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Equinox/p2/Proposals/Categories API

< Equinox‎ | p2


After having used p2's provisional API for building p2 related tools, we have found several issues regarding the category management in 3.5. This page is an attempt to describe the issue, propose requirements on a solution, and then a suggested implementation.

What are the problems

Categories are versioned

Versioning of categories is a complication since the categorization escapes the original repository (repo A) where it was declared. When a second repository (repo B) mirrors/aggregates the content, it adopts any categorization as its view of the categorization of its content (unless it always rewrites them with new IDs - i.e. block them from being mirrored). When a new version of a categorization is added in the original repository, and repositories are aggregated A + B to repo C, what is the categorization in C?

Resolution basics must be bypassed when dealing with category IU's. The "use the latest version" idiom no longer apply. The UI tooling have special queries to ensure that the category versions does not get in the way. The same is true for the Buckminster aggregator, and will be true for a vast amount of other applications in the future.

Not even in the only place where the categories are used (the UI) can versions be used. Instead, they just add to the complexity.

The fundamental issue is that versioning of categorization is an odd concept, there is no way for a user to select a particular version of categorization, and even if there was, it would just be very confusing. The categorisation is simply "the respositor's categorization of its content" - it is always current - it is what it is.

Legacy update sites

This is described in Bug 286736 - Legacy repositories are different each time they are read This leads to:

  • In order to understand if categorization has changed, the current categorization has to be compared for content.
  • Since it is not possible to know if the category is originally from a old update site, comparisons are always needed
  • Failure to compare will yield repeated category IU's. One for each time the legacy site is read.
  • Any cache of the repository is always out-of-date the next time it is read.

A Sub-Category is a feature

  • To add to the confusion, a feature that also is a category, is considered a sub-category. This means that the sub-category is appointed by a version range. How does that fit together with the fact that versions don't really apply?
  • This must also mean that not all features can be installed. Or is it the opposite, some categories can be installed?

A Category is an Installable Unit, but is not installed

This leads to:

  • Exceptional logic whenever a category is found in a result.
  • All usage requires the exceptional handling, but the only use case where categories have a role is when presenting a categorized view of what to install to the user.
  • A good example of the confusion created by this is the discrepancy between how things are installed in the UI versus how it is installed using the directory application. The director lacks the exceptional handling. Described here Bug 289380 Install categories same from the director / UI.

Missing Features

The categorization in 3.5 only solves the need to present things to install in a human friendly way.

  • All users of a repository are presented with the same view irrespective of if they are developers or users of a published software.
  • As a consequence, it is not possible to organize "technical" things for technical people
  • Compared with a modern tag-based search system, the current wizard is very limited in what it can do. We need to recognize that P2 can grow very large and that much more human friendly and elaborated search capabilities will become needed.

Requirements on a Solution

  • Separation of concern. Keep the descriptive meta-data used by the engine for installs and updates clean from other concerns (presentation and selection by humans).
  • Enable continous mapping of legacy sites in such a way that they appear stable (as long as they don't change).
  • Don't complicate the task of writing other repository converters so that P2 can access other types of repositories.
  • It should be possible to modify the categorization of IUs in a repository without having to modify the IUs.

Proposed Solution

Treat categorization as a third type of p2 repository information - there is already IU (metadata), and artifacts. The new kind represents un-versioned meta data at the repository level. There is already such metadata captured in properties in the repository itself.

The property mechanism has limitations in its capability to handle more complex information, but could otherwise be used for this purpose. A compromise could be to have a property refer to an artifact (in the artifact repository) that contains the current categorization.

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