Checklist for a new project

02 Apr 2020 - Tags: developer, checklist, ci, cd, logging

Back in the day I used to start a lot of projects. From zero on GitHub, some of them are still there, unused probably.

Recently I started to take part of other people projects like testcontainers or profefe. I wrote about why I do it during the “2019 year in review” post.

In both cases, so even when joining a new existing project or when I start a new one I try to follow a checklist.

I developed this checklist along the years, moving parts and extending the number of checks. The main goal for that is to validate that the project has good answers for a couple of questions, not related at what it does, but to how it does it.

  1. is it easy to onboard as a user?
  2. as a new contributor is the project easy to understand?
  3. as a maintainer do I have everything I can under control in order to waste as less time as possible?

I follow the checklist when working on opensource but also in close source project and what I like about it is that you can propose a change by youself, you can try to apply those feedback as a solo-developer, hoping to make contributors, maintainers and colleagues to buy them spreading joy.

But let’s make to the list now.

Have a place where you can write

When I start a new project, but also during the onboard of an existing one in my tool chain I look for a written format of it.

I look for a readme, an installation process, a getting started guide, a contribution document. It does not need to be pretty one, a copy/paste of a few bash scripts that the maintainer does to set itself up is enough.

Having a place during the early days of a project where I can write what I think, how I would like to get things done is important in order to design something usable and to spot sooner misleading assumption.

If you can build the place for all those information it will take you one second to save them forever, it is just a matter of copy/pasting the command you run in your terminal to spin up dependencies, build the project and so on.

I like to use the README.md, CONTRIBUTOR.md and a ./docs folder to save everything I am thinking about or everything I do that I hope will make my life easy in a month where I will be back on that piece of code without even knowing it was there. The feeling you get is the same a new person has when it looks at your project for the first time.

There is no way you can get it right since the beginning, because there is not a definition of right. First day everything you write is mainly for yourself, in a month and some editing it will become the first version of the documentation for your project.

Logging and instrumentation library

As I said at the beginning of the article all the checks do not depend on the business logic of your application or library. All of them has to speak with the outside world sharing their internal state in a way that is reusable, comprehensive, configurable.

There are a lot of people that speaks about observability, logging, tracing, monitoring. Everybody has its own opinion, but form a technical point of your what you write has to be easy to troubleshoot.

You do it using the right telemetry libraries. For logging I do not have any doubt. In Go I use zap.

During a workshop about observability I built where I had to instrument 4 applications on different languages I selected:

In general I look for libraries that allow me to do structured logging, so for the one that enables me to attach key value pairs to log line. I also look for logging libraries that has the concept of exporters and format. Nothing unusual.

For tracing and events I do not have a favourite one but I would like to see Opentelemetry to become the way to go.

Continuous integration

A project without CI can not be called in that way. Nowadays there are a lot of free services that you can use, so no excuse. When I am on GitHub I go for Actions now because they are free and embedded in the VCS itself.

If you didn’t write any test at least set the process up and running. Just run tests, usually they do not fails if empty. And there are static checker, linters and things like that for every language, set them up!

Continuous delivery

You made the CI part, you are half way done. Release is important and we have the tools to get it right since day one. It is a pain to do a release, there are a lot of potential manual state to get it right:

  1. Bump version
  2. Changelog
  3. Compile and push binaries if it is an application

There are tools that helps you to do that in automation. For my apps I use goreleaser, for the libraries I use Releaser drafter.

Testing framework

Write tests, and when you see repeated code extract it in a testing package. zap has zaptest, your project should have yourprojecttest as well.

It is useful for yourself, because it will make the job to write more test effortless, and if you well document your testing package contributors will be able to use it when opening a PR because you will make writing tests easier for everybody. As a bonus who ever uses your libraries can use the testing package to write their own tests for their application.

Conclusion

This is the list I use, and I will keep it up to date now that I wrote it down, adding or editing it, so be sure to stay around!

I hope this checklist is general enough and useful to be reusable for you in some of its part.

What I like about it is that I do not need to be a CTO, a maintainer or something like that to drive the adoption of those point that I think are crucial, I drove the adoption of some of them even as a solo contributor.