Github fallout and what we can learn from that

Hahaha. What would I say.

It's the talk of the town: Microsoft buys Github.

Why are you surprised? It's long time coming. See my previous articles about FOSS. Add the fact that Github fails to make a profit. Their investors want out; they would welcome a buyer. **Any** buyer.

But today I don't want to talk about the sell-out; there are already too many others discussing it. Instead I'd like to ponder on the impact.

Rightly or wrongly, many projects have indicated that they will move away. These projects will not be in github anymore, either in near future or in immediate future. What's going to happen? Some of these projects are libraries, which are dependencies used by other projects.

People have treated github as if it is a public service (hint: it never has been). They assume that it will always exist; and always be what it is. Supported by the public APIs, people build things that depends on github presence; that uses github features. One notable "things" that people build are automated build systems, which can automatically pull dependencies from github. Then people build projects that depends on these automated build tools.

What happens to these projects, when the automated build tools fail because they can no longer find the dependencies on github (because the dependent project has now moved elsewhere)? They will fail to build, of course. And I wonder how many projects will fail in the near future because of this.

We've got a hint a couple years ago, here (which I also covered in a blog post, here). Have we learnt anything since then? I certainly hope so although it doesn't look like so.

It's not the end of the world. Eventually the author of the automated build tools will "update" their code libraries and will attempt to pull the dependencies from elsewhere. You probably need a newer of said build tools. But those github projects don't move at one step; they move at the convenience of the project authors/maintainers. So, you will probably need to constantly updates your automated build tools to keep track with the new location where the library can be pulled from (unless a central authority of sorts is consulted by these build tools to decide where to pull the libraries from - in this case one only needs to update said central authority). It will be an "inconvenience", but it will pass. The only question is how long this "inconvenience" will be.

How many will be affected? I don't know. There are so many automated build tools nowadays (it used to be only "make"). Some, which host local copies of the libraries on their own servers, won't be affected (e.g. maven). But some which directly pulls from github will definitely get it (e.g. gradle). Whatever it is, it's perhaps best to do what I said in my earlier blog post - make a local copy of any libraries which are important to you, folks!




Github isn't the only one. On a larger scale (than just code repositories and code libraries), there are many "public service" services today, which aren't really public service (they are run by for-profit entities). Many applications and tools depend on these; and they work great while it lasts. But people often forget that those who provide the services has other goals and/or constraints. People treat this public service as something that lasts forever, while in actuality these services can go down anytime. And every time the service goes down, it will bring down another house of cards.

So what to do?

It's common sense, really. If you really need to make your applications reliable, then you'd better make sure that whatever your application depends are not "here today gone tomorrow". If you depend on certain libraries make sure you have local copy. If you depend on certain services make sure that those services are available for as long your need it. If you cannot make sure of that, then you will have to run your own services to support your application, period. If you cannot run the services in house (too big/too complex/too expensive/etc), then make sure you external services you depend on is easily switchable (this means standards-based protocols/APIs with tools for easy exporting/importing). Among other things.

Hopefully this will avoid another gotcha when another "public service" goes down.


Posted on 8 Jun 2018, 01:53 - Categories: General
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