[nSLUG] Distributions and Dependencies

gnwiii at gmail.com gnwiii at gmail.com
Fri Feb 24 15:33:25 AST 2006

On 2/24/06, Donald Teed <donald.teed at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi,
>  I was going to make a comment about dependancies and
>  package management, but after thinking about it, I suspect
>  that perhaps this is an area that has matured in Linux,
>  across all distributions.

There is still a long way to go.  I'm trying to support TeX for people
involved with international scientific organizations.  You have people
scattered around the globe with wildly different site policies.   On
Windows, there is a distro (MikTeX) that has it's own package manager
that is being ported to linux.  The TeX User's Groups have put
together a simple package manager.   There are debian packages for TeX
Live, and people are packaging updates that don't require changes to
the binaries in rpm form.   What typically happens is that author A
generates a report and passes the .tex file to author B, who can't get
it to compile properly on his system.   Often it is relatively easy to
identify the problem -- an old version of some macro file lives on
author B's system.  The problem is that there is no reliable way for
the average author to update their system without breakage.  Often a
change to one file requires changes to several more, so it is all to
easy to break a system if you don't either RTFM or use a package

>  I suspect that anyone's view of what is robust
>  is likely coloured favourably by the distros they have
>  used in the last 3 years versus the ones they have avoided
>  in the last 3 years but had used prior to that.
>  Gentoo is partly exempt from that trend, because they don't
>  understand or give importance to QA and probably never will.
>  Debian is an example someone may have been stung
>  by once in the past, and it is remarkably good now.

Yes, although I'm not ready to trust it with a really big step like
the transition to udev.   Also, in the case of TeX, the debian rules
force the packagers to but the binaries in /usr/bin and configuration
files in the debian places.  The original packages were designed to
live in standalone trees that could be shared across multiple
platforms (using bin/<arch-sys> directories) just by adding one
directory to the PATH variable (all the configuration is stored
relative to the bin directory).
When trying to debug problems, this makes is easy to have several
different configurations for testing, to run tests on new versions
before making the tree widely available, etc.

The debian policies protect you from the problems with rpm versioning
when several people package the same thing in slightly different ways,
but the downside is that they can limit your flexibility.  OTOH, in
the case of TeX, you can install
a self-contained tree independently of debian's package management
without messing things up.

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia


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