How ApiGen Survived its Own Death

This post was updated at December 2018 with fresh know-how.
What is new?

Important! ApiGen is looking for a maintainer. It might work on smaller projects, but I've heard from David Grudl that roave/better-reflection is eating GBs of memory.

It probably needs to be replaced by a custom reflection + finally release 5.0 stable. Are you out there?

ApiGen was broken for a long time. It depended on Reflection package, that was not developed since 2013 and was unable to parse newer code. When I say newer, I mean hot PHP features like ::class in 5.5. I don't even talk about 5.6 or 7.

I got frustrated. I spent a year on a project that is still not working out of the box. So I took spring off to change it. My goal was to replace reflection or let the project die in peace.

This is story about the whole journey of ups and downs.

Prepare for deep darkness, (almost) burning out and... team work that helped me to make it to the end.

Step 1: Bump to PHP 7.1

I love PHP 7.1 and I use it everywhere since its release in 2016. This year more and more big projects are migrating, yet this is still low % of all packages.

So my condition was to bump minimal requirement to PHP 7.1. Current maintainers agreed, so I had green on. Thank you Alexander Jank for your support in my first PRs to ApiGen this year.

Step 2: Pick the right Reflection Successor

ApiGen uses reflection to analyze classes, their methods, interfaces, traits, parent class of the class, their methods etc.

Pure PHP reflection can be barely used for advanced tasks like the last one, so I'd have to rewrite whole package myself. That's not a way to go if you want to have a calm life and normal sleep.

The question was, where to find the right one?

I knew a few, but not any that would be able to parse PHP 7.1 by itself. I was aware of nikic/php-parser, that was maintained and future-compatible (Nikic even added PHP 7.2 features recently). But it was only parsing tool, not smart reflection wrapper.

Reaching out for Help

In that time, I came across Projects using the PHP Parser on Wiki of PHP-Parse, I consulted with Jan Tvrdik and Ondrej Mirtes.

This all led me to a package called Roave/BetterReflection by James Titcumb and Marco Pivetta.

I'm bit suspicious to projects that were lastly tagged a half year ago, but I felt I could gave it a go.

Step 3: Replace Reflection

All right, package picked! The fun hell was about to begin.

Imagine your whole application uses everywhere a package, that got stuck 4 PHP versions ago. You feel it more and more. Everyday you need to patch it because there are other packages that are up-to-date. You know, like PHP itself.

When I maintained the ApiGen in 2014, I felt I should interface everything - thank you for that past me. All reflection classes were interfaced, and there was somewhat of a bridge between TokenReflection (the old package) and ApiGen value objects for Reflections.

Still, I could not drop all old reflections without having prepared all new ones.

But the algorithm alone was simple (well after stepping back from ~3 k lines of code):

Collector + Transformer + Router to the rescue

I don't know how that happened, but I managed to combine 3 patterns to make this work.

By "making this work" I mean:

The main service that takes cares of this is TransformerCollector.

All particular Transformers are collected into it.

When reflection is passed, ApiGen will decide what to do with it - that is the Router part.

Having this setup ApiGen could:

In time, I've added more and more BetterReflection transformers, like ClassReflectionTransformer that handles ClassReflection.

10 PRs later...

There was light in the of the tunnel.

Rule of a thumb: when you need to replace something, build a bridge/router and do it gradually. You'll be both safe and in progress.

Never rewrite running project from scratch, unless you really have to.

Step 4: Is Ship Going Down?

I had dilemma about global constants that BetterReflection doesn't support, yet TokenReflection does. I didn't know what to do with that and I was stuck.

Then, Jan Tvrdik and I have a chat at one grill party about this. Jan helped me to realize, that single issue should not stand in a way of saving the project. I could drop it and if anyone needs it, he or she might implement it. That was a huge step forward for me and the project.

Drop Everything You don't Need - Just to Breathe

I also came to the state, when there was too much coupling of features I didn't feel like they were useful anymore.

Using Markdown in docblock descriptions to highlight them was one of them. I never saw that in any code except ApiGen and I still don't think using Markdown in PHP code is a good idea.

I proposed issue of turning Markdown down and adding event instead, so anyone could implement if really needed and it solved around 10 issues. Just like that.

Rule of a thumb? When you're stuck in open-source project, drop things that are the least relevant to the project. It might give you space to breathe and to move forward to next release.

Step 5. Reflection Replaced

10 more PRs later

Reflection works - PHP 7.1 code is perfectly parsed with no issues!

It didn't have cool features like tree references, but I was able to parse PHP 5.5, PHP 5.6, PHP 7.0 and PHP 7.1 with no problem at all. We could finally close over 30 opened issues that spread for last 4 years.

This gave me a dopamine shot, yet worsts was about to come.

Step 6. Burnout

It was June 2017. The main issue was solved and there was plenty space to improve ApiGen. But not motivation. I didn't use it personally and I felt I was there mainly to replace reflection, because I was the one was responsible for its design.

After I finished that, I was looking for co-maintainer and somebody who's using the project to took over me.

Personally, I felt bit burned out. What now? Give up the project? Go to cinema? Go to a coach? ✓

What helped me was a release-candidate. An illusion of milestone, that closes huge part of dev work.

I released ApiGen 5.0-RC1 on June 3rd 2017. It actually brought more attention then I expected. Release Candidates are apparently sign that project is back to life.

Step 7. Saved!

Situation changed with 5.0-RC3.

As you can see, Vlasta Vesely did almost 90 % of work on the release. I went to Brno to meet Vlasta, we had great chat and wine - thank you for both.

I asked Vlasta to join ApiGen maintainer team and he agreed. The future is bright now.

And that is the whole journey up to present moment.

What would be the main takeway?

It's all about team work, priorities, communication of miss-understandings and dealing with your own shit you find on the way home.

Now to the shorter practical part...

What changed and what was removed?

If I should mention 4 most important changes you should know about, it would be:

Look at particular releases to get complete list of changes. Changelogs are nice and clean:

Run ApiGen Yourself

ApiGen uses BetterReflection that is still not tagged, so you need to install it like:

    "require-dev": {
        "apigen/apigen": "5.0.0-RC5",
        "roave/better-reflection": "dev-master#7ce58dd"

and run with composer:

composer update

And you are read to go.

Happy generating!

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