How many people are paid to work on Nix/Nixpkgs?

I constantly find myself comparing NixOS and Guix. I know Guix is backed by the FSF and I can’t help but feeling that Guix’ leadership is stronger, and that they are making more progress in less time.

Hence I wonder: How many people work on Nix/NixOS directly, and are get paid for it? Our donate page mentions some companies which have funded development in the past, but now they don’t?

I read Guix’ blog, and it feels they are more motivated into performing big / fundamental changes such as their boostrap seeds reductions. In contrast, consider one of our attempts to reduce Rust’s bootstrap seed.

There are tons of other points for comparison which I’d prefer to leave out of the discussion - in most of them NixOS wins, see Why I chose NixOS. I also wonder whether we lack leadership. Consider this interesting discussion:

I conclude from reading the awesome ideas there, that if only we’ve had the necessary resources and leadership we’d have managed to make NixOS so much better, but the motivation to implement these ideas is not strong enough, and above all, we lack manpower.

OTH, I tend to like our processes of making big decisions - our RFCs. But perhaps it was better if we had a leader that would take the hard decisions faster then all of us together? I don’t know, it’s a philosophical dilemma…

5 Likes

I am a nobody, mostly outsider, submitting occassional PRs, but IMHO, there are various dimensions to a “successful” community and NixOS is one of the most fluffless and generally kind community I’ve come across (it’s hard to find a community where I am the biggest troll :)). I know you geniuses have bigger goals but from an end-user perspective, I just love how everything works.

Sure some things could be better and probably money would be would be good too, and obviously a lot of hardworking people probably deserve it but I read a psychology research somewhere that money can often be a demotivating factor because it makes one misattribute their motivation to work.

10 Likes

In my opinion RFCs are excellent and work pretty well in the k8s community. They take time, but we are still in the two digit range of RFC, so I’d expect as they take up and the community grows, they are the place.

I love them so much, I even implemented them as overarching decision making process in my own startup.

And I 100% agree with @SRGOM, feel the same.

I agree, that leaderhsip needs to consolidate and and direct and consolidate momentum in the community.

1 Like

we’d have managed to make NixOS so much better, but the motivation to implement these ideas is not strong enough, and above all, we lack manpower.

We lack a consensus on what is actually better on many issues, and that matters.

OTH, I tend to like our processes of making big decisions - our RFCs. But perhaps it was better if we had a leader that would take the hard decisions faster then all of us together?

A single leader would not take the hard decisions faster than RFC process. A leader would get swamped by requests for attention to details in complicated issues, and there are just too many.

A complicated hierarchical system of subdelegation could work, but then we would need to get much better than we are at defining well-separated areas of concern…

4 Likes

That’s a lack of courage to take actions, as you can’t make it perfect. You perfect via iterations, but you have to allow yourself to make the first steps to fail and restart.

We did that with docs and results are more promising, now we just need to learn to fail faster :slight_smile:

I think we’re all learning how to RFC and it’s going in the right direction.

What would really help if someone coded a github actions that would automate the rfc process.

4 Likes

What would really help if someone coded a github actions that would automate the rfc process.

A 2 minutes search yielded: https://github.com/rust-lang/rfcbot-rs

Who is going to tackle this wish? (I’m not capable in doing it.)

2 Likes

I think the current model is more bottom-up. Individuals or companies see value in some stuff (monetary or other), so they improve it. Even changes primarily intended for their own usage get often contributed (easier long-term maintenance).

Originally the foundation was just owning and buying most(?) of the build farm, not much else IIRC. I’m not aware of any changes there, but I haven’t been following closely in the past couple years.

I actually like the bottom-up approach, including RFCs for bigger changes. I believe a single leader can’t in principle have enough information to just make decisions that are good for “majority” of the large community, and they also need to somehow persuade people to implement those decisions. I’m not saying it can’t work the other way around – top-down decisions from some leader (or tiny group) with a firm vision and a very “loyal” contributor community – but I think by that the “scope” of the project gets smaller.

Maybe this example is a little unfair, but I believe Guix is determined to make it hard to use unfree packages and that drives many potential users away. (I mean, even if they strongly prefer libre stuff, people get often “externally forced” into using a couple proprietary packages.)

6 Likes

they also need to somehow persuade people to implement those decisions.

This is so much more important than making decisions quickly, provided they are made. And it takes time for people to “sleep over” something a couple of days / weeks.

I think of this in terms of https://nav.al/least. Because it minimizes friction.

The key point will be to resolve divergent opinions quickly and promote mind share and consensus. This translates into momentum. And momentum into action.

