Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Redmine

There are so many issue tracking tools available today with so many features, it was hard to figure out which one was best for us.  We looked at JIRA, Trac, FogBugz, Plan.io and a few others, but in the end, we ended up choosing Redmine and hosting it ourselves.  

For our specific usage patterns, we had some very specific features that we wanted in an issue tracker.  Things like road map planning tools, searching, and UI were pretty pervasive, but there were a couple that we had trouble finding out of the box.
  • Tight email integration
    • We wanted to be able to reply-all to an email and add the issue tracker to create a new issue with the thread in the description.
      • Subsequent emails to the same gmail thread would then be automatically added to the issue.
    • We wanted to be able to modify issues directly from email using special syntax like "assignee: jesse" or "status: in progress".
  • Github integration
    • We wanted to be able to attach git commits to issues using special syntax in the commit message like "closes #12".
    • We didn't want to migrate our repository off of Github.

A lot of issue trackers do have email integration, but with one slight quirk.  If you reply-all and add the issue tracker, it creates a new issue.  If someone else then replies to the thread, a brand new issue gets created!  We wanted the issue tracker to be intelligent enough to realize that it was the same issue and update it instead of creating a new one.  Redmine didn't do this out of the box, but because it's open source, we edited a few lines and got it to work the way we wanted in a little less than 5 minutes.  This may seem like a small, subtle issue, but it's one that we now make use of many times each day so the impact is significant in our daily usage pattern.

A lot of issue trackers integrate well with source control, but they require you to host your repository with the issue tracker!  This means that we'd either have to move our repo off of Github or we'd have to setup processes to push our code to two repositories.  Pushing to two repositories sounded like a potential nightmare and few issue trackers allow you to integrate with an external repository like Github.  What we ended up doing was syncing our Redmine repository directly from Github using a cronjob.  Post-commit hooks would have been better, but we left that as a TODO since it would require more than 5 minutes to setup and the cronjob was sufficient for the job.

Redmine's got some great plugins too.  We use the backlogs plugins for a great drag-n-drop UI and burndown charts. 

Given that we've already made two edits to the issue tracker, we felt great peace of mind choosing an issue tracker that was open source and self-hosted so we can modify it to suit our needs whatever they may be.  Oh and also, it's free =).

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