Concept: Maintenance Debt

We need a new S/W dev term Maintenance Debt.

Searching for this, the term shows it only crops up in the phrase Child Maintenance Debt -we need it for software.

OR Mini Loop Tour

Maintenance Debt: the Technical Debt a project takes on when they fork an OSS project.

All OSS code offers you the freedom to make a fork of the code; the right to make your own decisions as to the direction of the code. Git makes that branching a one line action git branch -c myfork.

Once you fork, have taken on the Maintenance Debt of that fork. You now have to:
  1. Build that code against the dependencies of your choice.
  2. Regression test that release.
  3. Decide which contributions to the main branch are worth cherry-picking into your fork.
  4. If you do want to cherry pick, adapting those patches to your fork. The more you change your fork, the
    more the cost of adaptation.
  5. Features you add to your branch which you don't contribute back become yours to maintain forever.
  6. If the OSS code adds a similar feature to yours, you are faced with the choice of adapt or ignore. Ignore it and your branch is likely to diverge fast and cherry-picking off the main branch becomes near-impossible.
That's what Maintenance Debt is, then: the extra work you add when deciding to fork a project. Now, how to keep that cost down?
  1. Don't fork.
  2. Try and get others to add the features for you into the OSS releases.
  3. As people add the features/fixes you desire, provide feedback on that process.
  4. Contribute tests to the project to act as regression tests on the behaviours you need. This is a good one as with the tests inside a project, their patch and jenkins builds will catch the problem early, rather than you finding them later.
  5. If you do write code, fixed and features, work to get them in. It's not free; all of us have to put in time and effort to get patches in, but you do gain in the long term.
  6. Set up your Jenkins/CI system so that you can do builds against nightly releases of the OSS projects you depend on (Hadoop publishes snapshots of branch 2 and trunk for this). Then complain when things break.
  7. Test beta releases of your dependencies, and the release candidates, and complain when things break. If you wait until the x.0 releases, the time to get a fix out is a lot longer —or worse, someone can declare that a feature is now "fixed" and cannot be reverted.

If you look at that list, testing crops up a lot. That's because compile and test runs are how you find out regressions. Even if you offload the maintenance debt to others, validating that their work meets your needs is a key thing to automate.

Get your regression testing in early.

[photo: looking west to the Coastal Range, N/W of Rickreall, Willamette Valley, OR, during a 4 day bike tour w/ friends and family]

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