I finally salvaged my first Debian package, python-invoke. As part of ITS 964718, I moved the package from the Openstack Team to the Python team. The Python team might not be super happy with it, because it's breaking some of its rules, but at least someone (ie. me) is actively working (and using) the package.

  1. Wait what
  2. So how did that go?
  3. Appendix

Wait what

People not familiar with Debian will not understand anything in that first paragraph, so let me expand. Know-it-all Debian developers (you know who you are) can skip to the next section.

Traditionally, the Debian project (my Linux-based operating system of choice) has prided itself on the self-managed, anarchistic organisation of its packaging. Each package maintainer is the lord of their little kingdom. Some maintainers like to accumulate lots of kingdoms to rule over.

(Yes, it really doesn't sound like anarchism when you put it like that. Yes, it's complicated: there's a constitution and voting involved. And yes, we're old.)

Therefore, it's really hard to make package maintainers do something they don't want. Typically, when things go south, someone makes a complaint to the Debian Technical Committee (CTTE) which is established by the Debian constitution to resolve such conflicts. The committee is appointed by the Debian Project leader, elected each year (and there's an election coming up if you haven't heard).

Typically, the CTTE will then vote and formulate a decision. But here's the trick: maintainers are still free to do whatever they want after that, in a sense. It's not like the CTTE can just break down doors and force maintainers to type code.

(I won't go into the details of the why of that, but it involves legal issues and, I think, something about the Turing halting problem. Or something like that.)

Anyways. The point is all that is super heavy and no one wants to go there...

(Know-it-all Debian developers, I know you are still reading this anyways and disagree with that statement, but please, please, make it true.)

... but sometimes, packages just get lost. Maintainers get distracted, or busy with something else. It's not that they want to abandon their packages. They love their little fiefdoms. It's just there was a famine or a war or something and everyone died, and they have better things to do than put up fences or whatever.

So clever people in Debian found a better way of handling such problems than waging war in the poor old CTTE's backyard. It's called the Package Salvaging process. Through that process, a maintainer can propose to take over an existing package from another maintainer, if a certain set of condition are met and a specific process is followed.

Normally, taking over another maintainer's package is basically a war declaration, rarely seen in the history of Debian (yes, I do think it happened!), as rowdy as ours is. But through this process, it seems we have found a fair way of going forward.

The process is basically like this:

  1. file a bug proposing the change
  2. wait three weeks
  3. upload a package making the change, with another week delay
  4. you now have one more package to worry about

Easy right? It actually is! Process! It's magic! It will cure your babies and resurrect your cat!

So how did that go?

It went well!

The old maintainer was actually fine with the change because his team wasn't using the package anymore anyways. He asked to be kept as an uploader, which I was glad to oblige.

(He replied a few months after the deadline, but I wasn't in a rush anyways, so that doesn't matter. It was polite for him to answer, even if, technically, I was already allowed to take it over.)

What happened next is less shiny for me though. I totally forgot about the ITS, even after the maintainer reminded me of its existence. See, the thing is the ITS doesn't show up on my dashboard at all. So I totally forgot about it (yes, twice).

In fact, the only reason I remembered it was that got into the process of formulating another ITS (1008753, trocla) and I was trying to figure out how to write the email. Then I remembered: "hey wait, I think I did this before!" followed by "oops, yes, I totally did this before and forgot for 9 months".

So, not great. Also, the package is still not in a perfect shape. I was able to upload the upstream version that was pending 1.5.0 to clear out the ITS, basically. And then there's already two new upstream releases to upload, so I pushed 1.7.0 to experimental as well, for good measure.

Unfortunately, I still can't enable tests because everything is on fire, as usual.

But at least my kingdom is growing.


Just in case someone didn't notice the hyperbole, I'm not a monarchist promoting feudalism as a practice to manage a community. I do not intend to really "grow my kingdom" and I think the culture around "property" of "packages" is kind of absurd in Debian. I kind of wish it would go away.

(Update: It has also been pointed out that I might have made Debian seem more confrontational than it actually is. And it's kind of true: most work and interactions in Debian actually go fine, it's only a minority of issues that degenerate into conflicts. It's just that they tend to take up a lot of space in the community, and I find that particularly draining. And I think think our "package ownership" culture is part of at least some of those problems.)

Team maintenance, the LowNMU process, and low threshold adoption processes are all steps in the good direction, but they are all opt in. At least the package salvaging process is someone a little more ... uh... coercive? Or at least it allows the community to step in and do the right thing, in a sense.

We'll see what happens with the coming wars around the recent tech committee decision, which are bound to touch on that topic. (Hint: our next drama is called "usrmerge".) Hopefully, LWN will make a brilliant article to sum it up for us so that I don't have to go through the inevitable debian-devel flamewar to figure it out. I already wrecked havoc on the #debian-devel IRC channel asking newbie questions so I won't stir that mud any further for now.

(Update: LWN, of course, did make an article about usrmerge in Debian. I will read it soon and can then tell you know if it's brilliant, but they are typically spot on.)

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