Christoph Hochstrasser

Grails Plugin Etiquette

At work we use a lot of Grails plugins. Recently one of our most important Plugins broke functionality in our app in a minor release, does not tag the releases in the repository and doesn’t provide a upgrading document. This brought me to think a bit about how plugins should behave.

Breaking things in my app ain’t cool

Breaking things in my app in a minor version does fill me with rage. It makes me switch to another plugin (when there’s any).

So if you want people to keep using your plugin, be very careful with breaking stuff in existing apps.

When you absolutely, positively have to break something

When you do have to break with existing behaviour then the most important thing is to Communicate!

The worst thing for me as user is to realize that certain things do not work anymore, after a unsuspicious minor update.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Write a note into your changelog.
  • Put instructions for upgrading into your documentation.
  • Indicate it with a new major version number (e.g. “2.0”). This is about managing expectations. I expect breaking changes in a major release. In minor releases though, I expect that not a single thing breaks.
  • Blog about the break, and provide information on how to upgrade from previous versions.

Provide a changelog

A changelog simply makes updates a bit more predictable — and therefore you make it easier to upgrade to the latest version if you clearly state what’s new and what has changed from previous versions.

You want your users to be on the latest version, or do you?

I think it’s in your interest that all of your users are on the most recent version. It safes you quite a bit of work.

This is how an example changelog could look:

# Changelog

## v1.2.0

 * Added internationalization for error messages. Error messages are
   now in a i18n resource bundle in `foo/i18n/`. For
   details see the `UPGRADING.txt`.
 * Added some more changes. (christoph)

## v1.1.0

 * Added some feature. (christoph)

Too lazy? At least tag your releases

When you are too lazy to provide a change log, then at least tag your releases — so I can use the version control system to see what has changed between releases.

Tags can be combined with Github’s Compare View to provide a change log of releases.

You can use<user>/<repository>/compare/<start>...<end>

to get a nice comparison between two points in a projects history, complete with all commits listed and a diff.

These points can also be Tag Names, here is an example from one of my projects.