Repository Feeds: Making Progress!

Although the feed feature of the pkg(5) repository server pkg.depotd has been available for a few months, we're just starting to get it configured properly for some of the repositories that our project team helps to manage.  For example, recently Teresa of our Release Engineering team modified several repository instances to use a 60 day window rather than the default of 24 hours.  This extended window will help new users see a broader set of package additions and updates.  The setting of interest was:

cfg_cache:

[feed]
window=1440

Where "1440" is the number of hours.

The URL for repository feeds is simply:

http://pkg.sun.com/layered-collection/dev/feed

Here's a view from Thunderbird of the feed from http://pkg.sun.com/layered-collection/dev,  a repo that acts as a clearing house of development quality packages of Sun middleware:


Several comments on the user experience:

1) Date/time stamps: Are a bit misleading based on how we typically manage publication of packages to our repositories.  Since we use a "copypkgs" utility to copy a submitted package to the destination repository and this utility preserves the publication date/time stamp, the date/time displayed in the feed can be much earlier than the date/time at which the package appeared in the repository.

2) Since this is a feed for an external repository, we need to configure pkg.depotd to use a more appropriate "From" value than "SWI Release Engineering".  Perhaps, simply "Sun Microsystems" in this example. The "From" field in Thunderbird's display comes from the <author><name> element in the feed:

<author><name>SWI Release Engineering</name><email>swi-re@sun.com</email>

3) It's very nice to see the distinction between "Added" and "Updated" for new and updated packages.

4) Perhaps dropping the publication date/time stamp from the "Subject" would help reduce the complexity of the title and let the users focus on the package name and non-date/time stamp portion of the version string.  The "Subject" field in Thunderbird's display comes from the <title> element in the feed:

<title>Updated pkg:/pkg-toolkit@2.2.0,0-22.1765:20090221T002421Z</title>

5) Once we enhance our repository web front end, there will be a much better user experience when the user clicks on the website link to see the package details.  For example, displaying change summary information would be a very useful feature.

Clearly, there's room for a more user friendly display of data.  The UC2 project is keen on seeing a series of repo web UI enhancements along these lines.
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