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PyCon 2011: Interview with Tarek Ziadé - “Packaging, from Distutils to Distutils2” and “Firefox Sync”

By Brian Curtin

Coming over from France for his 4th PyCon is packaging and distribution guru, Tarek Ziadé. When he’s not spending his time on Mozilla work, he’s leading the Distutils2 project, maintains the shutil and sysconfig standard libraries, and organizes PyCon France. On top of all of that, he found time to put together two talks: an extreme talk on packaging, and one on the Firefox Sync project.

Getting right into the question most people have, I started by asking what’s up with Distutils2? “Distutils2 is almost ready to be used in projects, and a first beta release will be published before PyCon,” claims Tarek. Additionally, re-integration to the standard library is in the plans as soon as Python 3.2 final goes out. They made the necessary adjustments to PyPI and also plan to distribute a standalone package supporting versions as far back as Python 2.4.

His “Packaging, from Distutils to Distutils2” talk gets right to the heart of Distutils new features and their use cases. The long threatened death of setup.py, metadata and versioning, dependency graphing, and extensibility are in the plans. The new pysetup command, as he calls “one command to rule them all”, gets coverage as well. He plans to round the whole talk out with several examples, from porting to process improvements.

Speaking of process, Tarek and the Distutils2 developers have been using Mercurial via bitbucket to manage the project during its “outside the standard library life”. As you may know, CPython is getting close to a Mercurial switch, so I asked Tarek his experience with the tools. He says, “A DVCS really makes contribution simpler, as anyone can clone and propose changes that are easy for me to review and merge.” They follow a fairly common workflow of cloning, changing, then asking for a merge, but a change they are considering is the use of mq.

Tarek’s other talk, Firefox Sync, looks into the server side of Mozilla’s history, bookmark, and even tab synchronization across devices, all of which is written in Python. PHP used to be the tool of choice, but most of their server apps are being done in Python now. Asked about the technologies he’s employing, he responds “The stack I use is very low-level, since we're writing web services with almost no HTML pages. I've written a WSGI micro-framework mainly based on Paster and WebOb that can be used to build a new app. SQLAlchemy, python-memcached and python-ldap are used to work with data.” His talk covers this architecture, plus their use of encryption, along with the scalability and benchmarks they’ve produced.

Tarek will be at PyCon early for the Language Summit, one of his favorite parts, as its “a good opportunity to sync/meet in real life with the core people”. He’s also going to be sprinting on Distutils2, where they plan to polish the project and make sure projects are working correctly as they reach their final release. As with Armin, the hallway track is another of his highlights, but he’s also interested in the PyPy, ZeroMQ, and coroutine talks as well!

Stay tuned for an interview with speaker and book author Lennart Regebro, covering his experiences with Porting to Python 3.

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