I'm hoping that RHEL 8's decision on Python 2 isn't Ubuntu 20.04's decision

April 12, 2018

I recently wrote about whether Ubuntu 20.04 will include Python 2, and threw in a sidebar about it in RHEL 8. Thanks to comments from Twirrim and Seth (on this entry), I then found out that Red Hat has recently announced that they won't won't be including Python 2 in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8. This is in a way very useful to know, because we'd like to build some systems with RHEL 8 in the not too distant future if we can and those systems will need to run some Python-based system management tools. Since RHEL 8 won't include Python 2, I'd better start thinking about how to make these tools Python 3.

However, despite the news about Python 2 in RHEL 8, I remain reasonably optimistic that Python 2 will be in Ubuntu 20.04 (which would be very convenient for us, due to the relatively short time to 20.04). This is because I think there are a number of significant differences between the situation Red Hat finds themselves in with RHEL 8 and the situation Ubuntu will be in with Ubuntu 20.04.

Red Hat ships only a limited number of carefully curated packages in 'Red Hat Enterprise Linux' and then strongly supports them for a quite long time (so far for ten years, so RHEL 8 is expected to be supported through at least 2028). Red Hat is clearly willing to either change or remove packages that would normally depend on Python 2, and they have the manpower (and small package set) to make this feasible and presumably not too disruptive to what RHEL users expect (ie, not removing too many packages).

By contrast, Ubuntu has a shorter support period (20.04 will be supported only to early 2025), ships significantly more packages even in their nominally fully supported package set, supports them to a lesser extent, relies much more on upstream Debian packaging efforts, and has an escape hatch in the form of the officially less supported and much larger 'universe' package set. I'm not sure how Debian is doing in their efforts to push Python 2 out, but my impression is that it hasn't been going very fast (as with basically all large scale changes of this nature in Debian). All of this makes it both less of a burden for Ubuntu 20.04 to include Python 2 and probably more disruptive to not do so (with more excluded packages and also surprised users). As a result, I expect Ubuntu 20.04 to include Python 2 at least in their broad 'universe' package set.

(Red Hat doesn't have a formal equivalent of the Ubuntu 'universe' package set, but RHEL does have a rough functional equivalent in EPEL. It's possible that Python 2 for RHEL 8 could wind up being packaged in EPEL, at least for a while.)

PS: It'll be interesting to see if there's a /usr/bin/python on RHEL 8 is when it comes out, or if there's only a python3. I think my personal preference is for there to be no /usr/bin/python, but that's biased by having multiple systems and wanting things that expect Python 2 to immediately fail on RHEL 8 with a clear error rather than exploding mysteriously.

Sidebar: My guess at Ubuntu's path to removing Python 2

Ubuntu doesn't just do LTS releases every two years; they also do regular releases every six months. These releases are both an early signal of what will be in a future LTS release and a chance for Ubuntu to start making gradual changes. Since completely dropping Python 2 from one release to another would be quite disruptive, what I expect Ubuntu to do instead is first move it (and all of the packages that depend on it) to the 'universe' package set. This would effectively start the clock running on its actual removal in some later release, and also give people like me some advance warning about it.

(I believe that packages can be moved this way without causing heartburn to people upgrading from one release to the next, but I may be wrong.)


Comments on this page:

By rwoodsmall at 2018-04-12 11:11:49:

I'd wager RHEL/CentOS 8 will leverage work already done in SCL (software collections) for backwards-compatible Python 2 support outside of the normal system installation paths.

https://www.softwarecollections.org/

There is also the inline-with-upstream-stable (IUS) repository for RHEL/CentOS.

It kind of complements EPEL and is the better source for certain packages like Python. It currently has python34u, python35u and python36u.

Thus, I wouldn't be surprised when IUS includes some Python 2.7 stable fork, once it's removed from RHEL and Fedora (and thus EPEL).

The big advantage of IUS over Software Collections is that you don't have to apply any LD_LIBRARY_PATH hacks or mess with the environment in other ways. It's just normal packages, installed in the normal locations that don't conflict with RHEL/EPEL packages.

Written on 12 April 2018.
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Last modified: Thu Apr 12 02:16:55 2018
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