The Tools we Use
It is impossible to sharpen a pencil with a blunt ax. It is equally vain to try to do it with ten blunt axes instead.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
What’s the state of the art in the tools we use to build software? To answer this question I let over a period of a month a powerful server build from source code about seven thousand open-source packages. The packages I built form a subset of the FreeBSD ports collection, comprising a wide spectrum of application domains: from desktop utilities and biology applications to databases and development tools. The collection is representative of modern software, because, unlike say a random sample of sourceforge.net projects, these are programs that developers have found useful enough to spend effort to port to FreeBSD. The build process involves fetching each application’s source code bundle from the internet, patching it for FreeBSD, and compiling the source code into executable programs or libraries. Over the monthly period I also setup the operating system to write an accounting record for each one of the commands it executed. I then tallied up the CPU times of the 144 million records corresponding to the work in order to get a picture of how our software builds exploit the power of modern GHz processors.Continue reading "The Tools we Use"