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SAFE Network RFCs

This process attempts to emulate the success of the Rust programming language and as such has almost mirrored the RFC process the Rust developers use, which is tried and tested and appears to work very well.

Introduction

Many changes, including bug fixes and documentation improvements can be implemented and reviewed via the normal GitHub pull request workflow.

Some changes though are "substantial", and we ask that these be put through a bit of a design process and produce a consensus among the community and the core team.

The "RFC" (request for comments) process is intended to provide a consistent and controlled path for new features to enter the network and core libraries, so that all stakeholders can be confident about the direction in which the network is evolving.

Table of Contents

When you need to follow this process

You need to follow this process if you intend to make "substantial" changes to SAFE libraries, dependencies, algorithms or the RFC process itself. What constitutes a "substantial" change is evolving based on community norms, but may include the following:

  • Any semantic or syntactic change to the existing algorithms and process that is not a bug fix.
  • Any proposed additions to existing algorithms
  • Any proposed additional functionality
  • Anything that reduces interoperability (e.g. changes to the wire protocol or data serialisation.)

Some changes do not require an RFC:

  • Rephrasing, re-organising, refactoring, or otherwise "changing shape does not change meaning"
  • Additions that strictly improve objective, numerical quality criteria (warning removal, speedup, better platform coverage, more parallelism, trap more errors…etc…)
  • Additions only likely to be noticed by other developers-of-safe, invisible to app-developers-of-safe (i.e. API users)

If you submit a pull request to implement a new feature without going through the RFC process, it may be closed with a polite request to submit an RFC first.

Before creating an RFC

A hastily proposed RFC can hurt its chances of acceptance. Low quality proposals, proposals for previously rejected features, may be quickly rejected, which can be demotivating for the unprepared contributor. Laying some groundwork ahead of the RFC can make the process smoother.

Although there is no single way to prepare for submitting an RFC, it is generally a good idea to pursue feedback from other project developers beforehand to ascertain that the RFC may be desirable. Having a consistent impact on the project requires concerted effort toward consensus-building.

The most common preparations for writing and submitting an RFC include filing and discussing ideas on the RFC issue tracker, and occasionally posting "pre-RFCs" on the SAFE Dev Forum for early review.

As a rule of thumb, receiving encouraging feedback from long-standing project developers, and particularly members of the core team or existing contributors, is a good indication that the RFC is worth pursuing.

What the process is

In short, to get a major feature added, one must first get the RFC merged into the RFC repo as a markdown file. At that point, the RFC is "proposed" and may be implemented with the goal of eventual inclusion into SAFE, at which point it becomes "active".

  • Fork the RFC repository
  • Decide on a clear and brief title for the new rfc, make it descriptive and unique. Copy 0000-template.md to text/0000-my-new-rfc/0000-my-new-rfc.md, where 'my-new-rfc' is the kebab-cased version of the RFC title, any non-letters removed. Don't assign an RFC number yet!
  • Fill in the RFC. Put care into the details: RFCs that do not present convincing motivation, demonstrate understanding of the impact of the design, or are disingenuous about the drawbacks or alternatives tend to be poorly-received.
  • Submit a pull request. As a pull request the RFC will receive design feedback from the larger community, and the author should be prepared to revise it in response.
  • Each pull request will be labelled with the most relevant sub-team, which will lead to its being triaged by that team in a future meeting and assigned to a member of the sub-team.
  • Build consensus and integrate feedback. RFCs that have broad support are much more likely to make progress than those that don't receive any comments. Feel free to reach out to the RFC assignee in particular to get help identifying stakeholders and obstacles.
  • The sub-team will discuss the RFC pull request, as much as possible in the comment thread of the pull request itself. Offline discussion will be summarised on the pull request comment thread.
  • RFCs rarely go through this process unchanged, especially as alternatives and drawbacks are shown. You can make edits, big and small, to the RFC to clarify or change the design, but make changes as new commits to the pull request, and leave a comment on the pull request explaining your changes. Specifically, do not squash or rebase commits after they are visible on the pull request.
  • At some point, a member of the sub-team will propose a "motion for final comment period" (FCP), along with a disposition for the RFC (merge, close, or postpone).
    • This step is taken when enough of the tradeoffs have been discussed that the sub-team is in a position to make a decision. That does not require consensus amongst all participants in the RFC thread (which is usually impossible). However, the argument supporting the disposition on the RFC needs to have already been clearly articulated, and there should not be a strong consensus against that position outside of the sub-team. Sub-team members use their best judgement in taking this step, and the FCP itself ensures there is ample time and notification for stakeholders to push back if it is made prematurely.
    • For RFCs with lengthy discussion, the motion to FCP is usually preceded by a summary comment trying to lay out the current state of the discussion and major tradeoffs/points of disagreement.
    • Before actually entering FCP, all members of the sub-team must sign off; this is often the point at which many sub-team members first review the RFC in full depth.
  • The FCP lasts ten calendar days, so that it is open for at least 5 business days. This way all stakeholders have a chance to lodge any final objections before a decision is reached.
  • In most cases, the FCP period is quiet, and the RFC is either merged or closed. However, sometimes substantial new arguments or ideas are raised, the FCP is cancelled, and the RFC goes back into development mode.

