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The Lancaster Consensus

At the first Perl QA Hackathon in 2008 in Oslo, a number of QA and toolchain authors, maintainers and experts came together to agree on some common standards and practices. This became known as "The Oslo Consensus".

Five years later, at the 2013 Perl QA Hackathon, a similar brain trust came together to address new issues requiring consensus.

These decisions provide direction, but, as always, the speed of implementation will depend on the interests and availability of volunteers to do the work.

Toolchain and testing

Minimum-supported Perl

Going forward, the Perl toolchain will target Perl 5.8.1, released September 2003. This will allow toolchain modules to reliably use PerlIO and improved Unicode support.

Because of the many Unicode bug-fixes in early 5.8 releases, toolchain maintainers reserve the right to later bump the minimum to 5.8.4 (which ships with Solaris 10).

Specifying pure-perl builds

Some distributions offer an "XS" version or a "Pure Perl" version that can be selected during configuration. Currently, each of these has their own way for users to indicate this, which makes it impossible for CPAN clients or other build tools to help users select automatically.

Going forward, the "spec" for Makefile.PL and Build.PL will include command line options to request a "pure Perl only" build. These will be:

  • PUREPERL_ONLY=1 (for Makefile.PL)
  • --pureperl-only (for Build.PL)

These may be set in the PERL_MM_OPT or PERL_MB_OPT environment variables just like any other command line option.

If present, distribution authors must ensure that the installed modules do not require loading XS (whether directly or via Inline) or dynamically generate any platform-specific code. The installed files must be able to run correctly if copied to another machine with the same Perl version but a different architecture (e.g. "fatpacking" an application). If this condition can not be met, configuration must exit with an error.

Environment variables for testing contexts

The Oslo Consensus defined two testing contexts: AUTOMATED_TESTING and RELEASE_TESTING. Of these, AUTOMATED_TESTING has been the most confusing, as it sometimes was used to mean "don't interact with a user" and sometimes "run lengthy tests".

We also (briefly) discussed how some tools like Dist::Zilla are using AUTHOR_TESTING distinct from RELEASE_TESTING.

Distribution authors should now follow these semantics:

  • AUTOMATED_TESTING: if true, tests are being run by an automated testing facility and not as part of the installation of a module; CPAN smokers must set this to true; CPAN clients must not set this

  • NONINTERACTIVE_TESTING: if true, tests should not attempt to interact with a user; output may not be seen and prompts will not be answered

  • EXTENDED_TESTING: if true, the user or process running tests is willing to run optional tests that may take extra time or resources to complete. Such tests must not include any development or QA tests. Only tests of runtime functionality should be included.

  • RELEASE_TESTING: if true, tests are being run as part of a release QA process; CPAN clients must not set this variable

  • AUTHOR_TESTING: if true, tests are being run as part of an author's personal development process; such tests may or may not be run prior to release. CPAN clients must not set this variable. Distribution packagers (ppm, deb, rpm, etc.) should not set this variable.

There are already two libraries on CPAN to make it easier to test these variable correctly:

These variables must be set for all phases of configuration and testing, including running Makefile.PL or Build.PL and subsequent build and test phases.

CPAN smokers and integration testers must indicate automated, non-interactive testing and may request extended testing, depending on their resources.

CPAN clients are free to request non-interactive or extended testing depending on their needs or configuration.

CPAN smokers and clients that "must not set" a variable also must not clear it if it is already set externally.

Amendments to the Build.PL spec

David Golden and Leon Timmermans have been working on a Build.PL spec to describe how any Perl build tool using Build.PL must behave. It is necessarily based on Module::Build, but does not need to follow its behaviors exactly.

The group agreed that the use and semantics of .modulebuildrc should be excluded from the specification.

Installed distributions database

One of the QA hackathon projects was the creation of a replacement for packlists. An installed-distribution database would facilitate easy inventory of installed distributions, uninstall tools and tracking of the dependency graph of installed modules.

The group agreed that because modules can be installed into many different locations, any such database would need to be "per @INC" and that it would need to stack in the same way that @INC itself does. That means that adding paths to @INC could change what the database sees as installed.

