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RFC-0212: Package Sets

RFC-0212: Package Sets
  • Software Delivery

Proposes a series of changes to the definition and menu of package sets on Fuchsia

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2022-11-17
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2023-03-07


This RFC provides an official definition for the term "Package Set" and proposes an updated framework for package sets. This framework expresses packages sets in terms of the availability and version control they provide and accomodates:

  • The three existing package sets
  • Earlier software delivery work that had not previously been integrated with package sets
  • New package sets that enable more flexibility in the delivery of Fuchsia software as requested by products.


Packages are the unit of software distribution on Fuchsia. Packages are used to deliver both platform software and product software and are also used in a range of different testing and development workflows.

Each Fuchsia product uses some mixture of product-specific packages and platform-provided packages; the content of this mixture differs from product to product. Not all the packages that a product uses need to be delivered at the same time or updated using the same strategy. For example, some packages may be downloaded as a part of an over the air update while other packages may not be downloaded until the user takes some action.

A "package set" is a collection of packages used by a product where all packages in the set are delivered and updated using the same strategy. Three different package sets are currently in use on Fuchsia: base, cache, and universe.

The current state of package sets on Fuchsia is insufficient for several reasons:

  • The term "package set" has not been clearly defined.
  • The existing package sets have not been clearly defined and the behaviors they provide are not obvious given their names. The same terms are reused across different contexts with different meanings. For example, the set of packages that a device stores in its package cache is not the same as the "cache" package set.
  • The existing package sets have not been updated to reflect recent software delivery RFCs such as eagerly package updates, subpackages, or bootfs packages.
  • The existing package sets do not solve several product developer needs. For example:
    • It should be possible to defer fetching non-essential packages when disk space is limited.
    • It should be possible to update product software independently from the platform (this was designed in RFC-0145 but has not been included in the package set definitions).
    • It should be possible to quickly and reliably update packages during development.

This RFC intends to achieve the following:

  • Clearly define the term "package set".
  • Define the design space within which potential package set definitions lie.
  • Describe where existing package concepts fit within this design space and refine the names we use to refer to them based on that.
  • Identify gaps in the design space that should be filled by designs in future RFCs.
  • Identify existing concepts that are no longer required and should be deprecated.



  • abarth


  • wittrock (SWD)
  • amituttam (PM)
  • aaronwood (Software Assembly)
  • markdittmer (Security)
  • sethladd (DX)
  • marvinpaul (Server infrastructure)


  • yaar, senj, etrylezaar, galbanum, richkadel


The work that led to this RFC was discussed in a series of design discussions internal to the software delivery team. Early versions of the text in this RFC were reviewed with stakeholders in the Software Assembly, Server Infrastructure, First Party Product, and PM teams.


  • Package - The unit of software distribution in Fuchsia. A package is a collection of files, such as manifests, metadata, zero or more executables (e.g. components), and assets. The word "package" has been used both to mean the definition of such a collection (e.g. the Timekeeper package as defined by its build rule) and an individual artifact produced from that definition (e.g. the Timekeeper package built on 14th November 2022 with a merkle root of de07b9f06ae01181b0536b61c7f643496025598c3a2908dca5c72fce191be5d1). For this RFC we use only the former meaning.
  • Package version - A single instance of a particular package (e.g. the Timekeeper package built on 14th November 2022 with a merkle root of de07b9f06ae01181b0536b61c7f643496025598c3a2908dca5c72fce191be5d1). Fuchsia does not currently require numbering (or even ordering) of package versions. The CUP metadata for some eager update packages may contain an ordered version number used in fallback checks, as defined in RFC-0145.
  • Product - A specification for an assembled system. A product defines the software configuration that a build will produce. Most critically, a product typically defines the kinds of user experiences that are provided for, such as what kind of graphical shell the user might observe, whether or not multimedia support is included, and so on.
  • Product build - A single version of the assembled system for a particular product. A product build is the artifact produced from the specification that a product defines. For example "Workstation 8.20220622.2.1".
  • Product release - A product build that has been pushed to an update channel.
  • Package set - See below.
  • Versioning authority - A server or repository that determines what version of a package a Fuchsia device should use. In a production system Omaha acts as the versioning authority while during development a TUF repository on the host acts as the versioning authority.
  • Base (originally known as "monolith") - A package set defined prior to this RFC. The contents of the base package set are always present on the device with a version fixed by the product release. This RFC proposes retaining the base package set.
  • Cache (originally known as "preinstall") - A package set defined prior to this RFC. The contents of the cache package set are present on the device in nearly all circumstances but the version may be updated in some circumstances during local development. This package set is not used in production. This RFC proposes creating a new developer-focused flow to replace the cache package set.
  • Universe (originally known as "available") - A package set defined prior to this RFC. The contents of the universe package set are downloaded on demand, using a version determined by a versioning authority. This package set is not currently used in production. The word "universe" has been used both to refer to the contents of this package set and to the contents of all package sets. To avoid confusion this RFC proposes renaming the universe package set to "discoverable".
  • Eager update - A mechanism for updating packages independently of the product release, as defined in RFC-0145.
  • Bootfs packages - Packages that are stored in the bootfs filesystem, as defined in RFC-0167.
  • Subpackages - Packages that are referenced by and fetched atomically with some other package as defined in RFC-0154.
  • Parent package - The package that references a subpackage as defined in RFC-0154.
  • Garbage collection - The process of removing package contents from blobfs when they are no longer required.
  • System update (also known as "OTA") - The process of updating a Fuchsia device from one product release to another.


