GitList and my TODO List

Months ago I was searching for a good web front end for git for doing code reviews and browsing repos. My short list ended up being Gitweb and GitLab.

Gitweb is a Perl based web front end for git that is a sub project of the official git project. Out of the box Gitweb is pretty ugly and I have never found it to be very user friendly. Even with all of its problems, it does what it does pretty well.

GitLab is a Rails based github clone that is being actively developed and shows a lot of promise. If you want a fully blown ready to go basic github clone to setup and run for your dev team, GitLab looks great. Unfortunately trying to install it on RHEL5 wasn't an easy task. GitLab offered a lot more functionality than I needed and my lack of Ruby experience meant that it was adding more complexity than I wanted.

I ended up reluctantly recommending that we use Gitweb but I have since changed my mind.

Over the last few weeks I've been playing with GitList by Klaus Silveira. GitList is a web front end for browsing git repos, that looks a little like github. Klaus describes GitList as:

GitList is an elegant and modern web interface for interacting with multiple git repositories. It allows you to browse repositories using your favorite browser, viewing files under different revisions, commit history, diffs. It also generates RSS feeds for each repository, allowing you to stay up-to-date with the latest changes anytime, anywhere. GitList was written in PHP, on top of the Silex microframework and powered by the Twig template engine. This means that GitList is easy to install and easy to customize. Also, the GitList gorgeous interface was made possible due to Bootstrap.

It is nice having an open source side project to contribute to that gets me out of the Drupal ghetto. GitList also gives me an excuse to play with Symfony components and twig more, both things that are already in Drupal 8 core. Silex has been on my "to play with list" for some time too.

I have been searching for an alternative to Gitweb that is easy to use, has a nice UI and the basic features I want in a web front end for git - commit history, diffs, blame and branch comparison. GitList ticked all the boxes, except blame was a bit broken and branch comparison wasn't implemented.

I now run GitList on my laptop for offline repo browsing and find it very useful. I will be deploying it for a client in the next few weeks as part of a broader Drupal workflow management system.

This isn't a review of GitList and I won't be providing any feature comparison of GitList vs (Gitweb|GitLab|github). Instead this post is inspired by a discussion on twitter between Klaus (@klaussilveira), Fabien Potencier (@fabpot), Peter Droogmans (@attiks) and myself (@skwashd). I want outline how we are using GitList and the underlying git library, my vision for GitList and what I can do to make it happen.

Missing Features

Based on the project description I think that GitList is almost feature complete. There are a few TODO items in the README. In my time using GitList I haven't found myself going "if only it did X (and Y and Z)" - except branch diff support. I have been working on a branch diff patch, and I hope to clean up that code this weekend and submit a pull request. I think it is good when something does one thing and does it well.

Library and App Separation

As part of the workflow management system for Drupal we're developing we needed a solid git library for PHP. The one that ships with GitList is pretty nice. I've been working with my fellow Technocrat developer, James Harvey, on extracting the git library from GitList. We still have some work to do on this, but it is usable today. We have added some enhancements to the library for our purposes and removed the Silex dependency. Our vision is to have a generic OO git library for PHP 5.3+ and that GitList use this as a sub module.

Although I am currently hosting the code in my github repo, I would love to see Klaus create a new primary repo for the library and that James, myself and others would continue to develop and support his library. It is not my intention to fork the library from GitList and maintain it myself in isolation - that is a waste of energy and resources.

Git Module for Drupal

Following on from our creation of a generic git library for PHP, we have created a git wrapper module for Drupal. We plan to release this module in the next week or so on - we've already reserved the project namespace. As part of this change the features git module will now depend on the new library wrapper module. We will release other modules that use this library as they pass QA.


I have a hacker mentality, I am happy to clone a repo, create a branch or tag and start playing. If I find something that it broken, then there is a good chance that I'll fix it and post a patch. At the same time I understand that not everyone can work that way and that in some environments there is a focus on only using official stable releases. It is also difficult tracking bugs against git commit hashes. GitList is moving quickly, but I think that it could benefit from having official releases.

If the library and app are separated, they can have separate and independent release cycles. I am happy to work with Klaus to work out a plan for GitList releases. One of my first roles in an open source project was as a release manager.

Discussion Space

I have posted this on my blog because I don't know what the real audience is for this conversation. I know that there are 3 people interested in participating in the conversation but are there others? I know others contribute patches to GitList. I could have emailed Klaus directly, but that would have excluded others who are interested. Even though in some ways email is on the way out, some discussions require more than 140 characters. Is it worth setting up a mailing list, google group, a forum or some other channel of communication to discuss these issues?

