Learn by porting

People have different ways of learning a new ecosystem or library. Some prefer to just start and look at the docs as they go, some like to read through all the examples that can be found online. I would like to add one thing to that list: Learning by porting an old program over to the newest version of your ecosystem.

But, what?

Programs get made and abandoned. Updates happen and things break. An old piece of software made for the same ecosystem that you are learning right now might not (won’t?) just compile.

The process of changing a piece of software made for one ecosystem to a similar but different one is called porting. This is often not as easy as it seems, even less so in low-level languages like C. (and if you go low enough, even C will seem “high-level”)

Why porting

When porting over a piece of software, you generally have to have a decent understanding of the software and ecosystem you are working with. When starting out you won’t have that.

But. When porting over a piece of software you will learn a tremendous amount about the tooling and common setups. When googling errors (which will absolutely come up) you will find the appropriate documentation and forums for your piece of software, and you will often find many common mistakes that you will now not have to make. An added bonus is that you will learn about both the old, and the new ecosystem. Learning the new ecosystem is obvious, but learning about the old ecosystem will also help a lot when you are working with older blog posts and pieces of software that you may or may not want to “steal” some code from.

As an added bonus, the open-source community will have a new updated version of the piece of software that you have worked on. Great!

DPDK

As an example i have recently been busy porting an old DPDK program over to a newer version of the library. I wanted to try and start by just writing out a basic program that would let me do what i wanted, but i immediately ran into trouble with outdated docs and undocumented missing libraries. After i got a simple version working i decided to try and port over an old program that i found on github. By doing this i was able to easily discern old functionality and the accompanying new improved version that i could also better understand the outdated documentation and use it to write newer programs.

Okay okay, i’ll give it a try.

This might not work for everyone, but i highly recommend you to try this method and see if it works for you. Good luck learning!

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