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A registry for distributed sources and binaries

From: Pjotr Prins
Subject: A registry for distributed sources and binaries
Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2016 05:30:27 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.21 (2010-09-15)

After some thought I am coming to the following: my primary goals are
to lower the barrier to entry, scale out development of Guix packages
and have people collaborate on each others packages without some
centralized 'opinion'.

The main problems with the current GUIX_PACKAGE_PATH approach are

1. People are not aware about the work of others
2. Slightly complicated (you need a Guix source tree etc.)
3. No binary distribution

My immediate idea was to have a separate project, i.e. a fast and lossy
tree next to the current 'strict' tree. With a distribution server
'guix publish' that could work for those who are inclined to use a
lossy server (call it experimental or agile package definitions).

After some thought I decided there is still a major downside - it will
depend on central people to manage this second tree - even if it is
only for merging packages and git trees. That competes with the main
effort too which is inefficient.

Now I think we may better solve this with something akin to a plugin
system that we have with Rubygems, Python pip etc. A plugin system
that is truly distributed from source (you just need to provide a
registry). One example I worked on before is for
Ruby packages in bioinformatics.

How about the following:

1. Separate from the GNU project, we create a number of registries of
   online git repos without opinion (i.e., anything goes, it is up to
   the authors). A registry can contain the work of multiple packages
   and multiple authors.

2. Each repo in the registry can create package definitions online

3. When someone wants to use a registry, run guix with

   guix package --registry -A ruby

   i.e. to list all packages that have ruby, including the ones in
   that registry. Likewise for an incubator registry:

   guix package --registry -A ruby

   generates a different list.

4. At install of a registry package, the entry can (optionally) point to a Guix
   publish server with its key, so we can do 'add key' and 'install
   binary or source package' for the registry. This way we get trusted
   binary distribution for distributed packages in registries.

This would also compete nicely with the likes of Docker, especially
when using containers, in a more secure way.

Registries solve the mentioned problems of GUIX_PACKAGE_PATH:

1. People are not aware about the work of others
2. Slightly complicated (you need a Guix source tree etc.)
3. No binary distribution

It also takes away the centralized approach of GNU Guix for those who
don't want that - though the main tree will still be developed against
for building a solid distribution etc. I.e., the core stuff continues,
but people are free to try other routes. All a registry needs to
provide is a guile file containing information of the package(s) whith
a pointer to online pointers of documentation, overview, guix publish
server and key.

Personally I think this will be very exciting. We can have a
metaregistry that lists all these packages so everyone can track them.

Scalability. Less opinion, less duplication of work. True incubators.


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