Review Process

Review rules at a glance

Make sure that your change:

  • has a commit message that complies with the guidelines
  • is small
  • is formatted as defined in the guidelines

In order for a pull request to get merged, it needs to fulfill the following requirements:

  • all checks (Travis CI, Codacy) passed
  • two reviewers approved OR
  • one reviewer approved two days ago and no further modification requests are posted

For each review you received you should perform at least two reviews to maintain an equilibrium.

Why do reviews at all?

We neither accept nor appreciate non-reviewed changes in our source code. This rigid process serves a dual purpose:

  1. As a practice of analytic quality assurance, reviews hinder defects from being introduced into the product before it’s released to the end-user. The later a defect is noticed, found, and eliminated the costlier it gets. Finding bugs as early as it’s (often) achieved by reviews also prevents other developers from building new pull requests on top of faulty code, which can be a huge pain saver.
  2. Furthermore, reviews can be regarded as constructive quality assurance as well. That’s because of the implicit knowledge transfer that takes place from the authoring developer to the reviewers, and vice versa. The author is encouraged to explain his thoughts to the reviewers, to justify the design decisions he made, etc. thus increasing the “truck factor” of the project – because there are simply more people who possess knowledge of this particular part of the product. The other way around, the reviewers might be more skilled in certain areas (or simply more attentive) and may provide valuable feedback, helping the author to write better code – now and in the future.

How to receive a review

Step 1: Creating your pull request

a) Scope of your pull request

  • Smaller pull requests are always better. If it takes more than 15 minutes to review your pull request, it is very unlikely that anyone is going to review it and your changes won’t get in the code base. Split larger pull requests into independent smaller ones. (To facilitate this, we allow pull requests that add code that is unused at the time of addition. The commit message has to clearly state which larger change this pull request contributes to and announce follow-up pull requests).
  • The same goes for independent changes. E.g. don’t mix up (automatic) refactorings and functional changes in one pull request, but provide two separate ones – both of them will be easier to review.

b) Format of your pull request

  • Write a concise commit message following our guidelines. If you have trouble finding one single descriptive type tag for your commit, you probably mixed up different concerns and should address them in separate pull requests instead.

Step 2/3/6: Pushing and pushing again

In case you don’t know yet:

Step 4: Invite reviewers

  • You can invite individual reviewers by their names.
    • Take a look into the commit history to find some developers who might be knowledgeable about the source code area you touched.
    • Send a short notice on the development mailing list containing the URL to your pull request if you’re unsure who to invite.
  • If you find that your pull request is complex and not easy to understand by other developers, you should offer to conduct a pair review session
    • either in a co-located fashion or using Saros itself (eat your own dogfood, right?).
    • Let the reviewer set the pace and directions. If you – as the pull request’s author – would drive, things would probably go too fast.
    • Even if you perform a review in such a pair session, the reviewer should still post his remarks in Gerrit, so others can learn from the mistakes and defects you two found.
  • Since we require two reviewers for each pull request, everytime you submit a new pull request (or new version of a pull request) you need to do at least two reviews yourself to maintain that ratio. Having a hard time getting others to review your pull request? Be a role model and do a few reviews yourself.

Step 5: While integrating the reviewers’ suggestions: Avoid perfectionism

  • Ever heard of the “Good Enough Principle”? Resist the temptation to correct even the last typo in every class your pull request touched. Finish your actual pull request and consider follow-up pull requests for any additional things.
  • Also resist your reviewers: If you start working on things that could as easily be done in another commit (or even should, e.g. if a refactoring commit gradually becomes more than that), stand your ground and focus the discussion on the actual pull request, not some imaginary perfect pull request-to-be.

Step 6 - External pull requests: Request the merge of the pull request

  • Ensure that the pull request is up-to-date with the target branch and meets the merge requirements.
  • Request that a developer with the necessary rights merges your pull request.

Step 6 - Internal: Merge the pull request

  • Normally, submitting an approved pull request is the duty of the author, i.e. you.
    • Vice versa, don’t just simply submit foreign pull requests even if they meet the submission criteria. Talk to the pull request author first.
  • Technically a pull request requires that all by a reviewer requested changes are addressed and at least one reviewer approved the request. Otherwise it is not possible to use the merge button.

