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Re: Some questions about Debian


On Sat, 22 Sep 2007, martin f krafft wrote:
> > How many "pieces of software" do you have in your distribution? Do you
> > distinguish between "source packages" and "binary packages"? (if yes,
> > give numbers for both). Are there subdivisions in the set of packages (by
> > kind of support, by "freeness")? Are all packages supported the same way,
> > or are there different levels of support? (If different levels, how many
> > packages are supported with each level?) Are some packages imported from
> > another distribution, or are most of your packages done from scratch by
> > your developers ?
> I'd say we currently have around 10000 source packages and around
> 18000 binary packages, most of which run on each of the 11
> architectures we support. We separate our packages according to
> freeness, distinguishing between free, non-free, and those packages
> that are free themselves but require non-free stuff to run. In
> general, you can expect the more free packages to get more support.

"main" (free) contains 11659 source packages currently,
and "non-free" 246, while contrib has 166 source packages.

Debian is only the "main" section. The other sections are a courtesy
provided to our users according to point 5 of our social contract

Packages in contrib, non-free can be very well supported by their
maintainers, but they have several drawbacks over main packages such
as no official security support (but updates are possible if the
maintainer preprares them, but the security team won't do anything by
themselves). They also aren't autobuilt by the main buildd but the team
that autobuild our experimental packages has decided to support non-free
packages as well when it was possible.

> Most of our packages are done from scratch by our developers,
> although we do get occasional contributions from other distros, such
> as Knoppix or Ubuntu.

It's more and more common that packages have been created for Ubuntu
in the first place. In many cases, their work is largely reused but
it's not automatic. The Debian maintainer can have different opinions
on the packaging tools to use...

We try to push co-maintenance between Debian and Ubuntu in those cases
because the work done for Ubuntu is better done inside Debian itself
since it will automatically end up in Ubuntu.

> > Q2. Your developers
> > What's a "developer" in your distribution? How many developers do you
> > have? How many of these developers were active in 2007? Does a company
> > (which one?) employ a large number of developers? Do you have different
> > "classes" of developers, or does everybody have the same access right to
> > all your packages? How do you integrate new developers? How do you
> > handle contributors who don't have access rights to the archive? (is
> > there some kind of mentoring/sponsoring system?)
> A developer with Debian can upload packages, vote in project
> matters, and participate in private discussions, which are mostly
> for housekeeping; we try to keep technical stuff from them. We have
> about 1300 developers (I think), and I'd say no more than 400 of
> those are active.

The biggest elections tend to get between 500 and 600 voters. So I
expect that we have at least 600 people who are "active" at least once in
a year. The number of very regular contributor following many mailing
lists and which are always on IRC is way smaller of course, I'd say around
100 (that's the number of people who vote in the first day of any
election, so they are most likely following Debian every day).

> We do not really integrate new developers but rather expect them to
> integrate themselves by doing work and rising on the meritocratic
> scale. 

We expect every "applicant" (that's how we name people who want to become
Debian developer) to have contributed for at least 6 months even before
registering in our "New maintainer process".

Check out the doc on http://nm.debian.org if you want to learn more about

It's not that difficult to contribute "before" because we have more and
more teams using resources such as alioth.debian.org where DD and non-DD
can collaborate easily. If you still package something alone, you can
usually find a sponsor on our debian-mentors@l.d.o mailing list.

> > Q3. Developers and packages ownership
> > What's the relationship between developers and packages? Does each
> > package have an assigned developer, or can everybody modify all packages
> > without stepping on anyone's toes? Are packages mostly maintained by
> > teams, or by developers working alone?
> Classically, in Debian every package is maintained by one developer,
> although more and more packages are being team-maintained now, but
> still not enough: we still have more single-maintained packages.
> A maintainer is simply the official point of contact and
> theoretically the only one who can make official uploads.

We do have a process for "Non-maintainer uploads" (NMU) which requires to
try to coordinate with the maintainer but that allows other DD to make
changes. We even have special rules concerning NMU when it comes to fixing
"release-critical" bugs. We want the maintainer to handle them quickly, if
that's not the case, another DD can NMU within the day if the bug is older
than 7 days. We still have to send a proper patch to the maintainer so
that he can easily integrated the changes in his tree. (there are some
othre subtleties but I don't mention them right now)

Some the maintainer disappear and we don't even notice until important bug
start to rot... we have a dedicated MIA team to track them and orphan
their packages so that another DD (or team) can take over.

> > - Which question should I have asked? What should I ask next?

- Are you using something developed by another distro ?
- Which part of your own technology would you like other distros to reuse ?

- What would you think of trying to develop a new package system that
  would replace both dpkg and rpm ?

- What about having a common namespaces for packages names ? It's somewhat
  silly to have something called differently in two linux distributions
  but it's the case for many (if not most) small packages... we could
  at least try this for new packages and maybe define some sort of common
  naming policy.

- What about having all distro use a common infrastructure like
  http://hardware4linux.info/ to provide some guidance to our users
  on how they can effectively use their hardware ? (They scan their
  machines, upload their configuration and directly get access to
  advices of other users with the same hardware as well as official
  information provided by the distribution such as package name required,
> > - Do you think that this initiative is interesting?

Yes. Best would be if some common projects could emerge out of it.

> > - Do you think that this should move to a seperate mailing list? Would
> >   you participate in such a mailing list?

Yes. Although it would require the participation of the "leaders" of each
distribution so that we don't discuss in the void. It would be sad to see
some consensus on that list just to see that the majority of the other
members do not agree with the few representatives on that list. :-)

> > - Can you suggest a project that could host such a mailing list without
> >   annoying anyone? :)

I don't know.

Depending on the level of interest, we could create a new project for it.
Buying a domain is not expensive and hosting a website and a mailing list
is not a problem.

For a start, we could even use a Google-hosted mailing list or something
similar if needed.

Raphaël Hertzog

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