The Future

I am already dependent on GitList for a significant piece of work. I want to work with Klaus and the rest of the GitList community to make a kick arse web front end for git, I also need a rock solid PHP lib for git. I think GitLib provides a solid foundation for both. Fabien wants to use it as a good Silex example. What do others want to do with GitList? Let the discussion begin ...

Upadte: Klaus has asked that we move the discussion to the recently created GitList mailing list/google group, so I have created a new thread to continue this conversation. I can cross an item off my list - discussion space.

$100 Drupal Site Series: Part 3 - Tools

In the previous instalment of my $100 Drupal site series I covered resources and infrastructure. In this post I will be covering the development tools I think you need in order to build and sell Drupal sites at the $100 price point. Given that Drupal 7 is close to release, it is assumed that the sites will be built using D7. I don't believe that it is smart to invest heavily in Drupal 6 for new long term projects, given D8 could be out in 18 months and D6 would then be unsupported.


You are going to need a version control system for storing all of the code. There are many different version control systems available, but I think git is the most flexible and powerful option. Git allows for distributed development, offline commits and best of all, Drupal is switching to git. Gitorious is an open source clone of github which allows you to browse your git repository and manage integration of code from all of your developers.

If you are new to git I strongly recommend you get a dead tree copy of the book Pro Git.


Drush is the DRUpal SHell, a command line interface for Drupal. It is an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining Drupal sites. Simple things like running "drush cc all" to clear all caches when developing sites, through to being able to sync databases from one server to another, or one continent to another, save many hours. Even if you're only running a handful of sites, you should have drush installed on all of your servers.


There are a few modules which you should be using if you want to be able to create polished Drupal based platforms. My list includes:

  • Features module allows developers to package up configuration as a Drupal module, including access to all the normal hooks that a module can implement. Feature is version control friendly and includes the ability to reset to a known good state, either via the Drupal web GUI or by using drush on the command line.

  • Strongarm exports values from Drupal's variables table, allowing sane defaults to be set. This means your site will always be configured the way you want it to be.

  • Context allows you to manage contextual conditions and reactions for different portions of your site. It gives you control over displaying blocks,hierarchy of breadcrumbs, themes and other context sensitive configuration options.

  • Admin is a menu module which makes it quick and easy to access items. (Disclaimer: I co-maintain the module)

  • Coder can perform static analysis of your code to ensure it is secure and complies with the Drupal coding standards. The module can also be used to upgrade code from one major version of Drupal to the next.

  • Devel is a collection of tools to help developers create Drupal sites and modules. Devel integrates with Admin to provide easy access to the devel actions.

  • WYSIWYG provides a pluggable framework for integrating rich text editors into a Drupal site. Given the target market for the $100 sites, we can't expect our users to hand craft HTML, they'll be expecting "something like Word".

  • Skinr provides a way for end users to apply predefined CSS to designated parts of a site, without the user having to understand CSS.

Installation Profiles

When most people install Drupal for the first time they are blissfully unaware that they are using an installation profile. An installation profile sets out a base configuration for a site that is installed by Drupal. Until recently installation profiles contained a list of modules to install and a large chunk of hand crafted PHP code which setup all the configuration for a site. These days most of the configuration can live in Features and so an installation profile can be very lightweight. It is worth reviewing some of the more popular installation profiles, such as Open Atrium, Managing News or Drupal Commons, for inspiration. Installation profiles have changed a lot in Drupal 7, so you will need to port the ideas to the new way of doing things.

Drush Make

Drush Make is a tool for building Drupal platforms. Drush Make allows developers to specify all the components of their site in a text file, then use the command line tool to "make" the site. It is possible to specify a version of Drupal core (including Pressflow), contrib modules and themes, third party components, patches and external libraries.


Aegir is a Drupal site deployment and management tool built using a collection of Drupal modules. With Aeigr you can manage your DNS, http (web) and database servers from a common UI. It is possible to move a bunch of sites from one server to another in a matter of minutes, not hours and the downtime will be measured in seconds. When security fixes are released, testing can involve a few minutes of work then a few more clicks to deploy it to all of your sites.


Instead of me explaining development workflows, I'll defer to Miguel Jacq (aka mig5). Miguel's blog post entitled "Drupal deployments & workflows with version control, drush_make, and Aegir" is considered by many to be the key work on modern Drupal development workflows.

What's Next

Many of the tools I've covered today should be in your Drupal developer's tool bag. My next post will cover what I think are the important considerations in building the platforms for the service.