schemes - I find myself with a free Trac page sitting around, and I figure, what the hey, I'll give it a shot. And you know what? It still doesn't have some of the features I was looking for. But it works so well, it doesn't matter.

The whole thing runs on a Wiki engine. This Wiki engine identifies all CamelCase as wiki links, which I find a bit annoying, but I got used to it pretty quickly. It lets you easily link to pretty much anything, and inline, too: #123 is ticket 123, r456 is revision 456, etc. It hooks up to your Subversion repo and lets you keep an eye on changelogs and browse the repo; plus, this means if you put properly formatted notes in your commit messages (which isn't hard), you get links in the changelog, for free.

While not quite as versatile as MediaWiki, for example, in terms of page layout and design, it's probably easier to use - and programmers tend to go for form over function anyway. It's a developer's tool. Developers probably won't spend all day perfecting page templates and macros.

The system provides for a roadmap of milestones, a list of issue tickets, the wiki, and the repository. That's it. What's the big deal? How insanely easy it is to wire them all together. With some really basic formatting, you can turn a simple list of milestones into this.

It's got some rough edges, and there are definitely some huge opportunities yet to be taken advantage of - particularly, I have yet to discover decent, proper JavaDoc support, with full wiki integration. I may just have to learn enough Python to write a plugin for it. I'd also really like to see automatic backlinks added to all the internal links.

I know it's still version "0.10.3", but it's pretty stable so far, and everything works pretty well. I have yet to run into any bugs or bad behavior - however, you should keep in mind that this is bleeding-edge software if you're considering deploying it. Don't let that scare you off though: if you don't mind the under-heavy-development label, you really should give this little application a try and see what you think. At the very least, check out Trac's own website to see what it can do.
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