Maybe an aid would be to stratify the discussion so that priorities don’t get out of sight. What do I mean? -> Strategic Disscussions, Meta Discussions, Governance Discussions, Developmemt Discussions, etc.

Currently it’s still a bit blurry and discussions mostly either atart or terminate around technical aspects. This is obviously how it needs to be, mostly.

But raising awareness for the other levels of discussions might result in more opoortunities for https://nav.al/least.

I like this approach @blaggacao. Let’s take as an example the mentioned rust bootstrap PR. After some technical reviews, pretty much after this comment, all of the participants mentioned some of the imperfections in the proposed changes, and they debated how best these will be handled. They all said it would be a shame if the PR would bit rot, and it sort of did but thankfully the author is still willing to put work into it.

I see this PR as a typical example where a small detail was mishandled in the PR by some opinions, and eventually the PR author feels neglected because their work is not merged because of such small imperfection. In that Rust’s PR case, I’m sure the author of it would have performed the proper changes to it if only someone was “brave” enough to say “Do this and you are good to go”. See also discussion here.

Maybe having 1 and only leader that will decide on every debate we have in our PRs won’t be beneficial, as different domains require different areas of expertise. But I do think e.g the rust ecosystem, and other ecosystems needs a single “leader” (or call it however you want) that will cut such debates quicker.

I agree, that’s why I tend to think now after hearing you all, that we need final decision makers (final authorities) only for every domain of Nixpkgs (or for every NixOS team).

When I imagine a leader of such a team, I imagine someone with self confidence that is not afraid to disappoint some people for the sake of what they believe in. It should be someone with a vision and their goals should be public. I also imagine this person taking hard decision faster then in an RFC, because they are targeted.

It is possible they will not take the best decision in every debate, and it should be possible to veto their decision if you think it’s absolutely awful. But perhaps it’s better to take a bad decision vs not taking a decision at all?

2 Likes

I strongly disagree with this. In the past two decades or so, I have contributed bits to other distributions. Many distributions are organized like this, having ‘leaders’ of subareas. Some subareas become small personal kingdoms and nothing ever gets done at all because their leaders reject or stall everything. Either because they like to exercise their powers or because the see every change as a personal attack on how they did things.

NixOS moves very fast compared to other distributions. Not only in terms of package versioning, but also in terms of how large infrastructure changes are adopted. And I believe that this is exactly because the Nix ecosystem has a relatively flat hierarchy and everything that is considered an improvement is generally accepted (if there is someone who has the time to review it).

I agree that we have a problem in that some PRs get stuck, and we should address that. But having gatekeepers will only make things worse.

Also, I believe that in this discussion a lot of emphasis is put on PRs that are stuck because nobody seems to be willing to make a decision. That happens, but the vast majority of our PRs are stuck because we do not have enough people to review PRs.

5 Likes

Also, I believe that in this discussion a lot of emphasis is put on PRs
that are stuck because nobody seems to be willing to make a decision.

I think this is a consequence of 2 things:

  1. We generally have nice people in our community that don’t want to piss somebody else off

  2. We don’t have formal, explicit documentation of workflows (the why we do things in a certain way) which means no way to escalate

I have merged stuff that had quite some disagreements with a “unless somebody comes up with a compelling argument against this 1 week from now, I’ll go ahead and merge this”. At the same time, I have also accommodated changes that I disagreed with simply because the other person cared more about this specific issue than I did.

It would make things easier if we could simply say “please make these changes because this document tells us to do so”. It would also be great to be able to ping somebody in case of conflict (conflict is a little to harsh for this admittedly), which would allow us to do “I want this and XXX wants that. @somebody, please pick one”.

We have old PRs from both old and new contributors that have gotten stuck and it is a terrible signal to send when we want more hands on deck (hey, I’m guilty of this too).

11 Likes

Yes, and it’s even worse than that. GuixSD makes it hard to use OpenZFS even though OpenZFS is free (and indeed copylefted). There are arguably good reasons for that, but the fact remains that it’s not only unfree software that’s excluded.

I’m of a few minds about this and don’t have conclusions or a point… sketching the territory for my own benefit and sharing just-because.

