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Epic Terminator refactoring afoot

Posted on Saturday, 19 December 2009

The current bzr repository for Terminator began its life in November 2006 with the simplest possible implementation of the concept of packing multiple terminals into one window. In the 3 years since then we have expanded and extended the code in a variety of directions to produce a moderately compelling feature set, but one that is really obviously incomplete.

In the same time period we've also seen a really gratifying amount of adoption - I believe our active userbase numbers in the thousands if not tens of thousands. I am forced to largely estimate these numbers for all the usual FOSS reasons, but it's all based on one real metric - Ubuntu has about a million users reporting popcon data and over 10,000 of those have Terminator installed. I don't actually think that they all use it, but nonetheless it's the kind of number that makes you think "hey maybe I need to be doing more for these folks".

And I do think that, and I am trying to do more.

Back in August I took a serious look at where we are and came to the same old conclusions - we lack one or two headline features that people keep asking for (barely a week goes by when I don't get asked how someone can save a particular layout of terminals). These features are very subtle and deeply problematic with the existing code architecture - we've just been hacking in features as we can without any regard for architecture or future maintainability.

I decided that I'd had enough of being confused and frustrated by the status quo and so I started a side branch in my Launchpad /+junk/ folder called "epic-refactor" with the aim of refactoring all of Terminator from scratch. I'd read through every line of existing code and figure out what we were actually doing and how it could fit together more sensibly, then sketch that out in the barest form possible while I experimented with various Python techniques to arrive at an architecture that makes sense for our project, then port over the existing code feature-by-feature to the new architecture.

It's now a little over four months since I started the epic refactor and looking at where I stand today I am really happy. It's not ready to be merged into trunk yet, but the amount of work to get it there is less than the amount of work I've done on it so far. I don't want to put a timescale on it, but I hope to be calling for some wider testing in 2-3 months or less.

Once we are acceptably close to feature parity with the current releases I'll merge the epic-refactor branch over  and we can start to push forward with implementing the features that everyone wants, and finally get to the point of being able to comfortably release a 1.0 version.

I'd always thought that I'd hand over maintainership after a 1.0 version, but the last 4 months have been a whirlwind of programming discovery, so I might very well just stick around and see what people want on the road to a 2.0 release. Alternatively, the work I've been doing in the last few days on a plugin system might mean that I can kick back and watch everyone else implement crazy, awesome and sublime features I'd never thought of!

I'll be back with more when I have written a configuration subsystem for epic-refactor, because by then I'll be wanting your help to test!

I'm also going to write a separate post shortly about some of the interesting Python paradigms and ideas I've hit upon along the way. I'm sure none of it will be a revelation to anyone with serious programming chops, but for a rank amateur like me it would have been useful to have read four months ago ;)

Discussion

  1. Terminator has been a very useful tool for me as I attempt to learn how to use the CLI.
    Having multiple terminals allows me to compare what I've done right to what I've been doing wrong.
    I greatly appreciate the work that's been done on this project and will jump on any upgrades that become available.
    Thanks.

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  2. I'm one of those who add terminator immediately post-installation. Coupled with byobu, it's an awesome combination, and something that I have no doubt improves my overall efficiency when working with terminals.

    Thanks so much for the effort you've put in, and as a rank amateur python programmer too - I'm looking forward to your insights on the paradigms of python.

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