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README.md

Working with EWP Technical Documentation

This document is our proposal on how to work with the technical documentation within the EWP project (where to store it, how to submit change proposals, etc.).

The Structure of EWP Repositories

How documentation is to be divided?

  • Separate sections of the documentation SHOULD be stored in separate Git repositories.

  • The index of all documents (along with their current statuses) SHOULD be kept at this URL. If SHOULD be frequently updated.

Some of these repositories will probably not change much after their first release, while some others (like the APIs) will probably keep mutating perhaps even after the project is finished (though, in a backward-compatible way).

Why separate API repositories?

We chose to split EWP requirements into a couple of separate APIs, and host them in separate GitHub repositories:

  • We believe that partners (this includes all the future partners) should have the option to implement just a subset of all the features we have documented. This will make it easier for them to start off, claim that they have parts of EWP properly implemented, and then implement other parts later (possibly much later, with other teams of developers).

  • Having each API in separate repository has some great advantages, when it comes to versioning:

    • If a partner does not implement API X, then he also knows that he may ignore all the changes in API X's repository.

    • If a partner has already implemented API Y and wants to upgrade his implementation to include some new changes in new API release, he may simply review a diff (and/or release notes) in the Git repository between specific tags.

    • It allows us to use semantic versioning separately for each API. This allows the partners to easily spot backward-incompatible changes which may break their implementations.

  • It allows the project leaders to choose and manage separate teams for working with separate APIs.

Why GitHub?

We chose to use Git and GitHub as the primary tool for working and hosting documentation for developers:

  • Many developers are familiar with Git. Many developers are also familiar with GitHub. We will require developers to review and accept documentation often throughout the project. We believe that these tools will help them with this task.

  • Git allows us to easily keep track of all the changes. Having the option to produce a set of changes between particular versions of the documentation (e.g. "what has changed between versions 1.0.0 and 1.2.7?") is a very important feature, and it can be easily achieved with Git.

  • GitHub features include an integrated code review tools, issue trackers, change notifications, automated build tools - and many other features. We are aware that most of our repositories will be hosting documentation only, but we do find all these tools useful even in documentation-only projects.

Issue tracker

GitHub offers built-in issue tracking which should be entirely sufficient for purposes of developing the software and its documentation.

Every GitHub project may have its own separate issue tracker, and we have chosen to stick to this design decision. In other words, we will use multiple issue trackers. When you're reading documentation on GitHub and you find a bug, simply scroll to the top of the page, and click the Issues tab.

Pros:

  • We keep project's issues along with the project's code.
  • The Issues tab is always around.

Cons:

  • Issue numbers will not be unique within the entire EWP Project. When cross-referencing issues between sub-projects, absolute issue URLs will need to be used. However, since WP6 will also use a separate issue tracker (and we were unable to share it), the issue numbers would not be unique in either case.

Rules for API Design and Versioning

Semantic Versioning

We will use Semantic Versioning for releases of EWP technical documentation. It has enormous advantages, when it comes to working (and reworking) API design:

  • We will assign documents their version numbers only after they are officially approved.

  • Semantic versioning scheme allows developers to easily determine when a breaking change occurs in a particular API.

  • It follows a set of quite explicit rules. Please get familiar with them (especially if you plan to design parts of the APIs).

  • Having a single, official latest version of the document, combined with the requirement of preparing an explicit and strict API specifications, allows us to easily answer the question: if something breaks then what should be fixed - the client or the server?

We "favor" server implementers

When designing APIs to be implemented by multiple partners, we believe it is generally profitable to slightly favor making the job easier for server implementers, rather than making it easier for the client implementers.

If our APIs are simple to implement for the servers, then it maximizes the chances that all such API implementations are 100% compatible with the specifications (and with each other).

It's true, that this often means more work for the clients. If you are implementing a client, you might keep asking yourself questions like Why do I need to make two requests instead of one here?, or Why we don't have any sophisticated search filters to use in this API?, etc. However, the important thing to appreciate here is that you can reasonably expect all different partner servers to work in the same way, because these specifications are made simpler for them.

Backward-compatibility

  • As required by the rules of semantic versioning, all breaking changes (aka backward-incompatible changes) SHOULD force the major API version number to be increased (e.g. 1.3.7 should become 2.0.0).

  • API designers MUST take care of backward-compatibility rules, to facilitate predictable workflow for all implementers.

  • Once a document is released, backward-incompatible changes SHOULD be avoided. Once first implementations are deployed on production servers, backward-incompatible changes MUST NOT occur, unless they cannot be avoided.

  • All non-trivial changes (especially the backward-incompatible ones) must go through the proposal acceptance process, as described in the Rules for Submitting API Change Proposals section.

Git branches (and XML namespaces)

  • All released specifications MUST be merged to a stable-v<N> branch, where N is the major version number of the specification (ideally, N will stay equal to 1 for the majority of all specifications).

  • XML namespaces used throughout the project SHOULD "self-describe" themselves. Namespace values SHOULD be valid GitHub URLs, pointing to stable-* GitHub branches. Every XML document SHOULD conform to the specification described in the stable-* branch given in its XML namespace.

