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Sourcetrail, interactive source explorer, is now free and open-source (sourcetrail.com)
359 points by egraether 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

The site seems to be having intermittent connection issues due to the HN hug-of-death. In the meantime here's their Github repo:


In addition, if you like what you’re seeing here and want to support this project as open source, please consider a monthly donation: https://www.patreon.com/sourcetrail/overview

I was a happy licensed user for the Java project I was working on, but had to stop using Sourcetrail when I switched jobs and started with .NET and TypeScript. So I’ve been working to create indexers against their open source SDK in the last few weeks. That the project is now open source means it’s making my spare-time effort of writing an indexer that much easier, and I personally look forward to contributing more to the project. I think graph visualization of source code has a bright future ahead of it, and there’s plenty of opportunity to crowdsource improvements to Sourcetrail that will benefit even more developers. This seems like a smart move... if they can financially support themselves at an open source initiative like this.

If anyone wants to pitch in on the TypeScript indexer, I’ve an SourcetrailDB SDK diagram I put together at https://github.com/LouisStAmour/SourcetrailTypescriptIndexer... and a thread with ongoing notes and Node.js bindings at https://github.com/CoatiSoftware/SourcetrailDB/issues/2#issu...

The heavy server load is also caused by lots of downloads. You can get the latest Sourcetrail 2019.4 now also from GitHub https://github.com/CoatiSoftware/Sourcetrail/releases

Thanks for the link; the site is indeed down for me.

Honestly HN generates nowhere near enough traffic (from experience) that a site with any semblance of sane design/architecture cannot handle on even the constrained resources of a RaspberryPi.

Reddit /r/all on the other hand, I can understand.

It's also fairly high up on a few subreddits, so it's not just HN traffic.

it hit reddit aswell

And binary builds already available in releases section[0]

[0] https://github.com/CoatiSoftware/Sourcetrail/releases

Thank you!

This going open source is just wonderful, but I have a feeling this is going to significantly decrease lower the company's revenue and ultimately hurt the product.

So here's my question: how do we avoid that? Outside of freelancers who control their finances directly, most developers probably won't be able to convince their company's money people to pay for something they can get for free. Paying a relatively low annual license can usually be justified for the sake of efficiency, but "donate to the devs to keep the project going" is a much tougher sell.

My only idea is selling a "subscription" to signed binary builds under a non-free license, but I'm not sure that would work very well either...

I'm a little disappointed that they've gone down this road - I don't think donations is a good model for most open-source tools.

I'm building & selling a 100% open-source product myself (https://httptoolkit.tech) funded by a paid but still open-source premium tier, and I also have a popular open source library (https://github.com/pimterry/loglevel) funded by donations via tidelift: https://tidelift.com/subscription/pkg/npm-loglevel.

So far, with far fewer users, the paid tier is a _dramatically_ more effective option: it makes nearly $1000 a month, and increasing, while donations make $50 a month. The latter library is a small package, but it is a small package that's installed 6 million times a week, so there's a huge volume of software depending on this. The former app has a few thousand monthly users but similarly isn't something that your whole business is typically going to revolve around, it's just a useful tool.

Imo, unless you're huge or you're going to become a really fundamental part of people's business, donations aren't going to work. Small libraries or occasional-use tools just won't get there. If you're webpack it's great, and I do think it's super valuable for those cases, but most projects aren't webpack.

However for almost any tool you can separate the power user/enterprise features from the basic features, and then put the former behind a simple paywall. It can remain open source, so the determined can fork the whole project and remove the paywall easily if they prefer, but for any large organisation that doesn't really make sense from a time or ongoing cost perspective, and you either miss out on all future development, or you have constant work to merge upstream changes with yours. Alternatively, you pay $10 a month and the problem goes away.

So far so good, and it feels like a win-win. Hard to translate to libraries I think, but there's interesting developments here like https://gitroyalty.com/.

Did you guys read the same blog post I did?

It sounded to me like they weren't able to get enough revenue going for their work, and are basically throwing in the towel.

To me, it sounded as if they're hoping that their audience increases to a degree that the donations will finally be able to make their livelihood sustainable... Or not, which will make this a side gig

> It sounded to me like they weren't able to get enough revenue going for their work, and are basically throwing in the towel.

