Core Team Update: Vladimir Panteleev

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When Walter Bright unleashed the first public release of DMD on the world, the whole release and maintenance process surrounding the language and the compiler was largely a one man show. Today, there are a number of regular contributors at every step of the process, but at the heart, in addition to Walter, are three core team members who keep the engine running. One of them is Vladimir Panteleev.

Vladimir maintains a number of D projects that have proven useful to D users over the years. Today’s entry focuses on one that had as much of an impact as any other D project you could name at the time upon its release, if not more.

If the name DFeed isn’t familiar to you, it’s the software that powers the D Forums. Posts pop up now and again from new users (and even some old ones!) asking for features like post editing or deletion, or other capabilities that are common in forum software found around the web. What they don’t realize is that DFeed is actually not the traditional sort of forum package they may be familiar with.

Go back a few years and the primary vehicle powering D discussions was an NNTP server that most people accessed via newsreaders. Over time, there were additional interfaces added, as Vladimir points out:

D only had an NNTP news server, a mailing list connected to it, and two shoddy PHP web interfaces for the NNTP server, both somehow worse than the other. A lot of people were asking for a regular web forum, such as phpBB. However, Walter would always give the same answer – they were inferior in many aspects to NNTP, thus he wouldn’t use them. What’s the point of an official forum if the community leaders don’t visit them?

Vladimir decided to take the initiative and do something about it. He took a project he had already been working on and enhanced it.

The program was originally simply an IRC bot (and called “DIrcFeed”), which announced newsgroup posts, GitHub activity, Wikipedia edits and such to the #d channel on FreeNode. Adding a local message cache and a web interface thus turned it into a forum.

And so DFeed was born. Walter announced that it had gone live on Valentine’s Day 2012. It even managed to get a positive reddit thread behind it, which was a big deal for D in those days. The NNTP server and the mailing list interface to it are still alive and well, but it’s probably a safe assumption that a number of users eventually ditched their newsreaders for DFeed’s web interface and never looked back. I know I did.

So if you’ve ever wondered why you can’t delete your posts in the D Forums, you now have the reason. DFeed does not have the authoritative database. That belongs to the NNTP server. To illustrate two major problems this brings about, consider the idea of adding Markdown support to DFeed.

First, people using NNTP/email won’t see the rendered versions. Which isn’t a big deal by itself since it’s just text, but does create feature imparity. It *is* possible to write Markdown that looks fine when rendered but is unreadable in source form, especially with some common extensions such as GitHub Flavored Markdown.

Second, unless we’re careful with this, people using NNTP/mailing lists might trigger Markdown formatting that could make their post unreadable. This could be avoided, though, by only rendering messages with Markdown if they originate from the web interface, which allows previewing posts.

Even so, he’s hoping to add support for Markdown at some point in the future. Another enhancement he’s eyeing is optional delayed NNTP/email posting.

A lot of younger people communicate mainly through web forums, and are very used to being able to edit their post after sending it. This is not supported on forum.dlang.org for the simple reason that you can’t unsend an email. One solution to this problem is to save all messages sent from the web interface locally, but delay their propagation to NNTP/email for a few minutes. This creates a window during which the message can still be edited, or even deleted.

Other features coming in a future update are OAuth support, a thread overview widget, and performance improvements. He says DFeed isn’t as fast as it used to be. He wants to change that. Don’t look for the new version of DFeed too soon, though. Right now, Vladimir’s attention is turned in directions that he believes will have a bigger impact on D. As soon as I know what that means, you’ll read about it here.

In the meantime, if you have any ideas on how to improve the forums, keeping in mind that any new features have to play nice with both the NNTP server and the mailing list, don’t hesitate to bring it up.

Thanks to Vladimir for taking the time to provide me with an update and for maintaining DFeed over the years. Here’s to many more!

The D Website and You

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For those who have been around the D community for a long time, it’s all too easy to look at the website we have today and think how much better it is than anything we’ve had in the past. It’s miles ahead. Unfortunately, that perspective doesn’t lend itself well to recognizing actual problems that newcomers might face when visiting the site for the first time. Their point of reference is quite often the current website of another language, making their perspective on what does and doesn’t work very different.

