Months ago the maintainer of an OSS project in the sphere of system software, with quite a big and active community, wrote me an email saying that he struggles to continue maintaining his project after so many years, because of how much psychologically taxing such effort is. He was looking for advices from me, I’m not sure to be in the position of giving advices, however I told him I would write a blog post about what I think about the matter. Several weeks passed, and multiple times I started writing such post and stopped, because I didn’t had the time to process the ideas for enough time. Now I think I was able to analyze myself to find answers inside my own weakness, struggles, and desire of freedom, that inevitably invades the human minds when they do some task, that also has some negative aspect, for a prolonged amount of time. Maintaining an open source project is also a lot of joy and fun and these latest ten years of my professional life are surely memorable, even if not the absolute best (I had more fun during my startup times after all). However here I’ll focus on the negative side; simply make sure you don’t get the feeling it is just that, there is also a lot of good in it.
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The new Redis data structure introduced in Redis 5 under the name of “Streams” generated quite some interest in the community. Soon or later I want to run a community survey, talking with users having production use cases, and blogging about it. Today I want to address another issue: I’m starting to suspect that many users are only thinking at Streams as a way to solve Kafka(TM)-alike use cases. Actually the data structure was designed to *also* work in the context of messaging with producers and consumers, but to think that Redis Streams are just good for that is incredibly reductive. Streaming is a terrific pattern and “mental model” that can be applied when designing systems with great success, but Redis Streams, like most Redis data structures, are more general, and can be used to model dozen of different unrelated problems. So in this blog post I’ll focus on Streams as a pure data structure, completely ignoring its blocking operations, consumer groups, and all the messaging parts.
Ten years ago Redis was announced on Hacker News, and I use this as virtual birthdate for the project, simply because it is more important when it was announced to the public than the actual date of the project first line of code (think at it conception VS actual birth in animals). I’ll use the ten years of Redis as an excuse to release something I played a bit in the previous days, thinking to use it for the 1st April fool: but such date is far and I want to talk to you about this project now… So, happy birthday Redis! Here it’s your present: a Gopher protocol implementation.
Yesterday a concerned Redis user wrote the following on Hacker News: — https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19204436 — I love Redis, but I'm a bit skeptical of some of the changes that are currently in development. The respv3 protocol has some features that, while they sound neat, also could significantly complicate client library code. There's also a lot of work going into a granular acl. I can't imagine why this would be necessary, or a higher priority than other changes like multi-thread support, better persistence model, data-types, etc.
[EDIT! I'm reconsidering all this because Marc Gravell from Stack Overflow suggested that we could just switch protocol for backward compatibility per-connection, sending a command to enable RESP3. That means no longer need for a global configuration that switches the behavior of the server. Put in that way it is a lot more acceptable for me, and I'm reconsidering the essence of the blog post] A few weeks after the release of Redis 5, I’m here starting to implement RESP3, and after a few days of work it feels very well to see this finally happening. RESP3 is the new client-server protocol that Redis will use starting from Redis 6. The specification at https://github.com/antirez/resp3 should explain in clear terms how this evolution of our old protocol, RESP2, should improve the Redis ecosystem. But let’s say that the most important thing is that RESP3 is more “semantic” than RESP2. For instance it has the concept of maps, sets (unordered lists of elements), attributes of the returned data, that may augment the reply with auxiliary information, and so forth. The final goal is to make new Redis clients have less work to do for us, that is, just deciding a set of fixed rules in order to convert every reply type from RESP3 to a given appropriate type of the client library programming language.
For quite some time I’ve wanted to record a new video talking about code comments for my "writing system software" series on YouTube. However, after giving it some thought, I realized that the topic was better suited for a blog post, so here we are. In this post I analyze Redis comments, trying to categorize them. Along the way I try to show why, in my opinion, writing comments is of paramount importance in order to produce good code, that is maintainable in the long run and understandable by others and by the authors during modifications and debugging activities.
The last few days have been quite intense. One of the arguments, about the dispute related to replacing or not the words used in Redis replication with different ones, was the following: is it worthwhile to do work that does not produce any technological result? As I was changing the Redis source code to get rid of a specific word where possible, I started to think that whatever my idea was about the work I was doing, I’m the kind of person that enjoys writing code that has no measurable technological effects. Replacing words is just annoying, even if, even there, there were a few worthwhile technological challenges. But there is some other kind of code that I believe has a quality called “hack value”. It may not solve any technological problem, yet it’s worth to write. Sometimes because the process of writing the code is, itself, rewarding. Other times because very technically advanced ideas are used to solve a not useful problem. Sometimes code is just written for artistic reasons.
Today it happened again. A developer, that we’ll call Mark to avoid exposing his real name, read the Redis 5.0 RC5 change log, and was disappointed to see that Redis still uses the “master” and “slave” terminology in order to identify different roles in Redis replication. I said that I was sorry he was disappointed about that, but at the same time, I don’t believe that terminology out of context is offensive, so if I use master-slave in the context of databases, and I’m not referring in any way to slavery. I originally copied the terms from MySQL, and now they are the way we call things in Redis, and since I do not believe in this battle (I’ll tell you later why), to change the documentation, deprecate the API and add a new one, change the INFO fields, just to make a subset of people that care about those things more happy, do not make sense to me.
Human beings have a strong tendency to put new facts into pre-existing categories. This is useful to mentally and culturally classify similar events under the same logical umbrella, so when two days ago I clarified that the Redis core was still released under the vanilla BSD license, and only certain Redis modules developed by Redis Labs were going to change license, from AGPL to a different non open source license, people said “Ah! Ok you are going open core”. The simplification this time does not work if it is in your interest to capture the truth of what is happening here. An open core technology requires two things. One is that the system is modular, and the other is that parts of such system are made proprietary in order to create a product around an otherwise free software. For example providing a single node of a database into the open source, and then having the clustering logic and mechanism implemented in a different non-free layer, is an open core technology. Similarly is open core if I write a relational database with a modular storage system, but the only storage that is able to provide strong guarantees is non free. In an open core business model around an open source system it is *fundamental* that you take something useful out of the free software part.
Today a page about the new Common Clause license in the Redis Labs web site was interpreted as if Redis itself switched license. This is not the case, Redis is, and will remain, BSD licensed. However in the era of  uncontrollable spreading of information, my attempts to provide the correct information failed, and I’m still seeing everywhere “Redis is no longer open source”. The reality is that Redis remains BSD, and actually Redis Labs did the right thing supporting my effort to keep the Redis core open as usually.