The AUR and its flaws

December 12, 2010 | categories: Linux

First of all, yes, I am picking on Arch again. But, something to keep in mind is although I've been complaining about Arch a lot over the past few months, I'm still using it, and I haven't been pushed enough to replace it. The big negatives I complain about are countered by big positives also, such as the ability to have the latest up to date programs far ahead of other distributions that make you wait for the next major release of the distribution to get version 3.x+1 automatically without installing other packages (I'm looking at you Ubuntu).

Anyway, with that disclaimer out of the way, here's today's complaint. The target for today is the AUR - the Arch User's Repository. This is for those packages that haven't been confirmed stable enough to go into the main repositories, aka, most of the interesting ones.

My first complaint of today is that so many of its packages are just flat out broken. More than once I've come accross a package that has it's download URL as something along the lines of . However, since that time, has changed to the latest version, with the result that it no longer passes the checksum, and you can't install it. Someone may have already flagged the package as out of date, but for a lot of them, that's no guarentee that it will be updated.

The next thing that annoys me is source packages. Sure, they're fine for some little toy panel program, but when you try and install something major like new versions of Firefox or Chrome? Well, it changes the install time from 1 minute to 30 minutes. Which is especially annoying when something goes wrong after the compilation in the installation, such as say, the firebrand package declaring it needs firefox>=3.6 and your AUR helper waiting to uninstal the old package after the compilation process, and then deciding that actally, it can't do that. Sure, you may be installing firefox4, but firebrand needs Firefox now, damn it! I am aware it doesn't completely recompile from scratch, but it's still significantly slower. This problem probably also applies to BSD's ports system or Gentoo's Portage.

Another aspect is that so many packages are duplicated without any apparent reason. What exactly is the difference between epsxe-launcher-bash and epsxe-launcher-gentoo? They both have the same description and the same version number. And then some packages, while not duplicates, do need pruning. Why is there a firefox-qt at version 3.6.3 (outdated) and a firefox-qt-beta at 3.5b4 (even more outdated)? For that matter, why are there so many Firefox packages that seem to do the same thing (integrate with KDE)? We've got firefox-qt, firefox-qt-beta, firefox-branded-kde (also outdated) and firefox-kde-opensuse. Now, I'm picking on Firefox here because as a popular package, it will have the most variants on the AUR, but duplicates do crop up on lesser used packages too.

All in all, some of these are to be expected. After all, it wouldn't be possible to have perfectly up to date packages for everything, no matter how hard the packagers tried. But it would be nice if AUR usage was to become as easy to use as the offical repos.