Which merge option should be used?

GitHub merge options

We allow the two options merge and squash and rebase and merge. Both options avoid merge commits which lead to a strict chronological commit history.

Information on when to use which merge strategy is given in our development process documentation.

Merge and squash

This method squashes all changes of your pull request. If you choose this option, GitHub proposes a possible commit name and message which you can change before you merge. GitHub choose commit message

Use this method if you don’t want to preserve the commit history. This is always useful if the history contains multiple commits which are nice to have during the reviewing process, but not necessary in the whole history of the project.

Rebase and merge

This method rebases the branch which should be merged into the master branch and subsequently merges the change into the master branch. This has the effect that the history of the branches is linearized before merging and a merge commit becomes superfluous.

Use this method if you want to preserve the commit history. But make sure that all of your commits in the pull requests comply with our guidelines for commit messages!.

How to perform a review

To get an equal distribution of work load in the Saros community, everyone who submits pull requests needs to do twice as many reviews of foreign pull requests. Every time you submit a new pull request or pull request set for review, you owe the team two reviews of your own. This section describes the most important things about doing a review.

How to look for issues

A review process becomes more effective if the reviewers take different perspectives on the code. Here are just two of them:

Close up

  • Look at each change and make sure that
    • it is well documented
    • it catches all NullPointerExceptions
    • it is thread-safe
    • it is well-formatted
    • all identifiers are easy to read and understand
  • Then look at the surrounding method
    • Does it fulfill its contract?
    • Does the documentation match with the code?
    • Is this method well placed within the surrounding class?
  • Comment on the corresponding line of the pull request.

10,000 feet view

  • Does the change make sense on a conceptual level?
  • Is the goal stated in the commit message actually archived?
  • Are other requirements of Saros violated by this pull request?
  • Could the same problem be solved more elegantly, easier, faster?

Attention: Not all problems can be found by just looking at the difference between old and new code. So as a rule of thumb, whenever a pull request introduces new structural elements (new methods, interfaces, classes) checkout the pull request and take a look at the bigger picture: Are there already other methods, interfaces, classes for this or a similar job? Can the same goal be achieved using existing components of Saros?

How to report the issues found

  • Explain the problem: Don’t just point to a problem and expect the author to understand what you are talking about. If it really was so obvious, the author probably wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place. So, make sure it’s really clear what the problem is (and expect follow-up questions of the author).
  • Propose a solution: Don’t stop with the analysis. Instead, give advice on how to fix the problem and describe well what you would expect of a solution. Otherwise the author is likely to solve the problem in a way you didn’t expect, leading to avoidable rework.
    • If you can’t think of a solution yourself, at least do the second part and formulate your requirements.
  • Provide background information: If suitable (and possible), provide some background information by URL – either for the analytical part (explaining why something is a problem) or for the constructive part (explaining how to solve such problems).

How to handle recurring problems

  • Explain the schema, not all instances: Some types of errors occur in multiple places and it’s certainly not the reviewer’s job to find all instances. Just find enough instances to make the pattern clear to the author. One reported instance might be enough; just make sure to tell the author to look out for more of that kind.

How to cope with a lack of understanding

  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand some parts of the code. Nobody requires the reviewer to be smarter than the author just different.

How to hook into the ongoing review process

  • If you are not the first reviewer, there are probably already some comments of others. There are different kinds:
    • The ones you totally agree with: If you think the point is relevant, make clear you agree with your predecessor.
    • The ones you don’t agree with: Make clear whether you don’t agree with the other reviewer’s (or author’s) analysis of the problem or construction of the solution (or the requirements thereof).
    • The ones you don’t understand: Some review comments are hard to understand (even if the reviewers put effort into it). Help clarify open issues when you see them. Even if you’re not the author, it might be helpful to ask what a specific issue is about. Chances are that the author does not get the reviewer’s point either.
  • In general: If you review a pull request, let the author know what you think of it, even if you don’t have anything substantial to add to the things previous reviewers already said. Otherwise the author has no way of telling how many reviewers already looked and didn’t find anything suspicious: one or four?