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Fixing Software

September 20, 2015

Yes, I’m a software developer.  Before I retired, I was a system administrator specializing in Solaris.  Part of what I did then was software development for our local Solaris installation.  I also did some for opensolaris, the development version of Solaris 11.  What appealed to me at that time was that full source of opensolaris was available to developers, along with all of the bug reports.  Opensolaris was an open source project originated by Sun Microsystems.  It was closed again by Oracle when they took over Solaris.

After I retired, I decided to continue with things I enjoyed, even though I was no longer being paid to do them.  I now had the freedom to turn down things that I didn’t enjoy.  I didn’t need the money or the aggravation.  One of the things I kept doing was software development, this time with illumos, an operating system derived from the last version of opensolaris.  Full source and bug reports are available for illumos, too.  Like opensolaris, it’s not a complete operating system, but the kernel and utilities for one.  Various groups build their own distributions from the illumos source.

I generally start with a bug report, either one from somebody else, or one that I filed previously.  Usually I avoid bugs in the kernel, as I prefer to leave those to somebody with expertise in that area.  I also avoid drivers, unless I have the hardware available for testing.  I generally choose a bug report for one of the illumos utilities.

The first thing I have to do is to reproduce the problem.  This is quite a difficult proposition in some cases.  Sometimes the bug has been fixed by a previous change.  Sometimes it’s no longer relevant.  If it’s still present and I can reproduce it, my next step is to fix the bug.  Again, this may be easy or very difficult, depending on the nature of the bug.  I have to assess relevant standards at this point, too.

Once I have a reasonably good fix, I proceed to post it for a code review by the other developers.  Sometimes they may have a fundamental objection to my change.  In that case, I generally can’t proceed with the bug.  More often they will point out additional changes I need to make that will improve my fix.  When all of the reviewers are satisfied with my fix, I can proceed to the final step.  This is integration into the illumos source.  It’s also my reward for carrying the whole thing through satisfactorily.

I do get a great deal of pleasure from software development, even though it can be a tedious and frustrating process at times.  I particularily enjoy devising a solution to a software problem, as well as eliminating one more bug from a large source distribution.  I do have to limit the amount of time I devote to illumos.  I don’t want it to dominate my life, but I do want it to become an excellent operating system.  Fortunately, there are many other developers.  Many of them are able to make considerably larger changes and additions than the ones I’m able to contribute.


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