Author: Luís Ferreira <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2022 01:56:35 +0000
feat(content/posts): add post about lockfile in libraries
Signed-off-by: Luís Ferreira <email@example.com>
1 file changed, 188 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
diff --git a/content/posts/lockfile-lib-misconception.md b/content/posts/lockfile-lib-misconception.md
@@ -0,0 +1,188 @@
+title: 'The controversy and misconception around package managers lockfile in
+tags: ['lockfiles', 'package-managers', 'packaging', 'dependencies',
+'reproducible-builds', 'reproducible', 'deterministic']
+description: "This post describes the common misconception and controversy
+around package managers philosophy about the abomination of lockfiles in
+packages, more specifically in libraries."
+**NOTE:** I'm making this because I feel like this should be clarified. I had a
+lot of discussions where people were biased by other opinions, mostly due to
+spread misconceptions about these files. I can update this later with a more
+fundamental reason if I see even more controversy on discussions I have in a
+A lot of package managers use a lockfile mechanism to reliably reproduce their
+packages across different environments. This mechanism is used when other
+environments build packages that do not use pinned dependency versions and end
+up using a modified version compatible with the version expression specified in
+the package manifest file.
+## But what is a lock file?
+A lockfile is normally a generated file by the package manager that contains
+the information about the exact versions currently used to build a package
+successfully the way is intended to be. Some lockfiles include other metadata
+about the package used such as checksums to ensure integrity.
+One of the biggest advantages is to make deterministic dependency resolution.
+This way, package managers can more easily replicate the same builds on
+different environments. With that, you can also build your own package more
+consistently. Both help users and developers seeking problems and can decrease
+test suite failures on development.
+### Security risk
+It is straightforward to understand the advantages of a lockfile but some
+people don't understand the _" disadvantages"_ and intentionally skip lockfiles
+review, which is a tremendously bad idea; let me explain to you why.
+For example, GitHub has a bad security issue related to detached references
+that allow any user to create a fork of the repo and associate a commit to the
+original repo. See the example of Linus Torvalds' `linux` mirror with
+commit. Because git obviously allows anyone to create commits with any email,
+GitHub automatically associates it as the real Linus Torvalds. So a user can
+easily create a security vulnerability, bump a patch version and change the
+commit hash on the lockfile accordingly, making it a poisoned environment,
+without being too obvious.
+Another problem related to other external services can rise. The problem here
+is trusting the source and the underlying service, falling into accepting
+changes that can't be easily verified by just looking at it. Should we trust
+any commit coming from `github.com/torvalds/linux`? Yes, but apparently not.
+This can be mitigated using GPG signatures. Linux releases, for example, are
+all signed by a group of trusted keys. That way we can trust that release tag
+by verifying the underlying signature.
+Therefore committing these files should be made and reviewed with caution and
+in a trusted environment.
+## You might say, why not pin the versions, instead?
+Well, if [semantic versioning](https://semver.org/) standard is strictly
+followed by the package maintainers, breaking changes wouldn't be a big of a
+deal, although, the package will always be different. In a real-world
+situation, breaking changes happen all the time, even if the intention is only
+a bug fix. Sometimes things get out of control and because of today's systems
+complexity, regression bugs can easily happen.
+However, specifying a version range covering patches or minor versions is more
+practically useful for a situation where the latest non-breakable version is
+Also, just pinning versions doesn't solve integrity issues and lockfiles does.
+## Why reproducible builds are important?
+Quoting Reproducible Builds project:
+> The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds project is therefore to allow
+> verification that no vulnerabilities or backdoors have been introduced during
+> this compilation process. By promising identical results are always generated
+> from a given source, this allows multiple third parties to come to a
+> consensus on a “correct” result, highlighting any deviations as suspect and
+> worthy of scrutiny.
+You can read more about the project and their motivation along with tools to
+make your builds more reproducible, [here](https://reproducible-builds.org/).
+## The controversy and misconception part
+Here is where the rant starts. A lot of package managers and maintainers have,
+behind them, a strong philosophy about not including lockfiles for libraries.
+This is something I can't really understand, given the rationale.
+For example, the Rust package manager, Cargo, doesn't generate lockfiles by
+default for libraries:
+> This property is most desirable from applications and packages which are at
+> the very end of the dependency chain (binaries). As a result, it is
+> recommended that all binaries check in their Cargo.lock.
+> For libraries the situation is somewhat different. A library is not only used
+> by the library developers, but also any downstream consumers of the library.
+> Users dependent on the library will not inspect the library’s Cargo.lock
+> (even if it exists). This is precisely because a library should not be
+> deterministically recompiled for all users of the library.
+You can read more about this on "The Cargo Book",
+The last sentence is just wrong. Libraries should indeed be deterministically
+recompiled to ensure consistency. That might not be true for the end-user, but
+this is essential for the library developers to detect if an introduced change
+caused problems. Essentially, packages should test their environment against
+their supported version ranges and their locked reproducible environment.
+Testing only one of those is wrong, and that is probably the root of the
+Many other package managers do claim the same thing and it seems they justify
+themselves with each other claims. The worst part is the fact that some
+maintainers decline including lockfiles in their projects and others create
+pull requests/issues requesting to remove lockfiles, without thinking logically
+about the problem and consequences, hence my frustration.
+Fortunately, there is some clarification articles out there, including
+post and [Shalvah's blog
+post](https://blog.shalvah.me/posts/understanding-lockfiles) that you should
+check out, although there is a lot of bold claims that don't make sense.
+> The lockfile defeats the whole purpose of the caret ^ that is the default
+> save behavior. And it prevents us from getting security patches immediately,
+> which is insane. There are more good updates than bad updates, so it does
+> more harm than good. The idea that it protects us from malicious code is
+> silly because there's no way in hell that people are actually auditing the
+> entire dependency graph when they do finally get around to updating the
+> lockfile. It's a fallacy that leads to a false sense of security.
+Lockfiles are NOT there to prevent security issues, they are there to reproduce
+environments. If you rely on lockfiles for security, you are doing it wrong.
+Nothing prevents you from ignoring the lockfile as a user and you should patch
+upstream if there is a security issue on some dependency. As a developer you
+might want to proactively update that file, but also keep them to reproduce
+From [dev.to, When not to use
+> The origin of this misuse is NPM documentation. It should instead explain
+> that package-lock.json should only be committed to the source code version
+> control when the project is not a dependency of other projects, i.e.
+> package-lock.json should only by committed to source code version control for
+> top-level projects (programs consumed by the end user, not other programs).
+> I would support a variation of package-lock.json if it could somehow only
+> apply to devDependencies. I can see some (albeit small and with tradeoffs)
+> benefit to wanting your development environment not break if there is a
+> broken release among your dependencies.
+Testing only with lockfiles is wrong, as well as living in the bleeding edge
+world by testing only with the latest version. You should test both or ideally,
+all the versions your manifest file supports. Only covering `devDependencies`
+is also a claim that makes zero sense. Normal `dependencies` may not be part of
+the build process but of the execution/runtime part of your
+application/library, and should indeed be reproducible.
+The conclusion is simple, please consider using a lockfile. Don't assume that
+semantic versioning is followed strictly because that is utopic. Also, make
+your testsuite deterministic and wide to your dependency requirements. Someone
+from the outside will touch your library, possibly try to contribute and
+complain about their testsuite failing due to an unknown
+most likely a side effect caused by a dependency, conducting an effort to
+discover a problem, just because you are against lockfiles.