Welcome!

Linux Authors: Elizabeth White, Roger Strukhoff, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

The OSS Development Life Cycle

Part 4 of 4

This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Understanding Open Source Software Development by Joseph Feller and Brian Fitzgerald, published by Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0201734966. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher. (c) 2002 Addison-Wesley

The traditional software development life cycle (SDLC) is premised on a set of stages, which, in their most generic form, include:

  • Planning
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
However, the OSS development life cycle is quite different. First, the planning, analysis, and design phases are largely conducted by the initial project founder, and are not part of the general OSS development life cycle. Getting design issues right is perhaps even more critical in OSS than in conventional development. Certain criteria in relation to modularity of the code are critical. For example, modules must be loosely coupled, thereby allowing distributed development in the first place. Less important, but still highly desirable for achieving an efficient development model, is that modules be highly cohesive and address a single well-defined purpose. However, design decisions are generally made in advance, before the larger pool of developers start to contribute, and are generally based on well-established design patterns. This allows developers to collaborate without having to undergo the detailed requirements analysis or design phases of the traditional life cycle. In the absence of conventional project management, the importance of "having a tail-light to follow" (Bezroukov, 1999b) is a very useful coordinating principle, as it allows a multitude of developers to contribute. This also helps to explain why many OSS products are horizontal infrastructure-type products, as these are ones in which the requirements are pretty well understood. In vertical domains, developer knowledge of the application domain has been found to be critical, but it is unlikely that the pool of potential developers would be as high in such domains.

Thus, the OSS development life cycle is located primarily within the implementation phase of the traditional SDLC. Several researchers have investigated the life cycle underpinning OSS. Bollinger et al. (1999) suggest that it follows a very intensive spiral model (Boehm, 1988), albeit without any real risk assessment. Mockus et al. (2000) have derived a life cycle for OSS from their study of the Apache Project, and Jorgensen (2001) has investigated the life cycle in the FreeBSD Project. Both have come up with models that are largely compatible, but Jorgensen's is more detailed. He identifies the following main phases in the OSS development life cycle:

Code

  • Review
  • Pre-commit test
  • Development release
  • Parallel debugging
  • Production release

    Code
    This is the sine qua non activity. However, many potential OSS contributors may fear taking the initial step of submitting their code for review by the supremely talented OSS "code-gods" (Asklund and Bendix, 2001; Bergquist and Ljungberg, 2001), a fear that is quite warranted when you consider the views of a FreeBSD developer reported by Jorgensen (2001):

    The way you get commit privileges is by first making enough code contributions&This implies the code you've been submitting is of sufficiently impressive quality that no one objects and says, "Yuck, no, don't give him commit privileges. He writes ugly code."

    Thus, the knowledge that talented and respected peers will be reviewing the code is a real incentive to improve the quality of the code being submitted in the first place.

    Review
    As already mentioned, truly independent peer review is one of the central strengths of the OSS process. However, Jorgensen found that eliciting feedback was not always easy. "Heavyweights" with a proven reputation will get a lot of feedback, but it can be quite difficult to get attention as a newbie - another classic "Catch-22" situation. Also, somewhat paradoxically, the simpler the code, the more feedback you gets. However, complex code would invariably benefit more from feedback. Also, it's more difficult to get feedback on design issues.

    Precommit Test
    Given the vulnerability of the OSS development model, it's critical that committers test each contribution carefully to avoid breaking the build, another common norm in the OSS community. Since there is no convenient help-line or telephone support for those installing the eventual product, it can be an adventure completing an actual OSS product installation. Sanders (1998) quotes the "tech-savvy" Ellen Ullman's description of her installation of Linux as "an exhilarating succession of problem-solving challenges." Given this problematic installation context, it is imperative that installation proceeds as smoothly as possible without unnecessary noise, and thus rogue modules that could jeopardize this must be prevented.

    Interestingly, testing is very much a personal process. There is no requirement that test scenarios be rigorously planned and written down in advance. However, the negative implications of allowing a faulty contribution through are such that the testing process is taken very seriously indeed. As mentioned earlier, the delegation of testing to the user community - or partial delegation, as is the case with Mozilla and GNOME - is one of the strengths of OSS (Schmidt and Porter, 2001).

    Development Release
    If the committer deems the module ready, it can be incorporated in the development release. This is the key payoff for many developers as they get the reward of seeing their code implemented quickly in the product. Jorgensen (2001) cites a developer who captures it quite graphically:

    There is a tremendous satisfaction to the "see bug, fix bug, see bug fix get incorporated so that the fix helps others" cycle.

    Parallel Debugging
    The advantages of global parallel debugging were discussed above. Again, as in testing, there is typically no formal plan for debugging. Rather the numbers of potential debuggers is where the power of the debugging arises - Linus's Law. If bugs are found, they can be fixed and resubmitted as per the life cycle described above, or problem reports may be created and submitted. This can also be a way of initiating your contributions to OSS. For example, the database of outstanding problem reports could be examined, and if there are some outstanding that catch your interest or are within your capability, then these can be worked on. Thus, can you begin a career in OSS.

    Production Release
    Contributions eventually become part of the production release. They are merged into the stable production branch. This is accomplished in different ways in different projects. FreeBSD maintains stable production and current development branches, and contributions that are eventually found suitable are merged into the latest stable production branch, and, in the case of a bug fix, to any previous production branches to which it might be relevant. Linux maintains its stable production and development versions in different directories, and uses release numbers to identify production (even numbers) and development (odd numbers) versions.

