Tech conference leaders: What Node.js fork?

Developers had more to say than presenters about the recently announced Node fork, io.js

See no evil, hear no evil?

While some attendees at the Intuit Node Day conference in Silicon Valley on Friday were willing to talk about the recent io.js fork of Node.js when asked, the issue was not a prime topic of discussion from the speaker's podium. Surprisingly, the elephant in the room did not even come to the forefront until the final half-hour of the all-day event.

Instead, officials from such companies as PayPal, Intuit, and Netflix noted the growing importance of Node.js, or Node, the server-side JavaScript variant. Node core committer Trevor Norris, of software company NodeSource, talked about the upcoming 0.12 release of Node, which will feature the smalloc API, for allocating memory on an object, plus internationalization. But when asked his perspective on io.js afterward, Norris said he had none at the moment but was aware of the fork. "I am so buried in trying to get 0.12 out the door that I am taking no stance or anything on what's going on with that." A release candidate for 0.12 is expected Tuesday. "Once it's out the door, I'll start paying attention to other things."(Norris, though has been listed as being part of the io.js initiative.)

People in the audience had more to say about io.js when questioned during breaks in the proceedings. "Right now, I'm sitting back and seeing how it's going to play out," said developer James Morrin, technical lead for JavaScript development at social sharing platform Shareaholic. "I feel like [the fork] is just pressure on Joyent to open up a little bit, and I'm hoping it doesn't last too long."

Should the fork last, developers could be coping with the same issues they now face with different JavaScript engines in browsers. "Io.js, if it catches on and Node still keeps going, there will be a fork there and features will start to diverge, and you'll have that same feature detection and shimming that goes on in the browser," Morrin said. He expects that enterprises will stick with established Node, while startups and smaller companies might opt for io.js.

A developer at Intuit expressed concerns about what a fork might mean for tools support. "If you're using other people's tools and they're on one side of the fork and you're on the other side of the fork, then things might not work together, so that can always be a concern," software engineer Daniel Steinberg said.

When the fork finally took center stage during the latter part of an end-of-day panel session, thanks to an audience member's question, Joyent CEO Scott Hammond did not address the merits of the fork or the complications it could cause. Instead, he talked for 11 minutes about Node's success and Joyent efforts toward community outreach by forming the Node advisory board. It became apparent after he joined the company, Hammond said, that Joyent had not done a good job of listening and understanding the groups in the Node community. "There was no mechanism, there was no forum in place, to go out and listen to the issues, understand the issues, and then get from the help from the community to resolve the issues."

But afterward, panel moderator Daniel Shaw, of NodeSource, said he expects a reconciliation between the io.js and Node.js factions, the two of which have some common participants. "We're all working toward the common goal of building the Node.js ecosystem," Shaw said. He also noted the Streamline initiative to make a synchronous Node as an already-existing fork: "That exists to this day as a fork of Node. It's not aligned with the core project and probably never will be."

A developer from IBM also was not very familiar with the fork but cited how differences of opinion can arise in open source efforts. "It seems like there are often organizational issues within open source projects," said software engineer Michael Ottum. "Some people want them to move in different directions. Forking is kind of what happens there."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.