Issues with oudated ports / GitHub

Marcel Bischoff marcel at
Fri Oct 7 08:23:26 PDT 2016

On 16/10/06, Rainer Müller wrote:
>Hello Marcel,
>On 2016-10-06 19:12, Marcel Bischoff wrote:
>> I was advised that I should ask my questions and raise my issues here.
>> I'm currently considering dropping the use of MacPorts altogether as
>> this projects' track record regarding critical updates of major software
>> tools is rather underwhelming. Furthermore, I'm asking myself what use
>> it is to have appointed port maintainers when numerous updates are not
>> included in a timely manner.
>Thank you for coming here to discuss your issues instead of merely
>turning your back on the project and leaving silently.

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I would really like to help
with the project if I can do something worthwhile and useful.

>> Just today I commented on a ticket that is six weeks old, about an
>> update to nodejs4. Version 4.5.0 was released on 16-Aug-2016, version
>> 4.6.0 on 27-Sep-2016. Version 4 is considered the stable LTS variant,
>> only fixing security issues without introducing new features. This makes
>> timely updates all the more important. If installing software by hand
>> results in more current and more secure software for my development
>> machine, I don't get the point of using MacPorts in the first place.
>Our ports do have maintainers, which are people who expressed interest
>in a port and are interested in keeping them up-to-date. This is meant
>to assign issues with ports to certain people that care about this port
>and would have the most knowledge how to fix it.
>However, we also have a maintainer timeout policy [1] by which updates
>to ports can be committed by any project member after 72 hours of
>submission if the maintainer does not show any reaction. In case a port
>is in a broken state (does not compile at all, typo, etc.) or
>vulnerabilities require a security patch, any project member can
>immediately commit an update.
>In this particular case [2], a ticket was filed with an update request,
>but no patch was attached. With a patch, it would be much easier to
>verify that the build still works and then commit the update.
>The backlog of patches already approved by the maintainer is not that
>long [3] right now. Those still in the queue often already went through
>review, but issues with the update were found that need to be addressed.
>If you think a contribution has stalled, ping the macports-dev list
>about it and request a review. This has proved to work quite well in
>recent time.

I see. My understanding was that a port maintainer would also be
responsible for updating the port in a timely manner, regardless of an
already available patch. So this is not required to be a maintainer?

>> It pains me to say that Homebrew is running circles around MacPorts in
>> the department of current available packages.
>> If time and manpower is the problem, wouldn't it be better to move to a
>> GitHub-based approach like Homebrew does? This way far more people would
>> contribute. It would lower the bar to contributing significantly. I like
>> MacPorts' clean implementation far more than Homebrews'. But if I still
>> cannot install (for example) pandoc because ghc still requires llwm-3.5
>> which does not compile on Sierra: what choice do I have? I need to get
>> stuff done, not tinker with the infrastructure of my working environment
>> for hours on end, just to get it to work. A package manager's sole
>> reason for being is to make the routine task of installing software and
>> updates easier, more reliable and trustworthy.
>After all, MacPorts maintainers are just some people devoting their free
>time to writing Portfiles. Sometimes other stuff in life stops them from
>responding to tickets or addressing certain issues.

This is a given. Open source projects are mostly staffed by unpaid
volunteers. I don't feel entitled to recieve updates, as it's all free.
However, a well-run project does inspire constant commitment to keep it
running smoothly. MacPorts does not *feel* like being very active, quite
inaccessible to new users and there does not appear to be current
information easily accessible. A good example for this would be the move
to GitHub. Some status messages outside of the mailing list or even a
dedicated FAQ would go a long way. Without this mailing list, an
outsider easily gets the impression MacPorts is outdated and running on

>I can understand your frustration about broken ports and missing
>updates. I have that as well.
>If your work depends on these ports, you benefit from the donation of
>time from the people keeping the port up-to-date. The best you can do if
>you encounter a problem is to check if it is a known issue in our Trac.
>Sometimes others already proposed a solution but did not have the time
>to get through with updating the Portfile in multiple iterations testing
>the change. Yes, this is a time-consuming process, but others would
>benefit from your work as well as you benefit form theirs.

