Fixing the Zope release process
In this article, I will identify problems with the Zope release
strategy, attribute blame, propose solutions, and offer some hope for
While this article contains criticism, I have great faith in the
Zope developers, and I hope the criticsm will be considered constructive by those it targets. I also realize I'm part of this process myself -- this article is one way in which I try to participate.
Zope feature releases
Let's look at the release dates of Zope feature releases.
Zope 2.6.0 was released in october, 2002. Zope 2.7 was released in
late may, 2004. It is now march, 2005, and there is no Zope 2.8
On the Zope 3 front, Zope 3 developed started in 2001. The first
release of Zope 3, Zope X3 3.0.0 appeared in november of 2004.
Note bugfix releases of Zope do appear on a regular basis, most
recently thanks to the wonderful efforts of Andreas Jung and
others. We can however safely say we do not see a very regular cycle
of Zope feature releases.
Zope release announcements
Let's now look at a brief history of Zope release announcements. Some
of these were made in an informal mailing list setting, others during
more formal settings such as a conference.
In november 2003, we got the following signal from Jim Fulton:
We want Zope 2.8 to happen as soon as possible, so we can start
working on Zope 2.9. Zope 2.9 will be the release that incorprates
major parts of Zope 3.
In december 2003, we heard more (mail to zope3-dev by Jim Fulton,
about a sprint the following january):
Zope 2.9 will begin the transition to Zope 3 by making some features
of Zope 3 available in Zope 2. This sprint will map out and begin
to integrate these features.
On the Zope Development Roadmap, a presentation at PyCon 2004, in
march 2004, the first release of Zope X3 was said be july of 2004
(with a question mark):
Final in July (?)
And Zope 2.8 is announced to be in quarter 3, 2004:
Q3 2004 (After X3.0)
For Zope X3.1, the release after Zope X3.0, we see the following on a
Depending on community distributions, we are thinking about
releasing X3.1 in December, 2004. This release will include several
cleanups to the framework and feature the new Pluggable
Authentication Service (PAS) and Workflow packages.
('distributions' is a typo for 'contributions')
In november 2004, we heard the following in the Zope 3 newsletter,
from Jim Fulton:
After our initial release of Zope X3.0, we are beginning to
contemplate an X3.1 release, possibly as early as January
Then, in early march 2005, we see the following post from Stephan
Richter about the Zope X3.1 release:
Theoretically, this could be next week, but my experience from the
X3.0 release tells me it will be more of the time scale of 2-3
I wish I could give you a much narrower date range, but the
community is currently too small to make sound predictions.
which puts back Zope X3.1 to may or july, 2005.
Something is wrong
The core software, Zope, that the Zope community relies on, is not
evolving very quickly. In itself, too quick evolution of a mature
system like Zope 2 is probably not very desirable. For Zope 3, at this
stage in its evolution, a faster release cycle is desirable. In the
case of both however, we need more regularity.
Why? Because irregularity and unpredictability discourage people from
contributing to the Zope platform. Imagine you want to contribute a
feature to Zope. You need this feature for a customer project to be
released within a few months (which is the typical horizon for many
projects in the Zope world). You think this feature is general enough
to benefit many Zope developers, so you want to spread the benefit and
the burden of maintaining it by contributing it to the Zope software
But then you realize that adding this to Zope will not show up in any
stable release for perhaps a year. Perhaps you can ask the lead
developers of the project, but since they're wrong so often,
you can't really believe them.
So what do you do? You decide not to contribute to Zope, but maintain
your contribution yourself. Perhaps as a Zope product, or perhaps,
worse, as a monkey patch. The community does not gain the fix, and you
don't gain the input of others.
(ironically in the mail referenced I make a release prediction about
what was to become Five which was way off, and I also claim I don't
care about the Zope release cycle being slow -- I've since changed my
Who to blame?
The easy thing is to blame the Zope core developers. But they're the
ones actually doing the work, and doing their best, not paid by us, so
that wouldn't be fair at all. When they make a release estimate,
they're not lying; they make their honest best guess. So, Jim Fulton
and all the others, thank you.
Who then? What do the core developers themselves say? Lack of
resources is the most frequent explanation I see from them. If they
had more resources, releases might come faster.
