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With the recent announcement concerning the biggest known centralized code forge owner change, we have seen back here and there discussions about the creation of a similar tool, but decentralized.
I've used this occasion to recall the work done to implement tickets and merge requests in Salut à Toi (SàT), work which was relatively unoticed at the time of writing, about 6 months ago.
Now, I would like to bring some details on why building those tools.
First of all, why not the big forge? After all, a good part of current libre software is already using it!
Well first it's not libre, and we commited ourself in our social contract to use libre software as much as possible, infrastructure included. Then because it's centralized, and there too our social contract is pretty clear, even if it's not as important for infrastructure as it is for SàT itself. Finally, because we are currently using Mercurial, and the most famous forge is build around Git.
We do not hide the fact that we already ask ourselves wether to use this platform or not in general assemblee (cf. minutes – in French –), we were mainly interested in the great visibility it can offer.
« It's centralized? But "Git" is decentralized! » is a point we are ofter hearing and it's a true fact, Git (and Mercurial, and some others) is decentralized. But a code forge is not the version control system, it's all the tools arount it: hosting, tickets, merge/pull requests, comments, wikis, etc. And those tools are not decentralized at the moment, and even if they are often usable throught a proprietary API, they are still under centralization rules, i.e. rules of the hosting service (and its technical hazards). This also means that if the service doesn't want a project, it can refuse, delete, or block it.
Centralization is also a technical facility to catalog and search project… which are on the service. Any external attempt will then have more difficulties to be visible and to attract contributors/users/help. This is a situation we know very well with Salut à Toi (we are not present on proprietary and centralized "social networks" for the same reasons), and we find it unacceptable. It goes without saying that concentrating projects on a single platform is the best way to contribute and exacerbate this state of affairs.
Please note, however, that we are not judging or attacking people and projects who made different choices. These positions are linked to our political commitment.
Why, then, not using existing Libre projects, already advanced and working, like Gitlab? Well, first because we are working with Mercurial and not Git, and secondly because we would put ourselves here too in a centralized solution. And there is an other point: there are nearly no decentralized forges (Fossil maybe?), and we already have nearly everything we need with SàT and XMPP. And let's add that there is some pleasure to build the tools we are lacking.
SàT is on the way to be a complete ecosystem, offering most, if not all, the tools needed to organise and communicate. But it is also generic and re-usable. That's why the "merge requests" system is not linked to a specific SCM (Git or Mercurial), it can be used with other software, and it is actually not only usable for code development. It's a component which will be used where it is useful.
To conclude this post, I would like to remind that if we want to see a decentralized, ethical and politically commited alternative to build our code, organise ourself, and communicate, we can make this real by cooperating and contributing, being with code, design, translations, documentation, testing, etc.
We got recently some help for packaging on Arch (thanks jnanar and previous contributors), and there are continuous efforts for packaging in Debian (thanks Robotux, Naha, Debacle, and other Debian XMPP packagers), if you can participate, please contact us (see our official website), together we can make the difference.
If you are lacking time, you can support us as well on Liberapay: https://liberapay.com/salut_a_toi. Thanks in advance!