Consolidating Groups and Projects

There are numerous features that exist exclusively within groups or projects. The boundary between group and project features used to be clear. However, there is growing demand to have group features within projects, and project features within groups. For example, having issues in groups, and epics in projects.

The Simplify Groups & Projects Working Group determined that our architecture is a significant hurdle in sharing features across groups and projects.

Architecture issue: https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/architecture/tasks/-/issues/7

Challenges

Feature duplication

When a feature needs to be made available on a different level, we have no established process in place. This results in the reimplementation of the same feature. Those implementations diverge from each other over time as they all live on their own. A few more problems with this approach:

  • Features are coupled to their container. In practice it is not straight forward to decouple a feature from its container. The degree of coupling varies across features.
  • Naive duplication of features will result in a more complex and fragile codebase.
  • Generalizing solutions across groups and projects may degrade system performance.
  • The range of features span across many teams, and these changes will need to manage development interference.
  • The group/project hierarchy creates a natural feature hierarchy. When features exist across containers the feature hierarchy becomes ambiguous.
  • Duplication of features slows down development velocity.

There is potential for significant architectural changes. These changes will have to be independent of the product design, so that customer experience remains consistent.

Performance

Resources can only be queried in elaborate / complicated ways. This caused performance issues with authorization, epics, and many other places. As an example, to query the projects a user has access to, the following sources need to be considered:

  • personal projects
  • direct group membership
  • direct project membership
  • inherited group membership
  • inherited project membership
  • group sharing
  • inherited membership via group sharing
  • project sharing

Group / project membership, group / project sharing are also examples of duplicated features.

Goals

For now this blueprint strictly relates to the engineering challenges.

  • Consolidate the group and project container architecture.
  • Develop a set of solutions to decouple features from their container.
  • Decouple engineering changes from product changes.
  • Develop a strategy to make architectural changes without adversely affecting other teams.
  • Provide a solution for requests asking for features availability of other levels.

Proposal

Use our existing Namespace model as a container for features. We already have a Namespace associated with User (personal namespace), and with Group (which is a subclass of Namespace). We can extend this further, by associating Namespace with Projects by introducing ProjectNamespaces. Each Project should be owned by its ProjectNamespace, and this relation should replace the existing Project <-> Group / personal namespace relation.

We also lack a model specific for personal namespaces, and we use the generic Namespace model instead. This is confusing, but can be fixed by creating a dedicated subclass: UserNamespace.

As a result, the Namespace hierarchy will transition to:

classDiagram Namespace <|-- UserNamespace Namespace <|-- Group Namespace <|-- ProjectNamespace

New features should be implemented on Namespace. Similarly, when a feature need to be reimplemented on a different level, moving it to Namespace essentially makes it available on all levels:

  • personal namespaces
  • groups
  • projects

Various traversal queries are already available on Namespaces to query the group hierarchy. Projects represent the leaf nodes in the hierarchy, but with the introduction of ProjectNamespace, these traversal queries can be used to retrieve projects as well.

This also enables further simplification of some of our core features:

  • routes should be generated based on the Namespace hierarchy, instead of mixing project with the group hierarchy.
  • there is no need to differentiate between GroupMembers and ProjectMembers. All Members should be related to a Namespace. This can lead to simplified querying, and potentially deduplicating policies.

As more and more features will be migrated to Namespace, the role of Project model will diminish over time to essentially a container around repository related functionality.

Iterations

The work required to establish Namespace as a container for our features is tracked under Consolidate Groups and Projects epic.

Migrating features to Namespaces

The initial iteration will provide a framework to house features under Namespaces. Stage groups will eventually need to migrate their own features and functionality over to Namespaces. This may impact these features in unexpected ways. Therefore, to minimize UX debt and maintain product consistency, stage groups will have to consider a number of factors when migrating their features over to Namespaces:

  1. Conceptual model: What are the current and future state conceptual models of these features (see object modeling for designers)? These should be documented in Pajamas (example: merge requests).
  2. Merge conflicts: What inconsistencies are there across project, group, and administrator levels? How might these be addressed? For an example of how we rationalized this for labels, please see this issue.
  3. Inheritance & information flow: How is information inherited across our container hierarchy currently? How might this be impacted if complying with the new inheritance behavior framework?
  4. Settings: Where can settings for this feature be found currently? How will these be impacted by Namespaces?
  5. Access: Who can access this feature and is that impacted by the new container structure? Are there any role or privacy considerations?
  6. Tier: Is there any tier functionality that is differentiated by projects and groups?
  7. Documentation: Is the structure and content of documentation impacted by these changes at all?
  8. Solution proposal:
    • Think big: This analysis provides a great opportunity to zoom out and consider the feature UX as a whole. How could you make this feature lovable based on the new structure, inheritance, and capabilities afforded by Namespaces? Is there any UI which doesn’t comply with Pajamas?
    • Start small: What are the product changes that need to be made to assist with the migration?
    • Move fast: Prioritise these solution ideas, document in issues, and create a roadmap for implementation.

Who

Proposal:

Role Who
Author Alex Pooley, Imre Farkas
Architecture Evolution Coach Dmitriy Zaporozhets, Grzegorz Bizon
Engineering Leader Michelle Gill
Domain Expert Jan Provaznik

DRIs:

Role Who
Product Melissa Ushakov
Leadership Michelle Gill
Engineering Imre Farkas
Design Nick Post