The Signpost

Technology report

Wikimedia Labs: soon to be at the cutting edge of MediaWiki development?

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Jarry1250

What is: Wikimedia Labs?

The Wikimedia Labs logo (left); a talk introducing both Wikimedia Labs and the existing Toolserver, given in January this year (right).

Like writing the encyclopedia itself, MediaWiki development is collaborative; so, for a long time, was the fine-tuning of Wikimedia's technical setup, with volunteers routinely being added to the list of system administrators. As the Wikimedia family grew, however, so the ability to break whole Wikimedia sites through the omission of a single semicolon began to depress both volunteer interest in the role and institutional willingness to give out the requisite permissions. It is reversing this trend by "opening up" infrastructure development to the wider community that forms the primary aim of the relatively new Wikimedia Labs project, wrote Operations Engineer Ryan Lane in a recent blogpost.

Therefore, at a fundamental level Wikimedia Labs approximates a large collection of (virtual) sandboxes, with complex virtualisation techniques allowing swathes of users to try out new server setups without affecting the underlying configuration. Of course, the value that administrators like Lane see in Labs is its potential to put server administration on a par with software development in terms of ease of collaboration – not a bad thing, considering the detailed and often highly specialised nature of the different parts of system administration that come together to form a top-ten website.

The potential doesn't stop there, however: once the virtual environments have been established, they can then be put to use by their respective projects (of which there are now some 79). Each project reflects a real world initiative; Lane uses the example of "testing and developing MediaWiki extensions for Incubator", but others abound. Other high profile projects include support for several major bots, the central development centre for a "web based version of Huggle" and emulators useful for testing MediaWiki versions before release. Unlike with a normal (non-virtual) server setup, new projects are quick (and hence cheap) to establish and dissolve. Nevertheless, with the project still in its early stages, it is as yet unclear what the full implication of the creation of a WMF-hosted "Labs" environment on development practices will be.

MediaWiki releases edge forward

New diff styles are the feature of 1.20wmf1 most likely to be noticed as it goes live to Wikipedias this week, following on from successful deployments to sister wikis on April 16 and 18.

In deployments across April 16 and 18, MediaWiki 1.20wmf1 went live on Wikimedia Commons and all other non-Wikipedia wikis (i.e. Wiktionaries, Wikisources, Wikinewses, Wikibookses, Wikiquotes, Wikiversities, and other miscellaneous wikis). Although several issues were reported, none has yet proved major enough to cause the deployments to halt (one individual change – to IRC formatting – was reverted on the grounds that its cost was like to be greater than its benefit). As of time of writing, the deployment to the English Wikipedia has just been completed; other Wikipedias will follow on April 25. As noted earlier this month (see previous Signpost coverage) the deployment's importance does not lie with radical changes to the look and feel of the site; indeed, with the notable exception of diff colours (which have already begun to divide opinion) and a handful of other minor tweaks, the success of the deployment is likely to be measured in terms of how inconspicuous the whole process ends up being.

Elsewhere, with the resolution of bug #34885 (correcting bad fallback behaviour in Internet Explorer 7 and the compatibility modes of later versions), Wikimedia developers are now ready to begin the process for releasing MediaWiki 1.19 to external wikis this week (wikitech-l mailing list). The update went live to Wikimedia wikis in February, but has since had to take a back seat during the turmoil of the Git switchover and, more recently, the 1.20wmf1 release. A final version of MediaWiki 1.20 (including not just the contents of 1.20wmf1 but also of subsequent WMF deployments) is unlikely to be released to external wikis before August or September.

In brief

Signpost poll
20% time
You can now give your opinion on next week's poll: "I would be quite happy if MediaWiki development stopped altogether if that meant that significantly more resources were devoted to ensuring wikis were never broken, unavailable or glitchy". Which of the following best sums up your view on this statement?

Not all fixes may have gone live to WMF sites at the time of writing; some may not be scheduled to go live for many weeks.

At the time of this writing, 9 BRfAs are active. As always, community input is encouraged.
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
Just to say that because of publication deadlines, fallout from the 1.20wmf1 deployment to en.wp will be covered in next week's issue. Thanks! - Jarry1250 [Deliberation needed] 00:08, 24 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Diff colors

Can we please have brighter diff colors? I can barely see these. For a small change like punctuation, it is very difficult to find the change. I know that most Wikipedians have young eyes, but have some compassion for us old folks! -- Ssilvers (talk) 01:55, 25 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Actually, the new version can be easier to make out - see this diff and compare it replicated on a wiki which is currently MW 1.17, here. See the first paragraph of the diff on each - the new one highlights the differences rather than using red font, which can be easier to spot when the differences are in a single character, or punctuation (especially when a whitespace character is added or removed).
However, I'd also like a stronger color of highlighting. I usually have no trouble reading (I'm not quite an old fella yet) but brighter colors would make the diffs easier to make out.
Other than that the new diffs look good. Unfortunately they still sometimes struggle to compare equivalent paragraphs, when new paragraphs are added. That looks like a tricky problem - not sure what it would take to fix that. --Chriswaterguy talk 07:30, 25 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]
A new diff engine. They are available, but I think we use the one we do for efficiency purposes.
Incidentally, I'm sure the coloured border used to be wider - it must have been thinned for other reasons - which made the requisite paragraphs stand out more. Presumably the problem with increasing the vividness of the colours is the contrast with the black, though I can't say for sure. - Jarry1250 [Deliberation needed] 09:32, 25 April 2012 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0