I also blog frequently on the Yesod Web Framework blog, as well as the FP Complete blog.

SLURP

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Many people in the community have seen the SLURP proposal. Some people have asked my opinion. Some others have made some... let's say colorful statements about my noninvolvement in the discussion. Let me set the record straight right now on why I've avoided the topic. The authors showed me the proposal before it was published, and I told them at that time I would not support it. I've also told them that, out of respect to them, I would hold back on commenting on SLURP. Unfortunately, that's now led to two things:

  • Some people making some very pointed implications
  • Misunderstanding about the usage of the term "fork" in the proposal, which unfortunately the authors have not rectified

To be clear: the proposal is not mine, I did not ask for this change, and I'm not "holding a gun" to anyone's head. Those descriptions aren't true. There are plenty of other statements I could comment on as well, but it's honestly not worth it.

Here's what isn't false: I regularly am in communication with many people across the Haskell community and ecosystem management teams about problems being faced. I interact with a broad group of users in my work, hear complaints, and relay them. I have my own complaints, and relay those as well. Some of these complaints have all pointed in similar directions.

My hands are tied on what I can say publicly, since so many comments are made in private emails that people object to being made public. And I know (from experience) that there are detractors out there who will straight out accuse me of lying. I've been avoiding saying anything because of this constant accusation, but I've decided to just put the info out there. I figure:

  • People who want to believe everything I do is malicious won't care if I have evidence anyway
  • People who are open to the possibility that I'm not evil will hopefully take my statements at face value

One last foreword: I used to very openly discuss my thoughts on architecture and ecosystem development. I believe it's the only real way to build an open source community. When tensions got their highest in the Stack-vs-cabal days, many people rebelled against this public broadcast methodology, and I've switched to quieter communication channels. I think this is unfortunate, and I'd much rather talk openly and loudly about ecosystem plans and let people have easy ways of input. I object strongly to the mentality of discussing everything behind closed doors. We'll see if open discussions can resume at some point.

What's the fork?

It seems clear to me now that the vast majority of discussion on SLURP has nothing to do with SLURP itself, but with its comments about forking. I really do wish that the authors had been willing to speak to that publicly if they were going to use the term fork in the document. I will speak to what I know about forking in the Stackage and Stack worlds. We'll have to leave it to the authors to speak for themselves as to whether my words here reflect what they'd intended.

The term "fork" here is definitely not being used in its most literal sense of "taking a software project, hosting the source code elsewhere, then continuing development under a different name" (my made up definition). It's referring to a more general split. Stack is called by many a fork of cabal-install, for example, even though they share no code (they share underlying libraries, like Cabal, of course).

Since everyone is most fixated on this point, let me state it clearly: I have been involved in absolutely 0 conversations where anyone wanted to host a direct competitor to Hackage. At all. No one I know wants to do this. I don't want to do this. Stackage and Stack today feed from Hackage, and no one I know wants to change that. No one I know wants to try to take over control of Hackage, for that matter.

When "fork" of Hackage is mentioned, that seems like the most logical conclusion to draw. I can guarantee that it's not the case.

Now let me address some concrete pain points that may lead to some kind of "fork."

Hackage Revisions

Many people are very outspoken about their dislike for Hackage Revisions. I dislike Hackage Revisions. I have more reason than most to dislike them: I've invested weeks to months of my life making changes to multiple tools to support revisions. I could go through the gory history of this, but it's not worth it: it would just be a programmer's war stories session. So let's turn to today.

With Stack 1.6, I finally got all of the pieces in place to fully support revision pinnings. Stackage has already had revision pinning for a long time. Stackage has the ability to list some packages as ignoring revisions.

If you ask me today, I will still say revisions are a bad idea, they should be disabled, and better solutions to the dependency resolution problem implemented (I've discussed those at length in the past). At the same time: the cost is now sunk. I still worry about the fact that users do not, in fact, pin their extra-deps to specific revisions, and that the rules for revisions on Hackage are far too lax. These a real concerns that I care about, but also not the top of my personal priority list.

Others, by the way, feel differently. I know many individuals who are offended at the thought of a Hackage Trustee forcibly editing their cabal files. I don't disagree with them per se, but I'm also not as passionate about this topic. In conversations with community leaders, I've made this distinction very clear (at least, I've tried to make it clear).

My biggest remaining concern about revisions is the social implication they carry. Namely: the idea that someone else is responsible for the stability of your build. I've mentioned many times that I believe a huge source of our social tension is a world where you can complain to an upstream developer because your build suddenly stopped working. That's a recipe for disaster, and is a fundamental flaw in the PVP+dependency solving world. We need tooling that focuses instead on fixed build plans. I've advocated for this for years, and ultimately created Stack largely due to inability to get traction upstream.

In sum: will revisions lead to anything of a fork? No.

Curation

A few weeks ago I tweeted:

The original design of Stackage followed a standard Linux distribution model directly. Hackage was our upstream, we maintained a set of patches to avoid massive version bound disruption, and very occasionally (if at all, I honestly don't remember) edited source files to fix bugs.