Package Set

A package set is a collection of packages where all the packages in the set are delivered and updated using the same strategy. For example, in the base package set all packages are fetched during a system update at a version that is determined by the product release. Packages in this base package set are guaranteed to be present on a device whenever the device is running.

The contents of a package set are defined by a product. A particular package may be present in one package set in product A but a different package set (or omitted entirely) in product B. The package set that a package is placed in reflects the relationship between a package and the product using it; packages that are critical to the operation of a product should be placed in a package set that guarantees these packages will always be present on the device. Typically a package will only exist in one package set for a given product, but there are cases where a package can be present in multiple package sets.

Several related but subtly different definitions of "package set" have evolved based on the context in which the term is used. We introduce some of these below, along with a name that may be used to unamiguously refer to the definition.

  • Eligible package set - A set of packages that a device is allowed to resolve. For example, the "eligible base package set" is the set of all packages that a device could successfully resolve and place in its delivered base package set.
  • Built package set (also known as build dependency set) - A set of packages that are produced when a Fuchsia product is built. A built package set is often equal to the corresponding eligible package set but in some cases it may be dramatically smaller. For example, a device might have thousands of eligible universe packages but a build may not produce any of these.
  • Delivered package set - A set of packages that have already been delivered to a device. A delivered package set is a subset of the corresponding eligible package set.

The remainder of this document focuses on the design of the software delivery system and therefore the "eligible package set" definition.

Proposed Design Space

The software delivery system answers two key questions:

  1. What determines the version of the package?
  2. When is the package available on the device?

This RFC proposes a two dimensional design space for categorizing package sets based on these two questions as illustrated below:

This figure presents a rectangular design space, as described in the subsections below.

Note that in both cases there is no one "best" answer; each axis represents a trade between two desirable properties. For some use cases one end of the axis may be the best fit while for other use cases the opposite end of the spectrum is a better fit.

Axis 1 - Version Control

Determining the current correct version for a package is critical to the security and the updatability of the system. Changing the version of a package is necessary to release new functionality and to fix bugs, yet if an entity with the power to choose the package version is compromised it may be used to deploy inappropriate or malicious versions of the software. Changing the version of a package very frequently often involves running software that is less mature or combinations of software that have not been tested together.

The version control axis is a trade between high agility and high determinism. For example:

  • Critical elements of the system do not need to change frequently and must be controlled centrally and tightly. In these cases it is desirable to lock the version of the package to the platform or product version.
  • End user applications may change frequently according to the tempo of the organization that develops them. In these cases it is desirable for the publisher to release new versions to compatible devices without waiting for a product release.
  • Components being debugged by a developer may change every few seconds each time the code is changed. In these cases it is desirable for the version to be updated immediately and automatically.

Axis 2 - Availability

Packages exist to enable some useful functionality on a Fuchsia device, and they can only do this when they are present (and known to be correct) on that device.

The availability axis is a trade between high availability and low resource utilization. For example:

  • Critical elements of the system need to be available at all times, even if the network is not available. In these cases it is necessary to store the package for the entire time it might be used. This implies storing both the previous and current versions of a package during an update.
  • Less critical parts of a product experience may not need availability guarantees. In these cases it may be best to delete the old version of a package before fetching an updated version to reduce the peak storage demand.
  • Some end user applications may only be used on a small fraction of devices. In these cases it is desirable to only consume resources by fetching a package when there is some signal that the user intends to use it.

