FireFly and Smart Client - overlap and convergence

David Enyeart

TSC members, 

I wanted to continue the FireFly discussion from the last meeting in this email thread, and make a proposal for consideration at the TSC meeting tomorrow.

Several members raised concerns about fast-tracking the FireFly project versus starting it as a Lab, including myself. Most of the concerns were fairly standard - checking on licensing issues, concern about a single organization driven project, etc. 

My concern is more fundamental. I 100% agree that a project is needed in this space, as off-chain interactions is a common pattern that we too have seen. My concern is that we have two Hyperledger contributions with common objectives moving in separate directions in this same solution space: 
- Hyperledger FireFly project proposal -
- Hyperledger Fabric Smart Client lab -

I didn't go into it during the last call, since the Smart Client lab was in the process of getting approved. Now that it is approved and code delivered, if you read the Smart Client readme you'll see that there is much overlap between Smart Client and FireFly. Both attempt to solve the challenges related to off-chain interactions, both have organization/node specific private data vaults, both have support for a single DLT initially for global ordering and immutability, and both are architected to extend to other DLTs in the future. The Smart Client lab is a culmination of several years of work and commit history that IBM has been incubating with real world projects that needed off-chain interactions in addition to a DLT. The fact that two similar projects came about organically is more than coincidence - it is a testament to the common gap that the contributions are trying to fill, and the need for a project in this space in the Hyperledger greenhouse.

I think we should understand how these two projects relate to each other, and attempt to converge, prior to fast-tracking one or the other into a full project. In fact, for Fabric Smart Client we debated over the last year whether to pursue as a full project (since it is architected to support other DLTs beyond Fabric in the future), pursue as a Fabric sub-project, or pursue as a Lab. We concluded that it would not be prudent to fast-track it into a full project without other organizations getting involved in a meaningful way, and without other DLT support. Rather, we thought it would be more sensible, and more aligned with the Hyperledger charter, to incubate it further as a Lab to get more traction within the community and with other organizations, before pursuing full project status. It seems the same concerns apply equally to FireFly.

The fact that one contribution came in as a Lab and one is coming in as a full project proposal is fairly arbitrary, rather than an indication that one is more mature than the other. The Fabric Smart Client actually has a larger code base, deeper commit history, and more developers (it appears the core FireFly Go contribution was written by an individual developer over the course of the last month as part of the fast-track effort, as a re-write of the typescript implementation from last fall). I am not knocking FireFly - in fact it seems that each project has value propositions that would be stronger in a joint project rather than separate.

I think the worst thing that we could do is have two competing projects that fragment the solution space. My proposal would be to start both Fabric Smart Client and FireFly as Labs, with the intention that we work to converge them and create a single joint project proposal in the coming months. I think we will be more successful collaborating in a single cross-organization project that supports multiple DLTs, rather than competing as two separate single-organization projects.

If there is still interest in fast-tracking a full project, I think the right thing to do would be to make it an "umbrella" project that gets seeded from both the Smart Client and FireFly code bases. If this is the case, a new project name should be utilized rather than picking one of the existing repo names. I would caution however that there will be less motivation for true convergence after a project is created, rather than a convergence plan being a pre-condition of the project approval. 

Dave Enyeart

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