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Wednesday June 24, 2009
07:58 PM

The Swarm - Adding collaborative editing support to Padre

[ #39172 ]

On #padre the other night, a discussion broke out on the subject of collaborative editing (ala MoonEdit, SubEthaEdit, etc). A number of people had never even heard of it before.

Collaborative Editing, as it is typically implemented, involves "connecting" your editor to someone else's editor. Instead of opening the files for local editing, your typing events and such are transmitted to the original host in real-time.

The effect is that two or more people can edit the same document in real-time, everyone with their own individual syntax highlighting, key bindings, preferences and plugins active.

After establishing that all the standalone libraries for doing collab (like libgobby) weren't going to be appropriate, we started pondering how we might implement it ourself, and what features OTHER than pure collaborative editing might be handy.

Some of the sorts of things you could probably do quite easily is to "steal" a copy of an open unsaved file from someone else's Padre, open a file for remote viewing only (think live remote code reviews), or allow remote users to take actions for code that can only be run on one physical system (due to exotic hardware etc).

Then there's the whole social aspect to explore. Putting your Padre into "Conference Mode" might enable all sorts of curious effects (like automatically notifying you if someone else on the local is editing a CPAN distribution that you have a checkout of as well) and let you do different things compared to collaboration with someone that is truly physically remote. Perhaps it might allow other conference attendees to hijack your editor so they can run module test suites on platforms they don't have... the possibilities for sharing development effort in a more intimate environment are quite extensive.

There's all sorts of different things that you might do, and all sorts of different methodologies you could apply to make them happen. Multicast, broadcast, UDP, things like Bonjour.

And just as useful for Padre is that doing collaborative editing would require significant improvements in the cleanliness of Padre's internals. Before we could make half this stuff work, Padre would need to have a much more robust and sophisticated understanding of the ways in which concepts align and mix together across the Main Window, Editor Panels, Documents and Projects.

Having permanently running clients and servers would drive improvements in Padre's Task API and background processing capabilities, and will require improvements in threading and IPC.

Until this notional day in the future when we actually know how to implement all of this in Padre safely and sanely, I've created a new Padre::Plugin::Swarm plugin to serve as a vessel for all the insane test cases.

"Padre Swarm" is intended to be a container for experimental work and shiny demonstrations. It will intentionally ignore stuff like robustness, scalability and security.

Swarm gives people a chance for people to show off the kinds of shiny toys that might be possible when you don't have to care that implementing it means allowing arbitrary remote code execution by the entire world, and that it only works on multicast-capable networks, and that in the process the Single Instance server doesn't work any more and Padre crashes if you try to refresh the Outline panel.

As usual, if you find this interesting or exciting, I strongly encourage you to drop in at #padre and have a chat. If you like what is happening, we can get you commit and everything else from there.

(As an aside, Padre is now sitting at around 20 active contributors. We now only need another 50% increase in contributors to catch and exceed the number of active contributors on Emacs) :)

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