It goes without saying that D is primarily a community-driven language. It doesn’t have a large company with a dedicated team of paid workers pushing its development. The website is one of the areas where this has a major impact. Its quality is almost entirely dependent on community contributions. Quite often, it’s recent additions to the community, those who have fresh eyes, who step up and push for improvements to the site. Several have been implemented in the past few weeks, thanks to community members who saw a void and took the initiative to get it filled.

André Stein put together an interactive tour of the language and set it up online. Now, that is part of the official site as tour.dlang.org, available from the menu bar at the top of most dlang.org pages by clicking on Learn. This is a tremendous improvement over what existed before, when users had to browse through different link categories to find the resources they needed, none of which were such a quick introduction to the language.

Sebastian Wilzbach has initiated a number of additions and improvements to the website in the short time he has been active in the community. One such addition is a page listing a number of organizations currently using D. Before, this information was only available on the Wiki. Now, it’s a first-class citizen of dlang.org.

Sebastian also put forth a suggestion for a major change in how the website is deployed. Previously, changes to the site had to be manually deployed, a process which caused a delay between when the changes were made and when they became visible. This led to a situation where news on the front page could become horribly outdated. Sebastian’s suggestion was approved and now updates to the site are deployed automatically when they are merged.

Another user, Ozan Nurettin Süel, was looking for the D Foundation website and coming up empty. A post about it in the forum led to a new page being added to the site. Anyone who wants to learn about the Foundation and, once memberships are open, how to join now has somewhere to go for that information under the dlang.org umbrella.

As Andrei said in his DConf keynote this year, the first five minutes become the next five years. The website plays a major role in that first five minutes. It’s up to us as a community to ensure that it meets the needs of potential new users instead of getting in their way. Small changes can often have a big impact. Whether you are an old timer or a newcomer, if you see something that is missing from the site, or have an idea for how to improve it, please let us know. If you notice broken links, incorrect text, or other such issues, please report them. Only then can dlang.org evolve to fully meet the needs of those coming to it for the first time.

Recent D Foundation Activities

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Welcome to the official D Blog!

My name is Michael Parker. With the launching of The D Blog, I’ve been fortunate enough to land the role of Blog Author, which means I’ll be making most of the posts around here. This blog will become your source for DLang news, inside looks at projects in the D community, and updates on happenings behind the scenes of language development and at the D Foundation. Consider it a complement to Adam Ruppe’s excellent weekly summary of D goings on, This Week in D. For this inaugural post, I’ve got three news items to pass along about some of the ways the D Foundation is working to promote D.

Lately, Andrei Alexandrescu has been doing a lot of talking in places other than conference stages. For one, he’s been having discussions with the Tech Lounge Foundation in Romania, an organization which, among other endeavors, works to help CS and engineering students and aspiring professionals move beyond their education. Specifically, the D Foundation is interviewing recent graduates and current graduate-level students to explore ideas for high-impact academic and industrial D projects. Not only could this result in a killer project or two for D, it could bring new faces into the community.

A second line of communication is active between Andrei and the University “Politehnica” of Bucharest, where he has had talks with the university’s Vice President Corneliu Burileanu and Director of the Telecommunications Department Eduard-Cristian Popovici. The focus of these discussions has been on finding opportunities for the university and the D Foundation to collaborate. Potential areas of cooperation in this realm include D-centric courses and joint projects developed with D.

Moving out of Romania and up into Scandanavia, Andrei was scheduled to host a D workshop on June 6 at NDC Oslo. That has now been canceled because of a scheduling conflict. Instead, he will be presenting a day-long consulting session at Cisco Norway. He will also be presenting a talk on D during lunch. All proceeds from the event will go straight to the D Foundation.

If you have any feedback on the blog theme, I would love to see it over in the forums. Be sure to keep an eye on this space, or subscribe to the feed, so you can stay up to date. And if you maintain a D project large or small, be on the lookout for an email from me. I’m getting ready to pick a target for the D Blog’s first project highlight.