Mapping to existing concepts

The existing package sets and package-related RFCs fall into four different version control categories:

  1. Package version is fixed by the product: Applies to base & bootfs.
  2. Product delegates version control for a specific package to a versioning authority with constraints: Applies to eagerly updated packages. With eagerly updated packages the product release may constrain the minimum version that will be accepted.
  3. Product delegates version control for a specific package to a versioning authority without constraints: Applies to cache packages.
  4. Product delegates version control for all URLs in a domain to a versioning authority without constraints: Applies to universe packages that are not in the base or cache sets. Note this is the only category where the product release does not define the existence of every package in the set.

The existing package sets and package-related RFCs fall into four different availability categories:

  1. Always available: Applies to base and bootfs.
  2. Almost always available: Applies to eagerly updated packages (when a fallback version is specified) and to cache packages. In these cases the intent was for the package to always be available but the current design of cache package resolution and garbage collection algorithms means there are some circumstances in which the package will not be available.
  3. Fetched automatically after system update: Applies to eagerly updated packages when no fallback version is specified. These packages will be available some time after the system update has been committed, provided the network is healthy.
  4. Fetched on demand: Applies to universe packages that are not in other package sets like base. These packages will be available some time after a package resolution request is made, provided the network is healthy.

Subpackage references include the content hash of the target therefore subpackages follow the version control category of their parent package. Subpackages are resolved atomically with their parent (and cannot be resolved without a context from resolving the parent) and therefore subpackages follow the availability of their parent package.

In summary, the existing package concepts fit into the proposed design space as illustrated below:

This figure presents the existing package concepts placed onto the rectangular design space, as described in the text above.

Proposed Changes

When mapping the existing package concepts into this design space as shown above, several problems are immediately visible:

  1. The existing concepts do not cover large portions of the design space, suggesting that our current package sets do not provide a solution for many of the potentially valuable use cases.
  2. Cache packages and eagerly updated packages play a very similar role.
  3. "almost always available" packages are not desired and only exist due to problems in the cache package resolution and garbage collection algorithms.
  4. The names of the existing concepts do not follow a consistent pattern and in most cases do not imply the portion of the design space that the concept occupies.
  5. Several of the concepts (for example, eager updates) are not defined as package sets.

This RFC proposes a series of changes that together address these problems and lead to a more comprehensive and consistent coverage of the design space as illustrated below:

This figure presents the design space populated with the existing package sets plus the new potential package sets introduced in this section.

Each of the changes is discussed in more detail in the following sections. Note that we introduce these in the order we intend to start them, but many changes can be conducted in parallel. Where changes depend on each other the relationship is discussed in the text.

Change 1 - Introduce a unified nomenclature for package sets

Before this RFC, package sets were named with a single word. This was viable since there were only three sets and they lay along a single axis, but even then the terse names have caused some confusion.

This RFC proposes referring to package sets with a short phrase describing the properties they provide. Each phrase contains one term describing the availability of packages in the set and a second term describing the versioning of packages in the set, as defined in the table below:

Availability Term Description
Permanent These packages are available in all circumstances
Automatic These packages are fetched automatically when disk space and network availability allows
OnDemand These packages are only fetched when some entity on the device attempts to use them
Versioning Term Description
Anchored The version of these packages is set by the product release.
Upgradable The product release delegates control to a versioning authority for each of these packages, optionally with constraints such as a minimum acceptable version.
Discoverable The product release does not define individual packages within this set, but instead delegates control to a versioning authority for a URL domain.

For example, an eagerly updated package without a fallback would be referred to in full as a member of the "automatic availability, upgradable versioning" package set. In situations where context and meaning are clear this could be abbreviated to "automatic & upgradable".

In the bottom left segment we have two distinct package sets with the same versioning and availability behavior - base and bootfs. We will retain these names to refer to those package sets while using "permanent availability, anchored versioning" to refer to the more general behavior they share.

We will retain the existing "cache" name to refer to the cache package set until this set is replaced (see change 6).

The word "universe" has conflicting definitions on Fuchsia. The original definition was the set of all built packages which was consistent with the set theory meaning of the term. Today more commonly "universe" refers to only those packages that are built but not included in another package sets, i.e. base packages are not a part of universe. This definition is inconsistent with the set theory meaning of the term. To avoid this confusion we use the name "discoverable" rather than "universe" when referring to the top right segment of the design space.