  • Major changes in API versions SHOULD lead to a new stable-* (e.g. stable-v2) branch being created. If there is any XML namespace associated with API, then this also means that a new XML namespace will be created (and newer versions of XML documents will be required to use this namespace).

  • Unreleased (draft) APIs also SHOULD use valid GitHub URLs for theirs XML namespaces. They MAY use URLs referring to the master branch, but they also MAY use URLs referring to the - not yet existing - stable-v1 branch (for forward-compatibility). This DOES NOT mean that you can have draft changes in stable-v1 branch - it only means that you can use stable-v1 XML namespace in your master branch.

Changelogs (aka Release Notes)

  • Once a document is released, every subsequent release of such document MUST be accompanied by a changelog. All changes SHOULD be noted in this changelog (and backward-incompatible changes should be additionally highlighted).

Please note, that this requirement is for released documents only, and it does not imply the need of having a detailed changelog made for every change proposal (although many change proposals MAY be accompanied by such change logs).

Preferred Data Formats

We have decided to use XML as our primary data exchange format.

"Primary" not necessarilly means "the only one". It is still possible for some APIs to use other data formats (especially if the format is a well-established one, for exchanging some particular type of data). However, XML-based formats will be preferred.

Preferred Documentation Format

We have decided to use Markdown for text documentation, and XML Schema for describing data formats in detail.

  • Markdown - because it is very easy to understand even when displayed raw. This makes it a very good language to be reviewed in Git diffs.

  • XML Schema - because it is a well-established documentation format for XML, and makes it easier for developers to confirm that their documents meet the requirements. Schema validators are already built into many programming languages.

Preferred Documentation Style

We require all API specifications to be explicit and strict - with lots of "MUSTs" and "MUST NOTs" (as defined in RFC 2119) and detailed explanations for all the enumerations used). If any part of the specifications turns out to be vague, then a new version of such specification SHOULD be released, fixing the vague part.

Use permalinks!

Whenever you post a link to a specific version of a document somewhere, you SHOULD use a Git tag name (or a commit ID) in the posted URL. You should avoid posting links to the master branch (which can mutate, even to the point of having the link broken).

Hint: Try pressing y key on GitHub site to get a permalink (other useful keyboard shortcuts).

Document statuses

Before you read any EWP document on GitHub, make sure you know the status of this document. An index of official documents and drafts is kept here. You can also attempt determine the status yourself based the document's location and context.

Common document statuses include (but are not limited to):

  • RELEASED - All partners have approved the document and it has been assigned a version number (e.g. 1.0.0) in one of the official project repositories.

    • If there is no newer release of this document (no version with a greater tag name) then it is a Latest release.

    • If there exists a newer release of this document, then its status is OUTDATED. The latest release MAY be backward-incompatible with this document.

    • It is also possible for a document to be at its latest release, but the entire API (described by this document) has been DEPRECATED, and probably replaced by some other API. Such documents MUST explain (inside their contents) why they are deprecated, and which other APIs replace them. (Note, that this definition does not prohibit to undeprecate a document.)

  • CHANGE PROPOSAL - A document is a copy of another document with a set of changes applied. The partners are asked to comment on the changed parts of the document (e.g. when compared to the latest release).

    Change proposals may appear outside of the official repositories (i.e. in forks). They are often accompanied by open pull requests for merging them to official stable-* branches.

  • DRAFT - designers are still working on this document. It has not been approved, but everyone may comment on it. After being reviewed and accepted, drafts become releases.

"Official repositories" are the ones owned by the erasmus-without-paper GitHub organization.

Rules for Accepting API Change Proposals

How to propose a change to a document?

  • Option 1. Start a new thread in the issue tracker associated with this document (search for the Issues tab on the top of the GitHub page).

    The authors and maintainers of the APIs SHOULD subscribe for GitHub's issue notifications, and should be notified when you submit a new issue to their tracker.

  • Option 2. You MAY also fork the repository, change what you want changed, and send a pull request.

    If your pull request is complicated, consider creating a separate issue page for tracking it. Pull requests are NOT the proper place for longer discussions - such discussions SHOULD be conducted within the issue tracker.

How to get my draft (or change proposal) released?

These rules apply to developers with write-permissions to official EWP repositories. Developers MUST follow these rules whenever they want to release a new version of a document.

  • All change proposals SHOULD be accompanied by a pull request. Partners MUST be able to review a diff of all changes, and be allowed to comment on this diff somewhere.

    • This is also true when releasing drafts - e.g. if the draft is present in the master branch, then you should issue yourself a pull request to the stable-* branch.
  • Only trivial changes of already implemented APIs may be released without previously asking for the review of the other partners.

  • You CANNOT assume that all partners are watching all GitHub issues and/or pull requests. Whenever you mean to contact the partners, you MUST do so either directly, or via the technical@erasmuswithoutpaper.eu mailing list.

  • Whenever you contact the partners and ask for their review, you MAY give them a deadline for such review. After such deadline is reached, it MAY be assumed that all the partners who did not respond gave you their approval.

    • Deadlines should vary on the nature of the change. E.g. A one-week deadline might be enough for non-breaking changes, but breaking changes to already released documents may need a longer deadline.

    • If there is a strong reason to suspect that some partners may not like the change (e.g. you know the implementation has already started), you SHOULD attempt to contact them directly and get their explicit approval.