Thursday, 2 August 2012

OctConf2012 - Agora and pkg()

Two subjects were discussed at OctConf 2012 with direct impact on the Octave-Forge project: Octave's package system, and Agora. While very little code was written for any of these two, there was plenty of design and discussion as different ideas and visions clashed.

Most of the Agora design, current package system and possible package structures were presented on the morning of July 19. However, the intended changes to pkg() were not, and neither was how they would affect Agora. These were discussed after, mostly between Carnë Draug, Carlo de Falco and Juan Carbajal, and until the very last minute of OctConf.

Agora

Agora is a project meant for rapid collaboration of Octave code which has been under very slow development under the last 2 years. Its name refers to the ancient Greek Agora, a cross between place for social gathering and marketplace. Would that we had more web developers in our community. It is currently available at agora.octave.org but is still only a pastebin with syntax highlight for Octave.

The presented design would split Agora in 3 different sections: single, bundle and Forge, the later absorbing Octave-Forge which would cease to exist. Single and bundle (these are development titles) are very similar in nature, a cross between MatLab's FileExchange and arXiv. The Forge section, not unlike what is currently Octave Forge, would hopefully become smaller and easier to maintain as some of its code moves into the 2 other sections.

Single and Bundle

These can be used by anyone to make their code available to others, their only difference the upload method. While single is meant for single function files, and will present the user with a text box to paste the code, bundle will upload an archived file.

Each of them will have its own page with a download count and where users can rate, leave the comments, and contact the author. They can also be organized with multiple tags (e.g., statistics, bioinformatics). To avoid spam and copyright infringement, there will be a flag button to bring the attention of moderators. Other than that, there should be no moderator interaction needed.

They will be associated with a specific user, the uploader, who is able to release new versions. Versioning will be automatic and the simplest possible: a single number incrementing with each new upload. Old versions will be made available for download in the same style as arXiv (see the submission history on an entry for an example).

Bundles can either be a simple collection of files or a properly structured Octave package. If a package is meant to be uploaded, a simple structure check can be optionally requested by the uploader. This would be made by a script and there will be no guarantee that it actually installs, only that it looks correct. There will be no moderator interaction.

Problems, bugs and comments on the single and bundle sections are encouraged to be submitted to the uploader, not to the Forge or octave help mailing list.

Forge

This section would be what is currently Octave-Forge. The hope is that by dropping the Octave name there will be less confusion between the Octave and Octave-Forge projects. This section will aggregate packages that are actively maintained and developed by the community.

There will be a single bug tracker, each package being a bug category, a single mailing list, but a mercurial repository for each package. The Forge repository will be another mercurial repository where each package is a subrepository.

Packages in this section will comply with the following:
  • have at least one package maintainer;
  • install and work with the latest Octave release;
  • released under a GPL compatible license;
  • not dependent on a non-GPL compatible libraries or applications;
  • all functions (except private) must be documented in TexInfo;
  • if a doc section exists it must be written in TexInfo;
  • a NEWS file must exist listing changes for each release.
It is also recommended that they comply with:
  • no shadowing of Octave core functions;
  • no direct inclusion of external dependencies.
Once this system is in place, new code submissions will be directed to the single and bundle sections. As these are rated and improved over time, if a forge maintainer wishes to include it on its own package he can do so.

Snippets

The current function of Agora as pastebin will be also be kept as its actually
pretty useful.

pkg()

Some problems with the current pkg system were discussed as well as desired new features. Also other features were decided more harmful than useful and will be removed. These are:
  • removal of the autoload option. No package will be able to automatically load itself and its value on the DESCRIPTION file will be ignored. This prevents users from inadvertently shadowing functions (even from other packages) and will increase aware on the role of packages.
  • implementation of a new flag, -url, to specify URLs for a package tarball.
  • automatic download and install of dependencies if those are part of Forge.
  • keep the source of installed packages. This will allow to reinstall a package when Octave is updated as well as run the tests on C++ code.
  • implementing an option to run the integrated function tests when installing a new package.
  • a new organization for the installed packages on the system. This will include the removal of --global and --local flags (which will be handled automatically) and is meant to to allow:
    • different versions of the same package
    • different versions of Octave using the same packages
    • global package installs in relation to the Octave installation, not to the system.
  • automatic build of a package documentation in HTML, PDF and info format from TexInfo formats, similarly to what happens when building Octave.
Implementation of all of these will include a major overhaul of the whole pkg() code, as many of this options are connected between them. It is not possible to implement all of them independently and each change is likely to break pkg(). As such, it was decided that their development would happen in a remote repository and merged into default once ready.

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