Dist::Zilla is for lovers

I don’t like getting into the occasional arguments about whether Dist::Zilla is a bad thing or not. Tempers often seem to run strangly high around this point, and my position should, at least along some axes, be implicitly clear. I wrote it and I still use it and I still find it to have been worth the relatively limited time I spent doing it. Nonetheless, as David Golden said, “Dist::Zilla seems to rub some people wrong way.” These people complain, either politely or not, and that rubs people who are using Dist::Zilla the wrong way, and as people get irritated with one another, their arguments become oversimplified. “What you’re doing shows that you don’t care about users!” or “Users aren’t inconvenienced at all because there are instructions in the repo!” or some other bad over-distillation.

The most important thing I’ve ever said on this front, or probably ever will, is that Dist::Zilla is a tool for adjusting the trade-offs in maintaining software projects. In many ways, it was born as a replacement for Module::Install, which was the same sort of thing, adjusting trade-offs from the baseline of ExtUtils::MakeMaker. I didn’t like either of those, so I built something that could make things easier for me without making install-time weird or problematic. This meant that contributing to my repository would get weird or problematic for some people. That was obvious, and it was something I weighed and thought about and decided I was okay with. It also meant, for me, that if somebody wanted to contribute and was confused, it would be up to me to help them, because I wanted, personally, to make them feel like I was interested in working with them1. At any rate, of course it’s one more thing to know, to know what the heck to do when you look at a git repository and see no Makefile.PL or Build.PL, and having to know one more thing is a drag. Dist::Zilla imposes that drag on outsiders (at least in its most common configurations), and it has to be used with that in mind.

Another thing I’ve often said is that Dist::Zilla is something to be used thoughtfully. If it was a physical tool, it would be yellow with black stripes, with a big high voltage glyph on it. It’s a force multiplier, and it lets you multiply all kinds of force, even force applied in the wrong direction. You have to aim really carefully before pulling the trigger, or you might shoot quite a lot of feet, a surprising number of which will belong to you.

If everybody who was using Dist::Zilla thought carefully about the ways that it’s shifting around who gets inconvenienced by what, I like to imagine that there would be inconsiderate fewer straw man arguments about how nobody’s really being inconvenienced. Similarly, if everybody who felt inconvenienced by an author’s choice in built tools started from the idea that the author has written and given away their software to try and help other users, there might be fewer ungracious complaints that the author’s behavior is antisocial and hostile.

Hopefully my next post will be about some fun code or maybe D&D.

  1. My big failure on this front, I think, is replying promptly, rather than not being a big jerk. I must improve, I must improve, I must improve… 

Written on January 25, 2014
🐪 perl