Absolutely. The process itself of posting a diff just feels archaic and
like an uphill battle.

>Just switching to GitHub would not change the way port updates are put
>together. In my experience, preparing the patch and attaching it to a
>ticket is only a small fraction of what needs to be done for a port
>update. You will still need to update the Portfile, test the build, etc.

This is obviously the part of the process that I have not seen yet.
Until now I have only submitted Portfile diffs, hoping to get them

>> The way it is now, I repeatedly find myself in need to modify the
>> Portfiles manually, test, check, test again and so on. Or I simply run
>> `brew install pandoc` and — be done. Plus, doing all that manual diffing
>> where just a minor mistake will frustrate me and requires me to attach a
>> completely new diff file quite honestly keeps me from contributing
>> regularly. In 2016 this feels like pulling teeth, not satisfaction or a
>> sense of accomplishment that should accompany working together on free
>> software.
>Even as a non-committer you can easily work from a Subversion checkout
>with local modifications and create the patch from there. Or you keep a
>separate local ports tree that you diff against.

I actually keep a local ports tree with modifications for a couple of
ports that are not updated in a timely manner. Given a smoother
workflow, I'm very interested in updating those for the benefit of all
users. My experience so far is that things move very slow if at all.

>Where exactly do you see the benefit of Git/GitHub for this? I am
>honestly interested in this for the upcoming workflow with GitHub.

I see the benefit mainly in branching and pull requests. The usual
workflow I got used to is the following:

- Fork the project on GitHub.
- Clone the whole project (in this case the ports tree) from a Git
- Create a branch in place.
- Make the edits, test them, then commit them.
- Push the branch to my own fork.
- Create a pull request from this branch against the original

If changes are needed, they can be coordinated on a line-by-line basis
directly within the pull request until everything is in order.

Optionally, an automatic build process can be triggered with any single
commit so that immediate feedback about the state of the commit can be
viewed directly from within said pull request.

Obviously, the feasibility of automatic builds relies heavily of the
available infrastructure. With hundreds of commits per day this could
make automatic build very slow. However, a service like Travis offers
free CI infrastructure for open source projects and provides several Mac
OS X/macOS environments.

>> I'd really like to hear from several sides about the why's and how's
>> regarding MacPorts' current state and what the plan is for the
>> forseeable future. I was told that there is a current discussion
>> underway about a possible move to GitHub. I would throw whatever weight
>> I have behind that move. If you need another helping hand for clearly
>> defined work, let me know. I'll be more than happy to involve myself.
>This not only a discussion, we already decided and announced this [4].
>This is an ongoing process for months now. The port managers worked on
>this before the announcement and evaluated various options for the
>future of the project. We also gathered input from macports-dev from our
>maintainers and eventually reached consensus.
>In the last months, lots of time of some core contributors to MacPorts
>was already invested into the transition to git, to GitHub and of
>everything else away from the closing Mac OS Forge, including our
>buildbots. This is time that they would have otherwise been able to put
>into the ports they maintain, into ticket reviews or base development.

This may explain why things feel like they are moving very slowly. With
major changes behind the scenes it is quite understandable that an
already limited supply of time is stretched even thinner. This is also a
perfect example of why better communication would go a long way. A
prominent note on the website with further information about the current
state of the project, the switch to GitHub and insight into why things
are the way they are would keep everyone in the loop.

If you think, like me, that this kind of information would benefit
users, I'll gladly volunteer to keep those entries current, freeing
resources for the core developers and infrastructure engineers.

>Personally, I am looking forward to switching to Git/GitHub. When we are
>finally through with the move, I hope to be able to focus on ports and
>base again instead of the infrastructure.

Thanks again for taking the time from your no doubt busy schedule to
clear things up for me.


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