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Re: Depends/Recommends from libraries

Dear Ian,

Le 09/03/2017 à 18:39, Ian Jackson a écrit :
> Thibaut Paumard writes ("Re: Depends/Recommends from libraries"):
>> There are quite legitimate uses for dependencies or recommendations in
>> libraries. For instance, tne library that I maintain (libgyoto) has the
>> option to provide MPI paralellisation. This requires an external
>> executable, which is provided in a separate package. The external tool
>> is in a separate package because it can exist only for one architecture
>> at a time on the system (it lives in /usr/bin), while the library lives
>> in a multi-arch directory.
> This is perhaps a nice example.  Mind if I ask some questions ?
> You say "an option to provide MPI paralellisation".  Is this option
> enabled by default ?  Does it occur with all useful functions in the
> library ?  Do library callers control over whether it occurs ?

The option can be turned off completely at build time, but the default
build-time behaviour is to enable it. The default run-time behaviour is
to not use MPI parallelisation, but the user can switch it on. It is not
used by all the functions. Actually there is only one high-level
function that makes use of this possibility (the function that executes
the ray-tracing for all pixels of an image, see below).

> Are there any programs linked against libgyoto which actually call
> into libgyoto only some of the time (perhaps, rarely) ?  (I did a
> quick search and it seems that libgyoto's rdependency stack is quite
> short.  There's some python modules and something to do with yorick,
> but they are all explicitly gyoto-related; and there are some blend
> metapackages, which are fine.  So maybe the answer to this is no, but
> maybe it will become yes in the future.)

Indeed, Gyoto is somewhat of an academic example, because it is
currently only used by binary packages built from the same source. All
of the programs currently linked with Gyoto are low or high level
interfaces to the library, they do nothing else than calling the library.

However it is meant to be usable by third party applications. libgyoto
is a library to compute the trajectory of bodies in general relativity,
including photons to perform ray-traycing in curved spacetimes. Its
primary (and currently unique) audience is researchers. However I would
find it quite cool if games, for instance, would start using it to
produce realistic images of black-holes (which could benefit from MPI
parallelisation) or to implement realistic physics for space-crafts
(which could not). One could also easily use libgyoto or its Python
bindings to build applications for educational or artistic purposes.

In any case, I think the mechanics at work in this package is a good
example of why a library may need to call external programs:

The MPI parallelisation comes almost for free for any program that uses
libgyoto. The main program needs to initialise the MPI environment and
let libgyoto know to use it. The user typically needs to call the
application through 'mpirun'. That's all. The main program does not need
to have any parallel computing semantics in it. The cost is that the
additional processes needed to work in parallel are spawned by libgyoto
itself, so the corresponding executable needs to be somewhere where
libgyoto can find it reliably, even in an heterogeneous environment.

In conclusion: the generic part of my example is that a library may
implement a multiprocess algorithm using the singleton paradigm (i.e. a
single process is started, this process spawns workers). Since clusters
can be heterogeneous, it is not necessarily desirable to hard-code the
location of the worker process, so it must be in the PATH. We don't have
any multi-arch location for executables, that is in the PATH by default.
So the executable cannot be in a multi-arch package. If you want your
library to be multi-arch, the executable that is called from the library
cannot be in the same package. The lib package need to recommend the
'worker' executable package. Their are a few niche cases that I have not
worked out, specifically I am not sure whether on a single machine, it
is possible for an i386 process to spawn an amd64 process using
MPI_Comm_Spawn. I think not but I may be wrong. I do believe it is
possible over the network, though.

Yes, I think my use-case boils down to that. There are certainly other
legitimate uses of library-calls-executable, but that's mine.

Regards, Thibaut.