Guiding Principles of the OCaml Platform

The OCaml Platform is driven by a set of guiding principles, designed to serve the community and advance the state of OCaml tooling.

(P1) Tools have good defaults, yet are customisable

The OCaml Platform aims to lower entry barriers for newcomers. Convention over configuration reduces the number of decisions that developers are required to make. By having as few steps as possible to start coding, we ease the onboarding experience.

While prioritising ease of use and an out-of-the-box experience, tools should allow customisation for power users, understanding that projects differ in their requirements and that the Platform should be flexible enough to accommodate these varying needs.

(P2) The experience is versatile, yet seamless

The OCaml Platform aims to support every important development workflow. Despite the inherent complexity induced by this objective, the final user experience should be seamless.

We envision that the development workflows should be automated where possible, creating an experience where disruptions are the exception. When complete automation isn't practical, the end-to-end workflows should minimise user interactions.

(P3) Workflows are simple, yet scalable

The OCaml Platform aims to offer a great user experience. A key part of this is the adherence to the principle of least astonishment. The tools should behave in the way that most people expect, and users should be able to form simple mental models of the workflows.

Stateful tools are inherently more complex than stateless ones. Whenever possible, the tools should be stateless and use "configuration over commands," which suggests replacing states with a configuration-based approach.

While prioritising simplicity, the workflows should nonetheless scale to large-scale codebases. The same workflows should be usable in single-developer projects and industrial OCaml codebases. Performance is crucial for scalability. As the codebase grows, the tools should still maintain their performance.

(P4) Tools evolve rapidly, yet don't break projects

The OCaml Platform has served as the backbone of OCaml developer experience for over a decade. It intends to continue doing so for many more decades. The OCaml Platform is designed as a collection of tools that follow a lifecycle. This design stems from the acknowledgment that there is a dual need for strong backward compatibility and the flexibility to rapidly evolve.

We acknowledge that tools will emerge and become obsolete over time; therefore, we place significant emphasis on designing metadata files independent from the tools, which will persist for a long time. These files should be versioned and the tools should aim to support as many versions as possible.

Incubated tools are only promoted to Active when they are mature, stable, and ready for mass adoption, aiming to foster a healthy competitive environment without risking community split. However, whenever disruption is inevitable, either in the interest of a tool's improvement or the replacement of a tool by another, the Platform should offer a smooth migration path for users.

(P5) Tools are independent, yet unified

Following on P4, we underline the critical importance of permitting tools to flourish independently: the OCaml Platform exists and will continue to exist as a collection of tools that can be used independently.

Yet, in the interest of creating a great user experience, the Platform offers a unified experience and strives to ensure cross-compatibility among tools.

This unified experience implies the existence of a single CLI that serves as a frontend for the Platform tools. On the editor, the implication is that development workflows should be available directly from within the editor, avoiding the need for users to resort to the command line.

Amidst this integration, we firmly commit to ensuring that tools retain their independence and continue to be accessible through their own CLIs.

(P6) The Platform is cohesive, yet extensible

While striving for a unified experience (P5), we aim to support users who want to use tools that don't belong to the Platform.

Users who want to use other tools in their workflows should be able to do so without feeling like second-class citizens.

This can be achieved through plugin systems or implementations that stay general enough to support different tools.

Version 1.0.0 - August 21st 2023

The first version of the OCaml Platform's Guiding Principles was adopted in August 2023. You can look back at the discussion.

Version 1.0.1 — September 19th 2022

  • Commit in stronger terms to keeping Platform tools independent and retain the possibility to use their CLIs directly.

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