Engineering Software, Linux, and Operations. The website of Jack Neely.    

Packages in Their Glory

I’ve been thinking about and wanting to write about packages for a long time. DEBs. RPMs. Pip for Python. CPAN for Perl. Galaxy for Ansible. Registry and Docker. Puppet modules from Puppet Forge. Vagrant Boxes. Every technology comes with its own distribution format and tool it seems.

My recent transition from RHEL to Ubuntu has made one thing very clear. This mess of packages is intractable. No package format is aware of the others yet they usually have dependencies that interconnect different package types. Pip has no knowledge of C libraries required by many Python packages to build. Us SAs usually end up crossing the streams to produce a working environment. Or we spend hours building packages of one specific type. (Only to spend even more time on them later.) The end result is often different package management systems stepping on each other and producing an unmaintainable and unreproducible system.

I’ve spent, probably, years of my career doing nothing but packaging. The advantages of packages are still just as relevant today as they were in the past. Its a core skill set for running large infrastructures.

Recently, I’ve just about given up trying to deal with packages. Throw-away VMs. Isolation environments. Images. Advanced configuration management tools. Applications with conflicting requirements. Does maintaining a well managed server even matter any more?

I believe it does. A well managed host system keeps things simple and the SAs sane. However, I believe that there should be a line drawn in the sand to keep the OS – and tools that manage the OS – separate from the applications running on that machine or VM. On the OS side of the line, RPMs or DEBs rule. Configuration management has an iron fist. Your configuration management and automation should also deploy your application containers. But now we find the line in the sand.

Your applications, its crazy requirements, as well as whatever abominable package management scheme needed to get the job done should live in Docker containers. Here, your configuration management is a git repo where you can easily rebuild your images. Here, we can use the tools we need that work the best for the situation at hand without causing harm to the host system or another application.

Perhaps Docker “packages” are, finally, the one packaging system to rule them all.

There’s just one thing that itches. I know Fedora out right bans it. Packaging libraries with your applications means that when OpenSSL has a security vulnerability, you have to patch your OS – and find everywhere else that library has been stuffed. Itch. Docker containers seem reasonable about this, but it still means rebuilding and restarting all containers. Itch.

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