So you’d like to contribute to Clojure, great! Let’s talk about what that involves.
The first thing you’ll want to make sure is that your idea is valid, and that you won’t spend a ton of time working on something that won’t make into master. To do this, you should create a JIRA ticket. For example, let’s say we want to improve how core.async handles channel closing propagation. It’s not a super complex problem, but there are some design questions about which of the various semantics currently in place should be the default, and if some semantics should be configurable.
So start by making a JIRA ticket and stating what the problem is you’re trying to solve, what the possible options for solving the problem. Now hit save and wait for the ticket to be triaged. Alex Miller will take a look when he can, and that can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the time of the year (he has other responsibilities). Alex may out-right reject the idea if he knows Rich would never approve the ticket, but otherwise he’ll probably reply fairly quickly with something to the extent of asking Rich what he thinks of the idea.
From there you’ll need to wait a bit longer until Rich can weigh-in. Rich is a mortal like all of us and so his time is limited. This means the time you’ll have to wait is unbounded. Rich works on designs for Clojure, Datomic, spec, tools.deps, core.async, and various other projects, so he’s got a lot to go over. Probably within a few weeks you’ll get an answer (via Alex most likely).
Now you have to feedback to work with: this feedback will probably include a bunch of other options or factors to consider. Take that into account in your ticket, and then fire it back of to Alex, who will talk to Rich, who will talk to Alex, who will provide more information on the ticket. Do this until everyone is happy with the plan.
Now you can write code. Write up a patch and attach it to the JIRA. The code will be looked at by Alex, probably Stu, and eventually Rich. Each of those people may provide feedback that you will need to incorporate. Eventually Rich will mark the patch as “good” and Stu will commit it to master.
So what’s the problem with this process? What’s a bit glossed over in this write-up and in the contribution process docs is the amount of time commitment involved. As I mentioned, Rich is a busy person, but he’s also what the speed of this whole process hinges on. Sure Alex optimizes this, but that’s mostly as a “no” filter, he saves Rich having to review patches that would never make it into Clojure.
Rich is a busy person, so like every human he must prioritize tickets. And as Rich mentions in his talk on “Hammock Time”, humans are limited to juggling about 5-7 “things” at a time. So if your patch is on some far-flung part of Clojure that isn’t a major priority at the moment, it will be deprioritized and will take longer for Rich to take a look at the issue. Also, at different points of time people are pulled into other work. Alex manages at least two conferences, and there are times of the year that are busy for the maintainers of Datomic. So depending on everything, it may take a few weeks to a month to get feedback on a patch you submitted.
So when I say in passing “if it doesn’t matter to Rich, it won’t get in”, it’s not a slight, it’s a statement of fact. People are limited, and must prioritize, your ticket will most likely be deprioritized unless it’s directly related to whatever Rich is currently working on.
What’s also under-mentioned is the context-switching the patch creator (you) will have to accept. During all this back and forth between Rich, Alex, and you, weeks may pass. During that time another patch may be approved that breaks your code, and you’ll have to rebase and update your patch. The time delay between your updates and getting more feedback may be weeks and months, so you’ll have to remember what you were working on, etc.
In addition make sure every assumption, every detail you’ve thought of, every possible side-effect of your code, is mentioned in the ticket. Because if you forget to mention something, Rich will most likely catch it, and hand the ticket back to you with a comment of “did you think about X”, that will add another few weeks into your dev time.
Now begins the “personal opinion” section, what I’ve stated here are the facts as I’ve worked on Clojure and the core projects. I got tired of the constant back-and-forth. Never being able to talk to the decision maker directly aside through a 3rd party. Problems that could be solved via a 10 minute meeting blow up into months of back and forth discussions, and if any party gets busy and forgets to get back to the other about the ticket, that process just takes longer. With each new project in Clojure this process just takes longer, as the less important tickets just get moved further and further into the backlog. It’s not that no-one cares about X, it’s that there’s 20 more important things and so your patch will have to wait. This results in frustration, rage quitting, and twitter wars, between people who (on all sides) have almost become too frustrated and tired to care.
So let me make this very clear...I don’t dislike Rich, Stu, or Alex, they all do great work, and do so when the rest of us are relaxing. So can we all find a better way to collaborate? With each contributor that leaves, the work on the core team just gets larger. With each new library (like spec) that requires more thought and design, the older projects must be deprioritized. And my concern is that, like a person trying to run on on the top of a lake, at some point the drag will pull us all down to a stand-still.