@author tags considered harmful

Posted on Tue 09 March 2004
Recently, the Cocoon community decided that @author tags will be removed in source files (helped in that by a very hindsightfull explanation by Dirk-Willem Van Gullick, president of the ASF)

At first, I did not like much that idea. Working on opensource projects is a personal involvment that needs some kind of reward, and visibility of your name in source files is a reward, as it flatters the ego.

But involvement isn't only about code. The motto of the ASF is that "the community is more important than the code", which comes from a very pragmatic way of seeing things: a smart code with no community and no users is dead, while a dirty code with lots of people around it will evolve and become better.

How does this relate to @author tags? The answer is simple: @authors tags are about code, not about community. Up to recently, I did not care much about this difference as my involvement in the community most often translated into code.

Recently, however, we had a discussion on cocoon-dev about a bug (which I introduced, but that's not the point here) where I proposed a solution that would introduce a new source file, which was enriched along the discussion. Carsten picked up the idea and wrote the code. I have absolutely nothing against that, rather the contrary: if he has more available time for this than me, there's no reason to wait. But he put his name in the @author tag, which is not good as he's not the sole author: the real author is the community.

I have no real problem with this as it really is a small piece of code and I'm a well established member of the Cocoon community. But this shows how @author tags can be harmful, as personal attribution in source files goes against what makes Cocoon strong: a lively and friendly community, where all changes are discussed before being implemented. So most pieces of the Cocoon code are really a common work, even if a single person writes down the result of this work.

So +10000 for removing @author tags!

PS: for those who may think something goes wrong in Cocoon-land, you really should not. There isn't any problem, and this bug-fix story just triggered some thoughts about @author tags.

Where is Avalon going?

Groovy JSR accepted