Change 2 - Deprecate the "cache" package set

The cache package set and eagerly updated packages with fallback are two different solutions that address the same need: let a version control server provide newer versions of a package while ensuring that some version of the package remains available, even when the device is offline.

Eagerly updated packages as defined in RFC-0145 provide a more robust solution to this problem:

  • Unlike cache packages, server communication problems cannot cause an eagerly updated package to fail resolution
  • Unlike cache packages, an eagerly updated package will not revert to an earlier version if the device is offline

Cache packages are only used in developer flows at the moment but (due to the problems above and others) they are not a very good fit for these use cases. Given the advantages of eagerly updated packages it will never be desirable to use cache packages in production flows.

We will deprecate the cache package concept, meaning SWD will not invest in further improvements to the flow. We will neither remove the flow nor the developer documentation until a suitable replacement has been deployed and adopted (see change 6).

Note that deprecating cache packages does not mean deprecating the similarly named "package cache" component.

Change 3 - Remove the subpackage package set restriction in RFC-0154

RFC-0154 required that subpackages be placed "in the same package set as" their parent. This requirement would become difficult to meet as we introduce new package categories because it would require that the product maintainer update the package set definition every time the set of transitive subpackages changed.

Implementation work since RFC-0154 has already loosened the same package set constraint but this RFC officially removes it. As discussed above, subpackages still follow the availability and version control of their parent (and therefore still effectively behave as members of their parent's package set) but product maintainers no longer need to independently include subpackages as top-level members of the package sets that reference them.

Security audit tools are used to verify that each release of a product contains the expected set of packages. The golden files used for this verification will include all the subpackages included in anchored version package sets, transitively. This ensures that any addition of a subpackage or nested subpackage to an anchored version package set will receive a human review.

Change 4 - Redesign the garbage collection algorithm

Fuchsia's current package garbage collection (GC) algorithm was designed very early in the program and has not scaled well as software delivery evolved. Even today we experience failure modes where necessary packages are deleted and where unnecessary packages are retained. The current GC algorithm was not equipped to handle the introduction of new package sets.

We will publish the requirements and algorithm for a replacement GC implementation that can accommodate more package sets on a follow-on RFC in the near future.

Change 5 - Design an automatic & anchored package set

During each release of a product the product maintainers must test fixed versions of many different platform and product packages together to ensure they integrate correctly. Today, the only way for a product to include a fixed version of a package is to include it in the base package set. This means that two copies of all these packages may need to be stored on disk concurrently during a system update, making it challenging to run Fuchsia on devices with limited storage space.

This problem can be solved by implementing an automatic availability, anchored version package set, i.e. supporting packages whose version is fixed by the product but that are not downloaded until after a system update has been successfully committed. We will publish a design for this package set as a follow-on RFC in the near future.

Change 6 - Design a replacement developer-focused package delivery flow

As discussed in change 2 above, the cache package flow is not a good fit for the developer need to easily, quickly, and reliably update packages during development. We will research a better solution by focussing on the developer needs, then publish a design as a follow-on RFC.

We expect that this new developer-focused flow discussed will act as an overlay on the design space in engineering builds, but this will be explored further in the follow-on RFC.

Change 7 - Design on demand anchored and/or on demand upgradable package sets

These package sets would let product maintainers define packages with either a fixed version or a constrained version that are not fetched until they are needed.

These package sets are potentially useful for future products but, unlike the automatic & anchored package set in change 5, we do not yet have a launch customer.

We will design and implement one or both of these package sets when a specific product or developer need arises.

Putting it all together

Once these changes are complete, including the proposed follow-on RFCs, the software delivery stack will offer significantly more flexibility to product developers. For example:

  • Products will be able to reduce resource utilization without losing control over versioning by moving non-essential packages from base to the automatic & anchored or on demand & anchored package sets.
  • Products will be able to include packages that can be upgraded independently of the product using the upgradable package sets.
    • Products will be able to control the availability of these upgradable packages. This include making them always available by placing them in the permanent & upgradeable package set.
    • These upgradable packages could reference other packages that were not known to the product release at the time it was built.
      • This can either be achieved using subpackages, where the parent package sets the version of the referred package, or using a URL in the discoverable package set, where a versioning authority sets the version of the referred package.
      • The availability of these referred packages follows the referring package (in the case of a reference to a subpackages) or is controlled by the referring package (in the case of a reference to a discoverable package).
  • Products may use packages that were not explicitly defined in a product release by enabling the discoverable package set.
  • In all cases packages may only be fetched from a repository that is trusted by the product.
  • Software delivery will manage the available blob storage space, ensuring that non-critical packages are evicted if needed to perform a system update and that automatic packages are fetched automatically when space is available.
  • Developers will be able to easily update the packages that they need to modify during development.

