Tag Archives: tiki

The Evolution of SUMO

(Guest post by James Socol of the webdev team. Comments or questions? Head on over to James’ original blog post and comment there!)

When I joined the SUMO team six months ago, the team was just starting a discussion of “where do we go from here?”  SUMO was built on a CMS called TikiWiki, and had diverged pretty significantly in two years. (David Tenser wrote a more detailed history if you’re interested.)

After a few months of talking and testing—and a few changes of direction—we’ve decided that SUMO will follow our colleagues on AMO and move to a custom web application, built on Django, a development framework in Python.

Why are we committing to such a dramatic new direction? Three major reasons. Keep in mind that SUMO was built on TikiWiki 1.10, a little more than two years out of date.

Performance

TikiWiki is a very feature-rich application. An unfortunate trade-off for us is performance, especially on a site serving 16 million users every week. As our European users in particular know, SUMO can be unacceptably slow at times, especially when editing articles. Many of the changes we made to the platform—most of which were contributed back over the past few months—were to improve performance via tools like output caching, database replication, and just refactoring. When we evaluated the latest version of TikiWiki, we found that performance was around the same, on average.

In the new platform, we’ll be taking advantage of techniques now available, including query and template/fragment caching and expect to see dramatic performance improvements. We’ll also be avoiding some of the performance pitfalls that TikiWiki fell into over the years with improvements to the security, database, and templating layers, among others.

But the biggest performance impact—I expect—will be moving from a general-purpose CMS to a dedicated web application, focused on providing the SUMO experience.

Hackability

To work on SUMO, you have to overcome a steep learning curve. Components tend to be tightly-coupled, or grouped in unintuitive ways, and are not as extensible as we’d like. The lack of a comprehensive test suite leaves changes to important sections of code open to introducing regressions in otherwise unrelated, dependent areas. SUMO 1.x also fails to function without a relatively complete copy of its database, which makes it difficult for community members outside the company to contribute.

With the new platform, and some discipline from the team, our goal is to improve all of these and make it easier for someone to get started hacking on SUMO.

  • We’ll be striving to keep code loosely-coupled and extensible—including using existing or external libraries whenever possible, and turning our own contributions into external libraries where possible.
  • We’re adopting a test-driven development workflow to ensure that our components are easier to safely hack, and lighten the load on our QA team by reducing regressions.
  • TDD and Django will make it easier to work without a copy of the database, using fixtures and migrations to minimize the dependence on real data.

The net effect of these decisions will be to lower the barrier to entry to SUMO development, and hopefully make useful code available to other projects. Wil Clouser listed more strengths of Django as a platform when the AMO team decided to switch.

Strength in Numbers

By using the same platform as AMO, both teams will benefit from sharing code and resources. We’re already using the same template adapter, database router, caching layer, and HTML sanitizer. As open source developers often say: “with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow,” and by sharing code we get more eyes on it. We’ll benefit from insights the AMO team has gleaned by starting the process of moving from a PHP framework to Python just ahead of us. We’ll even be able to send code reviews across teams and benefit from deeper knowledge of the various problem domains we share: have a question about localization? Both teams can share expertise and best-practices.

Solving problems once and sharing the solution directly reduces the amount of work both teams have to do. And when SUMO writes code in such a way that AMO can use it, we can also release it separately so others can benefit from our solutions—and point out flaws and contribute improvements.

Other Changes

Also among the changes coming in the next year:

  • Version Control System. Though we don’t have a specific plan in place, it seems likely that SUMO will be moving from SVN to Git for source control. Because Git is distributed, it allows us to use a more collaborative workflow, and it’s easier for us to push our code to public repositories like Github.
  • Continuous Integration. We’ll be using Hudson for continuous integration, which will automate our tests and alert us to potential issues and regressions. The web QA team has also been working to make sure our Selenium tests can run through Hudson, greatly increasing test coverage for a web application like SUMO.
  • Interface Localization. One of the ways we plan to improve the SUMO experience this year is by moving our interface localization to gettext, which is an industry-standard tool for localization. As we move parts of the site from TikiWiki to Django, those new sections will be localized via gettext, which helps us take advantage of our great community with tools like Verbatim.

