Introducing NuGet Package Manager

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NuGet (recently renamed from NuPack) is a free open source developer focused package manager intent on simplifying the process of incorporating third party libraries into a .NET application during development.

After several months of work, the Outercurve Foundation (formerly CodePlex Foundation) today announced the acceptance of the NuGet project to the ASP.NET Open Source Gallery. This is another contribution to the foundation by the Web Platform and Tools (WPT) team at Microsoft.

Also be sure to read Scott Guthrie’s announcement post and Scott Hanselman’s NuGet walkthrough. There’s also a video interview with me on Web Camps TV where I talk about NuGet.

nuget-229x64Just to warn you, the rest of this blog post is full of blah blah blah about NuGet so if you’re a person of action, feel free to go:

Now back to my blabbing. I have to tell you, I’m really excited to finally be able to talk about this in public as we’ve been incubating this for several months now. During that time, we collaborated with various influential members of the .NET open source community including the Nu team in order to gather feedback on delivering the right project.

What Does NuGet Solve?

The .NET open source community has churned out a huge catalog of useful libraries. But what has been lacking is a widely available easy to use manner of discovering and incorporating these libraries into a project.

Take ELMAH, for example. For the most part, this is a very simple library to use. Even so, it may take the following steps to get started:

  1. You first need to discover ELMAH somehow.
  2. The download page for ELMAH includes multiple zip files. You need to make sure you choose the correct one.
  3. After downloading the zip file, don’t forget to unblock it.
  4. If you’re really careful, you’ll verify the hash of the downloaded file against the hash provided by the download page.
  5. The package needs to be unzipped, typically into a lib folder within the solution.
  6. You’ll then add an assembly reference to the assembly from within the Visual Studio solution explorer.
  7. Finally, you need to figure out the correct configuration settings and apply them to the web.config file.

That’s a lot of steps for a simple library, and it doesn’t even take into account what you might do if the library itself depends on multiple other libraries.

NuGet automates all of these common and tedious tasks, allowing you to spend more time using the library than getting it set up in your project.

NuGet Guiding Principles

I remember several months ago, Hot on the heels of shipping ASP.NET MVC 2, I was in a meeting with Scott Guthrie (aka “The Gu”) reviewing plans for ASP.NET MVC 3 when he laid the gauntlet down and said it was time to ship a package manager for .NET developers. The truth was, it was long overdue.

I set about doing some research looking at existing package management systems on other platforms for inspiration such as Ruby Gems, Apt-Get, and Maven. Package Management is well trodden ground and we have a lot to learn from what’s come before.

After this research, I came up with a set of guiding principles for the design of NuGet that I felt specifically addressed the needs of .NET developers.

  1. Works with your source code. This is an important principle which serves to meet two goals: The changes that NuGet makes can be committed to source control and the changes that NuGet makes can be x-copy deployed. This allows you to install a set of packages and commit the changes so that when your co-worker gets latest, her development environment is in the same state as yours. This is why NuGet packages do not install assemblies into the GAC as that would make it difficult to meet these two goals. NuGet doesn’t touch anything outside of your solution folder. It doesn’t install programs onto your computer. It doesn’t install extensions into Visual studio. It leaves those tasks to other package managers such as the Visual Studio Extension manager and the Web Platform Installer.
  2. Works against a well known central feed.As part of this project, we plan to host a central feed that contains (or points to) NuGet packages. Package authors will be able to create an account and start adding packages to the feed. The NuGet client tools will know about this feed by default.
  3. No central approval process for adding packages. When you upload a package to the NuGet Package Gallery (which doesn’t exist yet), you won’t have to wait around for days or weeks waiting for someone to review it and approve it. Instead, we’ll rely on the community to moderate and police itself when it comes to the feed. This is in the spirit of how CodePlex.com and RubyGems.org work.
  4. Anyone can host a feed. While we will host a central feed, we wanted to make sure that anyone who wants to can also host a feed. I would imagine that some companies might want to host an internal feed of approved open source libraries, for example. Or you may want to host a feed containing your curated list of the best open source libraries. Who knows! The important part is that the NuGet tools are not hard-coded to a single feed but support pointing them to multiple feeds.
  5. Command Line and GUI based user interfaces. It was important to us to support the productivity of a command line based console interface. Thus NuGet ships with the PowerShell based Package Manager Console which I believe will appeal to power users. Likewise, NuGet also includes an easy to use GUI dialog for adding packages.

NuGet’s Primary Goal

In my mind, the primary goal of NuGet is to help foster a vibrant open source community on the .NET platform by providing a means for .NET developers to easily share and make use of open source libraries.

As an open source developer myself, this goal is something that is near and dear to my heart. It also reflects the evolution of open source in DevDiv (the division I work in) as this is a product that will ship with other Microsoft products, but also accepts contributions. Given the primary goal that I stated, it only makes sense that NuGet itself would be released as a truly open source product.

There’s one feature in particular I want to call out that’s particularly helpful to me as an open source developer. I run an open source blog engine called Subtext that makes use of around ten to fifteen other open source libraries. Before every release, I go through the painful process of looking at each of these libraries looking for new updates and incorporating them into our codebase.

With NuGet, this is one simple command: List-Package –updates. The dialog also displays which packages have updates available. Nice!

And keep in mind, while the focus is on open source, NuGet works just fine with any kind of package. So you can create a network share at work, put all your internal packages in there, and tell your co-workers to point NuGet to that directory. No need to set up a NuGet server.

Get Involved!

So in the fashion of all true open source projects, this is the part where I beg for your help. ;)

It is still early in the development cycle for NuGet. For example, the Add Package Dialog is really just a prototype intended to be rewritten from scratch. We kept it in the codebase so people can try out the user interface workflow and provide feedback.

We have yet to release our first official preview (though it’s coming soon). What we have today is closer in spirit to a nightly build (we’re working on getting a Continuous Integration (CI) server in place).

So go over to the NuGet website on CodePlex and check out our guide to contributing to NuGet. I’ve been working hard to try and get documentation in place, but I could sure use some help.

With your help, I hope that NuGet becomes a wildly successful example of how building products in collaboration with the open source community benefits our business and the community.

Tags: NuGet, Package Manager, Open Source

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