Such a database system must not require any non-core dependencies, but could offer enhanced capabilities if recommended CPAN modules are installed.

Other implementation details are left to anyone designing such a system.

Post-installation testing

Several people at the hackathon have been interested in a system for running module tests after installation, for example to ensure that upgraded dependencies don't break a module or to test overall integrity.

The group agreed that any such testing must make all distribution files available during testing -- tests must be run from within a distribution tarball directory. Any such tests must be run using new make or Build targets: make test-installed or Build test-installed. These should be equivalent to make test or Build test but without adding blib to @INC. The prove application must not be used.

The group also agreed that any such tests need to respect how modules can be shadowed in @INC. Setting PERL5LIB could change which is the "installed" distribution and thus which tests should run. Coordination with an installed distribution database was encouraged.

Other implementation details, including whether the distribution directory is saved from the initial installation or retrieved fresh from CPAN/BackPAN, are left to anyone designing such a system.

META file specification

The 'provides' field

The 'provides' field of the CPAN::Meta::Spec requires a 'file' sub-key, but the meaning was unclear for dynamically-generated packages. We agreed that the 'file' key must refer to the actual file within the distribution directory that originates the package, whether that is a .pm file or a .PL or other dynamic generator.

Improving on 'conflicts'

We briefly discussed some of the known problems with the 'conflicts' key within prerequisite data.

What most developers seem to want is a way to indicate that installing a particular module is know to break other modules of particular versions. E.g. upgrading Foo to 2.0 breaks any Bar before 3.14.

We encouraged anyone interested in improvements to prototype it using an x_breaks or similar custom key and getting patches to support it into CPAN clients. Once battle tested, it could be a candidate for a future v3 of the spec.

PAUSE and CPAN

Long-term goal for distribution-level data on PAUSE

Several of the PAUSE issues discussed highlighted the need for PAUSE to maintain not just package (namespace) level index and permission data, but also "distribution" level data. This would allow, for example, transferring permissions for a distribution as a unit instead of needing to transfer permissions on all packages.

We agreed that this is the right long-term goal, but that other proposals would be implemented in the near-term to solve current issues.

Case insensitive package permissions

While not discussed directly, it should be noted that PAUSE package permissions will shortly become case-insensitive, but case-preserving to ensure that indexed modules would be unique even if installed on a case-insensitive file system.

Rules for distribution naming

Many CPAN ecosystem websites and tools treat a "distribution name" as a unique identifier, even though nothing has enforced uniqueness to date. Allowing non-uniqueness is confusing at best and a security risk at worst.

Going forward, distributions uploaded to PAUSE must have a name that "matches" the name of an indexed package within the distribution and the uploader must have permissions for that package or else the entire distribution will not be indexed.

For example, if DAGOLDEN uploads Foo-Bar-1.23.tar.gz, the distribution name is "Foo-Bar" and there must be an indexable "Foo::Bar" package within the distribution.

There are about 1000 distributions on CPAN that do not follow this rule and they will be grandfathered, though they are encouraged to conform to the standard either by renaming the distribution, adding a new .pm file or by introducing a properly named package internally.

For example, LWP ships as libwww-perl-6.05.tar.gz. If it included package libwww::perl; into one of its .pm files, that package would be indexed and would conform with the standard.

Technically, the correct package could also be declared only in the META.json file using a 'provides' field. In such a case the 'file' sub-key must be 'META.json' to indicate that 'META.json' is the file responsible for declaring the package.

Flagging abandoned modules and modules requesting help

Currently, when a CPAN author passes away, his or her module permissions are transferred to a fake author called 'ADOPTME'. Volunteers can step up to request a takeover if they wish to maintain them.

We agreed that in the short-term, a similar mechanism should be used to signal abandonment or that an author is looking for someone to share responsibility. Unlike the case where an author is deceased, these will use co-maint privileges as a signaling mechanism so that the original author may remove them as needed.

(In the long-term, the group hopes that a distribution-level data model for PAUSE will be able to address these needs more directly.)

CPAN search engines and other community sites may use these permissions markers and associated meanings to communicate the status of distributions.

