SE-0264 — Standard Library Preview Package

I continue to feel that the best solution to the preview problem is to curate a collection of packages, one for each proposal. The single-minded pursuit of discoverability in this proposal creates a number of completely unnecessary problems around stability and deployment. Put together, these problems ironically undermine the discoverability goals by discouraging use of the preview package altogether. Using functionality from the unified preview package creates a ticking time bomb where the programmer is likely to be forced to make source changes across their codebase whenever the package version needs to be rolled forward for any unrelated reason, and it cannot be used in good conscience in any sort of open-source library. In contrast, with a collection of independent packages, programmers can independently manage the versioning of different preview libraries, and programmers can easily solve deployment issues by including the package as long as it is still necessary.

32 Likes

Can we use a negative major version number? We have to increase the value (i.e. towards positive infinity) each time, so we need to pick an anti-ceiling (for example, -1,000,000) to start from, and hope we don't get that many changes.

2 Likes

Negative numbers are not valid semantic versions. From the specification:

  1. A normal version number MUST take the form X.Y.Z where X, Y, and Z are non-negative integers, and MUST NOT contain leading zeroes.
<numeric identifier> ::= "0"
                       | <positive digit>
                       | <positive digit> <digits>

[...]

<digits> ::= <digit>
           | <digit> <digits>

<digit> ::= "0"
          | <positive digit>

<positive digit> ::= "1" | "2" | "3" | "4" | "5" | "6" | "7" | "8" | "9"
1 Like

Yes, but it says that for versions with MAJOR 0 any update (even a PATCH one) can be breaking

Yes. Version 0 is a free‐for‐all. (Did I accidentally say otherwise somewhere? Discourse says your comment is directed at me.)

1 Like

No I don’t think you said that, but I did it reply because I think that the semantics of MINOR and PATCH are not that important given where’re working under a 0 MAJOR (or at least that was something I understood from previous discussions...)

I do like the idea of having different packages for this. Moreover, I think we can convince people to stop using these packages with clever deprecations messages. For instance this:

// package SwiftPreviewSubrangeSort
extension RangeReplacableCollection {
   @available(macOS, deprecated: 9999, *)
   @available(iOS, deprecated: 9999, *)
   @available(watchOS, deprecated: 9999, *)
   @available(tvOS, deprecated: 9999, *)
   func sort(subrange: Range<Index>)
}

could be used to alert users that usage of the preview package should be migrated to using the stdlib instead, but only when it makes sense based on the chosen minimum deployment target. (9999 here is the os version where the feature landed in the stdlib.) You can keep each package available indefinitely (or as long as it still compiles) and let the availability system intelligently annoy users into migrating to the stdlib version when they can.

Note: Maybe the import itself should show the deprecation warning (even though I don't think that's currently possible). That'd be better because you'd remove the import SomePreviewPackage at the top and most things would still work, relying on what's in the implicitly imported standard library.

1 Like

Part of this discussion has been whether we should stick to version 0 or should rapidly increment a non‐zero major version. (I don’t care which.) @Ben_Cohen seemed to say (here) that one reason not to go the non‐zero route is that in that case every API addition would force a major version bump. That is the statement @DevAndArtist @jawbroken and I are hoping he will clarify, since it has significant implications beyond just this review that affect anyone publishing any package.

(Edit: I guess I looked at the wrong quotation when I checked who wrote it. Sorry for the false attribution.)

1 Like

I think there’s a lot to like about this approach. It certainly addresses the issues I have raised regarding the proposed one year lag for removal from the preview package. Users who live on the latest version of Swift would simply drop dependency on preview packages as they are added to the standard library. Users who are on older versions of Swift would just continue to maintain a dependency on the older preview packages as long as necessary.

I think this approach would also have some appeal to larger clients I’ve worked with. Much of the time they may choose not to take a dependency on a preview package, but occasionally it may be very useful to do so. As a recent example, we have pulled the collection diffing algorithms into our codebase until we are able to migrate to Swift 5.1. If a preview package allowed us to pull in just that one dependency instead, we probably would have done so. On the other hand, introducing a dependency on a highly unstable preview package is unlikely to be something we would choose to do.

The obvious downside of this approach is that it requires more effort on the part users to keep track of all the preview packages that are available, choose the ones they wish to use, and remove the dependency on them when updating to a Swift release that includes the feature. For myself and typical clients this tradeoff is probably acceptable. Others may prefer the “simpler” solution of a monolithic preview package.

