Search for an issue tracker

Posted by Tejus Parikh on October 5, 2006

Despite the philosphies of Google, I still like agile development methods. I’ve seen the pitfalls of “we’re not releasing until perfect,” and the significant negative impact it has on developer morale. It’s rather comforting to know that something is getting released at the end of 30 days. Which isn’t to say that I buy into all the mumbo-jumbo that daily meetings way to early in the morning and mandatory pair programming make me more productive. Clueless management is clueless managment regardless of the methodologies they employ. Unfortunately, most developement management techniques get defenestrated when dealing with a new open source project that might only get a few hours of attention a week. To me, the most sensible approach is to borrow the idea of iterations and estimation from agile technologies. Logically, it makes a lot of sense to have groups of feature sets laid out into prioritized buckets. The estimation helps because having an idea of how long something might take makes it easier to schedule time in a somewhat busy life. This organization also makes it trivial to scale the project beyond a single developer. The key technology to make this possible is an issue tracker. And there’s the rub. There seems to be a darth of decent, easy to use issue trackers powerful enough to meet the needs of a new open source project. I defined the requirements as easy to setup, support multiple projects, and it must be customizable enough to put things into prioritized buckets. For this kind of work, I prefer priority levels instead of distict priorities, simply because I might not have the time to work on the most important thing. This is how I felt the projects I looked at compared:

  1. Jira: I think Atlassian’s Jira is far and away the best issue tracker that I’ve ever used. There might be better ones out there, but I have yet to see them. Jira is immensly customizable, the interface is relatively intuitive and streamlined, and it has many built in reports that allow the project manager to track how the development team is doing. The use of some features is greatly diminished when the project manager is the development team. I have minimal experience with Jira for administration or setup, so I can’t comment on that. For the day to day and project managment needs, I don’t think it can be beat. Adding a new issue is easy and simple to understand. Feature’s like bulk change streamline the process of organizing issues into iterations.

    Given a choice, I’d use Jira for my personal projects as well. However, in order to get the version for open-source, you must have an established code base. So far I have rails scaffolding, so that option is out. Buying it outright is also impractical, since the base version costs $1200. Therefore, I started to look elsewhere.
  2. Xplanner Xplanner is an issue tracker designed for people using XP and related agile methodologies. Xplanner was easy to set up, and the feature list on the front page claimed that the product could do all I needed. However, everything I tried, beyond creating a new issue, failed the five minute test. I couldn’t figure out how to add things to buckets, create reports or move around the interface. I guess I’m not an eXtreme enough programmer.
  3. Bugzilla I was told by many people I trust not to even go there.
  4. Scarab The same group that put out Subversion have created an issue tracker called Scarab. Like XPlanner, Scarab failed most 5 minute tests. However, unlike XPlanner, after 5 minutes at least I felt like I had gotten somewhere. Eventually I was able to figure out how to customize it for my needs, as well as create some reports. On the whole, I feel it has the most Jira-like interface, and once it’s been set up, the workflow for getting things done isn’t too bad. It’s far from ideal, but I’ve decided to stick with it for now.
  5. Honorable Mention: Trac is a nice looking python based issue tracker. However, since I don’t know python and how to get it running under Apache, I decided to pass for this round.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: