In response to a request on Reddit, I'm writing up my thoughts on PVP upper bounds. I'm putting this in a Gist since I don't want to start yet another debate on the matter, just provide some information to someone who asked for it. Please don't turn this into a flame war :)
For those unaware: the Package Versioning Policy is a set of recommendations covering how to give version numbers to your packages, and how to set upper and lower bounds on your dependencies.
I'll start by saying: I support completely with the PVP's recommendations on how to assign version numbers. While there are plenty of points in this design space, the PVP is an unobjectionable one, and consistency in the community is good. On multiple occasions, I have reached out to package authors to encourage compliance with this. (However, I've always done so privately, as opposed to a statement on Reddit, as I believe that to be a more likely route to successful convincing.)
The issue around upper and lower bounds is where contention lies. Again, where I agree: if you know for certain that your package will not work with
transformers 0.4 and earlier, you absolutely should put a
transformers >= 0.5 in your .cabal file. Similarly, if you know it won't work with
transformers 0.5, you should put a
transformers < 0.5 in your .cabal file.
The issue comes down to the unknowns: you haven't tested with older package versions, and you can't test with unreleased package versions. The argument in favor of preemptively putting in bounds is to prevent the cabal dependency solver from choosing a build plan which may fail. I won't elaborate on the topic, since the PVP itself discusses this, and many people who are ardent version bounds supporters will likely say more than I ever could.
Here are my thoughts on the matter:
- There are much better ways to solve this problem than version ranges. I wrote a blog post about my proposal. Tracking information on which versions of dependencies a package has successfully built with is far more reliable, trivial to automate, and introduces no ambiguity. I honestly have no idea why there would be opposition to making this change.
- Historically, extra version bounds can cause problems with cabal's dependency solver. This was a bigger issue in the past, and was the original reason I stopped following PVP bounds. Many people dispute this claim, but it's an easily verifiable fact: if you look through the Yesod issue tracker, you'll see countless examples of people reporting that cabal gave up on calculating a build plan, when a valid build plan was available.
- Since this point seems to cause confusion, I'll elaborate a bit more. There are two reasons why a dependency-solved build will fail: it will either fail to find a build plan, or find an incorrect build plan. Putting in version bounds will prevent the second case. But the first case is in fact exacerbated by version bounds.
- Using version bounds does in fact avoid many common failure cases, but not all. Changes in the Cabal library for custom build scripts, discontinuities in version ranges (e.g., the
foofunction was added in version 1.2.3 and backported to 1.1.4) can make it highly unlikely that authors will get things right
- Since version bounds are manually stated, there's a high degree of error possible with creating them.
- They take a lot of work to maintain correctly, including a lot of busy-work of manually relaxing them. In my experience as a Stackage curator, the vast majority of restrictive upper bounds do not actually stop a problem of a failing build
- Curation is a better solution for the majority of use cases. True, people looking to use dependency solving can't use that, but like I said, there are better solutions for that use case
- It leads to brittle code. I've received reports of production build systems being taken down by lack of correct version bounds on a package. This is an inherent flaw in the build system! Making your production software dependent upon an upstream contributor (1) following a specific policy, and (2) not making a mistake when following that policy, is simply a recipe for disaster. For production build systems, reproducible build plans (via Stackage snapshots or freezing bounds) is the only reliable method I'm aware of
- Trying to solve a technical solution through social means leads to unhealthy behavior. The fact that there have been flame wars and personal attacks about PVP bounds for year in the Haskell community is terrible. The fact that we consider this behavior acceptable is disgusting. And it all comes about from an attitude where it's OK to blame someone else for breaking your build. As I state in the previous point: if your work is blocked by someone else's behavior, your workflow is broken
- One caveat: I do not believe version bounds serve any purpose other than documentation when used in a closed-source application. If you control the build system and will be delivering a binary/shipping a service, just freeze your dependencies or use a Stackage snapshot, playing with cabal version bounds is just a waste of time. I think Greg Weber wrote a good post about this once, but I can't find it right now.
There are probably other points I've raised or thought of over the years, but I think this covers the main ones. Again: I'm just sharing my thoughts, and I'm actively avoiding getting into more flame wars. I will repeat my request that led to this though: let's please stop as a community condoning the unhealthy behavior of rehashing arguments in every possible thread.