Post: PureScript package management explained


#1

I tweeted the other day that I wrote about how PureScript package management works: https://twitter.com/jusrin00/status/1091725568415010817

Anywhere, here it is inlined if you don’t want to follow the link:


In this post, I will explain how the PureScript package management solutions work and why they exist.

Introduction

Package management solutions in PureScript are much more lightweight than what most people are used to, in that they all operate in roughly the same way: glorified Git fetch. This actually works because of two main factors:

  • There are no special install hooks.

If you use npm, you are almost certainly installing packages that require installation hooks. These often end up with you downloading pre-compiled binaries for your platform or compiling some C++ that hooks into V8. PureScript dependencies don’t ever have any hooks performed.

  • You source all of your dependencies’ source files to the compiler

This is not very much of a problem in PureScript since our compiler is decently fast enough, considering the amount of work done. A compiler that does less work should always be faster, so there’s no surprises if other languages have faster or slower compilers. This is still an active area of the compiler’s development, but it doesn’t really matter for users.

So does this mean you don’t actually need a package manager? Pretty much. If you wanted, you could have a text file of links to tarballs to be extracted to a directory, and that would work.

Psc-Package

Psc-Package works by using package sets to install packages. What is a package set? We have written about this here: https://psc-package.readthedocs.io/en/latest/intro.html#what-is-a-package-set

In short, it is a Git repository separate of the Psc-Package repository, which contains some packages.json of packages at specific versions. This packages.json is the actual package set.

This is a set because there is only one entry of a package at a given version. There is no such thing as having packages at multiple versions, because you would then be compiling with duplicate definitions of a given module. To do so would be to run into the “Dreaded Diamond Dependency Problem” https://www.well-typed.com/blog/2008/04/the-dreaded-diamond-dependency-problem/. You can read more about why PureScript dependencies are installed in a flat matter here: https://harry.garrood.me/blog/purescript-why-bower/

Of course, people often opt to using the “default” package set from https://github.com/purescript/package-sets/. But you may find that this does not contain packages you want or does not have some updates that you would like for it to have. In many cases, you may choose to use my package set instead: https://github.com/justinwoo/spacchetti

Spacchetti

Spacchetti is a project that came about in June 2018, to solve “how can package sets be made easier to maintain and edit?” I started putting this together because of a number of reasons:

  1. Editing a giant JSON file is not very fun.
  2. I want to combine information from multiple different “groups”, so that I can separate and then merge packages from various different users/organizations.
  3. I want to be able to override existing package definitions easily and programmatically, with some typed tool.

This is why Spacchetti came about using Dhall. You can read more about Spacchetti on the docs page: https://spacchetti.readthedocs.io/

I also wrote about this previously: https://qiita.com/kimagure/items/c419ba740ac134a837a2

Spago

So Psc-Package has one obvious problem: you cannot programmatically prepare your package set. This is mostly solved by Spacchetti, but Psc-Package cannot consume the Dhall package set by itself.

Thus, we have this “Spago” tool that was born out of a CLI originally built for using Spacchetti with Psc-Package, into what can essentially replace both Psc-Package and Pulp. You can almost think of this project as Stack, but without the YAML mess.

There is a lot of information written by Fabrizio in the README of the project: https://github.com/spacchetti/spago

Bower

Traditional project management with version resolution conflict problems. I don’t use this other than to manage dependencies for libraries.

Please read Harry’s post about why PureScript libraries and projects might use Bower: https://harry.garrood.me/blog/purescript-why-bower/

I do not use Bower to manage dependencies for projects.

Conclusion

There is no real conclusion to this post which is just an information dump. If you want active support, use Spago. If you want to use some lightweight solutions and really like DIY, then use either Psc-Package or Spago. If you really don’t care about anything I’ve written here and you’re okay with using unpopular technology, use Bower.

If you still don’t know what to do, start from here: https://github.com/justinwoo/spacchetti-react-basic-starter


#2

Thanks, very useful. Small nit: The bower ehm, dislike, could be more factual: “If you really like using deprecated technology, use bower” (deprecated instead of unpopular).
What I like least about bower is doing a fresh install of it, and getting a big deprecation message. https://bower.io has a deprecation warning on top (‘use another package manager’), and the blog also has plenty suggestions to change.


#3

It’s not like Bower doesn’t still get updates and maintenance as needed though. The “deprecation” notice is unfortunate, but isn’t really a result of technical problems but social ones.


#4

Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that.


#5

Is there a separate tool/manifest description that could be used to install a project’s non-PureScript (transitive) dependencies? I imagine it’ll be necessary for that non-PS dependency to have dependencies and build steps of its own, so the tool which brings it into a PS project will need to be able to resolve those dependencies and built the project, I guess. This naturally leads to “just use that dependency’s prescribed package manager and build tool”, which feels awkward to answer.


#6

I think this is inevitable though. Many JS packages now require npm and its various installation hooks to work at all. Otherwise one might also start using Nix to manage some other dependencies, to various results.


#7

I’ve been thinking about this problem in the context of making Spago a one-stop shop for installing all your dependencies and have the stuff just work. This is hard though, and I think in the end we might have to face the fact that we’re “downstream” from the npm ecosystem.

Example scenario: let’s say that I make a purescript-node-foobar and add it to Spacchetti. This package will need foobar-0.4.5 from npm in order to run at all.
Now I import purescript-node-foobar in my project, and do stuff, and now I want to build. I’ll be forced to add a package.json to my project, and add a foobar-4.5 there (that is: it will need to sync with the version needed by my dependency).

This is kind of bad, because it is possible that different packages in the package set will depend on different versions of the same npm package…

I don’t know if we should try to fix this at all, and accept that this situation might happen and settle on the “just use npm and parcel to wrap spago”, or if we should try to contain the problem in some way.
A way we could take this into account (in Spago/Spacchetti at least) would be to:

  • add a “npm-package-set” to Spacchetti, in which we fix a list of versions of whatever npm packages
  • add “npm-dependencies” to the packages in the Spacchetti set, so they can specify what they depend on
  • then run npm install for all the transitive dependencies from npm that we gather from the npm-package-set when doing a spago install

Upsides of this approach:

  • you don’t need to bother with a package.json or external tools
  • above problem of installing transitive dependencies is solved
  • Spago would be able to provide something along the lines of pulp browserify (spago parcel?)

Downsides:

  • hardcoding npm (but I cannot see the js ecosystem getting off npm anytime soon)
  • need to curate more package-sets

#8

FWIW, I like that it’s difficult to use npm libraries. It makes it obvious what is just wrapping FFI libraries, which incentivizes authors to not do that.


#9

Relevant prior discussion on FFI code’s dependency resolution: https://github.com/purescript/purescript/issues/1850


#10

Yeah, I slept on this and I read about all the previous discussions I could find in the compiler issue tracker.
In the end it looks like it’s a problem not worth solving, just even for the fact of being backend-agnostic in PS-land. So as far as Spago goes, I’ll add a notice about this in the readme, and that’s it.