Online software development: the WikiRAD15 Jul 2005
I love the idea of social software. Specifically, while it has been several years since I first encountered the wiki concept (Ward Cunningham‘s c2.com), and I have been a Wikipedia contributor for a while, it is only since I checked out the emerging wiki hosting sites (see Google and social software: wikis) that I realize that wikis are becoming mainstream. Sites like Wikispaces, JotSpot and PbWiki are providing anyone with the tools to safely and effortlessly develop a body of knowledge.
On a seemingly unrelated point, I am currently developing some stuff in PHP (codeword ‘photcasting‘ but more on that later) and I realise my development environment is so amateuristic: I use a text-editor with FTP support (the last couple of years it has always been Editplus), and everytime I save some code, I overwrite the older version on the ‘live’ server. I also develop on different PCs in a typical week (easily 3) and so I don’t have 1 development PC with PHP running where I could stage everything before I deploy it to my ‘production’ site. With a bad broadband connection, when a ‘save’ operation goes wrong, you end up with a ‘crucialstuff.php’ script file that is empty (0 bytes) and brings your whole site down. Unfortunately, I know this from (repeated) experience.
Earlier today, I was thinking about these 2 issues one right after the other and bam: they collided. I have a new development paradigm: the WikiRAD.
- you write your code with your browser in a Wiki-style editor, with syntax colouring added (haven’t seen that in a Wiki editor yet). The code resides on a WikiRAD server (with RAID5 disks, daily backups, …). You need no other software on your PC to be able to develop software.
- the Wiki system takes care of version management and comparing of sources (Wikis already do this). Check in, check out, rollback, branching, merging, several developers on 1 codebase, … all possible!
- you can search your whole codebase for certain keywords, jump to class definitions – just like normal IDE
- when you look at your code, the names of classes, templates, libaries, .. become clickable, just like in a … wiki!
- there are tools to make writing code easier (class wizard, sample code, forum for questions)
- there’s a Google-like crawler that indexes code so it becomes available for other developers – this is real “open source”!
COMPILE AND RUN
- the WikiRAD server lets you develop in a ‘stage’ mode (separate from your real system) and lets you deploy it to ‘production’ once you’re sure. The production server can be your own server, with deployment via FTP or SSH.
- for the most popular languages, you also have a lint system that can detect obvious errors in your code before compiling.
- if the language you write in requires compiling (like C++, C#, VB.NET, …) the server takes care of that – probably faster than on your own Pentium III.
- you no longer need to set up a ‘similar’ server to test your software, it will run on the same kind of system, behind the same combination of routers and firewalls, with the same libraries installed.
- you can add breakpoints, see the console output, view values of variables, …
So take Sourceforge, drop in a Wiki system for writing the code, a system for online debugging and profiling and tada: life has just become so much easier for a programmer.
All remarks are welcome!