I sort-of agree. I don't think they're throwing in the towel completely, but clearly their current model isn't working, and they need to try something else, and they know that that might not work either.

Nonetheless: they want an alternative model that might make this sustainable, and I suspect they'd have better luck trying an open-source with a paid tier model, rather than pure donations.

I've never used the Sourcetrail, but I suspect there are some simpler and more advanced features involved. They could open source it as here, but put the advanced features behind a simple paywall. That would still give the benefits of open sourcing (more community engagement, wider usage of the tool itself) whilst being far more likely to drive the heavy/enterprise users to actually pay for it. Asking people nicely for donations is much less effective than asking for money to use a valuable feature.

I've been following sourcetrail since the author did his cppcon talk. It does the job well - I remember loading Wolfenstein 3D into sourcetrail and watching the call graph explode from a single point of MAIN into a massive menorah of calls, all winding back to a circular buffer, and finally a single point of FREE. It was beautiful, and it's bittersweet to see the author go the open source route. I had high hopes for their commercial success.

Thanks for sourcetrail.

Can you provide a link to the talk? I tried searching on mobile and failed. Will try again later today and post it here if I manage to find it.

C++Now 2018: Eberhard Gräther “The Untapped Potential of Software Visualization”


I don't get all the posts saying it's sad that it didn't take off commercially. No obstacle prevents grateful programmers from enriching the creators of a useful tool, and expanding the audience of likely users increases the probability of that happening. It's a great looking product (that I had not been aware of when it was commercial) and deserves wide adoption.

It's odd that we're so reluctant to spend money on quality tools that increase our productivity. It pains me to spend the $300 for my editor even though it has paid for itself dozens of times over. I think we're spoiled by open source(and shareware before that).

totally agree, after years of vscode/geany/eclipse/whatever I now pay full annual license for the jetbrains bundle, so that I can focus on coding better, much better.

I do keep my vim around though, for any command line related editing vim will be my first choice, otherwise it will be jetbrains GUI.

I really missed source-navigator which is outdated badly these days, sourcetrail seems the new alternative finally. source-insight was pretty good too but it has no linux version.

Obviously the server is under heavy load, the page is barely reachable and the download stuck at 74MB. Will test this later.

downloaded it, it seems only works for cmake or you have to have a json database, stop here for now. I would think it can analyse the code directly, as source-navigator did to me. the UI looks shiny, but as far as usability goes, this requirement of cmake/compile.json is one step backwards to me.

Yes, this is because everyone is used to getting quality (though usually the quality is very lopsided) software for free. Shareware was a different beast because you still had to pay for if you wanted to use it (initially shareware only asked you to pay for but still gave everything for free, but as developers realized quickly in the 80s, practically nobody bothered and even a small "nag screen" made a big difference while people who removed some features - aka crippleware - saw their sales to significantly multiply).

When you can get something like Notepad++ (or similar) for free, paying for Sublime (or similar) feels like a rip off, even if the latter may do one or two things better.

Also quality rarely gets into the equation: a program that does 28378482 features in a half-baked way for free is often seen superior than a paid program that does 1/1000th of that but what it does it does in a higher quality.

Most engineers have an easier time getting their company to pay for a 1000$ tool, than donate 1000$ to an open-source project, that's the long and short of it.

I agree. I think this is the sort of tool that is better off as an open platform on top of which others can build more specific pieces. In some sense, I think a lot of the advantages of programming languages being open apply here.

"supporting C, C++, Java and Python" in case you're wondering which languages are supported.

It's sad to see Sourcetrail didn't make it as a commercial product. I really enjoyed it when I tried it out a year or so ago.

I appreciate the retrospective on the hurdles you faced. Could you share some learnings for things that did work? I could tell you spent a lot of resources getting the onboarding flow correct (Visual Studio Project Import was nice!), anything related to onboarding-related learnings you can share?

Applying the tool on your codebase should be easy. For us, using the Clang Compilation Database format, that already holds all configurations to build a project was of great value for faster C and C++ project setup.

You cannot convince developers to use a tool with just words. They need to experience the benefits first hand. And getting to the benefits should happen as fast as possible after starting to test the tool.

Has anybody tested Sourcetrail on Sourcetrail?

Making tools is a hard business to be in, because the customers are very specialized and few in number.

