Newer is Not Always Better

One of the never-ending challenges of computer software are regressions. Adding new features and improvements often introduce changes that affect previous usability.

I use the tidy tool to format the HTML for this blog. About the turn of the year I updated the software to a newer version. Because of priorities in life I wrote no blog entries for some months. When I resumed writing mostly I had forgotten I had updated the tidy package.

As I ran my script to prepare new blog entries for the web site I noticed malformed index pages. As I dug into the problem I had the feeling everything in the script code was offset by a line or two. I began revising my shell script, but the more I revised and tested the more I realized I was not resolving the problem. I also accepted that with no activity for a few months that nothing should have broken.

I looked backwards to when everything functioned as expected. I noticed about that time I had updated the tidy package.

Some nominal troubleshooting revealed the newer version of tidy was automatically removing empty paragraphs.

I like that particular spacing to improve reviewing the HTML markup. Some people might argue the empty lines are inefficient, but modern web servers compress files on-the-fly. Further, my blog pages almost always are less than 10 KB in size. My readability preference is not going to affect any web server.

Removing those empty paragraphs resulted in my prep script failing because the expected location for various tags, derived from my blog template — were shifted and offset. My gut feeling had been correct.

The newer version of tidy supports a drop-empty-paras: no option, but the option never succeeded for me. Or perhaps the option was being honored but empty paragraphs were being clobbered elsewhere. Adding drop-empty-elements: no did not help. I found nothing online that might provide a clue about the disruptive behavior.

I reverted to the older version of tidy and all was well again.

Computer software is complex. Too complex. This is one example why I tend to dislike updating computers.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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