Replacing CPAN RT
[Update: the CPAN Request Tracker was saved. It’s now run by a new team of volunteers and none of my suggestions below are required.]
Two weeks ago, we learned that the CPAN Request Tracker was closing down early next year. I proposed a plan that CPAN authors could follow to ensure that their users can still find somewhere to report bugs in modules (and, perhaps more importantly, to see what bugs have already been reported in modules).
But that’s only part of the problem. In fact, it’s probably a minor part of the problem. If you’re an active CPAN author, then you probably already knew about the impending closure and had already made plans to deal with it. It’s likely that you had already moved your bug tracking to a new system. At the very least, you now know what the problem is and are considering the best way to deal with it before next March.
The far larger problem is the thousands of distributions that aren’t owned by active CPAN authors. What are we going to do about those?
How big is the problem? Well, the site cpan.rocks displays stats about CPAN. One of the panels on its front page shows a summary of the bugtracker information in CPAN distribution. You’ll see that 24,873 distributions (that’s 66% of them) have no bugtracker information included in their metadata. That’ll be for a number of reasons. Some of them will be distributions that haven’t been updated since alternative bugtrackers were supported by CPAN (originally, it was just assumed that everyone used the CPAN RT); some of them will be because the authors don’t know how to add the required metadata; and some of them (including most of my distributions) are missing it because the author just hasn’t got round to adding it yet. There will, of course, be many more reasons.
Some people will have read the recent news and will be galvanised into doing something about it (I fall firmly into that category) but others (and I’d suggest that it’s a large majority) either won’t hear about the change or won’t care about it. And why should they care? They were generous enough to donate some of their code to CPAN at some point. They don’t have any obligation at all to carry on maintaining it after they’ve lost interest in whatever project led to them writing that software.
Take, for example, Mail-Alias. That was released by someone called Tom Zeltwanger twenty years ago. He released three versions over a period of two months and then stopped. Who knows why. When he last updated the module, the CPAN search engine didn’t support alternative bugtrackers, so he never considered adding one. And that meant that the CPAN page for his module linked to the default bugtracker set up for the distribution on the CPAN RT. In the last fifteen years, four bugs have been reported against that module. But as Tom has moved on, nothing has been done about any of them. There are a lot of modules on CPAN in a similar situation.
But that leaves MetaCPAN (the current CPAN search engine) with a problem. Where does it send people who want to report a bug against an inactive module?
You might think that it doesn’t matter. But I disagree. Maybe I think that Mail::Alias would be the perfect module for a project I’m working on. Even before I start using it, it’s useful to be able to browse any existing bugs to see how they might affect my use of the module. And if someone later comes along and wants to take over maintenance of the module, then it’s useful for them to see any bugs that have been raised during the hiatus when the module was unmaintained.
So, I’m a big fan of having a default bugtracker for CPAN modules – even for ones with inactive authors. Which leads us to the question of where should that be. And I have a suggestion.
A few years ago, Micheal Schwern and Olaf Alders set up Gitpan. It’s an organisation which has a Github repo for every distribution on CPAN. And those repos each have a commit for every release of those distributions. Here, for example, is the repo for Mail-Alias – and you can see the three commits for the three releases I mentioned above.
So I’d like to suggest Gitpan as a suitable place to use as a default bugtracker for CPAN distributions. There are a couple of problems:
- It looks like the auto-population of the commits stopped a few years ago. We’d need to work out how that works and catch up on the recent uploads.
- None of the repos has the issue tracker turned on. But I expect that can be done with a relatively simple program that uses the GitHub API.
Of course, we also have the problem that some people object to using GitHub since it was taken over by Microsoft. But that’s fine, they can just point their bugtracker metadata to their preferred system.
The problem with the CPAN RT was that it needed too much maintenance – and the Perl NOC team is really overworked. Any self-hosted alternative seems likely to have the same problem eventually. So I’m all in favour of using a third-party alternative. And if you’re taking that route, then it makes sense (to me, at least) to use a third-party system that already has all (ok, most) of the repos set up.
I haven’t spoken to Schwern or Olaf about this, so I don’t know if there was some major problem that would stop this plan from working. But I think it’s worth looking at.
Also published on Medium.