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January 13, 2021 06:05 pm

Debian Discusses Vendoring -- Again

Jake Edge, writing at LWN: The problems with "vendoring" in packages -- bundling dependencies rather than getting them from other packages -- seems to crop up frequently these days. We looked at Debian's concerns about packaging Kubernetes and its myriad of Go dependencies back in October. A more recent discussion in that distribution's community looks at another famously dependency-heavy ecosystem: JavaScript libraries from the npm repository. Even C-based ecosystems are not immune to the problem, as we saw with iproute2 and libbpf back in November; the discussion of vendoring seems likely to recur over the coming years. Many application projects, particularly those written in languages like JavaScript, PHP, and Go, tend to have a rather large pile of dependencies. These projects typically simply download specific versions of the needed dependencies at build time. This works well for fast-moving projects using collections of fast-moving libraries and frameworks, but it works rather less well for traditional Linux distributions. So distribution projects have been trying to figure out how best to incorporate these types of applications. This time around, Raphael Hertzog raised the issue with regard to the Greenbone Security Assistant (gsa), which provides a web front-end to the OpenVAS vulnerability scanner (which is now known as Greenbone Vulnerability Management or gvm). "the version currently in Debian no longer works with the latest gvm so we have to update it to the latest upstream release... but the latest upstream release has significant changes, in particular it now relies on yarn or npm from the node ecosystem to download all the node modules that it needs (and there are many of them, and there's no way that we will package them individually). The Debian policy forbids download during the build so we can't run the upstream build system as is." Hertzog suggested three possible solutions: collecting all of the dependencies into the Debian source package (though there would be problems creating the copyright file), moving the package to the contrib repository and adding a post-install step to download the dependencies, or removing gsa from Debian entirely. He is working on updating gsa as part of his work on Kali Linux, which is a Debian derivative that is focused on penetration testing and security auditing. Kali Linux does not have the same restrictions on downloading during builds that Debian has, so the Kali gsa package can simply use the upstream build process. He would prefer to keep gsa in Debian, "but there's only so much busy-work that I'm willing to do to achieve this goal". He wondered if it made more sense for Debian to consider relaxing its requirements. But Jonas Smedegaard offered another possible approach: analyzing what packages are needed by gsa and then either using existing Debian packages for those dependencies or creating new ones for those that are not available. Hertzog was convinced that wouldn't be done, but Smedegaard said that the JavaScript team is already working on that process for multiple projects.

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