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Zulip Android plan

We are merging the Zulip Android and iOS development communities, to focus on the React Native app codebase (zulip-mobile.git). We’ve found with the iOS React Native project that we’ve been able to build an app that performs well using the platform, and the benefits of being able to share a codebase (so that we only have to implement each feature and design each detail once) are huge, and outweigh the advantages of continuing to invest in the existing, more mature Java Android app.

So, in preparation for Google Summer of Code applications opening on March 20th, we’re planning to merge the communities now so that we can direct students interested in Android to propose projects for the React Native app. Our goal is to have the best possible Zulip Android app by the end of the summer, and we think the best way to achieve that is to combine the efforts of both the Zulip iOS/React Native developers and the Zulip Java/Android development team on a single app codebase. This will also as a side effect benefit both the iOS app and potential future apps for other React-Native supported platforms like Windows Phone.

Here’s how this will work practically:

  • The Java Android app will remain in the app store until the React Native app is good enough to completely replace it. This probably means 3-6 months, depending how quickly RN development goes. We’ll continue doing releases both to fix bugs and to roll out features that are already partially implemented, but want to avoid putting a lot of work into totally new features for the Java app.
  • Folks who have open PRs on the Java Android app should work on finishing them so that we can close out those features. It’s still super valuable.
  • The goal is to get the React Native app to be better than the Java Android app as fast as possible (probably by end of August at the latest), so that we can minimize total work.
  • This Android strategy means it doesn’t make sense for us to have GSoC projects working on the Java Android app; those students would be able to help Zulip more working on the React Native app. So students who were planning to do GSoC with the Java Android project should write their proposals for improvements to the React Native app instead. A few important details are worth highlighting:
  • Zulip’s GSoC selection process is focused more on general engineering skills and approach than specific language knowledge, so good work done on the Java Android app is just as valuable for your application as work done on the React Native app.
  • Good engineers can learn new tools and languages, so if you’re shown your skills well on the Java project, we’re confident you’ll be able to effectively contribute to the React Native project after a bit of learning time. Students are encouraged to start learning React Native and contributing to the React Native app now to help prepare for a successful summer.
  • Proposals should highlight any work done on either app as well as describe a plan for the improvements they want to make to the React Native app over the summer.

Logistical details checklist for migration:

  • Make sure all existing Java contributors understand the plan and can give feedback on it and this plan.
  • Announce on chat.zulip.org
  • Update GSoC ideas page to clarify the plan
  • Update zulip/zulip-mobile README.md
  • Update zulip/zulip-android README.md
  • Update zulip/zulip README.md
  • Email zulip-devel@ and zulip-ios@ and zulip-android@ with the announcement
  • Announce on Twitter @zuliposs, linking to email
  • Use @zulipbot to update open PRs and issues for Android app with a heads-up about the plan

Logistical details that can be follow-up items but are important to making the transition successful:

  • Get the Zulip RN app working on Android (main issue is implementing the scrolling extension)

  • Attempt to clear out Java Android open PRs and open bugs to buy us 3-6 months of time without major development to the Java Android app, since it may take a while for the React Native app to achieve feature/quality parity.

  • Audit features of Java Android app and open issues for them in the RN app project.

  • Audit open issues for feature ideas in the Java Android app and open corresponding ones in the RN app project.

  • Add a bunch of links to JS, React, and RN tutorials to the RN app docs

  • Create good onboarding docs for RN for developers who only have Linux (and no Mac).

  • Move/rename/merge, as appropriate, the Zulip mobile mailing lists