August 12, 2003

Hats off to Fedora package manager

- by Joe Barr -
Package management -- the way we install and maintain applications -- is a problem for many Linux users. One of the projects working on the problem is Fedora, a project that wants to be
recognized as "the Debian of Red Hat."

Fedora began life as an independent study project for Warren Togami, a senior majoring
in computer science at
the University of Hawaii who has been involved with Linux since his
high school days. He is one of the founding members of the
Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation, which
he said "does community outreach, free seminars, and helps
public/private schools with Linux services and K12LTSP."

When I asked Togami what his motivation was for starting Fedora, he
explained that last year he had been using the FreshRPMS repository with apt and
thought it would be a good idea to expand it. He asked Matthias Saou of
FreshRPMS if he would like to join with other developers to
grow the number of packages offered. Saou wasn't interested. Togami
then "posted a proposal to the
FreshRPMS list proposing a Debian-like community of volunteer packagers
creating a large repository of add-on and enhancement packages for Red
Hat Linux." Fedora is the result.

Togami is steadfast in his desire to provide high-quality packaging for
RPMs. He also strongly believes that a single repository is a better
technical solution than several co-existing repositories. You can read
his thinking
on those topics on the Fedora site.

Fedora is designed to work only with Red Hat and
Fedora packages. All you need to get started using Fedora is one of the
supported package managers configured to point at the Fedora project
repository. The Fedora site provides RPM downloads for both apt
and yum. It has versions available for Red Hat 8.0, Red Hat 9, and
for severn, the latest (Red Hat 9.0.93) beta.

What exactly does Fedora do for Red Hat users? For one thing, it provides
RPM packages for
applications and tools that Red Hat itself doesn't provide -- Mplayer, for
example, and Wine. For another, all packages are
rigorously tested so users don't fall victim to the problems that can
arise when you mix RPMs from various sources.

Another benefit is that Fedora provides you with the latest version of
the application, not just the one that was current when the version of
Red Hat you're running was released. An indirect benefit is the fact
that Fedora developers have found and fixed bugs in Red Hat's RPM
itself. Togami told me that Jeff Johnson, the official RPM maintainer
at Red Hat, gave the Fedora project a tip of his hat for that work by
creating "an official development fork of RPM hosted and distributed in

One size does not fit all

Wanting to give Fedora a try, I downloaded and installed apt for Red Hat
9. The default mirror in /etc/apt/sources.list is the main repository
at the University of Hawaii; if you are not located in the United
States you might want to choose a different mirror. I also installed
synaptic, the GUI front end for apt which the Fedora project
thoughtfully includes on the same page as apt and yum.

I tried to test Fedora's mettle with Mplayer and all the related Mplayer packages (skins, GUI front end, etc.) in
Fedora's stable repository. That's when I learned a harsh reality: when
Fedora says it is designed for use only with Red Hat and Fedora
packages, it means exactly that and only that.

I am running a Ximian Desktop 2 beta on top of Red Hat 9. When I tried
to install Mplayer, I was advised by apt that I would have to remove a
number of Ximian packages (gnumeric, gnucash, bonobo, and others) in
order to install Mplayer. I stopped there and went no further. The
cross-distribution/multiple-repository blues are exactly what I was
trying to avoid by using Fedora, so it made no sense to me to try to
work through the conflicts between the various Ximian and Red Hat

Clearly, Fedora will not work for everybody. I wasn't willing to give up Ximian
in order to make use of it.

I'd like to see a universal package management solution which all distributions
could support. That way all
Linux users could benefit from repositories, regardless of the flavor
of Linux they prefer. Unfortunately the Linux community is not famous
for its ability to resolve distributional disagreements about how things
should be done. In the meantime, Fedora is a step in the right

If you're interested in helping the Fedora project continue to expand
its repository, there are ways you can help. Togami says, "We have a
large amount of submitted work, but not enough volunteers to actively do
quality assurance testing, so many things sit for weeks/months
before being published."

The Fedora Project currently has between 10 and 15 packagers. There are
over 200 packages available in its Red Hat 9 repository: 175 packages
in stable, 34 in testing, and 14 in unstable. There are 136 packages
awaiting QA, 17 of which are updates to existing versions.

If you do QA testing and help cut down on that wait time, you would be
scratching the biggest itch. You can also help by donating
money so the servers can be updated. Setting up a mirror of the
repository is another way to help.

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His
work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge,
phrack, SecurityFocus, and He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer,
the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.


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