PEP 262 -- A Database of Installed Python Packages
PEP: 262
Title: A Database of Installed Python Packages
Version: $Revision$
Last-Modified: $Date$
Author: A.M. Kuchling <amk at>
Status: Deferred
Type: Standards Track
Created: 08-Jul-2001
Post-History: 27-Mar-2002


    This PEP describes a format for a database of the Python software
    installed on a system.

    (In this document, the term "distribution" is used to mean a set 
    of code that's developed and distributed together.  A "distribution"
    is the same as a Red Hat or Debian package, but the term "package"
    already has a meaning in Python terminology, meaning "a directory
    with an file in it.")


    We need a way to figure out what distributions, and what versions of
    those distributions, are installed on a system.  We want to provide
    features similar to CPAN, APT, or RPM.  Required use cases that
    should be supported are:
        * Is distribution X on a system?  
        * What version of distribution X is installed?
        * Where can the new version of distribution X be found?  (This can
          be defined as either "a home page where the user can go and
          find a download link", or "a place where a program can find
          the newest version?"  Both should probably be supported.)
        * What files did distribution X put on my system?
        * What distribution did the file x/y/ come from?
        * Has anyone modified x/y/ locally?
        * What other distributions does this software need?
        * What Python modules does this distribution provide?

Database Location

    The database lives in a bunch of files under
    <prefix>/lib/python<version>/install-db/.  This location will be
    called INSTALLDB through the remainder of this PEP.

    The structure of the database is deliberately kept simple; each
    file in this directory or its subdirectories (if any) describes a
    single distribution.  Binary packagings of Python software such as
    RPMs can then update Python's database by just installing the
    corresponding file into the INSTALLDB directory.

    The rationale for scanning subdirectories is that we can move to a
    directory-based indexing scheme if the database directory contains
    too many entries.  For example, this would let us transparently
    switch from INSTALLDB/Numeric to INSTALLDB/N/Nu/Numeric or some
    similar hashing scheme.

Database Contents

    Each file in INSTALLDB or its subdirectories describes a single
    distribution, and has the following contents:

        An initial line listing the sections in this file, separated
        by whitespace.  Currently this will always be 'PKG-INFO FILES
        REQUIRES PROVIDES'.  This is for future-proofing; if we add a
        new section, for example to list documentation files, then
        we'd add a DOCS section and list it in the contents.  Sections
        are always separated by blank lines.

    A distribution that uses the Distutils for installation should
    automatically update the database.  Distributions that roll their
    own installation will have to use the database's API to
    manually add or update their own entry.  System package managers
    such as RPM or pkgadd can just create the new file in the
    INSTALLDB directory.

    Each section of the file is used for a different purpose.

    PKG-INFO section

        An initial set of RFC-822 headers containing the distribution
        information for a file, as described in PEP 241, "Metadata for
        Python Software Packages".

    FILES section 
        An entry for each file installed by the
        distribution. Generated files such as .pyc and .pyo files are
        on this list as well as the original .py files installed by a
        distribution; their checksums won't be stored or checked,

        Each file's entry is a single tab-delimited line that contains
        the following fields: 

            * The file's full path, as installed on the system.  

            * The file's size

            * The file's permissions.  On Windows, this field will always be 

            * The owner and group of the file, separated by a tab.
              On Windows, these fields will both be 'unknown'.

            * A SHA1 digest of the file, encoded in hex.  For generated files
              such as *.pyc files, this field must contain the string "-",
              which indicates that the file's checksum should not be verified.

    REQUIRES section

    This section is a list of strings giving the services required for
    this module distribution to run properly.  This list includes the
    distribution name ("python-stdlib") and module names ("rfc822",
    "htmllib", "email", "email.Charset").  It will be specified 
    by an extra 'requires' argument to the distutils.core.setup()
    function.  For example:

        setup(..., requires=['xml.utils.iso8601', 

    Eventually there may be automated tools that look through all of
    the code and produce a list of requirements, but it's unlikely
    that these tools can handle all possible cases; a manual 
    way to specify requirements will always be necessary.

    PROVIDES section 

    This section is a list of strings giving the services provided by
    an installed distribution.  This list includes the distribution name
    ("python-stdlib") and module names ("rfc822", "htmllib", "email",

    XXX should files be listed?  e.g. $PREFIX/lib/color-table.txt,
    to pick up data files, required scripts, etc.

    Eventually there may be an option to let module developers add
    their own strings to this section.  For example, you might add
    "XML parser" to this section, and other module distributions could
    then list "XML parser" as one of their dependencies to indicate
    that multiple different XML parsers can be used.  For now this
    ability isn't supported because it raises too many issues: do we
    need a central registry of legal strings, or just let people put
    whatever they like?  Etc., etc...  

