Yahoo May Be In Transition But Its Software Troops Forge Ahead

January 12, 2017, 2:50 PM UTC

Yahoo is about to be acquired (or not) by Verizon, but questions about the Internet pioneer’s future have not slowed software efforts, according to developers in the trenches.

While most consumers know Yahoo (YHOO) for its popular news and finance portals, and email, many techies revere the company for its contributions to open-source software, including the popular Hadoop big data processing framework. Yahoo has contributed a ton of code so other developers can examine it, tweak it, and use it in their own work.

And it’s at it again, this week is making available an open source version of a software development tool called Screwdriver, that Yahoo uses to automate the construction of its own software services, including the aforementioned portals.

Basically, Screwdriver, or as the open source version is known, will streamline the building process, said James Collins, senior director of engineering.

Before Screwdriver, Yahoo engineers would submit code improvements, called “commits” in tech talk, to a code repository. Those commits then would be tested by the individual before being merged into a hopefully coherent whole. Screwdriver automates the testing of those code pieces as they flow through the pipeline, making the process of building software more automated and thus faster.

That’s important in a world where companies must fix software fast and add new features and functions all the time to remain competitive. In the pre-Internet days, it would often take months or even years to add major new features to an application.

“Screwdriver steers developers into a more continuous delivery mode,” Collins noted. It works atop another key piece of software called Jenkins. For bigger workloads, like those that Yahoo supports, Screwdriver also works in conjunction with Kubernetes, a software framework for managing lots of software modules called containers.

The downside is that because Screwdriver automates a lot of the interim steps, it is a little less open and flexible than doing all those one-off tweaks manually, Collins said. The tradeoff in efficiency is apparently worth that tradeoff.

Screwdriver will be made available on Github, a sort of public library for checking out software code, for anyone to use. In that it follows in the footsteps of a series of other Yahoo open-sourced products including Mojito and Manhattan, two tools to ease the development of mobile applications.

Most importantly, Hadoop, the nearly ubiquitous framework for processing and storing big data, came out came out of Yahoo. Companies including Cloudera, HortonWorks (HDP), IBM (IBM), (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), and Amazon (AMZN) Web Services, all offer variations of Hadoop.

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Software engineers building big web applications should take a close look at Screwdriver, Preeti Somal, Yahoo vice president for cloud services, tells Fortune.

“Everything that a consumer sees in Yahoo’s mobile apps, mail and other consumer properties is built and delivered using Screwdriver,” she notes. Yahoo has been using the technology for more than two years, but work on the project foundation goes back further.

Yahoo’s open source focus and the fact that its sites are widely used—it claims more than a billion monthly active users globally—means it can attract world-class developers regardless of what happens with Verizon (VZ). The company says Yahoo News 2016 election coverage alone generated 65 million page views,

For more on Yahoo and Altaba, watch:

That’s got to be key since Yahoo is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley where it must compete for top talent with the likes of Google, Facebook (FB), Apple @aapl(AAPL)and others.

Whether the Verizon deal goes through and Yahoo becomes Altaba, or not life must go on.

“What we’re doing is valuable for engineers regardless of what else is going on,” Somal said. “We move forward and make progress. Screwdriver is one piece of that but there will be more.”

Editor’s Note: Jan. 12, 2017 (10:50 am): This story was updated to add that is the name of the open-source version of Screwdriver.

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