GSoC 2022: Unified Form Editor for BookBrainz

Hi, I am Shubham gupta (IRC Shubh) pursuing my bachelor’s from the National Institute of Technology, Kurushetra. This year I participated in Google Summer of Code and implemented a new editor in Bookbrainz.

In this project, I was mentored by Nicolas Pelletier (IRC monkey). The purpose of this blog is to summarize my contribution made for this project and share my experiences along the way.

Before GSoC

I joined metabrainz at the end of November’21, due to my affection for novels I instantly fell in love with BookBrainz project. I initially started working on small bug fixes and typo corrections but later shifted to work on more challenging features.

My first challenging work was to pre-fill the current entity editor with POST requests which was required for user scripts to work and also created some user scripts to help simplify the creation process.

Later I worked on to upgrade react-select and completing notification feature on BB.

Proposal

For GSoC’22, I made a proposal to work on implementing a unified form on BookBrainz.

My main motivation behind this project was to make the entity creation process more intuitive and simpler for new users. The purpose of this project is to unify all the workflows of entity creation into a simpler book interface, this abstracts away the BookBrainz specifics for users and provides them an easy interface to work with.

Though a lot has changed since the proposal, from design to implementation details, the main idea behind the project remained unchanged.

Community Bonding

During this period, I worked with my mentor to finalize the design for the editor. This included a lot of back & forth discussion but finally, we ended up picking a base design that was similar to how we choose a book: we first go through the book’s cover and back cover, then its details and inner contents.

I also discussed a new timeline with my mentor which incorporated my university classes and exams. Following this I started implementing the editor from this period itself.

Coding Period

First Phase

By this phase, I completed all the mockups and made relevant changes in design as suggested by community members.

We ended up with the following design, also later we added a summary section as a new tab to make reviewing new entities easier.

unified-form mock

I started working on the new editor routes which can support multiple entity submissions for the creation and later added support for editing as well.

Pull requests: #847#858

Since a lot of implementation was similar to existing entity routes, the main thing that was missing was to unify them into one api and make it support temporary BBIDs for new entities.

The main idea behind keeping temporary BBIDs was to allow late submission of entities, meaning new entities would only be created when the user submits the whole form. This allowed a user to undo their actions and gave them more granular control over entity creation/modification. But following this approach resulted in a lot of duplicate code which was hard to generalize due to temporary ids; this was later fixed in the second phase.

I completed working on the routes part with suitable tests and started working on the React front-end. I started by setting up a Redux store to handle multiple entity states, after some discussion with my mentor we ended up going with the state design that segregates each entity into their own states.

At the end of this phase, the editor looked something like this

First Phase Screenshot

Second Phase

During this period I continued working on the editor interface since that is the meat of the project it took most of the time of this project.

Frontend PR:#850

The challenging part of managing a large store like we had was to minimize the state updates as much as possible, since this was so crucial for performance I spent about a week reading redux articles and profiling editor state. All this paid off and resulted in blazingly fast editors (entity/unified-form) with minimal state update calls, which also benefited the existing editing pages.

The solution was to reduce the scope of a redux state by memoizing the components as much as possible and caching the results of expensive calculations which reduced component load time drastically.

After implementing all entity creation workflows, I moved to linking them, either through relationship or by some other attributes.

This linking process needs to be automatic and users don’t have to know the relationships, they should also be able to opt-out of linking specific entities with respective checkboxes.

An example of linking entities is Series-Work, where selecting a Work already adds it to a Series item.

Unified Form Series Editor

We also introduce a major change in the way we submit the entities: we now submit new entities directly to the server. This reduced the duplicate code by half as compared to before since now we don’t have to manage those temporary ids anymore. This also resulted in reducing the amount of work potentially lost when an error occurs during filling the form.

I also wrote mocha/enzyme tests for required React components. This is all for the frontend PR.

I made the follow-up PRs to improve UI and introduced bug fixes: #872#871#874

Overall Experience

I enjoyed working together with my mentor on such a large project. I learned a lot during my journey and understood the importance of different phases of software development. I realized the importance of carefully designing the application and discussing the ideas with other team members. I also got to know a lot about testing and why it is so important for large projects like this, overall the best learning experience I could ask for.

Also, the members of the MetaBrainz foundation are very supportive and help each other to resolve issues. Lastly special thanks to my mentor Nicolas Pelletier who helped me a lot during my GSoC journey. He always supported me and encouraged me even when things weren’t looking good. He is truly one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met!

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