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twenty years of free software — part 1 ikiwiki

I’m forty years old. I’ve been developing free software for twenty years.

A decade ago, I wrote a series of posts about my first ten years of free software , looking back over projects I’d developed. These retrospectives seem even more valuable in retrospect; there are things in the old posts that jog my memory, and other details I’ve forgotten by now.

So, I’m doing it again. Over the next two weeks (with a week off in the middle for summer vacation), I’ll be writing one post each day about a free software project I’ve developed in the past decade.

We begin withIkiwiki. I started it 10 years ago, and still use it to this day; it’s the engine that builds this website, and nearly all my other websites, as well as wikis and websites belonging to tons and tons of other projects, like NetBSD, X.org, Freedesktop.org, FreedomBox and many other users .

Indeed I’m often reading a website and find myself wondering "hey.. is this using Ikiwiki?", and glance at the html and find that yes, it is. So, Ikiwiki is a reasonably successful and widely used peice of software, at least in its niche.

More important to me, it was a static site generator before we knew what those were. It wasn’t the first, but it broke plenty of new ground. I’m particularly proud of the way it combines a wiki with blogging support seamlessly, and the incremental updating of the static pages including updating wikilinks and backlinks. Some of these and other features are still pretty unique to Ikiwiki despite the glut of other static site generators available now.

Ikiwiki is written in Perl, which was great for getting lots of other contributions (including many of its 113 plugins), but has also held it back some lately. There are less Perl programmers these days. And over the past decade, concurrency has become very important, but Ikiwiki’s implementation is stubbornly single threaded, and multithreading such a Perl program is a losing propoisition. I occasionally threaten to rewrite it in Haskell, but I doubt I will.

Ikiwiki has several developers now, and I’m the least active of them. I stepped back because I can’t write Perl very well anymore, and am mostly very happy with how Ikiwiki works, so only pop up now and then when something annoys me.

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