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Grok: or what I did on my holiday

I will use this blog entry to talk talk a bit about my holiday in Germany a few weeks ago. I went to a mini sprint at Gocept, in Halle. I had a great time! (yes, I am a geek) This sprint showed that good sprints aren't necessarily the ones with many people participating; we just had 4 sprinters (and less much of the time), and this was one of the most productive sprints I've been at for years. I left the sprint energized and excited. Thanks to Gocept for organizing this, it was awesome!

So what did we do on this sprint? You might have heard the news already here and there: we worked on Grok.

This is Grok:

Grok is a caveman.

Grok talks like this: ME GROK SAY HI!

We all have a bit of the caveman or woman in us, although any resemblance of Grok to me is solely in your imagination and a pure coincidence and has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the artist who drew Grok is my wife. Cavemen, like us programmers, want powerful and flexible tools. Cavemen are great at tools after all; they practically invented tools. But cavemen, and we, also want our tools to be simple and effective.

Simple and effective like clubs: a club is powerful, flexible (you can bash in anything, mash potatoes too) and also simple and effective. Zope 3 is powerful and flexible all right, but we need it to be simpler, thus making it even more effective. This brings me to the Grok motto: Grok -- now even cavemen can use Zope 3.

Besides a caveman, Grok is also a piece of software, and a project. The project that started at this year's pre-EuroPython sprint with some of my musings about improving Zope 3's development experience. I wrote some of them these ideas down on a hot day at CERN in Geneva when I found out I had been the first sprinter to arrive. These musings turned into a discussion at the sprint. The discussion with the people there (among others Jim Fulton, Steve Alexander, Philipp von Weitershausen and Uwe Oestermeier) helped my thinking quite a bit.

The basic idea behind Grok is to provide an alternate way to configure Zope 3 applications: it doesn't use ZCML. Instead, configuration can be triggered from Python. The idea was to apply a few design guidelines like Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY) and Convention over Configuration, concepts popularized by Ruby on Rails.

For months I didn't have the opportunity to do much with these ideas, until I spoke with Christian Theune of Gocept at the DZUG meeting in september. He recently had been confronted with the complexities of Zope 3 in a new way: a very smart programmer, Wolfgang Schnerring, was doing an internship at Gocept. In the course of this, we was learning to develop with Zope 3 and got quite frustrated. We don't want to frustrate smart programmers if we can avoid it. Good programmers are in rare supply.

We started to talk about Grok, and Christian got quite interested, so we organized for me to visit Gocept and work with Christian and Wolfgang to try to make some of my vague plans for Grok a reality. Philipp von Weitershausen heard about these plans and we were happy to see him join us. This completed our core team. Grok is our joint effort.

The first day started with Philipp and me arguing quite aggressively on what Grok's design could be like, somewhat intimidating poor Wolfgang. He was happy to find out we had just been warming up for the real work, and by late afternoon all four of us were making great progress sketching out Grok's design.

After doing that design work we started implementing Grok the next day. We practiced quadruple-programming: one person typing, the rest of us giving the long-suffering typer (initially Philipp) our kind directions. The code in the editor was projected with a beamer. This worked a lot better than one would expect: we used the time effectively planning out our testing strategy (we practiced test-first programming), worrying about design and edge cases, etc. We seem to have hit a very effective combination of personalities in Christian, Philipp, Wolfgang and myself.

In fact it worked astoundingly well; for the first day of checkins Philipp might've looked from the outside like he was a "perfect programmer", checking in incremental improvements to Grok without any hestitation about the design, going straight for his targets, extensive testing, the works. Of course after a while we did hit some design issues we retreated from later, but overall we could move very fast. After the sprint I realized I'd actually not typed a letter of actual Grok code even though I knew the codebase very well as I'd seen all of it on the screen (since I've been back I've of course been checking in stuff by myself). The code was better than I could've written just by myself and I was entirely comfortable with it.

In the evenings we ate a number of delicious meals and played Guitar Hero on Christian's Playstation, where we discovered that I'm a guitar caveman and that Christian is a guitar god among otherwise quite respectable guitar heros.

So what does Grok-based Zope 3 code look like? I'm still working on a tutorial, but here is a trivial example of a complete Grok application:

import grok

class Document(grok.Model):
    def __init__(self):
        self.text = 'ME GROK SAY HI'

class Index(grok.View):
    def render(self):
        return "The text is: " + self.context.text


Grok fits my brain and I hope it will fit yours. Grok is entirely compatible with Zope 3; all the power of Zope 3 is in there. We're not changing the way Zope 3 works; we're just making it easier to use. Grok combines the flexibility of a swiss army knife with the great usability of a club.

To see a bigger example of Grok-based code, please take a look at the Grok-based wiki implementation. As a small note of warning: the Grok wiki is not intended to be a pure example code-base; we're using it as a Grok test-bed application so it is subject to change.

You can get Grok and run Grok yourself (along with the wiki and some other test-bed apps). Thanks to the wonders of zc.buildout it's actually very easy:

$ svn co svn:// grok
$ cd grok
$ python2.4 bootstrap/
$ bin/buildout

This will download and install Zope 3 (please wait a while) and will make an instance with Grok and GrokWiki in it. To try the GrokWiki, first start zope 3:

$ parts/instance/bin/zopectl fg

You can now access Zope 3 on port 8080; you can log in with the username grok and password grok. You can add 'grokwiki' in the ZMI here. After you add it, you get a rather empty page asking you to register things. Ignore that (it's a default Zope 3 thing), and just go click 'preview' or go to the URL of the object you just created, for instance:


Grok is a work in progress; it's going to change. It's not complete yet: we have a lot of things to do still. Don't build your applications on it yet unless you want to help us developing Grok further. We do think we have made great progress in a short time and I'm confident we'll make a lot more progress in the months to come. I personally think we're going to have quite an impact with Grok in the Zope world in 2007, and perhaps beyond.

Grok is team work. If you're interested in Grok and want to help us out developing it, we have a grok-dev mailing list you can join:

Update: updated the installation instructions slightly in response to feedback in comments.


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