The future of RPM
There has been a lot of discussion in the past few months about RPM -- its present state, its future plans, and its leadership team. In particular, the Fedora Project has received numerous requests asking, "what are you guys doing about RPM?"
Here is the answer, in a few words.
The Fedora Board has spoken with Fedora stakeholders both inside and outside Red Hat, developers/maintainers in Novell, and other parties who rely on RPM as the foundation for their distributions. We wanted to make sure those parties agreed that this was the right thing to do for their respective communities. We touched base with some of these people at the recent LSB conference, and the overwhelming community opinion there was in favor of what we are outlining here.
At the most fundamental level, we begin with two points:
(1) RPM is an important piece of technology, not just for Fedora or for Red Hat, but for many other distributions and users. Its stability and maintenance are critical.
(2) Red Hat realizes the need to build a strong community of contributors around RPM, that the upstream of RPM needs to be handled in a manner which allows contributors and developers to have maximum freedom in their modifications, and that those modifications can be easily shared across distributions.
Expanding on that:
(3) RPM, as a file format, is good at what it does and capable of being the core of a Linux distribution. From the Fedora perspective, we are not particularly interested in making any grand deviations from it at this time.
(4) RPM, as an application, has a fairly mature feature set that we are very interested in stabilizing and bug fixing. Furthermore, we want to make sure that RPM is a stable and simplified base for the building of other technologies on top of it. Down the road, we might be interested in exploring a variety of new features, but we don't believe that should be the initial focus of our efforts.
Ultimately, the Fedora Project and Red Hat are committed to seeing RPM be as healthy and vibrant as many other large open source projects -- GNOME, Xorg, etc -- consumed and contributed to by many companies, users, distributions, and developers. Our overall goal for RPM is to ensure that is has consistency, reliability, and stability.
We switch now to a handy Q&A format:
Q -- So what, specifically, are you doing with RPM? And where is the work going to happen?
We have set up a new repository, wiki, and webspace -- external to any distribution or company -- for RPM, to which anyone can contribute. A reboot of the upstream, if you will. We don't expect that everyone will be running the same version of RPM, or run with the same patches, but we'd like for there to be a single place that everyone can refer to as upstream, and be able to contribute patches.
There is already a contributor base that exists around RPM -- engineers within Red Hat, Novell, Mandriva, and other organizations. We don't want to leave those people behind -- we want to do a better job of collaborating and accepting their work.
Everything will live at rpm.org, with a relaunched wiki, code repository, and mailing lists. As for rpm.org itself, its hosting and maintainership is outside of Red Hat, and is being generously provided by Duke University.
Q -- How is that different from what currently exists?
What we're doing here is collecting together everyone who has a stake in the future of RPM and building a healthy community around it. This involves major bug fixing, development work, performance work and making regular, predictable releases. As it stands today, we don't have these things. This is a good first step. Could you call it a fork? Maybe. But we're doing it because we think it's the right thing to do, for distributions all the way down to the individual users of RPM.
Q -- Where is all this stuff going to happen? What's the public mailing list and wiki? What *EXACTLY* is Fedora or Red Hat going to do?
Short answer -- http://rpm.org
Over the past few years, engineers from Red Hat and other companies, as well as a community of independent contributors, have been working on and maintaining their own versions of RPM -- sometimes sharing patches, sometimes not. It is important that these contributions move through an upstream process like many other projects do, in order to maintain a healthy community and proper checks and balances.
To that end, Red Hat is adding an additional engineer that works full time on upstream issues including patch reviews, community development, etc. Additionally other Red Hat engineers will contribute to RPM like any other open source project -- working on the release-engineering parts of RPM such as rpmbuild, and doing maintenance work.
Additionally, here are some of our initial goals:
* Give RPM a full technical review, based off of RPM 4.4.2. This is the common base for Novell and Red Hat. Look what vendors have on top of 4.4.2 and work towards a shared base. Figure out which pieces or code paths are unnecessary, poorly implemented, or receive little to no use, and either clean them up or clear them out. Make RPM simpler.
There's a lot of folks out there who are using RPM, including the various Red Hat/Fedora based distros, Suse, and Mandriva, just to name a few. Simplificaion and focus on the parts of RPM that are core to these stakeholders is a good way to start.
* In turn, this gives us a chance to do a better job with bug fixes. Squashing bugs that already exist, or closing out bugs that are related to parts of RPM that are superfluous.
* Give RPM the stability that it needs to continue to be the cornerstone of many distributions.
* Enhance the rpm-python bindings, which includes understanding and gathering together the work that already exists in this area.
Most importantly, this work will be done in the community, fully transparent with the help of the community and RPM stakeholders outside of Red Hat or Fedora. This is all about incremental steps, not blowing everything away and starting from scratch.
Q -- When is all of this happening?
Starting now. Planning and review happening over the next 3-6 months, at rpm.org. Implementation happening appropriately alongside that planning, as in most any free software project. Initially, Paul Nasrat is the primarydeveloper/maintainer dedicated to RPM from Red Hat. At the same time, we want to make sure that leadership has a chance to develop and emerge, rather than be mandated.
Q -- How did we end up here?
This is the part of the email in which Red Hat takes some accountability for the current situation:
* Several years ago, the maintainer of RPM worked for Red Hat. When he left, he continued his own work on RPM, which he acknowledges is a fork. And that's fine -- we support anyone's right to fork, since forking is one of the paths to innovation in open source software.
* Red Hat didn't commit the necessary resources to RPM following that departure.
* RPM, without a strong upstream, has languished as a result.
* The community has (rightfully) been demanding that the situation be fixed, and this is the first step in that effort.