teapot_intro - TEA Package Management

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teapot_intro(n) 1.0 tpm "TEA Package Management"


teapot_intro - TEApot Introduction


The TEApot system is ActiveState's initial implementation of Tcl package repository management.

At the center of the system we have three main concepts which interact with each other:

  1. Entities

  2. Meta data

  3. Repositories

The relationship between these three is simple:

  • Repositories -> contain Entities -> contain Meta data -> describe Entities.

An entity contains meta data which describes the entity, whether the entity is a package, an application, or a profile. For the rest of this introductory document I will focus primarily on examples relating to package entities, i.e. packages, mentioning other entities only where necessary.

We limit what can be stored in a repository. I.e. the TEApot system is not able to handle any possible form a Tcl package may take (such as, for example, a directory containing multiple packages sharing a single "pkgIndex.tcl" file). The handful of formats it can process however are enough as all other formats can be converted to at least one of them. Just as with Tcl Modules, as described in TIP 189 we give up on the extreme set of choices available to Tcl developers, making things easier, yet without truly limiting the system in what it can do.

Entities and Storage Formats


TEApot currently handling three types of entities:


Packages are Tcl packages, except that their executable component is not standing alone anymore, but has meta data associated with it.


Applications are Tcl based applications, except that their executable component is not standing alone anymore, but has meta data associated with it.


Profiles are named collections of entities. As an example of profiles, ActiveState has defined a Tcllib profile (which describes all of the Tcllib modules) and, for that matter, all of ActiveTcl.

They are special insofar as the provided repository server (teapot) recognizes them and tags them as such in the package listings it generates in response to search and list requests. The standard client (teacup) recognizes them as well. There the special treatment is that the client will follow and install the referenced entitites, but not the profile itself.

While profiles are treated specially by the various applications of the teapot system at the technical level they are not special at all. They can come in any of the forms listed above, with the proviso that anything beyond their meta data will be ignored. As only their dependencies matter, and as they are not installed, their functionality is irrelevant, and can be left out completely.

While it is possible to package a profile as a zip archive (containing only meta data) we do expect that the majority of profiles will be packaged as Tcl Modules. This is also the format used when the client is instructed to generate a profile for a list of packages. See the next section for details about these storage formats.

Storage Formats

TEApot accepts entities which are in one of the four formats below and understands how the meta data describing them is embedded into them. The details of the latter are specified in the TEApot Meta Data Specification document.

Tcl Module

Tcl Modules are for packages consisting of a single Tcl file.

Zip archive

Zip archives are the catch-all for all other types of packages. The important package index, i.e. "pkgIndex.tcl", and the meta data have to be stored without a path. In essence the archive represents a single directory containing all the files of the package.


Starkits are an extended form of Tcl Modules, a source-able Tcl script at the beginning with a metakit filesystem attached at the end. See TIP 190 for more details on the use of starkits as Tcl modules. This format can be used to hold a package, as an alternate to Zip archives, but we expect the main use to be for applications.


Starpacks are one step further away from Tcl Modules, the source-able header replaced by a binary executable capable of using the attached metakit filesystem. This is the format for platform-specific applications.

Meta data

The meta data to be associated with packages and applications is in a very free-form keyword/value based format, essentially an encoding for a Tcl dictionary plus identification information naming the entity in question.

The details of the format itself and how the data is stored in the various forms of packages as described in the previous section can be found in the TEApot Meta Data Specification.

One thing of note is that the quite unlimited nature of the format seems to go very much against the grain of making things easier by limiting choice to the main/important options, as we so strongly expounded at the beginning of this document.

There is a reason for this however. Packages in their various forms have been a feature of Tcl which has existed for quite some time, and by now we have gained an understanding of its space - what the most important forms are.

Meta data for packages however is at the very beginning of its life and it is not clear at this time which meta data is merely wanted, possibly needed, or absolutely essential. Because of this we are intentionally not limiting the imagination of users with regard to keywords and their meaning, with the sole exception of the keywords which are claimed by ActiveState's tools for their use.


TEApot repositories come in basically two forms, opaque and transparent. The latter expose their internal structure, i.e. filesystem hierarchy, and make it accessible to the package management code of a tclsh. An opaque repository on the other hand is not accessible to a tclsh.

Because of that the term transparent is basically synonymous with the term installation repository, a repository from which packages are loaded for actual execution.

This implicit connection to a tclsh is another difference between transparent/installation and opaque repositories. We can store whatever package we like into an opaque repository, but a transparent repository can hold only packages the connected tclsh is actually able to execute. I.e. only packages with an architecture matching the tclsh can be stored. To be able to know this architecture the implicit connection is made explicit, by telling installation repositories which shells are using them.

In summary, transparent repositories are designed for interaction with Tcl installations, whereas opaque repositories are more cast into the role of general, central archives servicing the installations.

There is a second axis of classification for repositories. The relevant terms for this axis are local versus remote, or filesystem versus network. A local repository is accessible through the filesystem, while a remote repository is accessible through the web, i.e. the network.

This makes for a total of four classes of repositories, one of which is empty. We do not have remote transparent repositories.

local transparent

A user of ActiveTcl's tclsh uses this type of repository when they invoke Tcl's package command. This is also where teacup installs packages.

local opaque

The Tcl Dev Kit comes with a helper repository containing a number of profiles to translate bogus package names in older project files to the correct names. It is opaque and in the filesystem of the Tcl Dev Kit installation.

Other repositories which can fall under this heading could be

  • Company-specific company-wide central repositories.

  • Developer-specific repositories for TclApp to draw upon.

  • etc.

remote opaque

ActiveState's public repository of Tcl packages falls under this heading. A company-specific company-wide central repository may also fall under this, if it is made accessible over the web instead of a company-wide filesystem.

Repositories of this kind can be accessed by teacup, as a source of packages to install.

remote transparent

It is possible to implement such a repository, by extending Tcl's package management code to be able to load a package through the network, however this has heavy implications for the security of an installation, most likely weakening it, and reliability of the network comes into play as well. We are not willing to deal with that and have punted on this.

This is especially true as it is always possible to copy the required packages into a local repository, giving the user much better control of their environment.

Further reading

  1. The TEApot Glossary of Terms.

  2. The TEApot Meta Data Specification. At least the section Keywords with predefined semantics is important, specifying all the keywords ActiveState has laid claim to and given meaning, for use by its set of TEApot applications.


This document will undoubtedly contain bugs and other problems. Please report such at the ActiveState ActiveTcl Bug Tracker. The relevant component is teapot. Please also report any ideas for enhancements you may have for either application and/or documentation.