If one embarks on a set of package updates and it doesn't work out too well, it is nice to be able to roll back to a previous state. This entails two things: first, reverting the set of installed packages to what it was at some chosen prior time, and second, reverting changes to configuration, saved application state, and other such material that might be needed to restore to a fully working setup.

This project is about the first part, wihch is relatively tractable. The second part is Hard(TM), but it's pointless to even speculate about it until we can handle the first part, which we currently can't. Also, in many cases the first part is perfectly sufficient to recover from a problem.

Ultimately the goal would be to be able to do something like pkgin --revert yesterday but there are a number of intermediate steps to that to provide the infrastructure; after that adding the support to pkgin (or whatever else) should be straightforward.

The first thing we need is a machine-readable log somewhere of package installs and deinstalls. Any time a package is installed or removed, pkg_install adds a record to this log. It also has to be possible to trim the log so it doesn't grow without bound -- it might be interesting to keep the full history of all package manipulations over ten years, but for many people that's just a waste of disk space. Adding code to pkg_install to do this should be straightforward; the chief issues are

both of which require some measure of community consensus.

Preferably, the file should be text-based so it can be manipulated by hand if needed. If not, there ought to be some way to recover it if it gets corrupted. Either way the file format needs to be versioned and extensible to allow for future changes.

The file format should probably have a way to enter snapshots of the package state in addition to change records; otherwise computing the state at a particular point requires scanning the entire file. Note that this is very similar to deltas in version control systems and there's a fair amount of prior art.

Note that we can already almost do this using /var/backups/work/pkgs.current,v; but it only updates once a day and the format has assorted drawbacks for automated use.

The next thing needed is a tool (maybe part of pkg_info, maybe not) to read this log and both (a) report the installed package state as of a particular point in time, and (b) print the differences between then and now, or between then and some other point in time.

Given these two things it becomes possible to manually revert your installed packages to an older state by replacing newer packages with older packages. There are then two further things to do:

Arrange a mechanism to keep the .tgz files for old packages on file.

With packages one builds oneself, this can already be done by having them accumulate in /usr/pkgsrc/packages; however, that has certain disadvantages, most notably that old packages have to be pruned by hand. Also, for downloaded binary packages no comparable scheme exists yet.

Provide a way to compute the set of packages to alter, install, or remove to switch to a different state. This is somewhat different from, but very similar to, the update computations that tools like pkgin and pkg_rolling-replace do, so it probably makes sense to implement this in one or more of those tools rather than in pkg_install; but perhaps not.

There are some remaining issues, some of which aren't easily solved without strengthening other things in pkgsrc. The most notable one is: what about package options? If I rebuild a package with different options, it's still the "same" package (same name, same version) and even if I record the options in the log, there's no good way to distinguish the before and after binary packages.

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