Packaging Software

Software packages

This section describes some general things that a developer should know about packaging software. This content is mostly derived from best practices.

A developer building a package is comparable to an engineer building a car with only a manual and very few tools. If the engineer needs a specific tool to build the car, he must create the tool, too.

As a developer, if you are going to add a library named “foo”, the package must adhere to the following standards:

  • Be a free package created with free software.
  • Include all tools that are required to build the package.
  • Have an active and responsive upstream to maintain the package.
  • Adhere to Filesystem Hierarchy Standards (FHS). A specific file system layout is not required.

Embedded copies not allowed

Imagine if all packages had a local copy of jQuery. If a security hole is discovered in jQuery, we must write more than 90 patches in Debian, one for each package that includes a copy. This is simply not practical. Therefore, it is unacceptable for Horizon to copy code from other repositories when creating a package. Copying code from another repository tends to create a fork, diverging from the upstream code. The fork includes code that is not being maintained, so if a bug is discovered in the original upstream, it cannot easily be fixed by updating a single package.

Another reason to avoid copying a library into Horizon source code is that it might create conflicting licenses. Distributing sources with conflicting licenses in one tarball revokes rights in best case. In the worst case, you could be held legally responsible.

Free software

Red Hat, Debian, and SUSE distributions are made only of free software (free as in Libre, or free speech). The software that we include in our repository is free. The tools are also free, and available in the distribution.

Because package maintainers care about the quality of the packages we upload, we run tests that are available from upstream repositories. This also qualifies test requirements as build requirements. The same rules apply for building the software as for the software itself. Special build requirements that are not included in the overall distribution are not allowed.

An example of historically limiting, non-free software is Selenium. For a long time, Selenium was only available from the non-free repositories of Debian. The reason was that upstream included some .xpi binaries. These .xpi included some Windows .dll and Linux .so files. Because they could not be rebuilt from the source, all of python-selenium was declared non-free. If we made Horizon build-depends on python-selenium, this would mean Horizon wouldn’t be in Debian main anymore (contrib and non-free are not considered part of Debian). Recently, the package maintainer of python-selenium decided to remove the .xpi files from python-selenium, and upload it to Debian Experimental (this time, in main, not in non-free). If at some point it is possible for Horizon to use python-selenium (without the non-free .xpi files), then we could run Selenium tests at package build time.

Running unit tests at build time

The build environment inside a distribution is not exactly the same as the one in the OpenStack gate. For example, versions of a given library can be slightly different from the one in the gate. We want to detect when problematic differences exist so that we can fix them. Whenever possible, try to make the lives of the package maintainer easier, and allow them (or help them) to run unit tests.

Minified JavaScript policy

In free software distributions that actively maintain OpenStack packages (such as RDO, Debian, and Ubuntu), minified JavaScript is considered non-free. This means that minified JavaScript should not be present in upstream source code. At the very least, a non-minified version should be present next to the minified version. Also, be aware of potential security issues with minifiers. This blog post explains it very well.

Component version

Be careful about the version of all the components you use in your application. Since it is not acceptable to embed a given component within Horizon, we must use what is in the distribution, including all fonts, JavaScript, etc. This is where it becomes a bit tricky.

In most distributions, it is not acceptable to have multiple versions of the same piece of software. In Red Hat systems, it is technically possible to install 2 versions of one library at the same time, but a few restrictions apply, especially for usage. However, package maintainers try to avoid multiple versions as much as possible. For package dependency resolution, it might be necessary to provide packages for depending packages as well. For example, if you had Django-1.4 and Django-1.8 in the same release, you must provide Horizon built for Django-1.4 and another package providing Horizon built for Django-1.8. This is a large effort and needs to be evaluated carefully.

In Debian, it is generally forbidden to have multiple versions of the same library in the same Debian release. Very few exceptions exist.

Component versioning has consequences for an upstream author willing to integrate their software in a downstream distribution. The best situation is when it is possible to support whatever version is currently available in the target distributions, up to the latest version upstream. Declaring lower and upper bounds within your requirements.txt does not solve the issue. It allows all the tests to pass on gate because they are run against a narrow set of versions in requirements.txt. The downstream distribution might still have some dependencies with versions outside of the range that is specified in requirements.txt. These dependencies may lead to failures that are not caught in the OpenStack gate.

At times it might not be possible to support all versions of a library. It might be too much work, or it might be very hard to test in the gate. In this case, it is best to use whatever is available inside the target distributions. For example, Horizon currently supports jQuery >= 1.7.2, as this is what is currently available in Debian Jessie and Ubuntu Trusty (the last LTS).

You can search in a distribution for a piece of software foo using a command like dnf search foo, or zypper se -s foo. dnf info foo returns more detailed information about the package.

Filesystem Hierarchy Standards

Every distribution must comply with the Filesystem Hierarchy Standards (FHS). The FHS defines a set of rules that we must follow as package maintainers. Some of the most important ones are:

  • /usr is considered read only. Software must not write in /usr at runtime. However, it is fine for a package post-installation script to write in /usr. When this rule was not followed, distributions had to write many tricks to convince Horizon to write in /var/lib only. For example, distributions wrote symlinks to /var/lib/openstack-dashboard, or patched the default to write the SECRET_KEY in /var.
  • Configuration must always be in /etc, no matter what. When this rule was not followed, package maintainers had to place symlinks to /etc/openstack-dashboard/local_settings in Red Hat based distributions instead of using directly /usr/share/openstack-dashboard/openstack_dashboard/local/ which Horizon expects. In Debian,the configuration file is named /etc/openstack-dashboard/

Packaging Horizon

Why we use XStatic

XStatic provides the following features that are not currently available by default with systems like NPM and Grunt:

  • Dependency checks: XStatic checks that dependencies, such as fonts and JavaScript libs, are available in downstream distributions.
  • Reusable components across projects: The XStatic system ensures components are reusable by other packages, like Fuel.
  • System-wide registry of static content: XStatic brings a system-wide registry of components, so that it is easy to check if one is missing. For example, it can detect if there is no egg-info, or a broken package dependency exists.
  • No embedded content: The XStatic system helps us avoid embedding files that are already available in the distribution, for example, libjs-* or fonts-* packages. It even provides a compatibility layer for distributions. Not every distribution places static files in the same position in the file system. If you are packaging an XStatic package for your distribution, make sure that you are using the static files provided by that specific distribution. Having put together an XStatic package is no guarantee to get it into a distribution. XStatic provides only the abstraction layer to use distribution provided static files.
  • Package build systems are disconnected from the outside network (for several reasons). Other packaging systems download dependencies directly from the internet without verifying that the downloaded file is intact, matches a provided checksum, etc. With these other systems, there is no way to provide a mirror, a proxy or a cache, making builds even more unstable when minor networking issues are encountered.

The previous features are critical requirements of the Horizon packaging system. Any new system must keep these features. Although XStatic may mean a few additional steps from individual developers, those steps help maintain consistency and prevent errors across the project.

Packaging Horizon for distributions

Horizon is a Python module. Preferably, it is installed at the default location for python. In Fedora and openSUSE, this is /usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages/horizon, and in Debian/Ubuntu it is /usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/horizon.

Configuration files should reside under /etc/openstack-dashboard. Policy files should be created and modified there as well.

It is expected that collectstatic will be run during package build. This is the recommended way for Django applications. Depending on configuration, it might be required to compress during package build, too.