You also tend to compete against free tools (either via licensing or vendor-giveaways)

I bought Sourcetrail a few years ago. It’s been highly useful in diving into large, unfamiliar projects. Thank you! I hope the open model works for you. I know the cost stopped some of my co-workers from buying it.

For others, I suggest giving it a try. The only issues I’ve run into is when a project has a build setup that won’t work on your machine. It still works, you just can’t dive as deep.

A similar product is the Woboq Code Browser for C/C++: https://code.woboq.org/

It's with open source but not free software: https://github.com/woboq/woboq_codebrowser/

> It's with open source but not free software

What do you mean?

Open source does not have to be free.

For example, you buy the software and with it you also get the source code.

The most common definition of "open source" is pretty much indistinguishable from free software. The only real difference is the overall goal of the two movements. The term open source comes from the OSI: https://opensource.org/ The definition of "open source" is here: https://opensource.org/osd Before the OSI nobody used the term "open source". It was coined by Eric Raymond (ESR). I can't think of any way it would be correct to use the term in a different context.

>Open source does not have to be free.

If we're using the common definition that everyone in the industry uses, then it actually does.

In fact, Open source was coined in 1998 because we needed a term with a precise and well defined meaning.

I don't know anyone who uses the term open source in the way you describe.

The source is available (open), but there are restrictions in what you can use the source and software for - in this case, no commercial development is explicitly stated. Is this way while it is open and gratis (for some uses), it is not libre.

Additionally, creative commons do not recommend their license for source code and software works because software has specific needs that cc was not developed with in mind.

So, it's source-available, not Open Source.

If you say so...

Open source has a well-defined industry-standard definition:


I wonder if selling integrations with language server[1] implementations would be a way to multiply the customer base enough to make this viable as a business.

[1]: https://langserver.org

It makes more sense to integrate [1] with GitHub Semantic [2] library instead.

[1] https://github.com/CoatiSoftware/Sourcetrail/issues/750

[2] https://github.com/github/semantic

It’s come up before and it’s harder to do via LSP, though the servers themselves would be great as an educational tool on what’s required. https://github.com/CoatiSoftware/Sourcetrail/issues/685#issu...

If indexers were to be maintained separately, the only thought I have is something based on an IDE like Eclipse or IntelliJ, or something based on SourceGraph. To that end, I think open sourcing will do more to support usage, and usage would drive further licensing/support...

It’s possible there could be add-ons sold to help refactor code or maybe a web-based version, perhaps merging with SourceGraph as a client? Or use in code review? Lots of possibilities, perhaps, just not easily/quickly commercial I would think without further development first.

That makes sense. Thanks.

Came here to say I paid for this a couple of years ago and found it very useful (ended up using it on both C++ and Java codebases), do give it a try.

Sad to see that it didn't make it as a commercial product (wonder what lesson to draw from this ...)

I'm not sure what lesson to draw either, but I kind of suspect that the situations where this tool adds the most value (e.g. a developer needs to jump into a code base without anyone around to help orient exploration) are also the situations where there's least likely to be funding. And in that particular example, if the developer is new to the org, it is a situation where they're unlikely to know how to/feel comfortable asking how to gain funding.

Such a tool is not only useful for a junior. It is also useful for (incomplete list I assume)

* The consultant coming to a project for a short period of time

* The software architect, observing the code layout periodically (for example to identify where lower layers of the software depend on higher layers)

Yes. Also, unless you define seniority on a per-company level, derived from actual time spent in the company, then you'll have plenty of senior developers landing in the middle of a legacy codebase that's new to them.

(And then, there are projects you look at very briefly. Just a few days ago, I used Sourcetrail to explore a certain research CLI application. I mostly needed to know how it does a few particular things, and Sourcetrail was useful for finding my way around the exceedingly complex class graph quickly.)

There's no good tool out there for reading source code. Sourcetrail is a step forward that's useful for anyone.

Really would love a tool like this with support for modern JS/TS repositories

I indexed a few samples. It looks pretty good. Can't use it for work, but definitely makes it really fun to look at source code. Java is 3GL. Python is 4GL.

Any chance of a Python3.8 support?

It refuses to run under MacOS Catalina, for security reasons.

Wow, that's very cool, thank you so much

hope they release a notarised version of the app for it to work on macOS Catalina

Right click (or control click) the app, click open, then click open in the dialogue box.

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