[obnam-announce] Retiring Obnam

Lars Wirzenius liw at liw.fi
Sun Aug 13 19:47:58 BST 2017

This is a difficult announcement to write. The summary is that you
should switch to another backup program in the coming months.

The first commit to Obnam's current code base is this:

    commit 7eaf5a44534ffa7f9c0b9a4e9ee98d312f2fcb14
    Author: Lars Wirzenius <liw at iki.fi>
    Date:   Wed Sep 6 18:35:52 2006 +0300

        Initial commit.

It's followed by over 5200 more commits until the latest one, which is
from yesterday. The NEWS file contains 58 releases. There are 20761
lines of Python, 15384 words in the English language manual, with
translations in German and French. The yarn test suite, which is a
kind of a manual, is another 13382 words in English and
pseudo-English. That's a fair bit of code and prose. Not all of it
mine, I've had help from some wonderful people. But most of it mine.

I wrote all of that because backups were fun. It was pleasing to use
my own program to guarantee the safety of my own data. The technical
challenges of implmenting the kind of backup program I wanted were
interesting, and solving interesting problems is a big part of why 
I am a programmer.

Obnam has a kind user base. It's not a large user base: the Debian
"popularity contest" service estimates it at around 500. But it's a
user base that is kind and has treated me well. I have tried to

Unfortunately, I have not had fun while developing Obnam for some time
now. This has changed. A few years ago, I lived in Manchester, UK, and
commuted by train to work. It was a short train ride, about 15
minutes. At times I would sit on the floor with my laptop on my knees,
writing code or the manual. Back then Obnam was a lot of fun. I was
excited, and enthusiastic.

In the past two years or so, I've not been able to feel that
excitement again. My native language, Finnish, has an expression
describing unpleasant tasks: something is as much fun as drinking tar.
That describes Obnam in recent years for me.

Obnam has not turned out well, from a maintainability point of view.
It seems that every time I try to fix something, I break something
else. Usuaully what breaks is speed or memory use: Obnam gets slower
or starts using even more memory.

For several years now I've been working on a new repository format for
Obnam, code names GREEN ALBATROSS. It was meant to solve Obnam's
problems as far as extensibility, performance, and resource use were
concerned. It seems to have failed.

I'm afraid I've had enough. I'm going to retire Obnam as a project and
as a program, and move on to doing something else, so I can feel
excitement and pleasure again.

After some careful thought, I fear that the maintainability problems
of Obnam can realistically only be solved by a complete rewrite from
scratch, and I'm not up to doing that.

If you use Obnam, you should migrate to some other backup solution.
Don't worry, you have until the end of the year. I will be around and
I intend to fix any serious bugs in Obnam; in particular, security
flaws. But you should start looking for a replacement sooner rather
than later.

I will be asking Obnam to be removed from the Debian unstable and
testing branches. The next Debian release (buster, Debian 10) won't
include Obnam.

The Obnam mailing lists are kindly hosted by Daniel Silverstone, and
they will remain, but later this year I will change them to be
moderated. The Obnam git repository will remain. The web site will
remain, but I will add a note that Obnam is no longer maintained.
Other Obnam online resources may disappear.

If you would like to take over the Obnam project, and try to resolve
the various issues, please contact me to discuss that.

Thank you, and may you never need to restore.
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