For our May 2018 “Community Choice” Project of the Month, the community elected Firebird, a powerful, cross platform, SQL database system. Firebird was previously selected Project of the Month in December 2007, where the team spoke about the project’s developments and direction. Recently we caught up with Pavel Cisar, one of its current developers to find out more about the project.
SourceForge (SF): What made you start this?
Pavel Cisar (PC): When Inprise (formerly known as Borland) released the source code for RDBMS InterBase 18 years ago, they did not allow community participation on their project. In fact, they just dumped the code on SourceForge and immediately abandoned it. So loyal users of InterBase had to step in and resurrect the InterBase from its ashes as Firebird.
SF: Has the original vision been achieved?
PC: Yes. Although we’ve seen both bad and good times, Project Firebird is doing well and growing for 18 years now.
SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
PC: First everyone who used or currently uses (resurrected) InterBase as free and open replacement. But Firebird is a perfect choice for any application developer who needs full-featured, reliable and easy to maintain relational database engine that could scale from embedded to corporate deployments.
SF: What core need does Firebird fulfill?
PC: Firebird is a relational database engine that proved its technological excellence over a long history of 35 years. In fact, this engine pioneered some concepts that are today considered as standard functionality – like BLOBs or multiversion concurrency control (MVCC). That pretty much sums it up.
SF: What’s the best way to get the most out of using Firebird?
PC: Learn how to use it effectively, of course. Perfect start is reading the official “Firebird Bible” – The Firebird Book (has 4 volumes now) written by Helen Borrie. But there are other good books about Firebird as well – http://www.ibphoenix.com/resources/books/
SF: What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
PC: Well, our project is not alone in this as Firebird development is supported by the Firebird Foundation. But developers participate in support and other forums, and regularly have sessions on international or regional Firebird conferences or events.
SF: Have you found that more frequent releases helps build up your community of users?
PC: We are trying to have a new major release every two years, as no user likes to upgrade a production system that works perfectly more often than once per two years. In fact, many users don’t upgrade their database engines for many years. But we have regular (typically twice a year) maintenance releases for the last two major versions.
SF: What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
PC: Actually two things that happened at almost the same time: establishment of the Firebird Foundation and the first International Firebird Conference in 2002.
SF: What helped make those happen?
PC: Hard work of many people devoted to Firebird’s success.
SF: How has SourceForge and its tools helped your project reach that success?
PC: A lot! If SourceForge wasn’t there in the 2000s when the Firebird Project was born, we would probably have failed as there weren’t any reliable, free and full-featured hosting service for open source projects that could fulfill our needs.
SF: What is the next big thing for Firebird?
PC: Version 4 release with a long awaited internal replication (among other things).
SF: How long do you think that will take?
PC: It depends, but first beta should be released on May 1st and if everything would go according to plan, users would get a nice Christmas present this year.
SF: Do you have the resources you need to make that happen?
PC: Basically yes, thanks to the hard work and support of many. But new blood or other support (especially financial contribution to Firebird Foundation) is more than welcome as it would help us grow and deliver faster and better products.
SF: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently for Firebird?
PC: We would certainly try to avoid some mistakes we did, but I don’t think we would do it in completely different way.
SF: Is there anything else we should know?
PC: Firebird Project is a perfect place for any open source developer who wants to participate in something very vital for end users, which is both technologically interesting and challenging, and at the same time proven and with a certain future (and thus with good career opportunities). Firebird is not a poster child like some other high-profile projects, but it’s certainly an important and stable piece of open source ecosystem.
And if you’re looking for reliable RDBMS that can scale, check it out (it’s in all major Linux distributions). You might be pleasantly surprised.