Distributed Code Review

As I’ve written about previously, one of the compelling reasons to look at Git as an enterprise SCM system is the great workflow innovation in the Git community. Workflows like Git Flow have pulled in best practices like short lived task branches and made them not only palatable but downright convenient. Likewise, the role of the workflow tools like Gerrit should not be discounted. They’ve turned mandatory code review from an annoyance to a feature that developers can’t live without (although we call it social coding now).

But as any tool skeptic will tell you, you should hesitate before building your development process too heavily on these tools. You’ll risk locking in to the way the tool works – and the extra data that is stored in these tools is not very portable.

The data stored in Git is very portable, of course. A developer can clone a repository, maintain a fork, and still reasonably exchange data with other developers. Git has truly broken the bond between code and a central SCM service.

As fans of social coding will tell you, however, the conversation is often just as important as the code. The code review data holds a rich history of why a change was rejected, accepted, or resubmitted. In addition, these tools often serve as the gatekeeper’s tools: if your pull request is rejected, your code isn’t merged.

Consider what happens if you decide you need to switch from one code review tool to another. All of your code review metadata is likely stored in a custom schema in a relational database. Moving, say, from Gerrit to GitLab would be a significant data migration effort – or you just accept the fact that you’ll lose all of the code review information you’ve stored in Gerrit.

For this reason, I was really happy to hear about the distributed code review system now offered in SmartGit. Essentially SmartGit is using Git to store all of the code review metadata, making it as portable as the code itself. When you clone the repository, you get all of the code review information too. They charge a very modest fee for the GUI tools they’ve layered on top, but you can always take the code review metadata with you, and they’ve published the schema so you can make sense of it. Although I’ve only used it lightly myself, this system breaks the chain between my Git repo and the particular tool that my company uses for repository management and access control.

I know distributed bug trackers fizzled out a couple of years ago, but I’m very happy to see Syntevo keep the social coding conversation in the same place as the code.

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