TL;DR: Ubuntu 12.04 LTS will contain only Python 2.7 and 3.2, while Ubuntu 11.10 will contain Python 3.2, 2.7 and possibly 2.6, but possibly not.
Last week, I attended the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Budapest, Hungary. These semi-annual events are open to everyone, and hundreds of people participate both in person and remotely. Budapest's was called UDS-O, where the 'O' stands for Oneiric Ocelot, the code name for Ubuntu 11.10, which will be released in October 2011. This is where we did the majority of planning for what changes, new features, and other developments you'll find in the next version of Ubuntu. UDS-P will be held at the end of the year in Orlando, Florida and will cover the as yet unnamed 12.04 release, which will be a Long Term Support release.
LTS releases are special, because we make longer guarantees for official support: 3 years on the desktop and 5 years on the server. Because of this, we're making decisions now to ensure that 12.04 LTS is a stable, confident platform for years to come.
I attended many sessions, and there is a lot of exciting stuff coming, but I want to talk in some detail about one area that I'm deeply involved in. What's going to happen with Python for Oneiric and 12.04 LTS?
First, a brief summary of where we are today. Natty Narwhal is the code name for Ubuntu 11.04, which was released back in April and is the most recent stable release. It is not an LTS though; the last LTS was Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, release back in October 2010. In Lucid, the default Python (i.e. /usr/bin/python) is 2.6 and Python 2.7 is not officially supported or available. Python 3.1 is available for Lucid, but not installed by default.
In Natty, the default Python is 2.7 with 2.6 still being officially supported. This means that you can have both Python 2.6 and 2.7 on your Natty machine, and where possible, packages were built for both Python versions. Where this was not possible, you'll almost always find a package for Python 2.7 instead of 2.6. Natty also has Python 3.2 and 3.1 available, with 3.2 being the default.
Two more bits of background are useful to know. In Ubuntu (inherited from Debian, where most packages are initially developed), we separate Python 2 support and Python 3 support into separate "stacks", meaning entirely separate binary packages even if the source packages are the same. This has many benefits, including allowing a system administrator to only install the Python 2 stack, or only the Python 3 stack if they want. It also makes for our eventual transition to Python 3 much easier, because packages don't need to be renamed. So for example, if you see a package named "python-foo" you know this is the Foo package for Python 2. You might also see a "python3-foo" which would be the Python 3 version of Foo.
Also, many packages are built for all supported versions in a particular stack. So for example, if we want to make Foo available for both Python 2.6 and 2.7, we'll include support for both in a single python-foo package. Pure Python source code is generally easily shared, so this reduces the duplication (more on this in another blog posting), however extension modules, which are usually implemented in C, must be compiled twice, and both shared libraries must be included in the same binary package. This means if we are supporting package Example which contains an extension module, for both Python 2.6 and 2.7, the binary package will contain two shared libraries, effectively doubling the disk consumption for extension module support.
Keep all that in mind as I describe what comes next!
To understand our plans for Oneiric, it's first useful to explain our goals for the next LTS, since we'll be using 11.10 as a transitional cycle. For 12.04 LTS, we want to support just one Python 2 version and just one Python 3 version. Because Python 2.6 is in security-fix only mode in upstream Python, we want to drop support for it in 12.04 LTS. This will also allow us to reclaim some space on the installation CDs because we won't need to include extension modules compiled for both Python 2.6 and 2.7. Last cycle we calculated the savings at about 10MiB, which is not insignificant on a standard CD.
For 12.04 LTS, the only Python 3 version we want to support is Python 3.2. Our thinking here is that there really isn't much code out there that depends on Python 3 yet, and Python 3.2 has many very useful features that make it (IMO) the first Python 3 to start basing production quality code on. We're going to put our money where our mouth is here, and I'll write more on that later too.
The decision to drop Python 3.1 support for 12.04 LTS is, as far as I know, completely uncontroversial, so this will happen in Oneiric. And because Python 3.3 will not be released before 12.04 LTS, we will be making that change very soon, so as to provide the longest possible period of stabilization and porting between now and April 2012. If you've been holding off on developing for Python 3, now is a great time to jump in!
Dropping Python 2.6 is somewhat more controversial for several reasons. First, in Ubuntu, we rely very heavily on Debian for the majority of packages, and we strongly encourage our developers to submit patches and new packages in Debian first, with requests for syncing to Ubuntu once they're available in Debian. My take on this relationship is that, because Ubuntu has strictly timed releases while Debian has a "release-when-ready" policy, we can often use Ubuntu's development cycle to blaze a trail (sometimes on the bleeding edge ;) but it's always critical to ensure that wherever possible, Debian contains the authoritative versions of our packages. Now that Debian has released Squeeze and is working on its Wheezy release, it's time for us to push our Ubuntu changes back into Debian, and work on getting the latest upstream versions into Debian, while syncing back to Ubuntu. For this reason, we just don't want to get too far ahead of Debian in our Python support. Our plan therefore is to continue to support Python 2.6 until Debian has completed their transition to Python 2.7 as the default version (they already support both, but Python 2.6 is still the default).
Our timeline therefore is to make a final decision on Python 2.6's fate for Oneiric by feature freeze. If Debian still hasn't completed their transition by then, we'll keep Python 2.6 for Oneiric and drop it as soon as the archive opens for 12.04 LTS. This should be pretty low risk for us, and it helps us better align ourselves with Debian, which is always a good thing! If you feel so inclined, you can help by working on some of the blocker bugs for Debian's transition to Python 2.7, as we will also be doing.
Another reason to be cautious about dropping Python 2.6 is because many of the services in our own data center are not yet ported to Python 2.7. Probably the biggest of such services is Launchpad. Our data center machines always run the previous LTS, and Lucid does not have Python 2.7, so this makes for a kind of Catch-22 for the Launchpad team. To address this, we've created a quasi-official PPA into which we'll backport Python 2.7 and many dependent modules. The Launchpad team can then use this PPA to work on their own port to Python 2.7 in plenty of time for 12.04 LTS. Anybody else out there who wants to do the same can also use our PPA, and if they need additional modules backported, they can create their own PPA which depends on ours for the base support.
So, that's what's happening, and why. Feedback is of course invited here, on the ubuntu-devel mailing list, or to me directly. If you want to follow along, you can take a look at the blueprint describing these changes, and more.
In the next articles, I plan to discuss how we're going to get to Python 3 only on the Ubuntu CDs, and how we're going to help with the migration to dh_python2. Cheers!