Re: announce: my fork of alot

Subject: Re: announce: my fork of alot

Date: Sun, 16 May 2021 16:41:49 +0100

To: Anton Khirnov, Michael J Gruber,


From: Patrick Totzke

Hi everyone,

Of course I feel obliged to chime in and clarify, so here it goes.

Quoting Michael J Gruber (2021-05-16 12:15:28)

> Anton Khirnov venit, vidit, dixit 2021-05-16 12:19:45:
> > Hi,
> > 
> > Thought I'd share with the people here the fork of alot I've been
> > hacking on for the past ~1.5 years, see if there is any interest in it.
> Thanks for sharing!

First of all many thanks to Anton for his enthusiasm in pushing the alot
project further!

> > The code can be found at git://
> Any particular reason why this is not a fork where upstream is (GitHub)?
> > There are many changes in various places, the most user-visible ones in
> > the thread view mode. Specifically
> > - quoted blocks in the email body can now be colored and folded (this
> >   was probably my main motivation for starting all this)
> > - in upstream the thread mode shows a tree of messages, each node in the
> >   tree is a rendered message, that can be collapsed into a single-line
> >   summary;
> >   in my fork the thread mode is split-window - upper window for the tree
> >   with the thread structure, lower window for the currently selected
> >   message; no collapsing of messages
> > - attachments can be rendered inline, possibly colored with pygments
> > - git patches are colored with pygments
> > - all the parts are rendered for multipart/mixed messages, as per the
> >   RFCs
> > - encrypted/signed parts are now wrapped in a frame that indicates which
> >   bits of the message are actually encrypted or signed
> > - various architectural restructurings which were needed for the above
> >   or to allow for future changes (I have a large TODO list left)
> This all sounds like getting closer to mutt's view, which is not a bad
> thing at all!
> > The code is currently alpha quality - I am using it as my main MUA and
> > it works for my workflow, but any features I don't use regularly may be
> > broken. There is a general lack of "UX" polish (appearance and
> > documentation). I didn't bother updating the test suite to keep up with
> > all the architectural changes (plan to get to that once I consider the
> > code more stable).
> I have to question this strategy. alot (upstream) suffers from a lack of
> tests already. There is really no point writing tests after the fact or
> once you discover bugs by chance. Especially if you go for "disruptive"
> changes it's important to get the new architecture correct right from
> the beginning.
> > I removed some features which I considered an
> > impediment to progress and not worth the maintenance effort - YMMV.

All this sounds very exciting and I'd be very happy to see these features in
(mainline) alot!

I agree that some of alot's underlying code is ready for refactoring
and urwid in particular has been a big drag on quickly implementing things.
Also, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on deprecating some "unworthy"
features in order to reduce the maintenance effort!

> > Why did I not submit all this as PRs to upstream alot? The main reasons
> > were my lack of time and disagreement with the upstream about project
> > status. From what I can tell, alot maintainers consider the project to
> > be mature, so they prioritize stability and small incremental changes.
> > From my perspective, alot is lacking some critical features -- some
> > implemented in my fork already, some planned -- which makes it
> > borderline-unusable for me. As implementing those features required
> > large-scale architectural changes and my free time was quite limited, I
> > prioritized quickly implementing the things I cared about over
> > progressing in small incremental stable easily-reviewable steps.
> I have a similar impression about the project status. I'm curious: What
> are the architectural changes that you made?

Yes, the speed at which alot progresses is borderline problematic. This is of
course down to the small number of core contributors and the fact that for all
of us life goes on an priorities change.

One problem is that the project attracts many users interested in pushing what
I'd call "hotfixes" to address missing features: Often people would present
a (nicely working) proof-of concept that is not well documented, tested, and
doesn't adhere to common code conventions, only not to follow up on their
promises to "clean things up", for all too understandable reasons.
Still, I believe that just merging everything will quickly kill the project as
a) this leads to code that is very difficult and time-consuming to maintain and
b) broken features are very damaging to user's perception of the software, much
more so than missing ones.

I am not accusing you of anything here, Anton. I just wish to point out
potential long term difficulties and clarify that I tried to err on the side of
cautiousness to keep alot afloat in a usable state for most (potential) users.

> > At this point my tree has over 200 new commits and some ~4k changed
> > lines, so it's looking increasingly unlikely that I'll ever find the
> > free time and motivation to upstream it -- especially given alot's
> > glacial pace of development recently. If people are interested in using
> > this, I'll probably fork it "properly" under a new name.
> > 
> > Any comments or questions are very much welcome. I can also be reached
> > on IRC as elenril.
> Have you tried raising these concerns with upstream before your fork?
> Have you tried gathering a team around an idea and starting something
> new together?
> Frankly, upstream is borderline small already, and the way you started
> your fork probably will not attract a team of people who want to make
> that new fork their (common) own or are looking for a stronger team.

I share Michael's concerns about further splintering the small group of
developers and believe that this would be to the detriment of both projects.

It's no secret that I am ready to give the helm to others. I have been
maintaining this project for a while now, mainly for personal usage and as
a fun distraction. I have tried to squeeze in time to review pull requests when
possible and am grateful for the many code contributions over the years, most
notably the big steps towards pgp/mime, python3 and notmuch2, all of which I'd
have never found the time to implement myself.

It has so far been a successful, albeit slow, strategy to try and coordinate
efforts and I would very much like to see this going on, but without
sacrificing the quality of the code or the relative mature user experience.

To be clear: I still do not consider alot "mature" in the sense that I'd oppose
radical refactoring. This is reflected in its version number :)

Now, how to go on from here? It'd be great if we could coordinate future
efforts among those willing to spend time on the project!
This would require not only work on new features but also a discussion about
directions, priorities, quality control etc. So far, I found GitHub a good
place to organise these things but am happy to move on to another platform if
necessary. It'd be great to hear from the other contributors.

Best wishes,
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