If you're a software developer, then you probably know very well that
setting up a project's development environment for the first time can
be a real pain. Installing all of the necessary dependencies using
your system's package manager can be very tedious. To "solve" this
problem, we have resorted to inventing new package managers and
dependency bundlers for pretty much every programming language. Ruby
has rubygems and bundler, Python has pip and virtualenv, PHP has
composer, node.js has npm, and so on. Wouldn't it be nice to instead
have a single package manager that can handle it all? Enter GNU
Guix, a purely functional package manager and GNU/Linux
distribution. Using Guix, you can easily create a development
environment for any software project using the guix environment
guix environment is a new utility added in Guix 0.8, which should
be released in a few weeks. It accepts one or more packages as input
and produces a new shell environment in which all of the dependencies
for those packages are made available. For example, guix
environment emacs will get you everything you need to build GNU
Emacs from a source release tarball. By default, your $SHELL is
spawned, but you may opt to use any arbitrary shell command instead.
If you've used Nix before, you may notice that this sounds exactly
like nix-shell, and that's because it was what inspired me to
write guix environment.
Now, let's take a look at an example. One of my hobby projects is
Sly, a game engine written in Guile Scheme. Here's the relevant Guix
code that will produce a complete development environment:
;;; Copyright (C) 2014 David Thompson <email@example.com>
;;; Sly is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it
;;; under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
;;; the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
;;; (at your option) any later version.
(use-modules (guix packages)
(guix build-system gnu)
(gnu packages autotools)
(gnu packages guile)
(gnu packages gl)
(gnu packages pkg-config)
(gnu packages sdl)
(gnu packages maths)
(gnu packages image))
;; The development environment needs a tweaked LTDL_LIBRARY_PATH
;; for finding libfreeimage.
(package (inherit freeimage)
(synopsis "2D/3D game engine for GNU Guile")
(description "Sly is a 2D/3D game engine written in Guile Scheme.
Sly differs from most game engines in that it emphasizes functional
reactive programming and live coding.")
You may have noticed that the source field has been set to false.
This is because the package is not for building and installing. It's
sole purpose is to provide the necessary software needed to build Sly
from a fresh git checkout.
Assuming this code is in a file called package.scm, you can simply
run guix environment -l package.scm to spawn a shell for hacking
on Sly. By default, the environment created is an augmented version
of your pre-existing shell's environment. This is convenient when you
want to use your installed software in the new environment, such as
git. However, it's important to make sure that the environment really
does have everything needed for development without relying on any
impurities introduced by your existing environment. Without verifying
this, new developers might be frustrated to find out that the
environment provided to them is incomplete. To verify, pass the
--pure flag and build from scratch.
So, guix environment is a pretty nice way to acquire all the
dependencies you need to work on a project, but there is still a lot
of room for improvement. What if you were working on a web
application that required a running PostgreSQL database, Redis server,
and XMPP server? It would be really great if Guix could handle
setting this up for you, too, a la Vagrant. To do so, guix
environment could use the existing features of guix system to
spawn a new virtual machine that shares the host system's package
store and the project's source tree, and then spawn a shell with your
development environment. I hope to implement this in the
not-too-distant future. Until next time, happy hacking!
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