My code works -- and I have no idea why!!!


One of my pet annoyances is how code ecosystems have gotten more and more complex. Sometimes I think tool designers put together build systems to show how clever they are rather than to solve dependency problems as cleanly and simply as possible.

Over the break I wrote GitHub Org Explorer - a tool to help deal with GitHub classroom repositories. It worked but was using "basic" authentication where it sent a username and password with every request. As GitHub was deprecating that from their API I started to look at converting the application to use oauth.

First I threw together a little proof of concept app that just authenticated with GitHub and then started to move that code into my explorer app.

First problem -- the code that that worked in the proof of concept was crashing out in my actual app. I ultimately did a line by line analysis and couldn't find a difference. Even the configuration files appeared the same.

Finally, in a fit of desperation, I killed all the supporting libraries that the build system installed and downloaded them again.

It worked!!!!!

It didn't inspire much confidence though.

So, I went on and finished converting the app to oauth. All done, right? Wrong.

I tried to build everything on another system and it crashed out. Weird. It worked on one machine but not another.

Solved that problem by wiping out the entire build system - node and npm using nvm and shadow-cljs and it worked.

But it didn't.

There was one final hurdle.

When I used the build system to compile and run in "development" mode everything worked. Compile for production? Not so much.

What could it be?

After about a day of fretting, I discovered that for some reason, when compiling for dev you get certain libraries including a string formatting one I was using. When compiling for production you didn't get them. Why would anyone set up a build system that way???????

Given that I'm using a bunch of tools that I'm new to - using shadow-cljs to go from clojurescript to javascript all ending up with a build for the electron platform - I just stopped using the library

Problem solved.

Well, sort of.

I can now run my app but I'm still not filled with confidence.

Now, I've been at this game for a very long time. I've been programming for around 40 years. Imagine what it's like for student or beginner.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a post on the learn programming subreddit from some beginner who learned using an online tool or in a class that had them develop in a sandbox and they left with no clue how to write a real program outside of the classroom environment. If they're not prepared to merely write a program outside of some courseware system they'll have little chance going up against webpack, lienengen, cmake and the like.

I'm not saying that we should throw our beginners out into the wild and start them with vi, C, and autotools but nobody's paying attention to the whole journey from Hello World to the real world.

Somebody should.