Je vais faire une demande de financement (en tant que personne physique) aux organismes ci dessous. Par transparence je publierait intégralement ici histoire que d’autres puissent s’en inspirer. C’est aussi dans l’espoir de donner envie à d’autre de faire la même chose parce que, il faut le dire, c’est tellement plus difficile quand on a pas le moindre exemple.
Pour commencer voici une description du problème et de la solution. Je travaille demain sur la roadmap. Les commentaires sont les bienvenus mais comme j’ai un intérêt financier à y travailler j’aurais mauvais jeu de me plaindre de le faire seul
Subdomain: Service Portability
Rationale: Fedeproxy facilitates the portability of software projects and helps them move freely from a software development hosting service (also known as forge) to another.
An online service to federate forges. The software projects hosted on one forge are synchronized in real time with their counterparts on other forges, via the W3C ActivityPub protocol. Developers can freely use the forge of their choosing while contributing to the same project. It operates independently from the forges and serves as an incubator with rapid prototyping to research the best user experience.
fedeproxy relates to the DAPSI call and especially responds to the Service portability subdomain regarding service providers hosting software development (also known as forges) and the ability of organisations and developers to seamlessly move software projects as a whole (i.e. including issues, users, code etc.) from one forge to another.
Technical challenges and barriers
Most Free Software projects are hosted on proprietary online services (called forges) that do not provide an export/import feature flexible enough to allow them to move easily (GitHub, SourceForge, etc.). Although the code repository can easily be moved from one service to another, other essential components such as pull or merge requests, issues, developer accounts, continuous integration, etc. cannot and the project, as a whole, is trapped. This has many negative consequences:
Idea and objectives
Software forges became popular twenty years ago and the barriers appeared at the same time. The recommended solution at the time was for each forge to implement an export/import feature, which did not happen because proprietary services have a vested interest in locking their user in and exporting projects is contrary to this objective. Although it could have been implemented by Free Software forges, it did not happen either because it is an « all or nothing » solution: the project has to move all at once and the migration tool has to be perfect at the time it happens because there is no turning back. It may not be the only reason why it is still impossible to move a project as a whole from one forge to another but there is no denying, twenty years later, that it may be time for another approach.
There are two ways to move information regarding a project from one forge to another:
- import/export: an « all or nothing » approach where the project is moved to one forge and deleted from another
- federation: a two way communication between two forges where all actions happening on one forge is copied over to another
The number of forges publicly accessible multiplied by at least two order of magnitude since 2001 and they would benefit from being federated. But no forge software supports it, although a data model was developed in 2019 a few years after the creation of the W3C ActivityPub protocol. Popular services such as mastodon or PeerTube appeared in the past five years: a source of inspiration for the implementation of federation in the context of forges. Although a full featured implementation is a very ambitious undertaking, it does not need to be complete to be usable. For instance, the federation of issue comments could be the only feature available while other are implemented. In addition, it is practical to experiment on federation with a proxy based on the forges API (or even web scrapping) before attempting a native integration.
The proposed incremental approach to forge federation is to:
- implement a federation proxy for each forge, which exposes the ActivityPub based protocol with a model similar to forgefed and translates it into the native forge API. Such a proxy needs credentials to interact with the forge API but can be run independently.
- implement a standalone forge federation service whose sole purpose is to connect the federation proxy of each forge after obtaining the credentials required to carry out actions
An example use case could be:
- The fedeproxy service runs with a proxy for GitLab and a proxy for GitHub
- The project Ceph exists on GitHub
- I run a self-hosted GitLab instance
- I ask the fedeproxy service to federate the Ceph project from GitHub with my GitLab instance
- I browse the issues of the Ceph project on my GitLab instance
- I comment on an issue on my GitLab instance
- My comment is copied over to the GitHub Ceph project by fedeproxy
- A GitHub user answers my comment which fedeproxy copies over to the Ceph project that resides on my GitLab instance
The ultimate goal of fedeproxy is to become obsolete, once all forges natively implement federation. It will become common place for a software project as a whole (i.e. code, issues, merge requests, CI, etc.) to exists simultaneously on multiple forges, with developers working together but using different forges. To get there, the fedeproxy should be considered the first step of experimentation and incubation of federation features that are destined to land in the code base of each forge, eventually.
