A linter is a program that runs on the source code of software and reports potentially problematic code to the user. Linters help enforce coding guidelines, from minor details like whitespace formatting or capitalization patterns for strings to preventing problematic coding patterns that can lead to security bugs.
For some files we simply check for small things like trailing whitespace, but for other files, we are quite thorough about checking semantic correctness.
Obviously, a large reason for linting code is to enforce the Zulip coding standards. But we also use the linters to prevent common coding errors.
We borrow some open source tools for much of our linting, and the links below will direct you to the official documentation for these projects.
Puppet (puppet provides its own mechanism for validating manifests)
Zulip also uses some home-grown code to perform tasks like validating indentation in template files, enforcing coding standards that are unique to Zulip, allowing certain errors from third party linters to pass through, and exempting legacy files from lint checks.
Running the linters
If you run
./tools/test-all, it will automatically run the linters.
You can also run them individually or pass specific files:
./tools/lint ./tools/lint static/js/compose.js ./tools/lint static/js/
./tools/lint has many useful options; you can read about them in its
internal documentation using
./tools/lint --help. Of particular
--fix: Several of our linters support automatically fixing basic issues; this option will ask
tools/lintto run those.
--verbose: Provides detailed information on how to fix many common linter errors not covered by
--only: Only run certain linters.
-m: Only check modified files.
Finally, you can rely on our continuous integration setup to run linters for you, but it is good practice to run lint checks locally.
We provide a
Git pre-commit hook
that can automatically run
tools/lint on just the files that
changed (in a few 100ms) whenever you make a commit. This can save
you a lot of time, by automatically detecting linter errors as you
Note: The linters only check files that git tracks. Remember to
new files before running lint checks.
Our linting tools generally support the ability to lint files individually–with some caveats–and those options will be described later in this document.
Once you have read the Zulip coding guidelines, you can
be pretty confident that 99% of the code that you write will pass through
the linters fine, as long as you are thorough about keeping your code clean.
And, of course, for minor oversights,
lint is your friend, not your foe.
Occasionally, our linters will complain about things that are more of an artifact of the linter limitations than any actual problem with your code. There is usually a mechanism where you can bypass the linter in extreme cases, but often it can be a simple matter of writing your code in a slightly different style to appease the linter. If you have problems getting something to lint, you can submit an unfinished PR and ask the reviewer to help you work through the lint problem, or you can find other people in the Zulip Community to help you.
Also, bear in mind that 100% of the lint code is open source, so if you find limitations in either the Zulip home-grown stuff or our third party tools, feedback will be highly appreciated.
Finally, one way to clean up your code is to thoroughly exercise it with tests. The Zulip test documentation describes our test system in detail.
Most of our lint checks get performed by
./tools/lint. These include the
Check Python code with pyflakes.
Check Python formatting with Black and isort.
Check Python code for custom Zulip rules.
Check non-Python code for custom Zulip rules.
Check Puppet manifests with the Puppet validator.
Check HTML templates for matching tags and indentations.
Check CSS for parsability and formatting.
mypyto check static types in Python code. Our documentation on using mypy covers mypy in more detail.
tscto compile TypeScript code. Our documentation on TypeScript covers TypeScript in more detail.
The rest of this document pertains to the checks that occur in
Zulip has a script called
lint that lives in our “tools” directory.
It is the workhorse of our linting system, although in some cases it
dispatches the heavy lifting to other components such as pyflakes,
eslint, and other home grown tools.
You can find the source code here.
In order for our entire lint suite to run in a timely fashion, the
script performs several lint checks in parallel by forking out subprocesses.
Note that our project does custom regex-based checks on the code, and we also customize how we call pyflakes and pycodestyle (pep8). The code for these types of checks mostly lives here.
You can use the
-h option for
lint to see its usage. One particular
flag to take note of is the
--modified flag, which enables you to only run
lint checks against files that are modified in your Git repo. Most of the
“sub-linters” respect this flag, but some will continue to process all the files.
Generally, a good workflow is to run with
--modified when you are iterating on
the code, and then run without that option right before committing new code.
If you need to troubleshoot the linters, there is a
option that can give you clues about which linters may be running
slow, for example.
The next part of this document describes the lint checks that we apply to various file types.
Generic source code checks
We check almost our entire codebase for trailing whitespace. Also, we disallow tab (\t) characters in all but two files.
We also have custom regex-based checks that apply to specific file types. For relatively minor files like Markdown files and JSON fixtures, this is the extent of our checking.
Finally, we’re checking line length in Python code (and hope to extend
this to other parts of the codebase soon). You can use
#ignorelinelength for special cases where a very long line makes
sense (e.g. a link in a comment to an extremely long URL).
Our Python code is formatted using Black (using the options in the
[tool.black] section of
pyproject.toml) and isort (using the
lint script enforces this by running
Black and isort in check mode, or in write mode with
The bulk of our Python linting gets outsourced to the “pyflakes” tool. We call “pyflakes” in a fairly vanilla fashion, and then we post-process its output to exclude certain specific errors that Zulip is comfortable ignoring.
Zulip also has custom regex-based rules that it applies to Python code.
python_rules in the source code for
lint. Note that we
provide a mechanism to exclude certain lines of codes from these checks.
Often, it is simply the case that our regex approach is too crude to
correctly exonerate certain valid constructs. In other cases, the code
that we exempt may be deemed not worthwhile to fix.
We run eslint.
We check code formatting with Prettier.
We perform custom Zulip regex checks on the code.
We use Puppet as our tool to manage configuration files, using Puppet “manifests.” To lint Puppet manifests, we use the “parser validate” option of Puppet.
Zulip uses two HTML templating systems:
Zulip has an internal tool that validates both types of templates for correct indentation and matching tags. You can find the code here:
We exempt some legacy files from indentation checks, but we are hoping to clean those files up eventually.
Markdown, shell scripts, JSON fixtures
We mostly validate miscellaneous source files like
files for whitespace issues.
If you want to help improve Zulip’s system for linting, here are some considerations.
We want our linters to be fast enough that most developers will feel comfortable running them in a pre-commit hook, so we run our linters in parallel and support incremental checks.
We try to catch as many common mistakes as possible, either via a linter or an automated test.
Our goal is to have most common style issues by caught by the linters, so new contributors to the codebase can efficiently fix produce code with correct style without needing to go back-and-forth with a reviewer.