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Metacello - Why do you need a package management system
Last updated at 8:59 pm UTC on 2 September 2019
Copied from https://code.google.com/archive/p/metacello/wikis/WhyAPackageManagementSystem.wiki.

from an email by Torsten Bergmann


By using Metacello a projects author can make specific versions/package configurations available to others and afterwards commit new code to the repo without affection others.

Without Metacello (or a comparable package management system) we will NEVER SCALE projects or allow that they develop independent from each other without breaking each other! Especially when they are managed outside of the image - and I think that's our goal: a small kernel image and external projects/packages that could be loaded (and that fit together to work and could be based on another).

Metacello does the minimal thing to manage that and even if it may require more work (especially on tools) it does a fairly good job already. You just have to learn about it and about modularity.


Think of the following scenario:

There is a project "MyDatabaseDriver" done by Mr. Bean. He creates two Monticello packages:

Since his initial implementation (even after three commits for the core) seems good enough, he will create a first milestone/version for others to use.

He could have written an InstallScript ... but he knows about the advantages of a package management system and therefore takes the 5 minutes tutorial to learn about Metacello.

He creates a class "ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver" since he learned that Metacello uses a simple class with methods to describe the load order and version of the packages that fit together. (Java's Maven for instance uses XML files, so called POM's).

First Mr. Bean describes a baseline, which is nothing then the structure and dependencies (load order) of the packages.

In our Metacello example this is simple done by defining a method on the projects configuration class.

It is ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver):

 baseline10: spec 
 spec for: #common do: [ spec blessing: #baseline; 
                              repository: 'http://www.squeaksource.com/MyDatabaseDriver'; 
                        spec package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core'. 
                        spec package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests' with: [spec requires: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core'].

(Side Note: you could chain any message to spec to be more compact here - but this example is intended for readability)

Anything Mr Bean has done in his first baseline method is to describe in a declarative way that he has two packages in an own repository - where the second one (the tests) require the actual code to run. So the test code is dependent on the code he tests.

He also desribes the version of these Monticello packages that are know to work together in a second method to define a first milestone (also "Metacello version 1.0" or "version 1.0 of the MyDatabaseDriver project"):

 version10: spec

   spec for: #common do: [
     spec blessing: #release.
     spec author: 'Mr. Bean'.
     spec description: 'First release 1.0 of this project '.
                 package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-bean.3';
                 package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests-bean.1';

Since he wanted to share it he put his new configuration class "ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver" in a Monticello package with the same name and uploads it to "http://squeaksource.com/MetacelloRepository"

He now announces it on the developer list and tell other to load the project by getting the package (either manual, using Gofer or Installer) and then evaluating:

 (ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver project version: '1.0') load 
Hey - cool. Another developer (Mr. Frog) responded friendly on the mailinglist, told Mr. Bean that he found a bug and wanted to help with the project since he also knows how to fix this bug. He was added as a new developer on http://www.squeaksource.com/MyDatabaseDriver by Mr. Bean and he created two new versions of the Monticello packages:

Time to share this new milestone again, so Mr. Bean adapted the "ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver" with a new method for the new version of the whole project 1.1:

 version11: spec

 spec for: #common do: [
     spec blessing: #release.
     spec author: 'Mr. Bean'.
     spec description: 'New release 1.1 of this project done with the Help of Mr. Frog'.
                 package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-frog.4';
         package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests-frog.2';

``` Since the load order has'nt changed he just has to tell which new Monticello packages make up the new release.

He uploaded this change to Squeaksource and anyone is able to load the new version with the fix: (ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver project version: '1.1') load Cool. But even the old configuration 1.0 is still loadable (if one requires it):
 (ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver project version: '1.0') load
No magic - but very very helpful! Think of a company who created an image for a customer based on the initial version 1.0 of the driver. If they have to rebuild this image exactly the same as it was - no problem with a package management system they are able to load version 1.0 even after some years.

OK - let's go ahead. Mr. Bean and Mr. Frog are now continue to work and since the core is growing they want to split this package. They also use a database which allows for standard SQL like stuff as well as database specific stuff. Another reason to split the core.

So they split the "Core" package into a "Core-SQL" and "Core-NonStandard", and end up with three packages now:

Time for them to make a new new milestone 1.2 for the project. With the new packages they have to define a new baseline which is easily done:
 baseline12: spec 
 spec for: #common do: [ spec blessing: #baseline; 
repository: 'http://www.squeaksource.com/MyDatabaseDriver';
spec package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-SQL'.
spec package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-NonStandard'.
spec package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests'
with: [spec requires: #('MyDatabaseDriver-Core-SQL' 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-NonStandard')].

Note that the test package is not splitted - and now require both new core packages as prerequisite.

And a new version for the project (now based on the second baseline) is made accordingly:

 version12: spec
 spec for: #common do: [
     spec blessing: #release.
     spec author: 'Mr. Frog'.
     spec description: 'New release 1.2 with improvements and separate standard SQL from database specific'.
                 package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-SQL' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core–SQL-bean.1';
                 package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-NonStandard' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Core-NonStandard-frog.1';
         package: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests' with: 'MyDatabaseDriver-Tests-frog.3';

Again they write a mail to the developer list. From the users point of view nothing really changed to get the new project version:
 (ConfigurationOfMyDatabaseDriver project version: '1.2') load
And again: you still can load the old versions "1.0" and '1.1' using the configuration.

So if have an app with code that still uses version 1.1. of the database driver you are able to do so - if you find the time to adapt your code to all the new changes from Mr. Bean and Mr. Frog you can already switch to version 1.2.

Also note that the old "MyDatabaseDriver-Core-frog.4.mcz" is not removed from the repository so that version 1.0 and 1.1. are still working.


This is only a short introduction of what you can do with Metacello.
As a package management system it allows you to declare/load/share defined points of your development independent from time. It is also a UNIFORM WAY TO EXCHANGE VERSIONS or BASE THE VERSION OF ONE PROJECT ON SPECIFIC VERSIONS OF ANOTHER PROJECT.

If you want to do professional and reproducable development using such a system is essential!

It's also a new way of communication, if you for instance want to know which version of "KomHttpServer" is the latest stable just check out "ConfigurationOfKomHttpServer" in http://squeaksource.com/MetacelloRepository and you will easily find out once you have understood the simple basics of Metacello.

Further reading

If you want to learn more on Metacello just

Or check out the various configurations already available at http://squeaksource.com/MetacelloRepository (start with simple ones like ConfigurationOfVistaCursors, ConfigurationOfScriptManager and then look at ConfigurationOfVMMaker, ConfigurationOfSQLite3, or ConfigurationOfSeaside30.

If you want to see how you can even automate image building of a whole seaside application using Metacello check out http://astares.blogspot.com/2010/01/pharo-10-release-candidate-2-and-image.html

Metacello is not yet complete - but usable. Hope it will evolve - especially in the tools space. Look at Java where you can even visually browse the dependencies and find cycles and conflicts, ...

Sorry for the long post - but I hope I was able to wet your appetite towards modular Smalltalk.

Bye T.