An example could be:
- The fedeproxy service implements a proxy for GitLab that translates ActivityPub comments into the new issue note API call
- A native implementation is written as a contribution to the GitLab native federation effort and proposed as a merge request
- After the native GitLab implementation is released, the fedeproxy code can be removed because GitLab natively supports the federation of issues comments
- A federation proxy for GitHub and another for GitLab which implement the ActivityPub protocol using a common vocabulary and data model to:
- Create issues and add comments
- Create pull / merge requests and add comments
- A self-hostable service (named fedeproxy) enabling a user to:
- Authenticate on a GitLab instance and on a GitHub instance
- Request the federation of a project residing on both GitHub and GitLab
- A community of developers relying on fedeproxy (either online or self-hosted) on a daily basis
- Contributions to Gitea and forgefed to define a federation data model and vocabulary
- Contributions to GitLab towards the implementation of federation between GitLab CE instances
- The fedeproxy server and its functionalities bootstrap the work towards a full featured forge federation.
- Proposes a novel approach to incrementaly improve the data portability of software projects between forges.
- Provides a working implementation that allows developers to experiment and use the service on a daily basis.
Makes future work to improve data portability easier because developers can focus on adding a new functionality and reuse the fedeproxy architecture.
- Collects real world feedback on proposed data models and vocabulary and helps them mature into a standard.
- The fedeproxy server is an incubator for the implementation of federation features with an independent life cycle that is not constrained by the life cycle of the forges it connects.
Promotes the concept of federated development
Most developers work on Free Software in a centralized way and do not see the benefit for decentralization and federation. Implementing federation and using it for practical purposes is a way to discover use cases and imagine new ones. It can ultimately be a motivation to advocate for the generalisation of federation in software development. For instance, it is currently extremely difficult for a developer who do not have a GitHub account (because, for instance, they live in Iran) to participate in the development of the projects that are hosted there. This developer could use fedeproxy and their own GitLab CE instance and become an active part of the community.
Improved durability of the software projects
Organizations are routinely impacted by the disapearance of forges which translates into a loss of value and money. For instance, if a software appliance contains software originating from a defunc forge, it will need an update to get it from another location, assuming the developers managed to migrate in time. Even if they did, past issues and merge requests would have to be migrated manually and the chances that they are permanently lost is high. By continuously duplicating issues and pull / merge request on GitLab and GitHub (redundancy is another way of looking at federation) on two forges, fedeproxy improves the chances that they are recovered, thus saving value and money for all organizations depending on the impacted projects.
Scale out forge federation development
By providing a minimal infrastructure and a few features, fedeproxy demonstrates that the development towards a full featured forge federation scales out, meaning that it can be conducted by many independent actors working on many independent features. By contrast, implementing an import/export feature working between forges is best developped by a single team because it needs to accurately represent all aspects of a given project at the time it is used. The scale out and incremental approach to forge federation is locally cheaper although it is much more expensive as a whole. For instance, a skilled developer could contribute a new feature within a week, a cost that even the most modest organization can afford. The sum of all those efforts is much higher than what would be needed to implement an export/import feature but it is distributed over a longer period of time and among many actors. It is therefore more likely to make progress and succeed.
fedeproxy will be released under the AGPLv3 license. The code contributed to existing code bases will be released under licenses compatible with their own licenses.
fedeproxy is a non-commercial project but with a relevant contribution to the internet community.
Forge federation is a new idea and its implementation would benefit from a user centered design that requires user research.
While conducting user research, the building blocks can be implemented in parallel.
- Create a self-hosted development environment for fedeproxy (with a GitLab CE forge and the associated CI)
- Create a website presenting the project and the roadmap
- Create fedeproxy module a Django based server relying on the federation module for ActivityPub and
- Define a data model and vocabulary based on forgefed and GitLab import/export
- Create fedeproxy GitLab, a module based on the fedeproxy module using the GitLab API for creating and commenting on issues and merge requests
- Create fedeproxy GitHub, a module based on the fedeproxy module using the GitHub API for creating and commenting on issues and pull requests
- Create extensive end to end integration tests
- Create a reference documentation including instructions for self hosting
After the infrastructure is fully functional but can only be run with the integration tests, the roadmap for implementing the desired user experience is defined. Attempting to predict the outcome of the user research and how it will be implemented would be contrary to the primary objective of user research.