    Conclusion
    We have argued that the generic OSS development process is characterized by the practice of parallel, rather than linear, collaboration among developers, which leads to increases in both speed and quality; by the participation of large, globally distributed communities of developers who participate in a truly independent peer review process; by prompt feedback (e.g., bug reports) and prompt recognition (e.g., integration of bug fixes); by the participation of talented and motivated developers and extremely active users; and by rapid, incremental release schedules. We also examined the well-stocked toolkit of OSS, including configuration management tools like CVS, as well as editors, build tools, documentation extractors, and the like. Finally, we argued that the OSS process is governed by an elaborate system of taboos and social mores that take the place of formal project management, and that the OSS process follows a distinctly different development life cycle to traditional proprietary software.

  • More Stories By Joseph Feller

    Joseph Feller is a lecturer with the Business Information Systems Group,
    University College Cork, Ireland. His research on Open Source Software is
    published in several prominent conference proceedings and he is the author
    of Customer Friendly: Design Guidelines for eCommerce. He also edits the
    monthly professional journal, Inside XML Solutions.

    More Stories By Brian Fitzgerald

    Brian Fitzgerald is the Frederick A Krehbiel II Professor of Innovation in Global Business and Technology at the University of Limerick, Ireland. He is Associate Editor for two leading international journals in the IS field, The Information Systems Journal, and Data Base. His publications include five books and more than 50 papers, published in leading international conferences and journals. Having worked in the industry prior to taking up an academic position, he has more than 20 years of experience in the IS field.

    Comments (0)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


    @ThingsExpo Stories
    Avnet, Inc. has announced that it ranked No. 4 on the InformationWeek Elite 100 – a list of the top business technology innovators in the U.S. Avnet was recognized for the development of an innovative cloud-based training system that serves as the foundation for Avnet Academy – the company’s education and training organization focused on technical training around top IT vendor technologies. The development of this system allowed Avnet to quickly expand its IT-related training capabilities around the world, while creating a new service that Avnet and its IT solution providers can offer to their...
    @ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the M2M space. This really allows some room for influential individuals to create more high value inter...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
    It's time to put the "Thing" back in IoT. Whether it’s drones, robots, self-driving cars, ... There are multiple incredible examples of the power of IoT nowadays that are shadowed by announcements of yet another twist on statistics, databases, .... Sorry, I meant, Big Data(TM), tiered storage(TM), complex systems(TM), smart nations(TM), .... In his session at WebRTC Summit, Dr Alex Gouaillard, CTO and Co-Founder of Temasys, will discuss the concrete, cool, examples of IoT already happening today, and how mixing all those different sources of visual and audio input can make your life happier ...
    The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and easy to use. MangoApps has been named a "Market Leader" by Ovum Research and a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner...
    The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
    Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
    There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
    WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
    In his session at WebRTC Summit, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at creating interactive communications via the web by adding messaging, file transfer, and group communication (group chat and audio/video conferencing) into the web experience. He will also discuss potential applications of this technology in areas including B2B, B2C, P2P, and gaming. Peter Dunkley is Technical Director at Acision. He graduated from The University of Edinburgh in 2000 with a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science. After graduation Peter worked on a PSTN switch developing signalling stacks for SS...
    The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
    What if, during a snow emergency, an on-the-ground sensor could automatically trigger a relevant emergency notification related to snowfall and road impact. And then, after it’s triggered, that notification is delivered intelligently to individuals based on an extensive set of rules designed to alert the most available and capable responders. This “what if” question about “smart highways” is short-sighted. We are already there, and we are only getting started. While mainstream attention is paid to machine-to-machine communications, new technologies are being developed to make these communica...
    The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
    Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
    SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
    With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
    Chuck Piluso will present a study of cloud adoption trends and the power and flexibility of IBM Power and Pureflex cloud solutions. Speaker Bio: Prior to Secure Infrastructure and Services, Mr. Piluso founded North American Telecommunication Corporation, a facilities-based Competitive Local Exchange Carrier licensed by the Public Service Commission in 10 states, serving as the company's chairman and president from 1997 to 2000. Between 1990 and 1997, Mr. Piluso served as chairman & founder of International Telecommunications Corporation, a facilities-based international carrier licensed ...
    There are lots of challenges in IoT around secure, scalable and business friendly infrastructure for enterprises. For large corporations, IoT implementations are one of the top priorities of the decade. All industries are seeing a competitive need to sustain by investing in IoT initiatives. The value addition comes from improved customer service, innovative product and additional revenue streams. The data from these IP-connected devices can be leveraged for a variety of business applications as well as responsive action controls. The various architectural building blocks of an IoT ...
    The Internet of Things Maturity Model (IoTMM) is a qualitative method to gauge the growth and increasing impact of IoT capabilities in an IT environment from both a business and technology perspective. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan will first scan the IoT landscape and investigate the major challenges and barriers. The key areas of consideration are identified to get started with IoT journey. He will then pinpoint the need of a tool for effective IoT adoption and implementation, which leads to IoTMM in which five maturity levels are defined: Advanced, Dynamic, Optimized, Primitive,...