Gerrit/Code review

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For an introduction to code reviewing (viewing and commenting on code; comparing patch sets in Gerrit) check the tutorial.

This is a guide to reviewing and merging contributions to Wikimedia code repositories. This guide is written primarily for Wikimedia developers doing code reviews. Developers submitting code for review will also find this guide useful along with the suggestions in Getting your code reviewed.

Goals[edit]

  • Provide quick reviews to avoid bitrot and feelings of abandonment. Fast feedback encourages new developers to continue contributing.
  • Be nice. Contributed patches are gifts. Reviews influence the perception a volunteer will have about the entire project.
  • Encourage community developers to contribute to the code under review.

Finding patches to review[edit]

Some developers may ask you to review their code via drone.

There is a lot of code to review. How do we break up the task into more manageable portions?

There are several basic patterns which reviewers have found to be useful:

Chronological (and Reverse Chronological)

  • Start at the oldest open changeset, review until you finish the queue. Alternately, start at the latest revision and read each diff in turn until you reach the end. This approach is good for minor revisions, but requires constant switching between projects and their contexts.

By project

If you are a maintainer, please consider setting up email notifications for new patchsets in your projects (repositories) via "Watched Projects" in Gerrit (or "Owners" in a future Differential world). Alternatively you can add yourself to the Gerrit Reviewer Bot which will automatically add you as a review to each new patchset.

  • Identify major pieces of work or sets of related revisions. A quick chronological review can be a good way to do this; or you can choose a repository with many open changesets.
  • Open all changeset pages as tabs in a browser window. Open relevant files in a text editor.
  • Review new or unfamiliar files in their entirety. Pick a changeset with a major change to the relevant file and review.

By author

  • Pick an author with (many) open changesets, load them in Gerrit.
  • Work through the revisions chronologically, or proceed one topic/repository at a time.
  • This method allows the reviewer to get to know individual developers: their skills, faults and interests. The work has a sense of progress and continuity.

Review checklist[edit]

General[edit]

  • Contributed code should work as advertised, that is, any bugs found in the code should be fixed. (But be careful not to blame the current developer for code written by a previous developer.)
  • Aim for interface stability and backwards compatibility.
    • Review public interfaces carefully, so that future changes can be kept to a minimum.
  • Read relevant bug reports or documentation.
  • Familiarise yourself with any relevant technical issues. Read relevant specifications or manual sections.
  • Database schema changes or changes to high-traffic queries should be reviewed by a database expert. (A corresponding Phabricator task should have the tag "schema-change" associated.)
  • "Hot" code, i.e. code that is run many times in a request, or code that is run on startup, should be reviewed for performance (e.g. by a member of the Wikimedia Performance Team). Suspicious code may need to be benchmarked.
  • Any web-accessible code which is very inefficient (in time, memory, query count, etc.) should be flagged for a fix (e.g. by creating a performance task in Phabricator).

Design[edit]

Style[edit]

  • Ensure the style guide is followed, such as whitespace, line length, brace placement, etc. This is easy to check. It is essential for core contributions. For extension contributions, style deviations can be tolerated initially.

Readability[edit]

  • Functions should do what their names say. Choosing the correct verb is essential, a get*() function should get something, a set*() function should set something.
  • Variables names should use English, abbreviations should be avoided where possible.
  • Doc comments on functions are preferred.
  • Overly-complicated code should be simplified. This usually means making it longer. For instance:
    • Ternary operators (?:) may need to be replaced with if/else.
    • Long expressions may need to be broken up into several statements.
    • Clever use of operator precedence, shortcut evaluation, assignment expressions, etc. may need to be rewritten.
  • Duplication should be avoided.
    • Duplication, whether within files or across files, is bad for readability since it's necessary to play "spot the difference" to work out what has changed. Reading many near-copies of some code necessarily takes longer than reading a single abstraction.
    • It's also bad for maintainability, since if a bug (or missing feature) is found in the copied code, all instances of it have to be fixed.
    • It's common for new developers to copy large sections of code from other extensions or from the core, and to change some minor details in it. If a developer seems to be writing code which is "too good" for their level of experience, try grepping the code base for some code fragments, to identify the source. Comparing the original and the copy allows you to get a true feeling for the developer's level of expertise. Then guide the developer towards either rewriting or refactoring, to avoid the duplication.
    • Taking shortcuts can be counterproductive, since the amount of time spent figuring out the shortcut and verifying that it works could have been spent just typing out the original idea in full.

