During the Ubuntu Live Conference in Portland, Ore., Canonical announced the beta release of its Launchpad PPA (Personal Package Archive) service, a new way for developers to build and publish packages of their code, documentation, artwork, themes and other contributions to free software.
Canonical, the company that backs Ubuntu, uses Launchpad to help develop Ubuntu. The Launchpad program itself is a set of integrated tools that support collaboration and community formation. These include a team management tool, a bug tracker, code hosting, translations, a blueprint tracker, and an answer tracker. Its best feature, the bug-tracker, works by trying to track separate conversations about the same bug in external project bug trackers, such as Bugzilla, Roundup, SourceForge, and the Debian Bug Tracking System.
In this new free offering, individuals and teams can each have a PPA. With this, groups can collaborate on sets of packages, and solo developers can publish their own versions of popular free software. Developers upload packages to a PPA and have it built for multiple architectures against the current version of Ubuntu. Each user gets up to 1GB of Personal Package Archive space, which works as a standard Ubuntu software package repository. Free PPAs are available only for free (“libre”) software packages.
Launchpad itself is not an open-source project at this time. Canonical, however, has recently open-sourced Storm, a generic open-source object relational mapper that is used by Launchpad.
The PPA service is designed to connect developers with their users directly. Users who are interested in those packages can make a single update to their system to enable them to install packages from that PPA. Those users will also receive automatic updates whenever new versions of the packages are built and published in that PPA.
Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s founder and Canonical’s CEO, explained the significance of Launchpad Personal Package Archives for the Ubuntu community in a statement:
“Many developers want to modify existing packages, or create new packages of their software. The PPA service allows anyone to publish a package without having to ask permission or join the Ubuntu project as a developer. This is a tremendous innovation in the free software community,” he wrote. “We hope that PPA will make it easier for developers and development teams who have excellent ideas to get their work into the hands of users for testing and feedback. They also get to mix with experienced packagers to improve their skills. PPA is a build system, a publishing system and a community experience.”
Matt Zimmerman, CTO of Canonical claimed that PPAs’ also make it easy for developers to test new and experimental software builds.
“Adding a new feature to a package or building it against a new version of a system library requires extensive testing. A PPA allows a developer to form a community of testers who are interested in her changes. The testing community can install the packages, run them for the test period, [and] then remove them cleanly from their system,” said Zimmerman. “If the developer releases an updated version, the Ubuntu Update Manager will automatically notify those testers and enable them to update to the newer versions with a single click. This creates a very efficient environment for developers and testers to improve their favorite software.”
The Launchpad PPA service is currently in beta. To participate in the beta program, would-be open-source programmers should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Launchpad PPA Service will be released for general use on August 22, 2007 in-line with the regular Launchpad release cycle. The PPA Service will be available here.
At launch, software in Personal Archive Packages will be built for x86 and AMD64 architectures.
A version of this story was first published in Desktop Linux.