Why upstream Ansible stopped shipping rpms

The upstream Ansible Project used to ship rpms and tarballs on their server, releases.ansible.com. For Ansible-2.10+, they’ve (I’m part of the project although not the originator of this decision) decided not to ship rpms anymore and to push people to use pypi.python.org as the official source of the tarballs. This came up in a recent thread on twitter with a question of whether this meant that Ansible was forgetting who it was meant to serve (sysadmins) as sysadmins want to get their software in their platforms’ native packaging format rather than the language packaging format.

I don’t think this decision, in and of itself, means that.

For tarballs, I’m not sure of the rationale but it doesn’t seem like a problem to me. Most python software packaged in Fedora has pypi as the canonical source of the tarballs.  Pypi serves as a hosting service for the source code rather than the point from which most Fedora users are going to install the software.

The lack of upstream rpms seems to be what triggered a nerve for some people. I was present for those discussions and I think the reasons make a lot of sense for end users.  A few of those reasons:

  • Fedora and EPEL have been building superior rpms since forever. There’s a few reasons that the Fedora and EPEL rpms are better in my mind:
    • They know the distro and the distro users that they’re targeting so they can do more specific things. For instance, they include a dependency on python-jmespath to make a popular filter plugin work out of the box. The upstream rpm did not as python-jmespath is available in EPEL but not in RHEL.
    • The Fedora rpms were able to switch over to Python3 when the distro did while the upstream rpm had to wait while other rpm-based distros caught up (the spec file was shared) and, with no specific roadmap for dropping python2 support, hesitated over whether switching the rpms would inconvenience its users.
    • The upstream version was an automated build. Not to say that all automated builds are always bad, but our build was really geared towards putting our software into an rpm rather than creating a high quality rpm in and of itself. Although we weren’t quite as bad as simply dropping a binary blob onto the filesystem, we did shortchange things like the rpm changelog because that wasn’t necessary to get the build to work.
  • Our rpms weren’t all that popular. We attributed that to most people using the rpms that came with Fedora or EPEL which we thought were much better overall, anyway.
  • It felt like our rpms were confusing the situation for end users. if you were a RHEL or CentOS user, you could get ansible rpms from three places: A Red Hat channel, EPEL, or releases.ansible.com. All three of these sources shipped different rpms. Dependencies (as noted above) were different, the directories that end-users and other packages could install things into were present in some of the rpms and not others, docs might be built or not or not even shipped in some cases. An end user who installed from releases.ansible.com (the least popular of these sources) could be confused as to why certain things didn’t seem to work the way a blog post or article (written by someone with the EPEL rpm) implied it should.

Getting back to the fear that removing rpms from releases.ansible.com was an indication that ansible is forgetting that it is a tool for sysadmins and needs to be shipped in ways that sysadmins will find palatable…. I don’t think that the removal of rpms and tarballs is an indication as the above rationale seems like it will make things better for sysadmins in the end. However, ansible-2.10 is a big realignment of how ansible is developed and shipped and I think those changes are going to have costs for sysadmins [2]_, [3]_. nirik (Kevin Fenzi, the Fedora/EPEL ansible package maintainer) and I have been talking on and off about how the Fedora/EPEL ansible rpm should be adapted to minimize those costs but it is a large change and changes are often both hard in the transition and, after the transition is over, may be better in many areas but worse in some others. Ideas about how we can smooth out the things that are worse while taking advantage of the things that are better is appreciated!

Footnote [2]:

The problems driving upstream to make the major changes that are present in 2.10: https://www.ansible.com/blog/thoughts-on-restructuring-the-ansible-project

Footnote [3]:

A newer document, focused on the implementation of the changes proposed above and how they affect end users: https://github.com/ansible-collections/overview/blob/master/README.rst

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