- Define the user experience roadmap for interacting with the fedeproxy server based on the recommendations from the user research report
- Create a fedeproxy server to enable users to connect the fedeproxy GitLab together or with the fedeproxy GitHub
Distributing and operating the service
- Setup a fedeproxy server including both fedeproxy GitLab and fedeproxy GitHub
- Add monitoring and intrusion detection
- Publish fedeproxy server, fedeproxy GitLab and fedeproxy GitHub
- As a container image usable with a oneliner
- As packages published on PyPI
- With self hosted documentation
Advocacy and feedback
- Reach out to users software developers, organizations and forge maintainers to foster a community of users
- Actively seek feedback from users
- Reach out to GitLab implementors and submit merge requests relevant to simplify the implementation of fedeproxy GitLab
- Reach out to Gitea to implement a federation data model and vocabulary
U: User Research, I: Infrastructure, A: Advocacy, O: Operations
- U1: Prepare the user research, prepare the research sessions, create an intercept interview sript; M1
- U2: Find the user research participants; M1
- I1: self-hosted development environment and website; M1
- U3: Conduct interviews with the participants; M1,M2,M3
- I2: fedeproxy module, fedeproxy GitLab and fedeproxy GitHub, extensive end to end integration tests, documentation; M1,M2,M3
- A1: Reach out to GitLab implementors and submit merge requests relevant to simplify the implementation of fedeproxy GitLab; M2 to M9
- A2: Reach out to Gitea to implement a federation data model and vocabulary; M2 to M9
- O1: Publish fedeproxy software on a monthly basis; M2 to M9
- U4: Affinity mapping, result analysis, user research report; M4
- U5: Define the user experience roadmap based on the recommendations from the user research report; M4
- I5: Create the fedeproxy server; M5,M6,M7
- O2: Create a hosting environment for running the fedeproxy server; M5
- O3: Run the fedeproxy in production; M7
- A3: Reach out to software developers, organizations and forge maintainers; M8,M9
- A4: Seek feedback from users and modify fedeproxy accordingly; M8,M9
In 2001 Dachary raised concerns about centralized proprietary forges and worked with the Free Software Foundation to setup, install and maintain the Savannah forge. He also contributed to the GNA! forge, until 2017, when it shut down. In the recent years Dachary published software to migrate software projects from GitHub to GitLab and infrastructure as code including GitLab deployment Ansible playbooks as well as end to end integration tests for a Django based API server including the automated installation of a GitLab server for the duration of the test.
In 2018 Dachary closed his GitHub account for ethical reasons and has since been unable to participate in Free Software projects hosted there. The federeration of forges would allow him to reconnect with these projects.
Libregerbil is a french Free Software service provider founded in 2015 by Pierre-Louis Bonicoli, a Python developer with 10+ years of experience. In 2020, Libregerbil improved the support of GitLab within Zuul, a continuous integration project and added support for the Fuga OpenStack provider to the Enough project. Libregerbil has a long track record of contributions to the Ansible project. Bonicoli runs a redmine instance and mades some minor contributions to the codebase.
Loïc and Pierre-Louis would both use fedeproxy and contribute to its development if it already existed, on a volunteer basis, because they need it for their day to day work. But the initial effort to create fedeproxy from scratch cannot conveniently be done on a volunteer basis and requires funding. In addition, because Libregerbil is a Free Sofware service provider, the expertise developped while creating fedeproxy may generate additional income in the future, if a market for the development of federation features emerges.
Value for money
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The costs are calculated on the basis of a 3,000€ net income per month per person, which is well below the average salary for a developer residing in Paris France. The net salary is approximately 55% of the gross salary (retirement plan, social security, unemployment fund etc.) paid by the company. The company overhead is 20% (administration, management, accounting, etc.). The total is rounded to the lowest thousand.
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