Security[edit]

  • The reviewer should have read and understood the security guide and should be aware of the security issues discussed there.
  • There should not be the remotest possibility of arbitrary server-side code execution. This means that there should be no eval() or create_function(), and no /e modifier on preg_replace().
  • Check for text protocol injection issues (XSS, SQL injection, etc.) Insist on output-side escaping.
  • Check for register_globals issues, especially classic arbitrary inclusion vulnerabilities.
  • Check any write actions for CSRF.
  • Be wary of special entry points which may bypass the security provisions in WebStart.php.
  • Be wary of unnecessary duplication of security-relevant MW core functionality, such as using $_REQUEST instead of $wgRequest, or escaping SQL with addslashes() instead of $dbr->addQuotes().

Architecture[edit]

  • Names which are in a shared (global) namespace should be prefixed (or otherwise specific to the extension in question) to avoid conflicts between extensions. This includes:
    • Global variables
    • Global functions
    • Class names
    • Message names
    • Table names
  • The aim of modularity is to separate concerns. Modules should not depend on each other in unexpected or complex ways. The interfaces between modules should be as simple as possible without resorting to code duplication.

Logic[edit]

  • Point out shortcuts and ask the developer to do a proper job.

Complete the review[edit]

Giving positive feedback[edit]

  • If you want to help to review the code, but don't feel comfortable (yet) making the final decision, you can use "+1" and indicate whether you've "verified" and/or "inspected" the code.
  • If the revision is good and has passed all tests above, mark it +2. Praise is a good practice: if you are particularly impressed by someone's work, say so in a comment. When you mark a commit with +2, you're saying:
    • I've inspected this code, and
    • the code makes sense, and
    • the code works and does something that we want to do, and
    • the code doesn't do anything that we don't want it to do, and
    • the code follows our development guidelines, and
    • the code will still make sense in five years.

Giving negative feedback[edit]

  • If the revision is trivial, broken, has no redeeming value and its author isn't available on IRC, mark the commit as "-2"
  • If the revision has issues but also has some utility, or is showing signs of a developer heading in the right direction, mark it -1 and add a comment explaining what is wrong and how to fix it. Never mark something -1 without adding a comment. If someone marks your code -1, this doesn't mean that your code sucks; it means that it's good, but needs improvement.

You have to weigh up the costs and benefits of each course of action, they are all valid. If you reject the feature completely (-2), then that feature will be lost, and the developer may be discouraged. If you tolerate the fault, the end product will suffer, as described in the goals section above. If you fix it yourself, then you're letting yourself get distracted from the review task, and perhaps you're sending the wrong message to the developer, who may believe that it is acceptable to submit low-quality code and then let someone else worry about the details.

In cases where fixing it makes sense, say because the feature is too useful or the bug fix too important to let it wait, then consider whether it is possible to find someone else to fix it instead, so that your review work can continue uninterrupted.

Here are a few guidelines in the event you need to reject someone's submission or ask them to clean up their work:

  1. Focus your comments on the code and any objectively-observed behavior, not motivations; for example, don't state or imply assumptions about motivating factors like whether the developer was just too lazy or stupid to do things right.
  2. Be empathetic and kind. Recognize that the developer has probably put a lot of work in their idea, and thank them for their contribution if you feel comfortable and sincere in doing so (and try to muster the comfort and sincerity). Most importantly, put yourself in their shoes, and say something that indicates you've done so.
  3. Help them schedule their work. If their idea is a "not yet" kind of idea, try to recommend the best way you know of to get their idea on a backlog (i.e. the backlog most likely to eventually get revisited).
  4. Let them know where they can appeal your decision. For example, if the contributor doesn't have a history of being disruptive or dense, invite them to discuss the issue on wikitech-l.
  5. Be clear. Don't sugarcoat things so much that the central message is obscured.
  6. Most importantly, give the feedback quickly. While tactful is better (and you should learn from past mistakes), you can always apologize for a poorly-delivered comment with a quick followup. Don't just leave negative feedback to someone else or hope they aren't persistent enough to make their contribution stick.

See also[edit]