Starting Over

Every once in a while, I want to start again.

I currently have 6 different sites using Kaléo, a bit of software I wrote for managing Church websites, which I’ll write about another time. The code is stored in a private git repository, and synced out to 6 different places every time I need to make a change.

Most these changes are fairly simple, and upgrading each site looks roughly like this:

source myvirtualenv/bin/activate
git pull
python migrate
python collectstatic
# profit!

Since this is all eminently scriptable, it’s scripted, and I’ve got a quick Python script on my desktop that SSHs to each site in turn, and updates them.

The problem is, not every upgrade is that simple1. In practice, I end up having to run a few different commands - generally when I want to install new dependencies2.

What I should have done

Kaléo is built with Django, which has a really nice system for dealing with multiple sites.

I should have used that, but back when I started in 2009 I was just building something for my Church (and learning Django at the same time), and it didn’t occur to me that I might want to re-use it.

What I want to do

So now I have 6 different installations of Kaléo, and a maintenance headache every time I want to make a significant change (e.g. switching from Python 2.6 to Python 2.7, as I did recently).

This maintenance headache makes me want to just throw it all away and start again. I’d make it leaner - Kaléo’s full of cruft that seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d use the sites framework, so I could more easily manage upgrades, and be able to spin up new sites quicker. I’d probably separate out parts of it into apps, so other people could use just the parts of it they need. I’d write better tests.

Why I don’t

But then I remember that most of this code just works, and there’s a better way to do it. I can add tests for what I’ve already got. I can gradually pull apart the dependencies I’ve got, and spin off parts of it into separate places. I can get to where I want eventually, piece by piece.

Programmers are, in their hearts, architects, and the first thing they want to do when they get to a site is to bulldoze the place flat and build something grand. We’re not excited by incremental renovation: tinkering, improving, planting flower beds.

Joel Spolsky: “Things you should never do”

So tiny step by tiny step I’m getting my code to a better place, tiny refactor by tiny refactor, and I’m doing it all without breaking anything (much).

  1. This is where I should probably be using something like Fabric, but I haven’t got around to it yet. ↩︎

  2. There’s probably a better way of doing this - I’m using pip and have a requirements.txt file, but I don’t want to re-install everything, I just want to install the things I haven’t got installed. ↩︎