[swift-build-dev] Proposal: Package Manager Version Pinning

Ankit Aggarwal ankit_aggarwal at apple.com
Fri Oct 14 01:01:14 CDT 2016


We're proposing version pinning feature in Swift Package Manager. The proposal is available here <https://github.com/aciidb0mb3r/swift-evolution/blob/version-pinning/proposals/NNNN-Version-Pinning.md> and also in this email:

Feedback welcomed!



Package Manager Version Pinning
Proposal: SE-XXXX
Author: Daniel Dunbar <https://github.com/ddunbar>, Ankit Aggarwal <https://github.com/aciidb0mb3r>
Review Manager: TBD
Status: Discussion
This is a proposal for adding package manager features to "pin" or "lock" package dependencies to particular versions.

As used in this proposal, version pinning refers to the practice of controlling exactly which specific version of a dependency is selected by the dependency resolution algorithm, independent from the semantic versioning specification. Thus, it is a way of instructing the package manager to select a particular version from among all of the versions of a package which could be chosen while honoring the dependency constraints.


We have chosen to use "pinning" to refer to this feature, over "lockfiles", since the term "lock" is already overloaded between POSIX file locks and locks in concurrent programming.


Our philosophy with regard to pinning is that we actively want to encourage packages to develop against the latest semantically appropriate versions of their dependencies, in order to foster rapid development amongst the ecosystem and strong reliance on the semantic versioning concept. Our design for version pinning is thus intended to be a feature for package authors and users to use in crafting specific workflows, not be a mechanism by which most of the packages in the ecosystem pin themselves to specific versions of each other.

Use Cases

Our proposal is designed to satisfy several different use cases for such a behavior:

Standardizing team workflows

When collaborating on a package, it can be valuable for team members (and continuous integration) to all know they are using the same exact version of dependencies, to avoid "works for me" situations.

This can be particularly important for certain kinds of open source projects which are actively being cloned by new users, and which want to have some measure of control around exactly which available version of a dependency is selected.

Difficult to test packages or dependencies

Complex packages which have dependencies which may be hard to test, or hard to analyze when they break, may choose to maintain careful control over what versions of their upstream dependencies they recommend -- even if conceptually they regularly update those recommendations following the true semantic version specification of the dependency.

Dependency locking w.r.t. deployment

When stabilizing a release for deployment, or building a version of a package for deployment, it is important to be able to lock down the exact versions of dependencies in use, so that the resulting product can be exactly recreated later if necessary.

Proposed solution
We will introduce support for an optional new file Package.pins adjacent to the Package.swift manifest, called the "pins file". We will also introduce a number of new commands (see below) for maintaining the pins file.

This file will record the active version pin information for the package, including data such as the package identifier, the pinned version, and explicit information on the pinned version (e.g., the commit hash/SHA for the resolved tag).

The exact file format is unspecified/implementation defined, however, in practice it will be a JSON data file.

This file may be checked into SCM by the user, so that its effects apply to all users of the package. However, it may also be maintained only locally (e.g., placed in the .gitignore file). We intend to leave it to package authors to decide which use case is best for their project.

In the presence of a Package.pins file, the package manager will respect the pinned dependencies recorded in the file whenever it needs to do dependency resolution (e.g., on the initial checkout or when updating).

The pins file will not override Manifest specified version requirements and it will be an error (with proper diagnostics) if there is a conflict between the pins and the manifest specification.

Detailed Design
We will add a new command pin to swift package tool with following semantics:

$ swift package pin ( [--all] | [<package-name>] [<version>] ) [--message <message>]
The package-name refers to the name of the package as specified in its manifest.

This command pins one or all dependencies. The command which pins a single version can optionally take a specific version to pin to, if unspecified (or with --all) the behaviour is to pin to the current package version in use. Examples: 

$ swift package pin --all - pins all the dependencies.
$ swift package pin Foo - pins Foo at current resolved version.
$ swift package pin Foo 1.2.3 - pins Foo at 1.2.3. The specified version should be valid and resolvable.
The --reason option is an optional argument to document the reason for pinning a dependency. This could be helpful for user to later remember why a dependency was pinned. Example: 

$ swift package pin Foo --reason "The patch updates for Foo are really unstable and need screening."
Dependencies are never automatically pinned, pinning is only ever taken as a result of an explicit user action.

We will add a new command unpin:

$ swift package unpin ( [--all] | [<package-name>] )
This is the counterpart to the pin command, and unpins one or all packages.

We will fetch and resolve the dependencies when running the pin commands, in case we don't have the complete dependency graph yet.

We will extend the workflow for update to honour version pinning, that is, it will only update packages which are unpinned, and it will only update to versions which can satisfy the existing pins. The update command will, however, also take an optional argument --repin:

$ swift package update [--repin]
Update command errors if there are no unpinned packages which can be updated.

Otherwise, the behaviour is to update all unpinned packages to the latest possible versions which can be resolved while respecting the existing pins.

The [--repin] argument can be used to lift the version pinning restrictions. In this case, the behaviour is that all packages are updated, and packages which were previously pinned are then repinned to the latest resolved versions.

The update and checkout will both emit logs, notifying the user that pinning is in effect.

The swift package show-dependencies subcommand will be updated to indicate if a dependency is pinned.

As a future extension, we anticipate using the SHA information recorded in a pins file as a security feature, to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks on parts of the package graph.

Impact on existing code
There will be change in the behaviours of swift build and swift package update in presence of the pins file, as noted in the proposal however the existing package will continue to build without any modifications.

Alternative considered
We considered making the pinning behavior default on running swift build, however we think that pinning by default is likely to make the package graph more constrained than it should be. It drives the user away from taking full advantage of semantic versioning. We think it will be good for the package ecosystem if such a restriction is not the default behavior and that this design will lead to faster discovery of bugs and fixes in the upstream.

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