Blog entries

  • A new way of distributing Python code ?


    On distutils-sig, the question of distutils/setuptools replacing is frequently raised and a lot of effort is made to find what would be the best way to build and distribute python code.

    I don't understand the reason why we have a massive coupling between build and distribution (setuptools and pypi to be more precise) and I'm not convinced about this "global" approach. I hope the python community will examine the possibility to change that and split the problem in two distinct projects.

    One of the most successful ideas of Python is its power in extending other languages. And in fact, that's the major problem to solve for the build area. I'm pretty sure it will take a long time before obtaining a valuable (and widely adopted) solution and this is so complicated that the choice of the building chain should be kept under the responsibility of the upstream maintainers for now (distutils, setuptools, makefile, SCons, ...).

    Concerning the distribution, here are the mandatory features I expect:

    • installing source code managing dependencies with foreign contribution
    • have binary builds without interaction with the primary host system
    • be multi-platform agnostic (Linux, BSD, Windows, Mac, ...)
    • clean upgrade/uninstall
    • kind of sandboxes for testing and development mode
    • no administrator privilege required

    I found the project homepage and was really impressed by the tons of functionalities already available and the other numerous advantages, like:

    • multiple version installation
    • reuse external distribution effort (integrate deb, rpm, ...)
    • digital signatures
    • basic mirroring solution
    • notification about software updates
    • command line oriented but various GUI exist
    • try to follow standards (XDG specifications on

    I'm questioning seriously why this project could not be considered as a clean and build-independent python packages index system. Moreover, 0install has already some build capabilities (see 0compile) but the ultimate reason is that it will largely facilitate migrations when a new python build standard will emerge.


    0install looks like a mature project driven by smart people and already included in modern distributions. I'll definitively give it a try soon.

  • broken easy_install support

    2009/03/25 by Sylvain Thenault

    I recently understood why easy_install wasn't able to find so many of our packages anymore.

    The problem was due to a recent change on our website. The project page was ajaxified, and since easy_install uses some screenscrapping techniques to get distribution archives, it can not find the files it is looking for.

    To fix this, we should make our tarballs downloadable from PyPI, by using

    python register sdist upload

    instead of the current:

    python register

    Uploading our public python software packages to PyPI will make them easy_installable in a breeze !

  • The Configuration Management Problem

    2009/07/31 by Nicolas Chauvat

    Today I felt like summing up my opinion on a topic that was discussed this year on the Python mailing lists, at PyCon-FR, at EuroPython and EuroSciPy... packaging software! Let us discuss the two main use cases.

    The first use case is to maintain computer systems in production. A trait of production systems, is that they can not afford failures and are often deployed on a large scale. It leaves little room for manually fixing problems. Either the installation process works or the system fails. Reaching that level of quality takes a lot of work.

    The second use case is to facilitate the life of software developers and computer users by making it easy for them to give a try to new pieces of software without much work.

    The first use case has to be addressed as a configuration management problem. There is no way around it. The best way I know of managing the configuration of a computer system is called Debian. Its package format and its tool chain provide a very extensive and efficient set of features for system development and maintenance. Of course it is not perfect and there are missing bits and open issues that could be tackled, like the dependencies between hardware and software. For example, nothing will prevent you from installing on your Debian system a version of a driver that conflicts with the version of the chip found in your hardware. That problem could be solved, but I do not think the Debian project is there yet and I do not count it as a reason to reject Debian since I have not seen any other competitor at the level as Debian.

    The second use case is kind of a trap, for it concerns most computer users and most of those users are either convinced the first use case has nothing in common with their problem or convinced that the solution is easy and requires little work.

    The situation is made more complicated by the fact that most of those users never had the chance to use a system with proper package management tools. They simply do not know the difference and do not feel like they are missing when using their system-that-comes-with-a-windowing-system-included.

    Since many software developers have never had to maintain computer systems in production (often considered a lower sysadmin job) and never developed packages for computer systems that are maintained in production, they tend to think that the operating system and their software are perfectly decoupled. They have no problem trying to create a new layer on top of existing operating systems and transforming an operating system issue (managing software installation) into a programming langage issue (see CPAN, Python eggs and so many others).

    Creating a sub-system specific to a language and hosting it on an operating system works well as long as the language boundary is not crossed and there is no competition between the sub-system and the system itself. In the Python world, distutils, setuptools, eggs and the like more or less work with pure Python code. They create a square wheel that was made round years ago by dpkg+apt-get and others, but they help a lot of their users do something they would not know how to do another way.

    A wall is quickly hit though, as the approach becomes overly complex as soon as they try to depend on things that do not belong to their Python sub-system. What if your application needs a database? What if your application needs to link to libraries? What if your application needs to reuse data from or provide data to other applications? What if your application needs to work on different architectures?

    The software developers that never had to maintain computer systems in production wish these tasks were easy. Unfortunately they are not easy and cannot be. As I said, there is no way around configuration management for the one who wants a stable system. Configuration management requires both project management work and software development work. One can have a system where packaging software is less work, but that comes at the price of stability and reduced functionnality and ease of maintenance.

    Since none of the two use cases will disappear any time soon, the only solution to the problem is to share as much data as possible between the different tools and let each one decide how to install software on his computer system.

    Some links to continue your readings on the same topic:

  • Looking for a Windows Package Manager

    2009/07/31 by Nicolas Chauvat

    As said in a previous article, I am convinced that part of the motivation for making package sub-systems like the Python one, which includes distutils, setuptools, etc, is that Windows users and Mac users never had the chance to use a tool that properly manages the configuration of their computer system. They just do not know what it would be like if they had at least a good package management system and do not miss it in their daily work.

    I looked for Windows package managers that claim to provide features similar to Debian's dpkg+apt-get and here is what I found in alphabetical order.


    AppSnap is written in Python and uses wxPython, PyCurl and PyYAML. It is packaged using Py2Exe, compressed with UPX and installed using NSIS.

    It has not seen activity in the svn or on its blog since the end of 2008.


    Appupdater provides functionality similar to apt-get or yum. It automates the process of installing and maintaining up to date versions of programs. It claims to be fully customizable and is licensed under the GPL.

    It seems under active development at SourceForge.


    QWinApt is a Synaptic clone written in C# that has not evolved since september 2007.


    WinAptic is another Synaptic clone written this time in Pascal that has not evolved since the end of 2007.


    Win-get is an automated install system and software repository for Microsoft Windows. It is similar to apt-get: it connects to a link repository, finds an application and downloads it before performing the installation routine (silent or standard) and deleting the install file.

    It is written in pascal and is set up as a SourceForge project, but not much has been done lately.


    WinLibre is a Windows free software distribution that provides a repository of packages and a tool to automate and simplify their installation.

    WinLibre was selected for Google Summer of Code 2009.


    ZeroInstall started as a "non-admin" package manager for Linux distributions and is now extending its reach to work on windows.


    I have not used any of these tools, the above is just the result of some time spent searching the web.

    A more limited approach is to notify the user of the newer versions:

    • App-Get will show you a list of your installed Applications. When an update is available for one of them, it will highlighted and you will be able to update the specific applications in seconds.
    • GetIt is not an application-getter/installer. When you want to install a program, you can look it up in GetIt to choose which program to install from a master list of all programs made available by the various apt-get clones.

    The appupdater project also compares itself to the programs automating the installation of software on Windows.

    Some columists expect the creation of application stores replicating the iPhone one.

    I once read about a project to get the Windows kernel into the Debian distribution, but can not find any trace of it... Remember that Debian is not limited to the Linux kernel, so why not think about a very improbable apt-get install windows-vista ?