Evan Boehs website email
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is swimming against the current

Github considered harmful

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Mon, 28 Feb 2022 00:00:00 GMT

This post has been a long time coming. In 2021, through the pursuit of indieweb services, I switched to Drew DeVault's Sourcehut platform instead of GitHub. I opted for a progressive style of migration, meaning new projects will be hosted at sourcehut. Some issues from the switch were evident right away, but many took time. Since my migration, I’ve endured growing pains around each corner.

The funny thing is that these problems are not at all related to sourcehut, but rather people’s dependence on the github service. Experiencing these issues has been (ironically) liberating, as it has made me increasingly more and more aware of the jail the developer community (myself included) has built for themselves. Freeing myself of these restrictions feels natural, just as rooting an android phone or migrating to linux has provided so many with the satisfaction of knowing they have gained some form of digital autonomy.

Detailed here are some such examples of issues I have experienced as a result of github’s propitiatory architecture, or integrations people have built using it.

How do deploy my website?

Up until this point, I had been using netlify to deploy my website. When switching to sourcehut, I went to create a new netlify page, because I could not figure out how to switch providers from an existing page. To my dismay, I discovered this would not work.

Where is my option for custom URLS?

But why? It’s standard across all git providers to allow cloning by appending .git to a repository. Even for private repositories, giving netlify a SSH key should be more than enough? What is there to lose by allowing arbitrary URI’s?

Well, I suppose there is the touchy issue of automatic deployments. Presumably netlify sets up a webhook with github, gitlab, and bitbucket. These webhooks work because netlify developers have hand coded superpowers. Presumably these superpowers are not hard coded, that would be silly when you offer integrations for three services. Sourcehut offers webhooks too, I don’t expect special handling for my niche service, but I would be down to hand code that handling for automatic deployments, provided netlify gave me the option.

Even if there was no webhooks, that’s a pretty self imposed bottleneck, I see no reason that manual deployments would not work with this .git fallback approach.

Colby Hubscher wrote an article on how to get this working using sourcehut’s build service here, but It’s too late, I can’t think of a good reason this would not be offered in netlify.

Vercel

In the jamstack community, the other netlify is vercel, perhaps it fairs better.

Spoiler: Yes

Was that so hard netlify?

Wait…

Huh?

Huhhhhh?

Cloudflare

Same story as netlify, but only github and gitlab

The rest

  • Surge works, that’s kinda the point of surge though
  • Fly.io works like surge

Conclusion

There is nothing difficult to providing platform emancipation due to git fundamentals and the prevalence of webhooks in modern git hosts, but for some reason every major service opposes it. Why?

Patches? Mailing Lists?

The next hurtle I quickly encountered was the realization that I only knew how to use GitHub, or rather the GitHub workflow. It’s been adopted by the world, with services like gitlab and gitea also adopting it. Sourcehut has a different flow, instead opting to use patches and mailing lists instead of pull requests and discussions.

This change in pace confused me, it was not what I was accustomed to and I had to resist the urge to reject it. The thing is, the sourcehut approach is the approach git was designed to work with. GitHub has departed from this, choosing to use git to do what it was not designed to do. Frankly, this is not a good thing.

  • Users loose out on powers of the git client
  • Users learn and become dependent on objectively wrong ways of doing things
  • Users are subjected to centralization. Using git native approaches I can send my friend a patchset encoded into an audio file and inscribed onto a cassette tape (my preferred method of file transfer). Using the GitHub flow my friend must host their repository on the same instance as mine.

And by extension, less contributors

Telling developers they need to jump through hoops to send you code is hard. Just like me, they feel very uncomfortable switching away from the GitHub model. Using a UI they don’t know and a format they don’t know just to submit a bit of code is hard. People’s familiarity with proprietary formats is actively reducing the traffic and new contributors to my repositories.

It should not actually be this way. Theoretically, I should have more contributors because anyone can contribute by sending me an email, no account needed. In practice, people don’t know how to do this, or that they can. GitHub has played developers, making them dependent on the platform. That’s not ok.

Why do people use GitHub?

Because everyone does — an endless spiral

A glimmer of hope

I frequently see

This is my first patch by email! Sorry if I did something wrong!

Each time I see this I smile. We are clinging on!

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