Design Overview


Distro Tracker is implemented as a Python 3 application using the Django framework.

An important goal of the project is to implement a system which is easily customizable so it could serve Debian derivatives too (vendors).

This document will present an overview of the high-level design choices which were made.

Note that a previous version of the service pre-existed (it was known as the Package Tracking System), but which operated over completely different technology (statically generated documents, etc.). Some features have been kept identical over the rewrite.

Email Interface

There are three aspects to the email interface: the control message processing, dispatching received package messages to the correct subscribers and creating news items based on received emails.

This is implemented in the distro_tracker.mail app. The three mentioned functionalities are found in the following subpackages and modules of this app:

  • distro_tracker.mail.control.control
  • distro_tracker.mail.dispatch
  • distro_tracker.mail.mail_news

Email Control Messages

Distro Tracker expects the system’s MTA to pipe any received control emails to the Django management command. For information how to set this up, refer to the mailbot setup.

The actual processing of the received command email message is implemented in distro_tracker.mail.control.process.process(). It does this by retrieving the message’s payload and feeding it into an instance of distro_tracker.mail.control.commands.CommandProcessor.

The CommandProcessor takes care of parsing and executing all given commands.

All available commands are implemented in the distro_tracker.mail.control.commands module. Each command must be a subclass of the distro_tracker.mail.control.commands.base.Command class. There are three attributes of the class that subclasses must override:

  • META - most importantly provides the command name
  • REGEX_LIST - allows matching a string to the command
  • handle() - implements the command processing

The class distro_tracker.mail.control.commands.CommandFactory produces instances of the correct Command subclasses based on a given line.

Commands which require confirmation are easily implemented by decorating the class with the distro_tracker.mail.control.commands.confirmation.needs_confirmation() class decorator. In addition to that, two more methods can be implemented, but are not mandatory:

  • pre_confirm - for actions which should come before asking for
    confirmation for the command. If this method does not return an object which evalutes as a True Boolean, no confirmation is sent. It should also make sure to add appropriate status messages to the response. If the method is not provided, then a default response indicating that a confirmation is required is output.
  • get_confirmation_message - Method which should return a string
    containing an additional message to be included in the confirmation email.

Email Dispatch

As is the case for control message processing, Distro Tracker expects the system’s MTA to pipe any received package emails to a management command - For information how to set this up, refer to the mailbot setup.

The function that performs the processing of a received package message is distro_tracker.mail.dispatch.process(). In order to tag the received message with a keyword, it uses a vendor-provided function get_keyword. In case a vendor has not implemented this function, the message is tagged as default.

News from Email Messages

Distro Tracker allows for automatic news creation based on received emails. It is necessary to set up the MTA so it pipes received emails which should potentially be turned into news items, to the management command

News are created as distro_tracker.core.models.News objects and each of the model’s instances associated with a particular package is displayed in the NewsPanel.

By default, any messages given to the management command which contains the X-Distro-Tracker-Package header are turned into news items with the content type of the news item being message/rfc822 and the content the entire message.

However, it is also possible to implement a vendor-specific function distro_tracker.vendor.skeleton.rules.create_news_from_email_message() which will be given the received email message object and can create custom news items based on vendor-specific rules.

Tasks Framework

Since Distro Tracker aggregates information based on many different sources, a way to perform incremental updates is necessary. This means that if an update from one source causes such changes which could have an effect on some other information, this information needs to be updated, as well. In order to avoid recalculating everything after each update, a framework for executing such tasks is implemented in distro_tracker.core.tasks.

Each task defines a list of “events” which it produces and a list of “events” it depends on. An event is any change of shared information or anything else a task would like to inform other tasks of happening. Knowing this, the framework can build a graph of dependencies between tasks.

When running a single task, all other tasks which are dependent on that one are automatically run afterwards, in the correct order and ensuring a task runs only once all the tasks it depends on are completed. It also makes sure not to initiate any task for which no events were raised.

In order to implement a task, the distro_tracker.core.tasks.BaseTask class should be subclassed. Its attributes PRODUCES_EVENTS and DEPENDS_ON_EVENTS are lists of strings giving names of events which the task produces and depends on, respectively. The execute() method implements the task’s functionality.


All task classes should be placed in a module called tracker_tasks found at the top level of an installed Django app. Tasks in apps which are not installed will never be run.

When running a task, a distro_tracker.core.tasks.Job instance is created which keeps track of raised events, completed tasks and the order in which the tasks should run. It stores its state using the distro_tracker.core.tasks.JobState class which is in charge of making sure the job state is persistent, so that even if a job were to fail, it is still possible to reconstruct it and continue its execution.


Each task’s operation must be idempotent to ensure that if an error does occur before being able to save the state of the job, rerunning the task will not cause any inconsistencies.

A task has access to the Job instance it is a part of and can access all events raised during its processing. A convenience method get_all_events is provided which returns only the events the class has indicated in the DEPENDS_ON_EVENTS list.

For more information see the documentation on the distro_tracker.core.tasks module.

Vendor-specific Rules

Since Distro Tracker aims to be extensible, it allows a simple way for vendors to implement functions which are plugged in by core code when necessary.

Vendor-provided functions can be called using the function. The function object itself can be retrieved by using the lower-level distro_tracker.vendor.common.get_callable() function, but this should be avoided.

All vendor-provided functions must be found in the module given by the DISTRO_TRACKER_VENDOR_RULES settings value.

Package Information

Distro Tracker retrieves package information from a set of user-defined repositories. Admin users can add new distro_tracker.core.models.Repository instances through the admin panel. Information from repositories is updated by the task distro_tracker.core.retrieve_data.UpdateRepositoriesTask and it emits events based on changes found in the repositories.

Additional tasks are implemented in distro_tracker.core.retrieve_data which use those events to store pre-calculated (extracted) information ready to be rendered in a variety of contexts (webpage, REST, RDF, etc.).

Distro Tracker also updates the list of existing pseudo packages by using the vendor-provided function get_pseudo_package_list.

All retrieved data can be accessed by using the models found in distro_tracker.core.models. Refer to that module’s documentation for convenient APIs for interacting with the extracted information.

Data model

You may wish to check the data model. This can be done for instance with the following command after having installed ‘django_extensions’ in INSTALLED_APPS (see

$ ./ graph_models core | dot -Tpng >graph.png

Web Interface

Panels Framework

Distro Tracker allows an easy way to embed new information on a package Web page. It consists of implementing a subclass of the distro_tracker.core.panels.BasePanel class. Panels can provide the HTML directly or, alternatively, the name of the template which should be included. This template then has to render the panel’s information to the page.

It is recommended that the panel inherits from the core/panels/panel.html template and fills in its contents to the blocks defined in the template, so that the page remains visually consistent. This is not mandatory, however.


All panel classes should be placed in a module called tracker_panels found at the top level of an installed Django app. Panels from apps which are not installed will never appear on a package page.

Distro Tracker implements some general panels which could be used by any vendor. Refer to the documentation of each panel in distro_tracker.core.panels to see any possible ways of augmenting their information by implementing vendor-specific functions.

Views and Templates

The core views are found in distro_tracker.core.views and are extremely thin.

The package page view only finds the correct package model instance and passes it on to available panels. It renders a template which includes each panel within the skeleton of the page.

Other core views are in charge of a redirect of legacy package URLs, package search and package autocomplete.

Client-side Functionality

The client-side implements a simple autocomplete form for searching packages. It uses Javascript to call an HTTP endpoint implemented by one of the views.

The HTML of the pages uses the HTML5 standard.

The Bootstrap front-end framework is used for the GUI.