Supporting Open-Source Software via Online Community

by Ben Adida and Philip Greenspun
This documents the SDM ("software development manager") subsystem extension to the core ArsDigita Community System necessary to support people who are using, extending, and fixing bugs in collaboratively developed and maintained software. The development model supported is central control. Software is divided into modules. For each module, one person is designated as owner. The owner has the authority to check in changes and elect peers, other programmers who also have the authority to check in changes. Modules that need to work together are referred to as related and, for each relationship, a record is kept of the person who is the relationship manager.

Because the core community system and this subsystem are entirely Web-based, SDM lends itself nicely to open-source software development by contractually unrelated parties. However, there is nothing that would keep a company from running SDM internally to support collaboration among employee developers.


The following kinds of people use the SDM: The project leaders are supported with up-to-date information on programmer assignments, bug reports, feature requests, and release schedules. For the purpose of any given module, programmers are divided into two classes: module owners and contributors. The SDM can keep a module owner up to date on all the unfixed bugs, unimplemented features, and proposed modifications and extensions from contributors. Users are supported by the SDM in that they can be alerted via email when their bug report or feature request has been addressed in a new release. The SDM provides a standard repository for new releases and patches.

Two-Phase Development of the SDM

The Software Development Manager subsystem will be constructed in two phases. In the first phase, we will keep information about modules of software, e.g., "bug 37 was fixed in release 4.2". In the second phase, we will intimately involve the SDM in keeping track of the actual code, e.g., the SDM itself will automatically do a build every night from the CVS tree and send email notifications of problems to appropriate programmers.

We expect to complete development of Phase 1 by March 15, 1999. We can meet this schedule because most of the software is already present in the ArsDigita Community System. We expect to complete development of Phase 2 by August 15, 1999. We can meet this schedule because most of the required software is available from and other open-source development communities.

Data Model

Here are the core tables of the SDM:

Elements of Collaboration

The real power of the SDM is that it enables participants in the development process to collaborate in a structured fashion. For example, rather than simply using the ArsDigita Community System's standard discussion forum software, we tag threads to particular modules, particular bugs, or particular tasks. Because bugs and task may be tied to module releases, a manager can say "show me all the discussions about bugs that are due to be fixed in Release 3.8".

Here are the core elements of collaboration:

Structured statements may be made by users that include these elements. For example, a project leader can use a Web form to tell the system that Programmer X is assigned to Task Y. This enable subsequent reporting along any of these element axes. For example, someone could ask "Show me the average time that it took to fix a bug reported by someone in User Group Z."


For more information on the benefits of open-source software development, see and