Text Editor Tournament

In Spring 2013, myself and a fellow student at SUNY Potsdam decided that we would host a text editor tournament where people would represent their favorite text/code editor to see which is the best of them all. Notable competing editors included Vim and GEdit. To make it work, we needed to write software that would allow each individual participant to connect to a central server, and receive and submit different tournament challenges. We got to work and created a server-client system that was able to administer the tournament, and distribute files, check submissions, and time each active participant, and then display the results in real-time on a projector screen using a web-based GUI.

This is an automated demo of the web-based GUI (scripted):

In this video, the values sent to the GUI were automated by a script running on the server. For the actual tournament, the display server forwarded real-time updates to the GUI as the tournament was going on.

Source code for this project is available on GitHub!

The tournament was hosted on Friday, May 3, 2013, as a part of the last meeting of the academic year of the ACM student chapter at SUNY Potsdam. We had about eight participants in total, with several others observing. It was a lot of fun!

Click on an image to enlarge.

The challenges of this tournament were designed to check how quickly an editor could manipulate various text files, usually filled up with code. For example, a very simple challenge might be to fix up bad indentation in a Java file. A powerful editor may offer tools to do this quickly and/or automatically, and such editor would likely win that challenge. The idea was to see which editors are the best to work with on different code editing tasks.

Challenges were packaged as a directory, and included a simple description file, the bad (unedited) copies of the files that needed fixing, and solutions, which were the files as they should be when fixed. Solution files ended with ".sol". When a challenge was loaded, all files in the directory were automatically sent to the server. The ".sol" files were not given to participants, but were used by the server to check submissions.

Once each participant sat down to their computer, they connected to the main server, and awaited further instructions. The tournament manager (admin) also connected to the server via a special manager client. When the manager decided it was time, he/she loaded up a challenge, and sent it to the server. Each participant then received the challenge description and decided whether to accept or reject it. The manager could then start the challenge, at which point each participant who accepted the challenge would receive all of the necessary challenge files (automatically downloaded into their "battlefield" directory). Each participant modified the file(s) with their editor of choice, and once finished, uploaded them for checking (simply by hitting ENTER on their command line). The server would either accept the answer, or reply with a simple diff file to show the mistakes. If a participant was unable to fix the file(s), they could forfeit. The server kept track of all of the submission times, and once everyone was finished (or forfeit), everybody would see their editor's best time and overall rank on the GUI score screen.

The main server was responsible for keeping track of every active tournament participant, and distributing challenge information and files to each of them. When a participant submitted a potential answer, the server checked it for accuracy, and if correct, noted the submission time. The server also sent real-time event updates to the display server.

The manager client sent challenges (that is, all relevant files and the description) to the server, and then initialized them. The manager received feedback on how many participants accepted, and could choose to start or cancel the challenge. If a challenge was started, the manager would wait for it to be over, and then start up another challenge. The server handled all interactions with the participants, including sending them the unedited challenge files.

The participant client was for everyone who wanted to participate in the tournament. This client connected to the main server (providing the user's name and editor of choice), and waited for the manager to initiate challenges. Once a challenge was initiated, each participant had to choose to accept or reject it. If they accepted, the challenge files would be downloaded automatically once the challenge started. The participant client then waited for the user to hit ENTER to submit their fixed files, or type "forfeit" to give up. The participant software interacted only with the main server.

The display system was split into two pieces. The first piece was a display server, which simply translated raw text sent by the main server into bytes transmitted to the web page via the WebSocket protocol.

The display GUI was the web page itself - written in Javascript, the 2D graphics were drawn using the HTML5 Canvas element. We enabled it to go fullscreen, and so it could be projected onto a large projector screen. The audio was played using HTML5 Audio. The display also featured text-to-speech, which was acquired as needed from the Google Translate online text-to-speech engine. The text-to-speech voice announced real-time updates regarding the current challenge, as well as the occasional friendly insult if a participant gave up, or if they were taking too long.

The server, manager client, and participant client were all written in Python, as was the display server (which merely forwarded our custom text protocol data to the WebSocket protocol). The display itself was a web page built with Javascript.

We created the software over the span of about three and a half weeks, mostly during some spare time over weekends. It was an interesting exercise in learning more about larger-scale network programming, getting some practice with Python, and learning how to implement a WebSocket server. Much of the web GUI using the HTML5 Canvas was already easy to implement due to my experience with Cosmos Fight.

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