I see a few things that feel like axioms here:

  1. There’s a limit to how much work-someone-doesn’t-want-to-do that they’ll do. This limit will ebb and flow with health and other commitments.
  2. There’s a finite amount of work we can all get done, regardless.
  3. Project-management/org/workflow decisions can:
    • increase or decrease the total amount of work that must be done
    • affect the amount and type of work getting allocated to individuals
    • “change the weather” in a way that shifts our individual limits in one direction or another

Presumably, the most-ideal outcomes for any “Project-management/org/workflow decisions” are a pileline that:

  • Doesn’t leak work that would otherwise benefit the community.
  • Doesn’t leak people who will otherwise benefit the community.
  • Does leak/shed/drop work that won’t benefit the community (low quality, high maintenance, misfeature etc.), but strikes some balance between limiting the total amount of energy these eat up and “leaking people”.
  • Resists clogging. (All causes! Collective indecision, local tyrants, trouble finding knowledgeable people to review or escalate to, people needing to take some time off or step away entirely with no one to stand in).
  • Minimizes duplicate effort. (I mean less “let’s have 3 reviewers” and more “this issue got read 100 times by people trying to run issue triage and never became actionable” or “this issue got bikeshedded for 2 years and never came to a clear conclusion”.)
  • Doesn’t naively allocate much work-someone-doesn’t-want-to-do to people who won’t/don’t want to do it.
  • Doesn’t default towards overloading and running off the most-productive maintainers with energy-sapping meta-work (unless we’re pretty sure the meta work is the bigger lever, and the maintainer wants to do it).
  • Defaults towards protecting uninterrupted blocks of time instead of becoming an interruption firehose.
9 Likes

Re: both:

A clear set of max 10 behavioral rules which are - first priority - effective against clogging!

@abathur your list actually sounds like excellent abstract requirements for a draft RFC on the topic.

I’d add: label-triage for humans based on empowered, educated and understandable reasoning is key vs the cryptographic approach :cry: .

I mean you just start to ignore labels when most of the time it looks like this with no actionable value for a human being.

1 Like

I find these labels very useful when reviewing:

  • The Linux/Darwin counts:
    • Tell you how many other packages depend on this change and thus how large the impact would be if the PR breaks something. Of course, leaf packages can be important to large groups of users too, but the counts are somewhat of a reasonable proxy of what the impact of merging PR is going to be.
    • Give a ball-park estimation of how many packages your machine will be building when you want to nixpkgs-review that PR. If this is a extremely large number, you probably want to cherry-pick a set of dependent packages that are either important or representative.
    • Tell you whether the PR should target master or staging.
  • The by-package-maintainer label is useful, because these PRs are typically quicker reviews (unless they introduce a new package). A maintainer typically has a lot of domain-specific experience, is likely to have tried a new version somewhat exhaustively, and knows the quirks of the software.

I agree that there are other useful possible labels (waiting review, waiting for author response, waiting to be merged, etc.) But the existing labels are very useful, at least to me.

5 Likes

I suspect many straightforward approaches will place values on this list in tension/conflict, so much of its value (if it has any) may come from what it rules out. Process changes that reduce individual/global workload and spread it around better are hopefully welcome, but I also think there are some real risks, like:

  • expending effort just to relocate the clogs (i.e., from collective indecision over a PR to collective indecision over how long we should give a previously-stellar-but-now-burned-out code-owner to address rule on the PR before giving someone else their turf)
  • converting tasks people are doing with enthusiasm but not consistency/efficiency into a bureaucratic process that they avoid, or into a regular notification-nag that keeps them from focusing on other work
2 Likes

You are right, I didn’t mean to question the theoretic usefulness of the labels, that is their information value.

I meant to question the practical usefulness in social context, that is their informational value + the ability to interpret them.

This is why I labeled them provocatively as cryptographic: You need decoder knowledge (like many do). :wink:

It could also be:

  • impact/S, impact/M, …
  • maintainer-advantage

You might notice the differenc in stance. It makes them automatically more human friendly.

I sometimes feel labels might have been abused as stateful data store for the ofborg because they seem to change in arbitrary non-intuitive fashions.

I also had a discussion with @timokau on this about marvin labels (“LastMile” / “LastMeter”). That discussion supports where I’m coming from and where I’m aiming at.

But it’s a secondary (even terciary) hurdle, if existing labels only would be used more actively.

I sound’s like you stress pareto-efficiency here. I think you are right in doing so!

Without some sort of elevated powers, non-pareto-efficient agreements aren’t possible.

I’d argue, RFCs are the elevated power and the place to “piss somebody off” without acrually pissing them off.

+1 to seeing if there could be improvements to the review process.

I sort of think we should just auto approve r-ryantm PR’s that are older than a week old. They’re basically the best tested PRs in existence + I think they’re cognitively expensive to review compared to their risk.

I like the idea. @ryantm, why not? If those are mostly good why not inverse the odds? (and be a bit pushy on the maintainers, who’d else review them on unstable)