For a long long time Mozilla has governed its code (and a few other things) as a series of modules. Each module covers an area of code in the source and has an owner and a list of peers, folks that are knowledgeable about that module. The full list of modules is public. In the early days the module system was everything. Module owners had almost complete freedom to evolve their module as they saw fit including choosing what features to implement and what bugs to fix. The folks who served as owners and peers came from diverse areas too. They weren’t just Mozilla employees, many were outside contributors.
Over time things have changed somewhat. Most of the decisions about what features to implement and many of the decisions about the priority of bugs to be fixed are now decided by the product management and user experience teams within Mozilla. Almost all of the module owners and most of the peers are now Mozilla employees. It might be time to think about whether the module system still works for Mozilla and if we should make any changes.
In my view the current module system provides two things that it’s worth talking about. A list of folks that are suitable reviewers for code and a path of escalation for when disagreements arise over how something should be implemented. Currently both are done on a per-module basis. The module owner is the escalation path, the module peers are reviewers for the module’s code.
The escalation path is probably something that should remain as-is. We’re always going to need experts to defer decisions to, those experts often need to be domain specific as they will need to understand the architecture of the code in question. Maintaining a set of modules with owners makes sense. But what about the peers for reviewing code?
A few years ago both the Toolkit and Firefox modules were split into sub-modules with peers for each sub-module. We were saying that we trusted folks to review some code but didn’t trust them to review other code. This frequently became a problem when code changes touched more than one sub-module, a developer would have to get review from multiple peers. That made reviews go slower than we liked. So we dropped the sub-modules. Instead every peer was trusted to review any code in the Firefox or Toolkit module. The one stipulation we gave the peers was that they should turn away reviews if they didn’t feel like they knew the code well enough to review it themselves. This change was a success. Of course for complicated work certain reviewers will always be more knowledgeable about a given area of code but for simpler fixes the number of available reviewers is much larger than it was otherwise.
I believe that we should make the same change for the entire code-base. Instead of having per-module peers simply designate every existing peer as a “Mozilla code reviewer” able to review code anywhere in the tree so long as they feel that they understand the change well enough. They should escalate architectural concerns to the module’s owner.
This does bring up the question of how do patch authors find reviewers for their code if there is just one massive list of reviewers. That is where Bugzilla’s suggested reviewers feature comes it. We have per-Bugzilla lists of reviewers who are the appropriate choices for that component. Patches that cover more than one component can choose whoever they like to do the review.