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2016/08/19

On Not YET Contributing to an Open Source Project

Not the module in question. 

I had an idea, and the shortest path between here and a working implementation is through CPAN, so I found a module and tried to install it.

No go. Failed tests.

So I find the GitHub repo and make an issue.

That doesn't get me any closer to a working implementation of my idea, nor does it involve me coding or running code. We can't have that, so I took the next step, which was forking, cloning and branching the code, then playing with it to find out what's going on and why.

I won't tell you which repo; that's really besides the point. I've dealt with Perl enough to know that, when the module was last updated, everything was tested and everything worked. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in CPAN.

Simply speaking, at some point, the API the module is interacting with changed how it works, returning an image instead of JSON that would contain the URL of said image. Not an unreasonable thing to do, I think. That saves you a step, and for my purposes, I'd never have need to get either the image or the location of the image. I feel free to believe that force installing the module would get me
an acceptable outcome.

But if I know a thing is broken and I know how to fix it, and I don't fix it, I'm simply leaving the world in a broken state. That's hardly a responsible response.

The question becomes "Just how do I fix this?", and I see three choices:
  • FOLLOW THE TEST! The test wants an object which is converted from the JSON the API returns. I could easily skip the API call and just return http://example.com/{whatever}/image/. This will even be a valid URL, but when the API changes again, which it will, the URL will be inaccurate. This seems brittle to me.
  • CHANGE THE TEST! The API wants to pass back an image. I can pass that on through and rewrite the test. But the module isn't brand new, which means that someone out there is using the failing function to get the URL of the image and this change will brake that existing code. It's probably already broken; this module won't install, as established, but this is a significant change in the API, which shouldn't be made without consideration. 
  • DROP IT ALL! Remove the function that causes the problem. Remove the tests. Leave only a stub saying "This functionality has been removed". In some ways, this is the coward's way out, but it would be the simplest thing. Easier to remove functionality than to add it.
After I thought about it, I was leaning toward an All-Three approach: Making three branches, implementing each idea, then submitting three parallel pull requests, leaving it to the maintainer to decide the proper choice.

Yeah, that's not a smart plan. 2/3 of that work is going to be not used, by definition. After consultation with my advisors (read, anyone who would listen on Twitter, IRC or Hangouts), I decided that asking before coding anything, so I added details to my (admittedly short and incomplete, submitted before understanding) issue to say "I see three alternatives; what do you want me to do?"

But that is the proper way to do it. It isn't like I went "I want a feature, and here it is." I just want a working module to do the thing I'm thinking of (which might not be as cool as I thought it was), and the things I could do to make it work again could bug the people actually using it. The community of users.

every change breaks someone's workflow
As always, this is a point where xkcd understands and explains all.
So, I have been thinking about this, asking about this and writing about this, rather than implementing the initial idea, or even fixing the problem.

Which frustrates me to no end.