I had an unusual Christmas Eve. While my wife was entertaining the family, I was in my office programming until nearly midnight. (Have I mentioned how much I adore my wife?!)
What had me so tied down at such an odd hour? One of the open source libraries Highgroove maintains: FasterCSV.
The Ruby core team gave me the nod to replace the standard CSV library with FasterCSV just before the Ruby 1.9.0 release. While a little more warning would have been nice, I was happy to do it.
I think it’s important to discuss why Highgroove, not just allows, but actually prefers that I spend some of my time maintaining our open source libraries, like FasterCSV.
The reason we created the library is nice and simple: we needed it. We import or export spreadsheet data at some point for most of our applications. We work with large data sets and we needed that to be fast. We also frequently use headers in the CSV files to map directly to database fields so a broader feature set to support such things was important to us.
Now we could have built it and just used it internally, but we decided to share. Did we do it because we are just really nice guys? Not really. (We are though, of course!) We did it because we wanted it to be great.
There are many subtle variations and edge cases for CSV. We debugged the library the best we could, but we’re human and we missed things. That meant our library would have trouble with some inputs. We (hopefully) would have noticed those eventually, but we’re just one set of users and by releasing it on the world we multiplied the user base by thousands. Needless to say early users found problems for us much faster than we could have alone. Better than that, they sometimes even fixed them for us! Even when they don’t, they usually send in an example that leads us straight to the problem which is almost as helpful.
That’s not all. Remember all of those features I told you we love? I wish I could brag and tell you I invented all of them, but some of my favorite features in FasterCSV were sent in by the users. I got the ball rolling with what I could see us needing, but the users ran with the ideas and made my library better than I knew it could be.
Highgroove isn’t losing hours on me applying a few patches here and there. They are gaining the help of many extra employees. We love that.
To top it all off, Matz gives us the ultimate Christmas present. By blessing our work, he saves us the trouble of even installing it for new projects. Very soon we will be able to count on our code being available in all modern Ruby installs. That’s just one less thing we need to worry about.
With open source everybody wins.