Brussels / 1 & 2 February 2020


Interview with Ludovic Courtès
Guix: Unifying provisioning, deployment, and package management in the age of containers

Ludovic Courtès will give a talk about Guix: Unifying provisioning, deployment, and package management in the age of containers at FOSDEM 2020.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Hi! I’m Ludovic, a passionate free software hacker. These days, most of my hacking is in Scheme, a functional programming language of the Lisp family, specifically with GNU Guile, which is to me a never-ending source of delight. I work on GNU Guix, which I co-maintain together with a group of great people.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

I will introduce Guix to give a feel of what it’s like to be using it and what it has to offer, because I think the general “functional deployment” approach, which was pioneered by Nix, is still too little known.

Now, my talk is in the “Containers and Security” track, which I think is a great opportunity to reflect on containers, distributions, and the whole issue of software deployment. The first talk in the track sets out to demonstrate that the “Linux distribution as we know it is coming to an end”; I’d like to challenge that assertion, or rather to re-frame the discussion in the more general context of software deployment.

I’ll show how Guix has been trying to connect aspects of software deployment often regarded as separate from one another: we have container tools, package managers, configuration management tools… What if we designed a unified tool set to address all these use cases? What programming language techniques can we use to improve reach that goal? These are the questions I’ll try to answer.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

Guix is often categorized as a “package manager” or as a distro. That’s OK as rough categorization, but I hope to lead the audience to take a step back and think about what container tools, distros, provisioning tools and the like have in common — because depending on how you look at it, Guix fits in pretty much all these categories!

Last year I gave a talk in the “Distributions” developer room. My message to distro hackers was that we should pay attention to the tools built around distros — and that actually often work around distros — and draw some lessons as to use cases that distros have been neglecting, sparking development of these tools. In a sense, part of this year’s talk is the dual of last year’s: discussing the shortcomings of “containers” in a broad sense, how that impacts security, and what can be learned from distros.

Q: With Nix and later Guix, you have been working on reproducible software deployment for more than ten years now. What has changed in all those years?

Ten years ago, Docker didn’t even exist! The advent of containers has led many to think that software deployment is a solved problem. Only recently did people start expressing concerns about the shortcomings of containers, which often boil down to their opacity and non-reproducibility. Containers spread very quickly, probably because they are an “easy” way to solve deployment issues, but that comes at the cost of increased complexity — it’s “easy” but it’s not “simple”.

But also: ten years ago, Guix didn’t exist and Nix wasn’t as popular as it is today, both of which are great outcomes! The Reproducible Builds and Bootstrappable efforts were born during that period and have already been very fruitful — for example, think of the impressive achievements around bootstrapping with Mes.

Another crucial project that saw the light during that period is Software Heritage — source code availability is a prerequisite for all our work on reproducibility as it was at risk ten years ago.

Q: 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of (F)OSDEM. What contributions has FOSDEM made to the advancement of FOSS, or how did Guix in particular benefit from FOSDEM?

For the projects I’ve contributed to, FOSDEM has always been a great boost: meeting with other contributors and contributors-to-be, and leaving Brussels full of ideas and energy. FOSDEM has pretty much been Guix’ annual meeting from the start, and it has certainly contributed a lot to its growth and to turning a team of hackers into a bunch of friends. I’ve also always enjoyed how FOSDEM encourages chance encounters with people from different backgrounds — this is always inspiring!

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Yup, been to about ten of them!

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.