A Foundation for the Future

The goal of all of this work—and it will be a lot of work—is to put SUMO on a solid foundation for future growth and, at the same time, improve the experience for everyone—from developers to contributors to localizers to visitors. We have a daunting and aggressive road ahead of us, but I’m confident that we’ll emerge in a better place.

SUMO 2 is codenamed Kitsune, and is already up on Github.

Comments or questions? Head on over to James’ original blog post and comment there!

The bright future of the SUMO platform

When the SUMO project started back in 2007, one of the first big questions was what web platform to use as a foundation for the upcoming Firefox support website. The Mozilla web development team started by doing a thorough analysis of the available content management systems (CMS) currently available in order to reach a conclusion. The outcome of that analysis was that TikiWiki was most suitable for our needs. Among other reasons, Tiki was best because of its many bundled features, strong multilingual features and powerful wiki and forum integration.

What followed was some rapid development to get Tiki deployed on our server and adapted to our needs. We received great help from the Tiki community, ensuring that the initial launch of Firefox Support was smooth and successful. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a plan for how to ensure we remain synchronized with the continuous development of the Tiki platform upstream, so we just kept developing on our local codebase.

Because Firefox is such a popular web browser, we get a lot of visitors on the Firefox Support website. And when we say a lot of visitors, we mean a lot: over 16 million page views per week! www.mozilla.com is in the top 150 sites in the world, and SUMO naturally gets a good portion of the traffic.

As a result, a significant part of our development focus has been on increasing performance. About two years after the site officially launched, September 2009, we had reached a point where we would be forced to rewrite parts of the underlying infrastructure of Tiki in order to keep up with the increasing traffic to the site.

We had reached a crossroad when we had to decide on what do with the SUMO platform:

  • Should we upgrade to the latest version of Tiki? Remember, we had over two years of local development that hadn’t been upstreamed.
  • Should we continue to patch the Tiki platform locally, i.e. continue with what was essentially a fork of Tiki?
  • Or should we switch to another platform that was better suited to our particular needs?

Abort, Retry, Fail?

Interestingly, in our second analysis of the available platforms in 2009, Tiki still came out as the winner! There simply is no existing CMS that is more suitable for us.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that Tiki is not entirely optimized for our needs. In order to change this, we would have to invest a huge amount of time to rewrite structures and code in Tiki relevant to SUMO, and we would have to take great care to not mess up with all the thousands of other Tiki-powered websites out there.

This led us to the realization that the right path for SUMO is neither of the above options, but to instead do a clean break and work together with the AMO team to develop something new that is optimized exactly for our specific needs: an excellent open source support platform that can handle over 350 million Firefox users.

TikiWiki really is a fantastic CMS — the fact that it still is the best fit for Mozilla among the options available is amazing.

Now our challenge is to build the next generation of the SUMO platform: SUMO 2.0, codenamed Kitsune. More on that soon!

Behold: the SUMO 2010 roadmap!

Back in October, we started the effort to solicit feedback and ideas from various people, including of course our wonderful SUMO community. I wrote about the three primary objectives for the SUMO project as a whole:

  1. To help people have a great Firefox (and by extension web) experience
  2. To provide key user and product insights to the Mozilla community
  3. To strengthen and grow Mozilla’s community

However, one thing that I didn’t mention specifically was our efforts in 2009 to make SUMO an open source support platform that can be used for other projects. A real example of that is the new Firefox Help for Mobile website, but other sites could follow in the future. Also related to this is our effort to improve the underlying SUMO platform to be easier to develop for, more performant, and more secure. These things all ultimately benefit our users and community and are important to focus our efforts on.

As a result, there are actually four primary focus areas for SUMO in 2010:

  • Improve the user experience
  • Get better insights about our users
  • Improve the contributor experience
  • Make the platform awesome

focus-areas-2010

Based around these focus areas, we have prioritized developed a shiny roadmap for SUMO in 2010. It is primarily available in a fairly uninspiring spreadsheet, but as an alternative, it is also available in a more fancy slideshow format:

Thanks to everyone who participated and helped shaping the future of SUMO. 2010 will be a fantastic year for Mozilla!