Over lunch, my brain is popping up questions of back-burnered personal tasks. The peril of a software development career is continuous return to build systems, packaging, and best practices for distributing software. Over the years, I’ve seen and maintained a number of Linux packages, build systems, embedded distributions, and containers.
With the newer releases of Ubuntu, Canonical has been heavily pushing their “snap” standard – which, as a user, I find less than desirable. The big complaint is weird breakage on basic things – like clicking a link in another application opening in a new browser instance (and worse, without my privacy extensions enabled!).
In my toy distribution, I really wanted to take an approach of absolute minimalism and experiment with containerized setup of applications – up to and including the base system layer.
In the windows world, applications tend to rely on a system installed C runtime (Visual Studio Redistributable) and media library (DirectX). This system provides a strong “base layer” but the application then must ship all the other libraries or static link them to the executable. While I fault Microsoft with many things, the reality is that their approach to system backward compatibility and best practices for shipping apps has resulted in easy installation of programs from 10+ years ago. Indeed, today I have software from even earlier (early 2000s) that installs today and works on Windows. The same can not be easily said for Linux.
I believe Flatpak to be superior from my user experience point of view – but the standard is not as well supported by major players, and integration is “subpar”. Moreso, flatpak seems to have a very GNOME/desktop centric focus.
I’m hoping that the base levels of flatpak can provide a solid foundation. My main hangup at present is that the technology feels a bit limited when attempting to gather dependencies for a C/C++ application that don’t fit within the general idea of the system SDK. The “dependency soup” managed by RPM and DPKG very quickly appears and becomes difficult to manage without a nice / proper system root. From a management aspect- I really am hoping for some sort of system that provides extensive configuration and artifact management to insure complete reproducability of system configurations.
I’m hopeful that something like Yocto could provide a means around this, but I’m not sure I’m feeling it. I’m starting to consider some sort of new middle-ware layer necessary, but there’s not an amount of development effort I’d like to spend there.
Going forward, the big questions are – is flatpak suitable for building a distribution? How can we ‘cleanup’ the dependency soup requirements for building packages?