  • ADOPTME as primary: this generally indicates a deceased author. Volunteers can request a takeover via modules@perl.org.

  • ADOPTME as comaint: this indicates a verified, non-responsive author. The community may propose that a package be so marked following the same rules as for a take-over (i.e. multiple attempts to contact the author and a request via modules@perl.org). Volunteers can request a takeover of an ADOPTME module via modules@perl.org without an additional waiting period.

  • HANDOFF as comaint: this indicates that an author wishes to permanently give up the primary maintainer role to someone else

  • NEEDHELP as comaint: this indicates that an author seeks people to help maintain the module, but plans to continue as primary maintainer

With the exception of a 'takeover' from ADOPTME (which must go through modules@perl.org), CPAN authors must manage these comaint privileges using the regular PAUSE interface.

An author may also voluntarily transfer primary or co-maint to ADOPTME to indicate that PAUSE admins may transfer permissions immediately to anyone who requests it.

Automating PAUSE ID registration

Historically, PAUSE ID's have been manually approved, often with a substantial delay. We agreed that assuming appropriate protections against bots/spam are in place, PAUSE should move to an automated approval system. This would bring it in line with other programming language repositories and open source community sites.

Additionally, we agreed that unused, inactive PAUSE IDs should be deleted and made available for reuse after a period of time. Specifically, any PAUSE ID that ever uploaded anything must not be deleted (because the files exists on BackPAN under that PAUSE ID). A login to PAUSE (or via a proxy like rt.pcan.org) is sufficient to indicate activity. Inactive IDs will not be deleted without a warning message about logging in to PAUSE.

Automating CPAN directory cleanup

Approximately half the files on CPAN are older than 5 years. Many authors never clean up old distributions. In order to keep the size of CPAN down, we agreed that under certain conditions, old distribution will be automatically scheduled for deletion (and will thereafter only exist on BackPAN).

For a distribution to be selected for deletion, there must be at least 3 stable releases. Anything older than the oldest of those 3 will be scheduled for deletion if it is older than 5 years and is not indexed in the 02packages file.

All perl tarballs will be excluded from deletion, of course.

Scheduled deletion will notify the author as usual and they will have the usual period of time to cancel the scheduled deletion.

Cleanup will be implemented on some sort of rolling basis by author ID to avoid bothering authors with frequent deletion notices.

Module registration

The group agreed that the PAUSE module registration has largely outlived its usefulness. Because only a fraction of CPAN modules are registered, registration does not provide a comprehensive source of metadata (e.g. "DSLIP") and much of the information registration covers is more widely available via META files.

The group acknowledged the remaining benefit has been that new CPAN authors often attempt to register their first module and benefit from feedback, but felt that other venues, such as PrePAN, would offer a better new author experience. In particular, PrePAN offers community participation beyond one or two PAUSE admins and a wealth of examples to learn from (without having to search through a mailing list archive).

Therefore, we agreed that existing PAUSE documentation will be changed to direct new (and experienced) authors to PrePAN for guidance.

Soon, PAUSE will stop publishing the module registration database to CPAN mirrors. (The index file will exist but be empty to avoid breaking CPAN clients that expect it.) After an assessment period, module registration will likely be closed and this feature will be retired from PAUSE.

Participants in the Lancaster Consensus discussions

Discussions lasted over 3 days, participants came and went, but each day had about 20 people. Thank you to the following participants:

Andreas König, Barbie, Breno Oliveira, Chris Williams, Christian Walde, David Golden, Daniel Perrett, Gordon Banner, H. Merijn Brand, James Mastros, Jens Rehsack, Jess Robinson, Joakim Tørmoen, Kenichi Ishigaki, Leon Timmermans, Liz Mattijsen, Matthew Horsfall, Michael Schwern, Olivier Mengué, Paul Johnson, Peter Rabbitson, Philippe Bruhat, Piers Cawley, Ricardo Signes, Salve J. Nilsen and Wendy van Dijk

(Apologies to anyone present who was left off the list. Email dagolden at cpan dot org or send a pull request to be added.)

Copyright and License

This document is Copyright 2013 by David A. Golden and contributors. You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as the Perl 5 programming language system itself.