[ros-users] [Discourse.ros.org] [Packaging and Release Management] Time for reviewing ROS distro release cycle?

Geoffrey Biggs ros.discourse at gmail.com
Tue Oct 10 06:51:35 UTC 2017

Arch Linux and Gentoo are two well-known distributions that use a rolling release. Both work well. As a Gentoo user, I think the approach works very well for a situation like Linux or ROS where you have lots of packages being updated at disparate times. The packaging infrastructure of Gentoo makes it easy to pin the entire set of installed packages to a chosen state, or specify your own "version" of the distribution if that is needed (e.g. for a bunch of servers you maintain).

Having said that, the infrastructure required to support a rolling release is not trivial and may need a significant investment in time to create.

The approach taken by Debian of having Unstable, Testing and Stable is a very good hybrid between fixed versions of a distribution and a rolling release. Although ROS has the shadow repositories, they are poorly advertised and not as well set up as Debian's testing branch. I think that ROS would do well to follow the Debian model, and even tie it to Debian releases if possible.

Speaking both as a 15-year veteran of using Gentoo and as a developer, I find the rolling release model very useful for development. I can get more recent (or older) versions of packages easily according to my development needs. Because Gentoo's infrastructure is very flexible, I can sometimes have two versions installed simultaneously if I need that for developing more than one piece of software at a time.

Speaking as a developer of software for ROS users, I think that the Debian model is easy to use. I can live in testing and work towards the next release knowing that everything else in the same version of ROS (as it were) will also be in that release, and that all our software will be released and usable together at a relatively known point in the future.

If I were just a ROS user (such as a robot-making company), then I imagine that I would also like the Debian model because I would know that the stable branch I would use in my products has had a significant period of testing and refining before being released and that there are firm policies to prevent breaking packages getting near it.

However all of the above is based on experience with Linux distributions where the development of packages is done significantly differently from ROS - that is, it is usually done by volunteers who are separate from the package maintainers. I think that, as Dirk pointed out when we discussed this at ROSCon, this is an important difference.

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