API Description

    There's a single fundamental class, InstallationDatabase.  The
    code for it lives in distutils/  (XXX any
    suggestions for alternate locations in the standard library, or an
    alternate module name?)

    The InstallationDatabase returns instances of Distribution that contain
    all the information about an installed distribution.

    XXX Several of the fields in Distribution are duplicates of ones in
    distutils.dist.Distribution.  Probably they should be factored out
    into the Distribution class proposed here, but can this be done in a
    backward-compatible way?
    InstallationDatabase has the following interface:

class InstallationDatabase:

    def __init__ (self, path=None):
        Read the installation database rooted at the specified path.
        If path is None, INSTALLDB is used as the default.    

    def get_distribution (self, distribution_name):
        """get_distribution(distribution_name:string) : Distribution
        Get the object corresponding to a single distribution.

    def list_distributions (self):
        """list_distributions() : [Distribution]
        Return a list of all distributions installed on the system, 
        enumerated in no particular order.

    def find_distribution (self, path):
        """find_file(path:string) : Distribution
        Search and return the distribution containing the file 'path'.  
        Returns None if the file doesn't belong to any distribution
        that the InstallationDatabase knows about.
        XXX should this work for directories?

class Distribution:

    """Instance attributes:
    name : string
      Distribution name
    files : {string : (size:int, perms:int, owner:string, group:string,
       Dictionary mapping the path of a file installed by this distribution 
       to information about the file.

    The following fields all come from PEP 241.

    version : distutils.version.Version
      Version of this distribution
    platform : [string]
    summary : string
    description : string
    keywords : string
    home_page : string    
    author : string
    author_email : string
    license : string

    def add_file (self, path):
        Record the size, ownership, &c., information for an installed file.
        XXX as written, this would stat() the file.  Should the size/perms/
        checksum all be provided as parameters to this method instead?

    def has_file (self, path):
        """has_file(path:string) : Boolean
        Returns true if the specified path belongs to a file in this

     def check_file (self, path):
        """check_file(path:string) : Boolean
        Checks whether the file's size, checksum, and ownership match,
        returning true if they do.


    A description of the database API, to be added to this PEP.
    Patches to the Distutils that 1) implement an InstallationDatabase
    class, 2) Update the database when a new distribution is installed.  3)
    add a simple package management tool, features to be added to this
    PEP.  (Or should that be a separate PEP?)  See [2] for the current 

Open Issues

    PJE suggests the installation database "be potentially present on
    every directory in sys.path, with the contents merged in sys.path
    order.  This would allow home-directory or other
    alternate-location installs to work, and ease the process of a
    distutils install command writing the file." Nice feature: it does
    mean that package manager tools can take into account Python
    packages that a user has privately installed.

    AMK wonders: what does do if it's told to install
    packages to a directory not on sys.path?  Does it write an
    install-db directory to the directory it's told to write to, or
    does it do nothing?

    Should the package-database file itself be included in the files
    list?  (PJE would think yes, but of course it can't contain its
    own checksum.  AMK can't think of a use case where including the
    DB file matters.)

    PJE wonders about writing the package DB file
    *first*, before installing any other files, so that failed partial
    installations can both be backed out, and recognized as broken.
    This PEP may have to specify some algorithm for recognizing this

    Should we guarantee the format of installation databases remains
    compatible across Python versions, or is it subject to arbitrary
    change?  Probably we need to guarantee compatibility.


Rejected Suggestions

    Instead of using one text file per distribution, one large text
    file or an anydbm file could be used.  This has been rejected for
    a few reasons.  First, performance is probably not an extremely
    pressing concern as the database is only used when installing or
    removing software, a relatively infrequent task.  Scalability also
    likely isn't a problem, as people may have hundreds of Python
    packages installed, but thousands or tens of thousands seems
    unlikely.  Finally, individual text files are compatible with
    installers such as RPM or DPKG because a binary packager can just
    drop the new database file into the database directory.  If one
    large text file or a binary file were used, the Python database
    would then have to be updated by running a postinstall script.

    On Windows, the permissions and owner/group of a file aren't
    stored.  Windows does in fact support ownership and access
    permissions, but reading and setting them requires the win32all
    extensions, and they aren't present in the basic Python installer
    for Windows.


    [1] Michael Muller's patch (posted to the Distutils-SIG around 28
        Dec 1999) generates a list of installed files.

    [2] A patch to implement this PEP will be tracked as 
        patch #562100 on SourceForge.  .
        Code implementing the installation database is currently in 
        Python CVS in the nondist/sandbox/pep262 directory.


    Ideas for this PEP originally came from postings by Greg Ward,
    Fred L. Drake Jr., Thomas Heller, Mats Wichmann, Phillip J. Eby,
    and others.

    Many changes and rewrites to this document were suggested by the
    readers of the Distutils SIG.   


    This document has been placed in the public domain.