The changes described in this RFC also have significant implications for assumptions inside the SWD stack. For example:

  • It will be necessary to store more than one version of a package in the package cache. An upgradable package may include a subpackage reference to a package that has already been included by the product in its anchored set. Since the product and the upgradable package do not know each other's versioning schemes they cannot coordinate to ensure the version of this common package is the same in both. Similarly, different packages in the same upgradable package set may include subpackage references to the same package but at different versions.
  • It will be necessary for a package in the package cache to support more than one package set. As above, an upgradable package may include a subpackage reference to a package that has already been included by the product. Sometimes this package will be at the same version in both package sets. It will be necessary to consider all the package sets that a package is supporting when deciding when to remove it.
  • Package fetching and garbage collection will need to be coordinated. The upgradeable and automatic package sets both mean that new package versions will be fetched outside of the system update process. These operations can only succeed when sufficient blob storage space is available. In some cases it may be necessary to defer or cancel these operations because space is not available, in other cases it may be necessary to evict other packages in order for the operations to succeed.
  • The relationship between package resolvers and package sets will change. Today there is a loose correlation between the base and universe package resolvers and the package sets with the same name but this correlation is not exact and in cases one resolver is used to resolve packages destined for the other package set. This correlation does not scale to a larger number of package sets with more complex relationships and we will not add additional package resolvers for the new package sets discussed in this RFC. In the future the selection and naming of package resolvers will become an implementation detail of the software delivery stack, letting us decouple the work associated with determining the version of a package from the work associated with ensuring its availability.
  • Executability enforcement mechansisms may need to change. Only the contents of base packages are executable in production releases today; this has meant simple mechanisms for controlling executability were sufficient. In the future the contents of packages in every package set (and the subpackages they reference) will potentially need to be executable. This may require more complex enforcement mechanisms.


The initial implementation of this RFC will be mainly documentation changes covered in more detail below. The names of the most heavily used package sets (i.e. base, bootfs, and cache) are not changed by this RFC. We will update references to "universe" with "discoverable" in source code and tooling as opportunities arise. Where deprecated source code and tools use the term "universe" we will not generally not update these references.

Proposed changes 4, 5, and 6 require follow-on RFCs and these RFCs will document the implementation of the changes they introduce.


In the long term this RFC will reduce the size of the base package set, with some packages currently in base moving to the newer package sets with lower resource requirements. Over the long term this will improve several performance metrics, particularly disk and network utilization.

The latency to resolve a package may increase if a product chooses to move the package from a package set with permanent availability to one with automatic or on demand availability.

Security considerations

The net security impact of this RFC is believed to be positive:

  • This RFC formally defines upgradable package sets. Upgradable package sets make it easier for a product to update some packages to patch security vulnerabilities
  • This RFC creates a clearer relationship between packages making it easier to reason about software delivery behavior. This may lead to an increase in security over the long term although the improvement would be difficult to quantify.
  • The relaxation of constraints on the use of subpackages in proposed change 3 will require analysis by the security team.

Privacy considerations

The net privacy impact of this RFC is believed to be neutral:

  • This RFC would make it easier to define packages that are not downloaded until some user action, making it easier to correlate network traffic with user behavior
  • This RFC would make it easier for a product to update versions of product software, making it easier to patch privacy vulnerabilities
  • The software delivery components impacted by this RFC do not directly process user data


Proposed changes 4, 5, and 6 require follow-on RFCs and these RFCs will document the testing of the changes they introduce.


Upon acceptance of this RFC we will:

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

Drawback 1 - Name changes

The RFC introduces a change in nomenclature for universe packages and eagerly updated packages. Any naming change incurs some cost in developer confusion, but these terms were not used by many developers and were not used consistently previously. We believe the confusion of a name change will be outweighed by the long term usability of names that are logical and self consistent.

Alternative 1 - Allow guaranteed and/or automatic discoverable packages

The proposed changes section above marks the lower right section of the design space "not applicable". The reason we do not support this combination is we argue it is illogical: in order for a package to be guaranteed or loaded automatically it must be explicitly specified by the product release at which point it meets the criteria for inclusion in an upgradeable package set.

Prior art and references