The responsibility of a CPAN developer

I am subscribed to several mailing lists of FOSDEM and recently there was an interesting discussion around two talk proposals: Dealing with projects with a dead upstream and Downstream packaging collaboration.

Based on the talk proposals and the discussion around them it seems that the people packaging software for the various Linux distributions feel some sort of a commitment to provide high-quality software even when the original developers of the code are not responsive or disappear.

It is interesting to contrast this with the occasional discussions (or shall I say flame wars) the Perl community saw recently. From those discussions we see some people who feel that some kind of commitment on the part of CPAN authors is needed while we also see that some (many?) CPAN authors see their contribution as a gift that bears no responsibility.

Let's put aside the idea of giving a loaded gun as a gift to a child. Which, if accident happens, would probably get the gift-giver to prison.

I think neither CPAN authors nor Linux distribution packagers are legally obligated to provide any support for their respective products. Nor are they responsible for any harm it might cause. At least to the extent permitted by applicable law. If I am not mistaken that's what the boiler-plate legal text we add to our code says.

So what is the responsibility of a CPAN developer compared to a Linux packager? What is the source of this different approach? Is that only a personal difference?

Is the commitment they talk about an informal commitment? Just as we (or at least some of us) feel committed to release good quality code. (Whatever good quality might mean for you.)

On one hand we give our code as a gift. No legal commitment or responsibility.

On the other hand we have an informal (or shall I say social?) commitment to provide help and maintain the package(s) we once wrote. We have a commitment to gracefully handle the situation when we don't want to care any more about certain packages. I wonder if there is a legitimate justification in the open source world to say I don't want to deal with this code any more but I don't want anyone else to take it over and maintain it? What is it?

Maybe this commitment is not to the anonymous user who never gives back to the community. Maybe it is to our peers we meet at various Perl events or IRC channels?

I personally feel some kind of a responsibility to try to provide good software to others. Obviously it does not always work...

Anyway, I am just rambling.

BTW There were a couple of other titles thrown in the conversation such as How to be a good upstream? They also talked about a database with package name mappings. How much I'd like to have that to map the CPAN modules re-packaged in the various downstream distributions to the original CPAN name.

FOSDEM is 2 weeks away. Soon I'll need to finalize the talks in the Perl-dev room and oh, I still have a few empty slots.

OTOH I am looking forward to be in Brussels again.

Published on 2011-01-20 by Gabor Szabo