We’ve been using zc.buildout for Plone deployment and it’s working out great. A few days ago implemented a buildout recipe for Django project deployment, automatic web configuration, symlinking, media-folder structuring etc. and while I got it working, I came up with twisted feelings.
Buildout is from the creators of Zope (I suppose) so you can expect a powerful project code management tool. The question is, however, whether or not it suits your needs. In my case I found out it too heavy. I mean, to add even a simple task you have to create a new “recipe” (a package) that does the tricks. Of course some recipes are generic (found from PyPi) and you can just run them with your own INI options, but in my case I had to do some custom implementation. Creating a new python package isn’t that hard for sure 🙂 but there’s of course some learning curve, so the real question is should you spend time to learn it or not?
I found out that zc.buildout has some nice features like:
- Automatic requirements processing through setuptools
- Automatic (yet simple) removal of directories during recipe uninstall
- Clear structure (install(), update() & uninstall() methods)
- INI-syntax, python does have a clear syntax but INI is always clearer for a newbie
- Easy script creation (adjust python paths somewhat automatically)
- Easily repeatable
- Passing of arguments from one recipe to another
- It takes a while to learn zc.buildout
- It takes ‘another while’ to learn to write recipes
- Too much hassle for little things
- INI-syntax is very limited in features
- Buildout easily updates all your packages (that means also the ones you didn’t want to!)
- Lack of documentation (it has good docs to get you going.. but after a while it leaves you with open questions)
- Unnecessary overhead (for each script you launch, you’ll need a launcher script created via buildout)
There’s no denying zc.buildout is powerful, but I wouldn’t use it for projects which need reasonable amount of customization. It’s just plain easier and quicker to write shell scripts and while those won’t provide you with any sort of ready tools you won’t propably need them. For bringing up somewhat static environment, where you don’t need to hack things (like that for Plone) it’s quite a decent option, however.
I also explored alternatives to zc.buildout. I’ve been reading about earlier virtualenv but haven’t really tried it out until now. It looks very promising and creates a more flexible environment compared to zc.buildout. Of course their goals are not exactly the same. Also, there are a few other alternatives out there, among them a new Python code management tool called Paver (just look at that cool logo.. it does remind you of Indiana Jones, does it not?). I glanced through the Paver docs and it looks like it might be the way to go (Paver also supports virtualenv), but didn’t quite get the grasp of the benefits just yet. Anyway, if you are still interested in code management and deployment, I’d recommend you to read the Paver release announcement and also Paver forewords. They should clear things up.