Activity Team/Packaging Ideas

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Goal

Installing activities on every sugarized GNU/Linux distribution (not only the XO) just by clicking on an icon in activities.sugarlabs.org is the goal.

Problems to solve

  • Install proper dependencies. Most activities rely on a standard set of Sugar dependencies like PyGTK, Squeak, GStreamer, and PyGame. But others have special dependencies that need to be installed on the target system before the activity can run.
  • Install the activity itself.
    • Blobs in activities. Some activities (Colors, Oficina, Bounce, WikiBrowse) include compiled code, like executables or Python extension modules.
    • Should we build non-pure-python activities while installing, or use binary packages?
    • And in general, how to treat a variety of platforms: x86, x86_64 and future ARM, MIPS?

Proposal schemas

Distro teams should take care of it

It could be a meta package that is linked to frequently used dependencies (like csound/pygame/etc.).

Pro

  • That's enough for the XO alsroot 12:36, 13 January 2009 (UTC)
  • Many activities just rely on the standard Sugar dependencies, it's really just a few special ones.

Contra

  • That's not enough for the rest of the distros
    each distro team has to work out the same work
    like inventing their own mechanisms to treat activity dependencies, etc. alsroot 12:36, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Invent-own/reuse-existing packaging format

Pro

  • Could possibly come up with a solution that works very well specifically for Sugar.

Contra

  • A lot of work solving a problem has been solved already on each system.
  • Might conflict with the target system's native package manager.
  • Package managers tend to present confusing user interfaces to the user.

Sugar is like Firefox and activities are like addons

Pro

  • Simplest version, what we have now.

Con

  • What about the variety of possible dependencies, should we pre-install them all? alsroot 12:36, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Use distro-specific activities installer

This is a kind of #Invent-own/reuse-existing packaging format packaging format, but it moves the center of gravity to a distro-specific installer from the packaged activity itself.

The activity.info file would include a list of dependency names, which come from a predefined list. The distro-specific installer backend would be responsible for parsing the list and installing the correct dependencies.

Pro

  • Dependencies in activity could be formatted in a simple way (like 'Require: pygames'), and the installer should resolve it to the proper native package(s); in that way, it demands a common naming scheme alsroot 12:36, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Contra

  • That says nothing about installing activity itself. alsroot 12:36, 13 January 2009 (UTC)


combined Source+Binary package

This is a new package format fitted to the special needs of Sugar. Unlike Java (where--at least in theory--compiled bytecode suffices); we need to cope with architecture-dependent files.

Some of the ideas are already mentioned in other solutions outlined above, but each on its own doesn't solve the whole problem.

Using a whole new format (even if recycling parts of other formats, e.g., the current Bundle format) will require some engineering, but IMO trying to fit existing formats to ours will take nearly as much time near-term, and cause more trouble, long-term. If designed properly, it might even get used as a standard interchange format for other systems.

Package contents

* metadata (title, author, etc.)
* software dependency information
* hardware dependency information
* source code for all architecture-dependent files
* optional: source code for dependencies
* optional: prebuilt architecture-dependent files with a checksum of the source used at build time
* Rainbow security information

Software dependencies

Dependencies are a rather hard problem. We need to ensure that the right package (naming) in exactly the right version (forward and backwards compatibility), linked against the right libraries (recursive dependencies) using a matching ABI (architecture dependency).

The easiest way to ensure this is to bundle all dependencies with the Activity. But this might have severe drawbacks:

* Bundles might get very large (imagine adding half of Gnome to Read)
* Installation might take several hours (think of building xulrunner on an XO)
* old, buggy versions of libraries might get used (can be quite annoying)

Thus, it makes sense to let at least some of the dependencies get handled by the underlying OS. The new bundle format will contain a dependency tree with the following information for each entry:

* generic package name (usually the name chosen by the original author)
* minimum version
* maximum version
* source code URL (optional, but recommended)

Part of the installer will be OS-dependent: the generic name needs to be translated to an OS specific one (e.g., according to Debian Python Policy) and dependencies need to be resolved (e.g., via apt for Debian). If there's Internet connectivity, it might try to download the source from the given URL (advanced voodoo: check for new versions as well), if no OS package is available.

The dependency tree will get processed bottom up: each time a dependency cannot be met (not available, conflicts with already-installed package, ...), all higher-level dependencies will need to get built from source as well (to make sure the ABI matches).

Packages might also provide dependencies to other packages (thus there might be "library packages" bundling libraries required by a lot of Activities). The security implications of this need to be carefully considered, though.

Hardware dependencies

Some Activities require special hardware (e.g., sensor module) or are known not to work on certain (sets of) architectures, e.g., because the code is not 64-bit-clean. When trying to install an Activity, it's better to warn the user about this than wasting his/her time (but of course, with the option to install anyway, so it could be adapted to the available hardware).

Prebuilding

As building from source might take a significant amount of time, it might be useful (bundle size/build time tradeoff) to ship with prebuilt architecture-dependent files. Usually, each architecture can only build files for itself (native compilation), not for others (cross-compilation). To ensure outdated files are rebuilt, a checksum of the source code used for building will be added. It doesn't need to be a cryptographic hash, just ensure that source changes cause a rebuild.

Sites like activities.sugarlabs.org might provide several packages, each prebuilt for a different platform (using buildbots), or none at all to reduce download size.

Sugar Platform

Maybe most reasonable decision (at least for 0.84) is declaring "Sugar Platform" to be a set of all non-sugar components that activity developers could rely on.