Some ideas for the Future of Cabal

Tuesday, 07 October 2008, by Duncan Coutts.
Filed under haskell-platform.

I presented a "Tech Talk" today at Galois on some ideas relating to Cabal

We discussed two topics. Here's the abstract:

A language for build systems

Build systems are easy to start but hard to get right. We'll take the view of a language designer and look at where our current tools fall down in terms of safety/correctness and expressiveness.

We'll then consider some very early ideas about what a build system language should look like and what properties it should have. Currently this takes the form of a design for a build DSL embedded in Haskell.

Constraint solving problems in package deployment

We are all familiar, at least peripherally, with package systems. Every Linux distribution has a notion of packages and most have high level tools to automate the installation of packages and all their dependencies. What is not immediately obvious is that the problem of resolving a consistent set of dependencies is hard, indeed it is NP-complete. It is possible to encode 3-SAT or Sudoku as a query on a specially crafted package repository.

We will look at this problem in a bit more detail and ask if the right approach might be to apply our knowledge about constraint solving rather than the current ad-hoc solvers that most real systems use. My hope is to provoke a discussion about the problem.

I've covered similar ground to the first topic before in a previous blog post on make. This time we looked in a bit more detail at what a solution might look like and what properties it should have. In particular we discussed what the correctness properties of a build system might look like.