The New (Experimental) Yesod Development Server - Feedback Requested!

November 24, 2016

GravatarMichael Snoyman

I'm guessing almost every Yesod user has - at some point - used the venerable yesod devel command, which launches a server which auto-recompiles your source code on any file changes. This has been a core part of the Yesod ecosystem for many years. Unfortunately, it's had to be far more complicated than I'd have liked:

  • Since it predates addDependentFile (good work Greg Weber on getting that in!), it has some pretty complex logic around guessing which external files (like Hamlet files) should force a recompile. (Adding support for addDependentFile to the current yesod devel is possible, but it's a non-trivial undertaking.)
  • In order to ensure a consistent set of dependencies, it does some real fancy footwork around intercepting arguments passed to ghc and linker executables.
  • In order to parse various files, it links against the ghc library, tying it to a specific compiler version. This makes things difficult for users (don't accidentally use yesod from GHC 7.10.3 with GHC 8.0.1!), and sometimes really painful for maintainers.

For a few months now, I've been meaning to greatly simplify yesod devel, but the maintenance burden finally gave me the excuse I needed to bite the bullet and do it. The result is a dramatic simplification of the code base. First I'd like to ask for user feedback, and then I'll discuss some of the details of implementation.

Please try it out!

Since this is such a big change, I'd really appreciate if others could give this a shot before I release it. There are two ways you can do this:

Method 1:

  • git clone https://github.com/yesodweb/yesod --branch 1304-stack-based-devel yesod-new-devel
  • cd yesod-new-devel
  • stack install yesod-bin
  • From your project directory, run yesod devel. NOTE: do not use stack exec -- yesod devel, you want to use the newly globally installed executable, not the one from your snapshot!

Method 2:

  • Add the following to your stack.yaml file's packages list:

    - location:
        git: https://github.com/yesodweb/yesod
        commit: f3fc735a25eb3d5c051c761b59070eb9a0e4e156
      subdirs:
      - yesod-bin
      extra-dep: true
  • Likely: add the following to your stack.yaml file's extra-deps list:

    - say-0.1.0.0
    - typed-process-0.1.0.0
  • stack build yesod-bin
  • stack exec -- yesod devel

Use whichever method you feel most comfortable with. Please let me know both successes and failures, and then I'll try to get this rolled out. Comments would be great on the Github pull request. So far, in my limited testing, I've found that the new yesod devel runs faster than the current one, but that could very much be confirmation bias speaking.

Note: there are a few removed features in this update, please see the changelog.

How it works

The big change - as the branch name implies - was depending entirely on Stack for all of the heavy lifting. Stack already provides a --file-watch command to automatically recompile, and uses GHC's own addDependentFile information to track external file dependencies. This cuts out the vast majority of the complexity. There's no longer any need to depend on the ghc library, there's less Cabal library code involved (making cross-version support much simpler), and almost everything is handled by shelling out to external executables.

I also got to redo the concurrency aspects of this using my absolute favorite package in the world: async. The result is, in my opinion, very straightforward. I also leveraged some of the newer libraries I've worked on, like safe-exceptions, typed-process, and say.

The code is (finally) well commented, so you can jump in and look yourself. I've also added a decent README, and an example of using yesod devel with a non-Yesod project.

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