In 2014, when I discussed the plans for incorporating Stackage into cabal and the Haskell Platform (code named GPS Haskell, and which never got off the ground), the cabal, Hackage, and HP maintainers required that Stackage not maintain any local modifications. I removed that functionality, and that's the world we've been in since.

Adding that back is on the table. I'll explain why in a second. This could be considered a fork, and some may call it a soft fork. It's honestly not a feature I want to add back to Stackage, since maintaining patch sets is a lot of work. But many communities need to do it. As I understand it, Nix does it as well. So if it's a fork, it's a fork we already have widely in our ecosystem.

One "nice to have" reason for adding in this curation is to work around packages which are slow to upgrade to newer dependency versions. It can be very frustrating for Stackage package maintainers to have their packages held back because someone else won't relax an upper bound. Curation would let us work around that. I consider this a perk, but not a necessity.

But the more important reason for this is to deal with packages which are causing trouble in the Stackage or Stack world, but are not causing trouble in the cabal-install world. I didn't consider this a real concern until it happened multiple times in the past few months. You can see an example here.

I'm not demanding anything of any authors by making this statement. But here's the reality: I personally end up spending a lot of my own time dealing with these kinds of breakages. My friends and colleagues get sucked into various carry-on tasks, like cutting new emergency point releases. I do not want my life to be spent in a situation where, at a moment's notice, I'll need to dedicate large amounts of time to changing something in Stack to be compliant with something in the Cabal library which should be in a spec, but is instead undocumented.

Hackage already takes great pains to ensure it does not break cabal-install. Many people have probably heard about how the ^>= operator's introduction broke Stack 1.5. What many people didn't hear about is that it also broke cabal-install 1.24. You didn't hear about it, because Hackage implemented a workaround to hide those files from older cabal-install versions. This curation idea is to provide a way for Stackage to work around breakage for Stack, the same way Hackage will work around damage for cabal-install.

And yes: I requested that the same kind of treatment be given to Stack from Hackage. That was met with calls of asking for preferential treatment. Readers can determine what they feel.

In sum: I'm working towards allowing Stackage to apply patches to upstream packages. I don't consider this a fork, but rather curation. Others may choose to label it a fork.

Avoid uploading to Hackage

I'll start with this: my personal preference is to continue uploading all of my packages to Hackage. I have no intention nor desire to stop uploading conduit, yesod, or any of the other 80+ packages I actively maintain to Hackage. That said, not everyone feels the same way.

Today, Stackage is strictly downstream of Hackage. You cannot get a package into Stackage unless it is first uploaded to Hackage. Period, end of story. There seem to be three groups of people pushing towards the ability to change this:

  1. At least some PVP advocates have requested (or demanded) that package authors who will not follow the PVP do not upload their packages to Hackage. This is absolutely contradicted by the official guidelines of Hackage, which I've pointed out many times. Nonetheless, this request/demand has persisted.
  2. Some opposed to the PVP do not want to upload to Hackage, basically because of (1). There have been many tense altercations over adherence to the PVP. People want to avoid this, and the easiest way is if they don't upload to Hackage. I know some people who simply do not release their code to Hackage or Stackage because of this. Others do so begrdugingly. But all of them would like to avoid Hackage for this reason.
  3. Some people feel that, technically, the central repo with manually uploaded tarball model is outdated. They would rather see a workflow based on automated Git-based releases using tags or a release branch. This is not a social dynamic at all, but a desire to explore a different point in the technical space, which Hackage does not support today.

(1) has been a major pain point for me. I've requested changes to the Hackage Trustee guidelines and Hackage rules to clarify that this behavior (private emails demanding people not upload to Hackage, public criticisms on individuals and companies for not following the PVP, etc) should not be allowed. In fact, that request is what ultimately led to SLURP as far as I know. Did I demand a change with a threat to fork? Ehh... if you want to read it that way, OK. Here's my take: I've been told to stop using Hackage, full stop. I requested a change in official policy to guarantee that my usage of Hackage is allowed.

As it stands today, no such change to Hackage policy has taken place. No final decision has been made about how I will respond to people in groups (2) and (3). But as you can see from the sentiments of group (3), the idea of hosting an alternative package repository to Hackage makes no sense. Thus I can again guarantee: the most literal fork of Hackage is something neither I nor anyone I'm speaking with wants.

The other alternative is allowing Stackage to pull packages directly from Git repos, in addition to pulling from Hackage. This is being discussed as a workaround for problem (1) above. I have gone on record in the past, and I'll go on record again now: I would rather not have that situation. I would rather Hackage make it clear that it welcomes everyone to upload its packages, and then the demands I'm receiving to open up Stackage to alternative sources will be less strong (though group (3) still wants to experiment for purely technical reasons).

Am I holding a gun to someone's head? Your call. This is the most honest version of the story I know to tell.

In sum: this is the closest to a potential fork, by allowing Git repos to work as an alternative source to Hackage.

Summary

I've participated in a long, private discussion with multiple people in trying to resolve the issues referenced above. As I said: my preference has always been for public discussions. Given how the SLURP proposal went off, I will stand by my original claim that public discussions are a better method. I'm sorry that the "fork" phrasing scared so many people. To those who were truly terrified I was going to do something nefarious: I'm sorry to keep you waiting two days in an explanation.

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