Why Github pull requests suck so hard
One thing that really irritates me at Github is the pull request feature. Almost all about this feature is done wrong.
- Signing the patches
- Managing pull requests
- Tracking changes
- History deletions
- Addressing PR to reviewers
- Granting reviewers and testers
- PR by email
- Continous Integration
- Encouraging good practices
Signing the patches
Github offers no way to add your
Signed-off-by line to the patches you merge
from the webapp. “Signing off” the patches at merge time is relevant information
and it means something. This is a rather common practice in communities.
Not being able to signing off the patches on a merge is a pity.
Managing pull requests
When a contributor sends a pull request it is stacked to the list of PR.
Tracking changes in this list is a pain. New pull requests since your previous visit aren’t highlighted. The list of pull request is lacking lot of features like personal prioritization, bookmarking, etc.
Expect to consume a lot of time only for managing your pull requests at Github.
@Github: shared labels can’t address everything.
The most important task before merging any change is the peer review. Skipping this process is very very bad. Hence, proper notifications are critical. However, the way Github has PR implemented is the best way for skipping it.
Email notifications are randomly served. Sometimes you’ll get notifications, sometimes not.
Online notifications are a bit better while the notifications page happily mix everything.
The best workaround would be to associate an issue to each PR. Not very glorious when you know it doesn’t address all the points above and that it can’t be created automatically by enabling a configuration setting.
Github notifications for PR are a joke.
@Github, this issue is know for YEARS.
Contributors learn this soon. Getting changes merged upstream might require far more than one shot. Hence, the first simplest feature one needs is to go back and forth accross the different versions of the submissions. Comparing revisions of the submissions is required to make a proper review.
Forget about that. Github is in no help. It lacks the notion of “topics”. What a pain, again.
@Github: implementing topics (almost tags, BTW) for PR is so hard to implement?
On top of this, the reviewing process is made much more easy when inter-diffs are available. When working on a new submission, you usually only have the previous submission in mind. This is because that’s where the most relevant information stand. Also, it’s a brain saver to work incrementally…
Here again, Github won’t help you. All provided diffs are against the base of the changes. You have no way to get inter-diff generated for you easily. While critical, it is missing.
@Github: of course, when the basic pre-requisites to implement this feature are missing (the notion of topics), no one will expect inter-diffs to become reality one day or another.
This one is big. You can actually lose all your reviewing job. All comments are deleted and lost if the sender erase the PR with another one having the same branch name. 👏
I wonder if Github offers other ways to lose your job…
Big thanks to Github for this one! Losing work is always a pleasure.
Addressing PR to reviewers
When changing code, it’s welcome to address the changes you wrote to the
original authors and the others contributors who made changes around yours. It’s
easy to retrieve their name and emails with
git blame or
tig blame and cc’
them by mail. However, that’s unhelpful with Github.
The best workaround would be to
@mention the other contributors but this would
require you to know the nick names for all of them. This is not something you’re
going to remember nor easily retrieve, really. Finally, the contributors won’t
call for reviews.
Also, not everyone agree to use your service, Github. Thanks for considering them, too.
Hence, adressing a PR to the best reviewers is yet another true pain.
@Github: why don’t you provide a form when the user make a PR to send email notifications, including those not subscribed?
Granting reviewers and testers
When working in teams, it’s important to grant the contributors for their work.
When it comes to reviewing, the standard way of doing so is by adding
Acked-by and the likes to the
Github lacks a way to grant reviewers and testers.
PR by email
What about hooks? I know so many organizations and maintainers out-there would love to get the patches from pull requests automatically sent to their mailing list. This would FIX almost all of the above issues in ONE SHOT!
Github was requested for this feature FOR YEARS and never made the first step to support it. Thank you.
@Github: how long are you going to ignore the feedbacks of you users?
One thing Github has usefull is integration of third services. For example, Travis CI greatly helps testing PR. What is missing is a way to append the commit message with the success/failure information.
Also, people tend to rely on the tests blindly. However, having the tests pass is not enough and won’t replace peer review.
Encouraging good practices
Contributors are willing to send pull requests with Github. I’d even say some users don’t understand anymore why I’m in favor of sending patches by emails. The service supports the feature… Why not use it?
Sending patches to the mailing list is still a best because Github support of PR is wrong by many ways.
To go a bit further, I’d even say the current implementation is a team killer. If most users don’t get the patches in their INBOX, they just won’t take the pain to provide reviews.
Yes, I know. Github displays the commands to fetch the patches on the PR page. Do you really expect all the reviewers to connect, checkout each PR one by one, execute those commands, checkout the changes locally, return online to the pull request page and find all the relevant excepts to add comments?
As a side effect, some long-term contributors get discouraged to provide feedbacks and stop to provide reviews when they don’t just leave the project. While the interactions between members are critical, Github’s way of handling pull requests will perversely turn down all the emulation of the community members quickly. Fun is lost. Motivation gets lost. A lot of contributors (not comfortable with the provided process for reviews) will stop contributing soon.
I am CERTAIN this is HOW we lost MOST of our OCCASIONAL but LONG-TERM contributors. Still, NOBODY but the maintainer does code review in our projects.
@Github: Thank you Github. Their feedbacks were very usefull and greatly appreciated. While peer review was the norm is our community, it is completely lost today.
I’m aware of the integration services. No one can revamp the peer review process correctly.
Working with PR and encouraging code reviews in teams is a nightmare with Github©.
Not using this feature at all is the best. You know why.
Finally, removing the support for pull requests is not available. THAT SUCKS HARD.
It’s easy to understand why Github don’t enable this feature. If you make your repository public and people want to contribute, they will likely use the integrated PR feature. Hence, you’re almost forced to use Github if you don’t want to discard contributions for your project. IOW, publicing your project on Github is far more than just open your work to the public: you have to connect to the webapp or use whatever client at some point in time. In pratice, rather often than occasionaly. The more a maintainer will use a platform, the more contributors feel the need of using it, too. The result is that this strongly increases the number of users for Github. This is the real reason why we can’t disable PR. You are used as a marketing promoter. Not by what you could say, but by what you actually DO.
@Github: is there no other way to convince new users to sign up to your website than almost forcing maintainers to accept PR in their public repositories?
One day or another, we will move away from github. This will be for good reasons.
A meaningful blog post on this topic: Github doesn’t support pull-request notifications to mailing lists, by Cole Robinson
Feel free to join the chat and provide your point of you!