Since this is an open source project, a large resource is community
contributions. And these are lacking. So the community is to blame itself;
why whine about the lack of Zope releases? They should contribute!
We can't just turn around and blame the community however. For one,
the community has in fact contributed significantly to development of
Zope, for instance by hosting a whole series of Zope 3 sprints. There
should be more community activity in the form of feature additions and
bug fixes, but we've just given an important reason of why we're not
seeing more of this -- lack of regular releases!
We're in a chicken and egg situation. Regular releases drive
contributions, and contributions drive regular releases. We need to
get out of this trap.
Wait a moment -- do more contribution in fact drive regular releases?
No, not necessarily. The process needs to be in place to channel
contributions the right way. Unstabilizing contributions shouldn't
come just before a release, for instance, as in that case, the
contribution will delay the release.
So let's not blame anyone; let's blame the process. Let's now look at
how to fix it.
How to handle lack of resources
Lack of resources delay a release, but we also need to face it: there
is always a lack of developer resources. Good developers experienced
with a project are always scarce. Doing regular and predictable
releases will hopefully attract more resources, but they'll never be
sufficient, as human ambition always outstrips any resources
If you want to do a release, you need to manage these scarce resources
and prioritize correctly, so that the release will happen. Without
this management, developers will only tend develop more cool features,
and never release anything.
Luckily, Zope isn't the first project with this problem. We have
examples to study. One project that faced a very similar problem and
solved it is the Gnome project. The problem and the solution were
presented in this post in mid 2002, by Havoc Pennington. This quote
applies to Zope as well as it does to Gnome:
There are two goals of a release strategy: to create stable
releases, and to generate a lot of excitement and productive work
that moves the software forward.
and this one does too:
If we get "stuck" on the stable branch and don't make the jump to
unstable, then pressure builds to add features to stable, stable
destabilizes, unstable stagnates and stops being usable because only
a few people are using it, and it's all downhill from there. If we
get stuck on the unstable branch, then we never provide anything to
the majority of end users - we become useful to hackers/testers
Gnome has been on a time-based released plan since then, shipping new
feature releases of the Gnome platform to end users regularly.
How to prioritize?
So, how does one prioritize matters to have releases happen on time?
This is all well-known, though it can't hurt quickly repeating some
announce a feature freeze and stick to it.
compromise, defer issues aggressively so that they do not all have
to be done for this release. During the development process, more
issues than can be solved at the time will always occur. Someone
needs to defer a lot them, however painful it might be. A good issue
tracking system is very helpful here to keep track of what needs to
avoid bottlenecks. Avoid one person holding up a release because
only they can fix a bug or do something essential in the process. It
is impossible to always avoid this, but try to minimize this.
Try to use standard procedures for releases as much as possible, so
that it is easier for people to help out. If they need to jump
through special hoops just for your project, they're more likely to
give up, even if they're better hoops. The project innovates
enough already in its core focus. YAGNI applies here.
Do not depend on superheroic effort to make a release happen. Only
very few people are actual superheros.
A special recommendation for Zope
One thing that repeatedly seems to have gone wrong with Zope in the
past is setting a release date and sticking to it. I hope I have
pointed out that this important. In my opinion, it should at times
be more important than features, quality, or cleanups. By that I mean
is that on a regular basis, the highest priority should be given to
making a release happen on time, and everything else should be
compromised to a certain extent to make this happen.
When you announce a release date, stick to it. Not announcing a
release date or announcing it and then missing it by months are both
bad options, as I hope to have explained convincingly in this
article. Saying "When it's ready, it's ready", will inevitably delay
releases almost indefinitely.
Hope for the future
Thanks to the efforts here at the Paris Zope 3/Five sprint, we may
have given the final push to make the Zope 2.8 release possible. We
hope to distribute Five along with it, which should finally help
realize what was planned originally for Zope 2.9 in 2004.
For Zope 3, Jim has stated repeatedly that he intends to move to a
time based release schedule. This is great! Jim, consider this article
as a firm reminder. :)
I hope that our efforts here at the sprint will be followed up by a
commitment of the various parties involved, such as the Silva, CPS
and Plone developers, as well as Zope corporation to continue
working together and to continue contributing on a regular basis. It's
in all our best interest.