On PHP-FIG

Update (2012-02-28)

Based on reactions I've seen on Twitter, mailed to me, and reported to me, I want to clarify a few points.

  • While I do not support shared interfaces, I do understand that some people do. Had I stayed in the group, I would have simply voted "no" on such proposals. That does not mean I would be upset if they passed, simply that I might not choose to implement them.
  • My leaving the group has no effect on whether or not ZF will continue to follow any of the recommendations. I am simply saying I will not participate in the development of or passing of recommendations.
  • I am not "rage quitting," nor did I ever view the group as my personal fiefdom, or only useful when it had a group of like-minded developers (which was never the case; the original group was incredibly disparate). My argument is simply this: too many participating are forgetting to check their egos at the door so that they may work towards consensus. As long as any arguments are couched in terms of "right" or "wrong," somebody is missing the point of the group.

Original Post

Yesterday, I left the PHP-FIG group.

As in: left the github organization I created, and removed myself from the mailing list I created.

I have contacted members of my development team and the Zend Framework community review team to see if anybody is willing to represent ZF in the group. I no longer am.

I was going to leave quietly, but as a favor to Paul M. Jones -- a good friend and sometimes collaborator -- I'm writing now.

I had high hopes for the group. It was the culmination of something I've been ruminating on for almost a decade (see post number 12 on my blog, dated to January 2004, for proof). My thoughts have mainly been around coding standards and best practices, helping educate developers around their benefits, and how to leverage both in order to create maintainable code.

First, a few thoughts:

  • I personally feel that interfaces are a bad fit for the organization; I have outlined my thoughts on interface standardization elsewhere.
  • Multiple coding standards are okay. A standard for every project, organization, or developer is not. The ideal is a handful or so for any given language, as more than that means there are no standards; it's just a free-for-all.
  • No individual coding standard will satisfy all developers. In fact, in my experience, there will always be choices in any standard that even the authors of the standard are unhappy with. The point of a coding standard is not to make everyone happy. It's to have a document that details the structure of code so that developers focus on the intent of code, not the way it's formatted.
  • Coding standards are useless if they do not contain hard rules, as automated tooling to sniff for CS issues cannot be written. "COULD", "SHOULD", and "CAN" are all problematic, and any use of "EITHER" is going to make automation ridiculously complex.
  • In the end, no matter what the technical arguments are for any given detail, all coding standards are ultimately subjective. The only objective standard is what is parseable in the given language.
  • What matters is that you adopt an existing standard, and use it. When you do, you can automate some code review, prevent developer commit skirmishes arising from differences in formatting aesthetics, and focus on the problem you're trying to solve in your code.

With those thoughts as background, then, I can better explain my departure.

The point of PHP-FIG was to create consensus around practices shared by its member groups, no more, no less.

When PSR-0 was created, we had around a half-dozen member groups. You have to start somewhere.

Each proposal since then has had an increasing number of members both discussing and voting on proposals. That means the early proposals may not be representative of the later membership. That's a simple fact.

That does not mean the standards should change. Once published, a standard is done. The only thing that can happen is that a new standard may be created that can supersede an existing standard, or be used instead of an existing standard. As examples from existing standards bodies, consider RFC 822, which codified the format of internet text messages (email); it superseded at least one other RFC, and has itself been superseded twice (in RFC 2822 and RFC 5322).

PHP-FIG adopted the same workflow. If new practices emerge, or the makeup of the organization significantly changes, and existing recommendations are found to be obsolete or outdated, a new recommendation may be proposed to supersede or be adopted in parallel to them.

Parallel standards from the same body, however, should be considered very carefully, as they lead to splintering and fragmentation of the standards body and member organizations. If consensus cannot be achieved, why bother?

What I see happening in the PHP-FIG github organization (in pull request comment threads) and google group, however, is the exact opposite of the goals that originally led to the group being formed. Instead of people trying to achieve consensus, I see a lot of polarizing, all-or-nothing arguments occurring, often over very subjective things. Developers are defending their opinions and viewpoints with little to no real analysis of what others present. I see a lot of "you're wrong" types of remarks. These are coming largely from non-voting members, but it means the signal-to-noise ratio within these forums is skewed; it's hard to find reasonable discussion occurring due to this behavior.

The "old guard" is guilty of this at times, too -- but not as often as many might insist. The insistence of folks like Paul M Jones, Paul Dragoonis, and Lukas Kahwe Smith that discussion should happen on-list, and that PRs are not considered for existing, accepted standards is actually reasonable -- for the reasons I outlined above. A standard is written once; if it needs revision, a new standard should be written superseding it.

What is most irritating, however, is it doesn't matter how many times such statements are made; people insist on debating their pet peeves on existing standards without following the guidelines and established process -- nor listening when others point out that the debate has occurred before, will occur again, and needs to stop for now so that we can focus on constructive tasks. I see a lot of name calling, a lot of accusations of a "dictatorship" (they're recommendations people; they're not requirements), and overall egotistical behavior.

I'm tired of it. I have better things to do with my time, things I want to create, software I want to support, hobbies and interests I want to pursue. Debating brace placement, tabs vs spaces (for the umpteenth time), or whether or not annotations have a place in programming in a dynamic language? Not so much.

I hope PHP-FIG can achieve the goals it started with. It will have to do so without my participation, though.

Note

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