Either way, I continue to think it’s important to provide a good experience for those willing and able to live on the bleeding edge. This is the audience that is going to spend the most time with the new library features, gaining experience with them and providing the feedback we’re seeking before they land in the standard library proper.

5 Likes

Actually this is an interesting idea. To solve the naming problem I would propose to call such packages with an SE## suffix. Let‘s say we get count(where:). Then the package could be called PreviewSE220.

Two good parts about this approach are that we won‘t need to version lock the APIs if they don‘t depend on already version locked stdlib APIs, and last but not least we don‘t have to delete these packages after the APIs are merged into stdlib, a deprecation attribute should do the trick to notify the users.

9 Likes

Couldn‘t this issue be solve if the umbrella module SwiftPreview would stop to import some of the standalone modules?

If the user don‘t want to track all the modules he can import them all and then at some point of upgrade he‘ll get compile time errors that some APi is no longer available because the umbrella module dropped a dependency on one particular module he was using.

2 Likes

Apple wants that you update Swift, like it wants that you update to the newest OSs. It has many benefits if the majority is on the newest version. This will reduce the motivation to upgrade.

It should be considered, that it could make it harder for people not so familiar with Swift in the long run.
Companies could keep preview packages installed even though it has been declined or already published in their used Swift version. Do we really want to have apps with declined functionality? 5 years later nobody knows why there is a preview package with a fork and a different name of the package in the codebase and only one new developer left to fix bugs (this happens). But developers are wondering why feature A is not working like in the documentation. Lazy developers could just take the first hit on google when they search for a feature and instead of using the already installed feature in their Swift version they just install the preview package with a slightly off functionality.
Programmers are not always as motivated and interested in the topic of Swift as the members of this forum. They may use JavaScript, Swift and Kotlin at the same time at work. Getting a solution if everything they need, not understanding it, even though there are better solutions at hand. They are users of Swift too and influence code that other developers have to code with.

My point is: Make it very obvious and not to easy to use preview packages, even though this may be counter-intuitive for people on the forums.

3 Likes

I strongly agree, albeit from a different perspective. I think "Propose as a Package", where one proposes an individual self-contained package that reviewers can check out and depend on is a superior approach for swift-evolution proposals, in addition to the benefits you highlighted. After acceptance, it can live as an orphaned branch on a "swift-evolution-packages" repo or something similar.

If we really want to, we can reproduce what is proposed here as a meta-package that reexports a rolling window of proposals. That catalogue-like package could be simpler to maintain as well since there's no untangling of code, only reexports to drop.

A fresh self-contained package is easier to propose than a PR against (what could be) a larger body of code. Especially if that body of code is changing (rolling release window) or versioned (availability annotations to drop the decl depending on OS version).

Pitches can evolve over a long period of time without force-rebasing or other PR synchronization. There are so many more options available for collaborative workflows and building upon prior pitches or prototypes.

Reviewers can evaluate just the functionality under consideration, especially if they are already using some preview functionality. No need to swap out their version of a preview package with that from a PR. Independent packages are independently versioned, and they go stale much slower than PRs.

Any dependencies on prior proposals can be modeled with explicit package dependencies, rather than implicit calls in code. Dropping from a meta-package is cleaner because the code never got tangled up in the first place.

20 Likes

After following the thread and the different ideas proposed, I fell like I must change my first feedback.

I'm still strongly in favor of having a simplified system to try out new additions to the standard library

But after reading @John_McCall & @Michael_Ilseman ideas, I really do like the idea of having a collection of packages for each proposal.

Strong +1 on addressing the issue, but @John_McCall and @Michael_Ilseman raise good points.

I'm hoping for a long time that we'll end up with something that fulfills the role that boost has for C++, which afaics has been a real success story.

Additionally, the "separate libs"-model could pave the road for topic-packages which are bundled with Swift - for things that are important, but not fundamental enough to fit in the stdlib:
Stuff like complex numbers, matrix calculus, graphics primitives, graphs, advanced data structures etc. imho shouldn't be part of the very core of the language, but it would still be very beneficial when we had standards which ship with Swift itself.

I think we already have some sort precedent here (NIO), but there's so much more than networking...

7 Likes

The proposal was returned for revision.
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