Old dog, new tricks

Apache Bloodhound: a new breed of issue tracker

Elliot Bentley

With multiple project support and a responsive UI, Bloodhound is a reimagining of Trac for the needs of 2013.

When a group of developers from software house WANdisco, which produces commercial distributions of Hadoop and Subversion, went looking for a bug tracker to use in-house, they struggled to find something that fit their needs.

Atlassian’s JIRA may be becoming a “de facto standard” within the industry, but it’s not open source – so they turned to the next best thing, Trac, a mature project used by jQuery, nginx and even the UN.

However, with this maturity comes contentment, and when the WANdisco team approached the Trac developers with fresh ideas, they were left disappointed.

“They [the Trac devs] weren’t… negative about that,” said Ian Wild, WANdisco’s VP Software Engineering. Instead, they decided to produce a “friendly fork” with the features they felt were missing, including support for multiple projects in a single instance, an easy “installation journey” and a refreshed UI compatible with contemporary mobile devices.

Now freshly graduated from the Apache Software Foundation’s incubator with almost 18 months’ development behind it, Bloodhound is the result of those ideas.

Unlike some Apache projects, Bloodhound was developed within the Foundation from the very beginning. “One of the things we learnt in Subversion was that having someone like Apache as the host and the framework around which you build an open-source project is very powerful indeed,” said Wild, “and we were keen to have that sort of governance around the project.”

The team are keen to emphasise that Bloodhound isn’t just an internal WANdisco project: for example, the idea to use Bootstrap for the front-end came from an external contributor early on in the project.

However, that hasn’t stopped them from making use of the company’s internal UX talent, who have reworked Trac’s complex interface to be as intuitive as possible. For example, WANdisco UX Designer Joachim Dreimann says, the ticket page has been redesigned to help returning users quickly catch up with recent changes.

The responsive design isn’t all there yet – Bloodhound’s UI sometimes stretches off the side of an iPhone’s screen – but with the team eating their own dog food (no pun intended), these kinks should eventually be ironed out.

Indeed, Wild says that Bloodhound is “just about ready for prime time”, and hopes that other Apache projects will begin to choose it over Bugzilla or JIRA.

Another big feature yet to be implemented include a “massively improved search” that can filter by ticket owner, associated milestone and so on, and make batch changes to the results. Cross-project search, meanwhile, has already been implemented.

It’s a promising start for the relatively young project, and despite competition from both open source and commercial offerings, could disrupt the otherwise static issue tracking software.

Photo by SuperFantastic.
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