Improving our "bus factor"Posted on 2019-07-06 by F-Droid
“Bus factor” is an important measure of the health of a free software project, even though the idea is quite morbid. As F-Droid has expanded from a project of one to a whole community effort. And there is much more work than one person can do. Essential infrastructure needs to be maintained by separate people to make the whole project resilient and owned by the community.
Towards that end, we have a new host for a key piece of infrastructure. The website build and deploy process is now hosted by Nick Merrill of Calyx Institute in Iceland. It is hard to find a better combination for a project that is concerned with privacy. Nick is an F-Droid user, and Calyx Institute is building the most private internet services possible, with F-Droid as a key piece. Nick also fought a secret order from the US government and won in US Federal Court after 11 years of arduous legal proceedings. Lastly, Iceland is one of the best locations for hosting internet services that need strong privacy.
A couple of years ago, we overhauled this website to let it be translated into any language by F-Droid contributors. We now have 15 languages live and many more in progress.
Though we did not realize it at the time, it looks like we have created the largest website that is generated using a static site generator (SSG). There is currently about 30,000 pages, (staging.f-droid.org has 75,000 pages!), and we have not found a Jekyll website with more pages. All this means the build and deploy process is resource intensive and can take a while. It has also proven a bit brittle, largely because the process uses so much RAM and CPU.
The new deploy server setup is entirely scripted with Ansible, running on a plain Debian box. So if the current server fails for whatever reason, we can easily recreate a new server. This also is great for bus factor since anyone can recreate the whole deploy setup if the existing maintainers vanish entirely.
One last thing: if you have ever asked why some aspect of F-Droid does not work as well as it should, then the answer most likely is: F-Droid needs more contributors! This new deploy server is the perfect example of something that anyone could have developed independently from the current contributors. The whole website is free software and publicly available, so anyone can access all the pieces to build an complete, working copy of the real site.