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Fix Bugs

As with all projects, bugs and requests for enhancements and new features accumulate. Many of them only involve a couple of weeks worth of effort, but the primary developers are busy enough that there's just not enough time to get to them. Dealing with a few small bugs, a couple of medium enhancements, or a single large new feature (and including tests and documentation) is a tremendous way for inexperienced programmers to get their feet wet, gain experience, and sharpen your Python skills.

The idea here is to choose a reasonable set of bugs to tackle: not too hard and not too easy. You can get advice from the mailing list as to the difficulty of various bugs, but judging how long it will take to do a task is one of the skills that young programmers must develop.

The issues database contains the prioritized list of active issues that is a good place to look for issues to fix. If someone's name is on the issue, don't hesitate to contact them to see if they would be willing to let you work on it and if it's a good candidate. That person would also be a good source of information and advice while working on the bug.

Mentor(s): StevenKnight, GaryOberbrunner, GregNoel, others

Simpler Interface for "Simple" Builds

The attraction of systems like CMake and GNU automake is that they provide a very simple interface (parseable as a Python script) that handles a wide number of typical builds. The idea is to design and implement an interface that is as simple as CMake and automake for the kinds of tasks they handle, while still allowing the full power of SCons for the tasks that they don't handle well.

A prior project has provided a great deal of the automake functionality for SCons. Although it is useful, the interface is not simple. One approach to this task would be to take that implementation and extend it with a very simple interface.

This task requires skills in language synthesis and language design, plus the ability to conceal unnecessary complexity behind a simple façade. The interface should "just work" for a wide range of common tasks, keeping the implementation details out of sight.

Mentor(s): GregNoel, possibly StevenKnight

Internationalization with Gettext

The gettext set of library functions allows a program to deal with internationalization (i18n) and localization (l10n) issues. The entire suite contains functions to use a translation catalog to convert a string in one language into another and handle the various numeric and date formats. Providing this support to programs being built would be very useful.

GNU uses the autopoint command to determine the getttext infrastructure. SCons will need a similar configuration step to determine exactly what it needs to do.

SCons will need a builder for the msgfmt program, which compiles the catalogs into binary format, and possibly for other programs as well.

This project will need someone who understands i18n, l10n, and the gettext model.

Mentor(s): GregNoel, StevenKnight

Internationalization of SCons

SCons itself needs to be internationalized. There's a Python gettext module to do the heavy lifting, but locating and marking all the strings that need to be translated, plus setting up the infrastructure to provide translations, is a lot of patient, detailed grunt work.

LIBOBJ Support

GNU autoconf can replace missing or broken library functions with versions that are locally compiled and included in a program. It provides support for alloca, error_if_line, getloadavg, lstat, malloc, memcmp, mktime, obstack, realloc, strtod, strnlen, fnmatch, fileblocks, and probably others.

It would not be a stretch to extend this facility to generating header files for specific circumstances; dirent.h comes to mind.

SCons should have such a facility. It's far more than a summer project to provide not only a complete framework but also all the functions (not to mention the configure tests that determine if the replacement is needed); however, establishing the framework and a few of the configure tests and corresponding functions should be well within scope.

Mentor(s): GregNoel, possibly StevenKnight

Library and Application Versioning

SCons has no direct support for versioned libraries and applications, that is, packages that may have multiple versions installed at the same time. SCons supports neither installing a versioned package nor choosing between multiple packages for a particular build.

In the former case, the need is for a cross-platform "link" (or "symlink"?) action, with generic chaining so that can be symlinked to, which is linked to, which is linked to (the actual installed library). Similarly, an application might be installed as prog2.3 and needs a symlink to prog. In addition, when cleaning ('scons -c'), it needs to remove the link only if it refers to the correct object (i.e., it should not remove a link created by a later installation). See Bug#1947 for other aspects of this task.

In the latter case, the need is to be able to choose a version of a library or application that's not the default (either an older guaranteed-stable version or a newer maybe-not-stable version). How this is done varies between systems; the design of the feature should hide that level of detail. Robert Lupton of Princeton has an Python implementation for selecting applications that works in his environment (it also can specify version dependencies to automate much of the selection), but it's not clear if it's sufficiently general-purpose.

Doing both aspects of this for a single summer is probably too much, unless there's some existing technology that can be leveraged.

Mentor(s): StevenKnight, GregNoel, Robert Lupton (rhl at astro princeton edu), others

Performance Improvements

SCons would get much wider adoption if its performance were improved. The subsections below describe different techniques. In general, the techniques can be divided into two major styles: top-down, by eliminating the need to execute entire phases, and bottom-up, by speeding up individual functions that contribute too much to the runtime.

Large-scale Optimizations

There have been proposals to optimize SCons' performance by eliminating the need to reparse the SConscripts every time. Other proposals have approached the issue by identifying only those SConscripts that contribute to the current rebuild and only reparse those.

