RPM -- plans, goals, etc.

Max Spevack mspevack at redhat.com
Thu Dec 14 17:42:03 UTC 2006

Hash: SHA1

There has been a lot of discussion in the past few months about RPM -- its 
present state, its future plans, and its leadership team.  In particular, 
the Fedora Project has received numerous requests asking us, "what are you 
guys doing about RPM?"

Here is our answer, in a few words.  Then if you want more, you can read 
the rest of this note:

The Fedora Project is leading the creation of a new community around RPM. 
One in which the leaders can come from Fedora, from Red Hat, from Novell, 
from Mandriva, or from anywhere.  Job #1 is to take the current RPM 
codebase and clean it up, and in doing so work with all the other people 
and groups who rely on RPM to build a first-rate upstream project.


The Fedora Board has spoken with Fedora stakeholders both inside and 
outside Red Hat, developers/maintainers in Novell, and other parties who 
rely on RPM as the foundation for their distributions.  We wanted to make 
sure those parties agreed that this was the right thing to do for their 
respective communities. We touched base with some of these people at the 
recent LSB conference, and the overwhelming community opinion there was in 
favor of what we are outlining here.

At the most fundamental level, we begin with two points:

(1) RPM is an important piece of technology, not just for Fedora or for 
Red Hat, but for many other distributions and users. Its stability and 
maintenance are critical.

(2) Red Hat realizes the need to build a strong community of contributors 
around RPM, that the upstream of RPM needs to be handled in a manner which 
allows contributors and developers to have maximum freedom in their 
modifications, and that those modifications can be easily shared across 

Expanding on that:

(3) RPM, as a file format, is good at what it does and capable of being 
the core of a Linux distribution.  From the Fedora perspective, we are not 
particularly interested in making any grand deviations from it at this 

(4) RPM, as an application, has a fairly mature feature set that we are 
very interested in stabilizing and bug fixing. Furthermore, we want to 
make sure that RPM is a stable and simplified base for the building of 
other technologies on top of it.  Down the road, we might be interested in 
exploring a variety of new features, but we don't believe that should be 
the initial focus of our efforts.

Ultimately, the Fedora Project and Red Hat are committed to seeing RPM be 
as healthy and vibrant as many other large open source projects -- GNOME, 
Xorg, etc -- consumed and contributed to by many companies, users, 
distributions, and developers. Our overall goal for RPM is to ensure that 
is has consistency, reliability, and stability.

We switch now to a handy Q&A format:

Q -- So what, specifically, are you doing with RPM?  And where is the work 
going to happen?

We have set up a new repository, wiki, and webspace -- external to any 
distribution or company -- for RPM, to which anyone can contribute. A 
reboot of the upstream, if you will.  We don't expect that everyone will 
be running the same version of RPM, or run with the same patches, but we'd 
like for there to be a single place that everyone can refer to as 
upstream, and be able to contribute patches.

There is already a contributor base that exists around RPM -- engineers 
within Red Hat, Novell, Mandriva, and other organizations. We don't want 
to leave those people behind -- we want to do a better job of 
collaborating and accepting their work.

Everything will live at rpm.org, with a relaunched wiki, code repository, 
and mailing lists.  As for rpm.org itself, its hosting and maintainership 
is outside of Red Hat, and is being generously provided by Duke 

Q -- How is that different from what currently exists?

What we're doing here is collecting together everyone who has a stake in 
the future of RPM and building a healthy community around it.  This 
involves major bug fixing, development work, performance work and making 
regular, predictable releases.  As it stands today, we don't have these 
things. This is a good first step.  Could you call it a fork?  Maybe. But 
we're doing it because we think it's the right thing to do, for 
distributions all the way down to the individual users of RPM.

Q -- Where is all this stuff going to happen?  What's the public mailing 
list and wiki?  What *EXACTLY* is Fedora or Red Hat going to do?

Short answer -- http://rpm.org

Over the past few years, engineers from Red Hat and other companies, as 
well as a community of independent contributors, have been working on and 
maintaining their own versions of RPM -- sometimes sharing patches, 
sometimes not.  It is important that these contributions move through an 
upstream process like many other projects do, in order to maintain a 
healthy community and proper checks and balances.

To that end, Red Hat is adding an additional engineer that works full time 
on upstream issues including patch reviews, community development, etc. 
Additionally other Red Hat engineers will contribute to RPM like any other 
open source project -- working on the release-engineering parts of RPM 
such as rpmbuild, and doing maintenance work.

Additionally, here are some of our initial goals:

* Give RPM a full technical review, based off of RPM 4.4.2. This is the 
common base for Novell and Red Hat.  Look what vendors have on top of 
4.4.2 and work towards a shared base. Figure out which pieces or code 
paths are unnecessary, poorly implemented, or receive little to no use, 
and either clean them up or clear them out.  Make RPM simpler.

There's a lot of folks out there who are using RPM, including the various 
Red Hat/Fedora based distros, Suse, and Mandriva, just to name a few. 
Simplificaion and focus on the parts of RPM that are core to these 
stakeholders is a good way to start.

* In turn, this gives us a chance to do a better job with bug fixes. 
Squashing bugs that already exist, or closing out bugs that are related to 
parts of RPM that are superfluous.

* Give RPM the stability that it needs to continue to be the cornerstone 
of many distributions.

* Enhance the rpm-python bindings, which includes understanding and 
gathering together the work that already exists in this area.

Most importantly, this work will be done in the community, fully 
transparent with the help of the community and RPM stakeholders outside of 
Red Hat or Fedora.  This is all about incremental steps, not blowing 
everything away and starting from scratch.

Q -- When is all of this happening?

Starting now.  Planning and review happening over the next 3-6 months, at 
rpm.org.  Implementation happening appropriately alongside that planning, 
as in most any free software project. Initially, Paul Nasrat is the 
primary developer/maintainer dedicated to RPM from Red Hat.  At the same 
time, we want to make sure that leadership has a chance to develop and 
emerge, rather than be mandated.

Q -- How did we end up here?

This is the part of the email in which Red Hat takes some accountability 
for the current situation:

* Several years ago, the maintainer of RPM worked for Red Hat. When he 
left, he continued his own work on RPM, which he acknowledges is a fork. 
And that's fine -- we support anyone's right to fork, since forking is one 
of the paths to innovation in open source software.

* Red Hat didn't commit the necessary resources to RPM following that 

* RPM, without a strong upstream, has languished as a result.

* The community has (rightfully) been demanding that the situation be 
fixed, and this is the first step in that effort.

- -- 
Max Spevack
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