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.