This section describes some large-scale changes that are intended to eliminate entire phases of SCons' operation in some circumstances.

Mentor(s): probably StevenKnight

"Fast Unsafe" Build Mode

Normally, SCons emphasizes correct builds over everything else, including speed. For larger projects with multiple hierarchal directories, it would be a boon to have an 'instant build' option that would just build the changed files in a leaf directory, sort of as a syntax check before building and linking everything that depends on the changed files in other directories. This would ease the pain on large projects where only a small part of it at a time is being modified and a quick compile check would suffice.

The idea is to trade a guaranteed correct build for a fast development cycle when correctness is not desired. This feature would be intended for savvy users, and it would be up to them to diagnose any problems that result from missing dependencies.

The feature could require modifications to SConscripts to take advantage of it. It could also impose restrictions on the information provided by calling SConscripts (perhaps so that the imports could be cached) so that only the local SConscript needs to be evaluated. Additional restrictions and caveats are also possible. And when a full build is done, the affected files may be rebuilt, even if it is not strictly necessary.

Bug#1939 is one possible way to implement this project. Other ways are possible. A good proposal should consider alternatives.

Mentor(s): Josh Leavitt <Josh dot Leavitt at hill af mil>, GregNoel, StevenKnight


One important aspect of performance is to be able to document the changes in performance. The SCons project has started developing some benchmarks where the performance of routines believed to be critical can be tested and documented. The task here would be to build some more of these benchmarks.

There are two complimentary approaches in use: "micro" benchmarks that profile an actual SCons run that exercises one particular feature, and "nano" benchmarks that do side-by-side comparisons of internal functions. Microbenchmarks are used to identify code that seems to be more expensive than one would expect. Nanobenchmarks explore possible alternative implementations of code highlighted by microbenchmarks.

Any project to work on performance should describe how the project plans to measure the performance. It's not enough to just say, "I'll use the Python profiler," the idea is to discuss how you'd use it, what pieces you think you'll measure, how you plan to set reasonable performance targets and track progress against them, etc. Development of any necessary tools, subsystems, or other infrastructure for measuring performance is fine, but should ideally aim for tools that are generally re-usable and useful in the future, not one-offs just for the project.

Mentor(s): GregNoel or StevenKnight

Integrate Code Coverage into Testing

Code coverage is a form of testing that determines how much of the code has been executed during testing. Wikipedia lists five types of code coverage:

There are at least three packages that do code coverage for Python: trace2html, Coverage, and figleaf. A Google search would probably turn up others.

The idea here is to add code coverage as a testing option. The project would be to evaluate the various tools available, pick one (or synthesize one), and integrate it into the standard testing procedures. It should be possible to visualize the output easily so that areas of untested code can be quickly identified. And the process should be well documented.

Mentor(s): GregNoel or StevenKnight

Regression Testing of Performance

The basis of this idea is to add features to the SCons testing framework (used for both unit tests and integration tests) to allow performance-critical subsystems to be monitored routinely. It would have to be self-scaling, either by running a standard mix of Python statements to provide a relative yardstick or by using a provided function to set the yardstick. The former would be useful for functions with an absolute requirement (e.g., no more than 100,000 instructions); the latter would be useful for functionality with "Big-O" requirements (e.g., if the standard is O(N^2), run some sequence with one input then with ten; the performance of the latter should be less than a hundred times the former).

The second part of this idea is to implement performance regression tests. It will require coordinating with developers to identify the portions of the code to be measured, jointly determining the performance requirement, and implementing the necessary tests.

Mentor(s): GregNoel or StevenKnight

Distributed Compilation

A model for being able to parallelize software builds by distributing work across a network of homogeneous machines would benefit many large projects. One possible approach would be to try to integrate (and generalize) some functionality like distcc, perhaps similar to the way that SCons has already integrated some ccache-like functionality. Another more ambitious approach would be to try to make use of existing grid computing systems. Since the scope of this project is only a summer's worth of coding, there probably won't be enough time to solve this big a problem completely, so a better idea is to try to carve out a manageable first step in your proposal.

(Note: Incredibuild recently added support for distributed SCons builds, which would meet the needs of some users. However, it is a closed-source commercial product, so it is not an option for most open source software projects.)

Mentor(s): probably StevenKnight

Better Java Support

SCons' Java support gets dinged by Java programmers for being relatively limited. Revising the Java support to be better is important to the acceptance of SCons in the Java community. There are a number of different pieces that could be carved out as well:

Revamp approach to Java

SCons' approach to Java is to build entire subdirectories of '.java' files into one or more '.jar' files. This is inadequate when only partial rebuilds are needed. The Java support could use some refactoring (even redesign) by someone who's familiar with the needs of large-scale Java projects, and has an itch to try to use the underlying flexibility of SCons to do better than what's out there.

Mentor(s): ??? Possibly StevenKnight

More Ant-like Behavior?