The RFC life-cycle

Once an RFC becomes active then authors may implement it and submit the feature as a pull request to the repo. Being "active" is not a rubber stamp and in particular still does not mean the feature will ultimately be merged. It does mean that in principle all the major stakeholders have agreed to the feature and are amenable to merging it.

Furthermore, the fact that a given RFC has been accepted and is "active" implies nothing about what priority is assigned to its implementation, nor does it imply anything about whether a developer has been assigned the task of implementing the feature. While it is not necessary that the author of the RFC also write the implementation, it is by far the most effective way to see an RFC through to completion. Authors should not expect that other project developers will take on responsibility for implementing their accepted feature.

Modifications to active RFCs can be done in follow up PRs. We strive to write each RFC in a manner that it will reflect the final design of the feature, however, the nature of the process means that we cannot expect every merged RFC to actually reflect what the end result will be at the time of the next major release. We therefore try to keep each RFC document somewhat in sync with the network feature as planned, tracking such changes via followup pull requests to the document.

An RFC that makes it through the entire process to implementation is considered "implemented" and is moved to the "implemented" folder. An RFC that fails after becoming active is "rejected" and moves to the "rejected" folder.

Reviewing RFCs

While the RFC pull request is up, the sub-team may schedule meetings with the author and/or relevant stakeholders to discuss the issues in greater detail, and in some cases the topic may be discussed at a sub-team meeting. In either case a summary from the meeting will be posted back to the RFC pull request.

A sub-team makes final decisions about RFCs after the benefits and drawbacks are well understood. These decisions can be made at any time, but the sub-team will regularly issue decisions. When a decision is made, the RFC pull request will either be merged or closed. In either case, if the reasoning is not clear from the discussion in thread, the sub-team will add a comment describing the rationale for the decision.

Implementing an RFC

Some accepted RFCs represent vital features that need to be implemented right away. Other accepted RFCs can represent features that can wait until some arbitrary developer feels like doing the work. Every accepted RFC has an associated issue tracking its implementation in the affected repositories. Therefore, the associated issue can be assigned a priority via the triage process that the team uses for all issues in the appropriate repositories.

The author of an RFC is not obligated to implement it. Of course, the RFC author (like any other developer) is welcome to post an implementation for review after the RFC has been accepted.

If you are interested in working on the implementation for an "active" RFC, but cannot determine if someone else is already working on it, feel free to ask (e.g. by leaving a comment on the associated issue).

RFC Postponement

Some RFC pull requests are tagged with the "postponed" label when they are closed (as part of the rejection process). An RFC closed with "postponed" is marked as such because we want neither to think about evaluating the proposal nor about implementing the described feature until some time in the future, and we believe that we can afford to wait until then to do so. Historically, "postponed" was used to postpone features until after 1.0. Postponed pull requests may be re-opened when the time is right. We don't have any formal process for that, you should ask members of the relevant sub-team.

Usually an RFC pull request marked as "postponed" has already passed an informal first round of evaluation, namely the round of "do we think we would ever possibly consider making this change, as outlined in the RFC pull request, or some semi-obvious variation of it." (When the answer to the latter question is "no", then the appropriate response is to close the RFC, not postpone it.)

Help! This is all too informal

The process is intended to be as lightweight as reasonable for the present circumstances. As usual, we are trying to let the process be driven by consensus and community norms, not impose more structure than necessary.

License

This SAFE Network library is dual-licensed under the Modified BSD (LICENSE-BSD https://opensource.org/licenses/BSD-3-Clause) or the MIT license (LICENSE-MIT https://opensource.org/licenses/MIT) at your option.

Contribution

Copyrights in the SAFE Network are retained by their contributors. No copyright assignment is required to contribute to this project.

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