What’s wrong with release notifications?

Distributions of the like of Gentoo have one huge issue with users: they all demand their updates the same moment they are released. This is why many people, including me, have ranted before about the meme of 0day bumps. Generally speaking, we tend to know about the new release of a package we maintain, because we follow, tightly or loosely the development. Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that the new release passes into background for whatever reason, and the result is, well, a not bumped package. Note here: it’s very well possible that some developer will forget to bump his own (upstream) package; shit happens sometimes.

Most of the time, to solve this kind of problem we can use one of the many tools at our disposal to identify release notifications… unfortunately this is not all that feasible nowadays: it was better and it definitely got worse in the past months! Given that most upstream barely have a release publishing procedure, most of us preferred notifications that are not “actively handled” by the developers, but rather than happen as a by-product of the release itself: this way even sloppier release had their notification sent out.

The biggest provider of by-product release notifications was, once upon a time, SourceForge — I say “once upon a time” because they stopped that. While I can understand that a lot of the services offered by SF were redundant, and that most projects ended up setting up better, if less integrated, software anyway (such as phpBB, Mantis – as Bugzilla wouldn’t work, or various Wikis), and I can appreciate that the old File Release System was definitely overcomplex, I can’t see why they stopped allowing to subscribe to notifications. The email that they sent are now loosely replaced by the RSS feed of released files… the problem is that the feed is huge (as it lists all the files ever released for a project) and not sorted chronologically. Sure there is still freshmeat but to have notifications working there you’re asking the upstream maintainer to explicitly remember bumping the version in a different website, and that’s a bit too much, for most people.

You’d expect that other sites that took the place of SourceForge got better at handling this things, wouldn’t you? But that’s definitely not true. Strangely enough, the good example here seem to come from the Ruby community (I say “strangely enough” because you might remember that I ranted so much about missing practises, mandatory procedures and metadata and so on.

First of all, Rubyforge still keeps release notifications by mail (good!), and second, kudos to gemcutter that allows for subscribing to a (semi-)private RSS feed with the new release of just a subset of all the gems released (the Gentoo Ruby team has a common one where the gems present in portage are subscribed — if I remember to add them, that is). It works, sorta. It still requires for you to poll something, although at the end you’re switching the mail reader for the feed reader, so it’s not much of a change. The one problem with that is that you end up receiving a bit more noise than I’d like, as gems that are available in binary form for Windows and Java are listed more than once after an update. But it’s good that it actually is integrated with the gem release procedure.

On the other hand, excluding all the packages that have no hosting facility included at all (which sometimes, such as sudo’s case, have better announcement systems), there are two sites that I count as major screw up, with different degrees: Google Code and Launchpad. The former, is just partly screwed: starring a project does not subscribe to updates, but at least it has a feed of all the files released by the project. What I find definitely strange is that there is no integrated “Subscribe in Google Reader” that would have been definitely more friendly.

Launchpad, instead looks much worse. I recently picked up co-maintainership of a trio of projects and not only there is no email notification, there is no feed of either releases or files! Which means that the only way to find whether a project made a new release is to check the homepage of them. Yuppie. I opened a bug for that on launchpad, but I now lost the link: it was duped against something else, and is no longer visible through launchpad’s own interface, which is, in my book, yet another failure.

Why is it so difficult that packagers need the notifications? This gets even more silly considering that I’m sure the main argument against notification is going to be ”but users won’t have to care, as the package will be available on their distribution”.

4 thoughts on “What’s wrong with release notifications?

  1. for projects hosted at places without feeds for releases (or files) i subscribe to their commit logs instead. it’s more noise but still more convenient than checking their website repeatedly or subscribing to a not-annoucements-only mailing list.

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  2. I really miss the old appwatch site. It was automated and kept track of new released by monitoring ftp sites, news releases, etc. zdnet bought them out about a decade ago and shut them down about a year later. I started working on a replacement way back then, but got distracted by life and never really got much further than the design phase.

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