Ant is obviously the standard for Java compilation. As a general dependency tool, it leaves something to be desired, largely because so much of the nitty-gritty Java dependency management is actually in javac, not Ant. Nevertheless, Java programmers are familiar with the Ant model, and to the extent that we can find SCons-like ways to adopt parts of it, it would help make SCons more attractive (especially to Java programmers who are part of multi-language software projects).

Mentor(s): ??? Possibly StevenKnight

Port to Jython

Making SCons run under Jython, thereby allowing it to run under the Java VM, might also help make it more attractive to the Java community. Since SCons is all Python, it's actually not far from being able to do this, but there's a serious barrier with respective to Java's complete lack of a notion of a current directory and being able to chdir(). Working around that might involve some serious refactoring to completely eradicate chdir() calls from the SCons source (which by itself would be a good thing).

Mentor(s): ??? Possibly StevenKnight


Add a Groovy() builder that works with the Java() builder so that Groovy programs can be compiled and intermixed with Java.

A simple builder for Groovy is a small project that could combined with other small projects to fill up a summer. Integrating Groovy with Java is at least a medium-sized project.

Mentor(s): Russel Winder <russel dot winder at concertan com>, possibly StevenKnight

Improved Target-File Caching

The SCons CacheDir() function provides a framework for sharing built targets between developers, but it's relatively primitive. A project to tackle one or more potential improvements to it would be extremely welcome. Possible objectives include:

Mentor(s): probably StevenKnight

Dynamically Determine Documentation Toolchains

A problem with many open source projects is that in the documentation area, developers don't know how to produce documentation that will be of use to many different users, so they end up producing plaintext documentation or documentation that only really flies on one platform (as in the case of SCons manpage), or they produce a PDF and hope that that will be OK with everyone. If SCons were able to provide a convenient path from some of the popular documentation 'source' formats (LaTeX, TextInfo, DocBook, HTML) all the way through to platform-specific help files, this would help to improve access to what documentation developers create.

The challenge is to integrate a decent suite of documentation tools so that platform-specific help files can be built and installed. On Windows there is the HtmlHelp compiler that can produce .CHM files from HTML files plus some index files. On GNOME and KDE there is the ScrollKeeper system, which allows HTML and DocBook XML to be served up via a centralised help browser. There are probably similar things on Mac, Solaris, and so on.

The idea here is to create the mechanism that will determine the correct "native" documentation format based upon the deployment platform and then find a toolchain from the starting format to the deployment format. The toolchain could be as short as zero commands if the deployment format is the same as the source format, or it could be one command that converts directly from the source format to the destination format, or it could be a series of conversions. It's possible that the toolchain could vary based upon the commands available on the build machine. Moreover, there could be more than one documentation format required if the same package could be deployed on different platforms.

Mentor(s): possibly JohnPye

Batched Builders

Some builders are significantly faster if they compile more than one program at a time. Other builders can optimize better if they can see more than one file at a time. What these builders have in common is that they want to be passed all the out-of-date source files in the same step.

Bug#1086 has added batch builders for some limited cases; the need now is to automate the finding of other members of a batch for languages like FORTRAN and Java. There are several issues to implement extensions to make batch building work with FORTRAN (Bug#1888), Java (Bug#1766), D (Bug#1923), and Vala (Bug#2147).

The effort is two-fold: implement scanners (or something similar) to identify all the sources that must be compiled and implement an algorithm to break up these sources into individual compile units. These units would then be combined into batches that don't exceed any system or compiler limits (e.g., length of command line or maximum number of files the compiler can handle).

This task needs someone who is good with both data structures and algorithms. Integrating the logic into the existing data structures without breaking anything will be difficult and implementing the algorithm efficiently will stretch anyone's design ability.

Mentor(s): GregNoel

Python Software Foundation

SCons will accept proposals for non-SCons projects, as long as we believe that the work will directly benefit us as well a wider community.

One source of ideas is the Python Software Foundation (PSF), an umbrella organization whose mission is to promote, protect, and advance the Python programming language, and to support and facilitate the growth of the international community of Python programmers. It holds the intellectual property rights to recent versions of Python and ensures that Python distributions are made available to the public free of charge.

PSF is also a participant in the Summer of Code and has their own ideas page. Feel free to pick a topic from their site that has direct applicability to SCons and float a proposal with us.

Eclipse Plugin

There have been recurring questions as to whether SCons has an Eclipse plugin. We don't, so this idea is to design and implement such a plugin.

Mentor(s): unknown

Other ideas

Feel free to suggest other topics for ideas. If you have sufficient permission, go ahead and add them to the page yourself, using this section as a template; if not, contact GregNoel (preferably with a suggested writeup) and he will add it.

Idea subhead one

Most ideas fit under a single third-level heading, but sometimes there are a number of related ideas. In that case, the third-level heading establishes the context and each related idea is under a forth-level header like this one.

Idea subhead two

A second related idea would go here.

GSoC2012/Ideas (last edited 2011-03-16 01:16:23 by GaryOberbrunner)