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Nextcloud and it's planned update improvements

In the past, the update experiences with ownCloud have been difficult. It was not always clear when updates would be released for the updater app or how to move to a new major release. Apps disappeared after an update or apps were updated to an incompatible version (e.g. with a broken PHP dependency), or simply the updater had a bug and broke the whole instance. We hear you and in fact, we share the same concerns! Our goal has always been to get you the best possible update experience but there was and is room for improvement.

With Nextcloud one of our primary goals is to allow people to easily and securely host their own data. Reliable updates are a key part of the user experience and we consider it a top priority at Nextcloud. While we can’t promise to magically have fixed all existing updater problems directly from the beginning we assure you that all update issues are of critical priority to us.

We would like to share some of the changes that we’re planning for the updating process in Nextcloud. Please note that some of these are about being more open in the process, which means improvements depend on your help to be successful. Moreover, these are our thoughts and ideas and we are very open to constructive feedback, other ideas or practical help!

1. Open-sourcing all components related to the upgrade process

Some key components like the “update-server” as used by ownCloud right now are closed-source components. This means that the community has no way to improve the update experience.

A well-known example being https://github.com/owncloud/appstore-issues/issues/4 , an issue open since 2014 which leads to the update server delivering wrong versions to the ownCloud server. Effectively, resulting in a broken instance.

This issue has been fixed in February 2016. Two years after it broke hundreds, if not thousands of ownCloud servers. We believe that such critical components have to be open-sourced so more people can chip in and help out.

2. Make updater ready for shared hosting and low-end hardware

The updater has in the past usually only been tested on dedicated machines. In such cases PHP has many additional functions such as executing Linux shell commands.

In many shared hosting environments these additional functions are however not available which breaks the updating process. To make the updater compatible with such environments as well we want to devise tests for the updater which also cover those scenarios.

3. Perform maintenance tasks live in the background

In the past the upgrading process executed most maintenance tasks while upgrading. This made upgrading in some scenarios an unnecessary slow experience.

We’re aiming to move some of the maintenance tasks to background jobs. This is often possible, such as for example when a new filetype icon gets added to Nextcloud there is no need to have this one already appearing directly after the update. It doesn’t harm the user if it appears some hours after the upgrade. So instead of the upgrade taking a long time some not critical changes would just propagate later, while your Nextcloud is just working as normal.

4. Add the ability to skip releases

We don’t consider it appropriate that users are not able to skip releases when updating. So for example when you want to update from Nextcloud 10 to Nextcloud 13 we want you to be able to directly go from 10 to 13 and not have to update to 11 and 12 as well. This will require some re-architecturing and, of course, more (automated) testing. We’re discussing our infrastructure and your thoughts are welcome on the forums !

5. Do not disable compatible apps

Apps like Calendar or Contacts are what make your Nextcloud your very own! Nextcloud is not only about files but also about Calendar, Contacts and all the other apps you need to do your work. Right now on every minor updates these apps get disabled and have to be enabled by an administrator again.

On the other hand, not only the Nextcloud dependency of an app should be considered when updating an app. They can specify dependencies on, for instance PHP version. If an app update requires a higher version than is installed on the server, an update should not be executed. Since the update may include security fixes though, the app should be disabled in this case and a warning sent out to the administrator. In short, this is a complicated subject but we think improving this is very important.

6. Provide the ability to easily use daily stable releases

In many cases it’s totally okay to use the daily stable branches of one of our releases. They contain all the bug fixes but no new features. However, also bug fixes from time to time can contain bugs. We want to make it easier for people to catch bugs and easier for us to debug them. Find a bug and you can tell us on which date is has been added? Awesome. You just saved another contributor a lot of time! Another thing with daily stable releases is that they can help you test a fix that we developed or find out if a problem has already been fixed before reporting it.

It’s important to add the ability to use daily branches and have updates of these running in an easy and uncomplicated way and this will be something we’ll work on.

7. Make it easier to subscribe to update notifications

While administrators right now get a little update notification when they are logged-in into Nextcloud this can be improved. We’re thinking about adding notifications using the notifications API as well as other channels such as email. (for example by sending an Nextcloud administrator automatically emails about new releases).

8. Make updating apps a breeze

Updating apps in ownCloud is something barely anybody has ever done since you manually would have to go to the admin menu, select each app and press “Update”. We believe that for many apps a kind of semi-automated or even completely automated approach is the way to go.

9. No more big delays until updates are available using the built-in updater

Once we have at least partially implemented above mentioned changes we’re believing that we’re able to push updates using the updater app in a way quicker and more stable manner. And while we should always be careful and wait a bit with releasing automated updates, having the update server open source and managing it with pull requests allows users and other contributors to see what is going on, when a release comes or why not, and participate in the process and be part of the decision making.

We’re looking forward to implementing changes in the Nextcloud updater and make it fit better with your needs. If you have any feedback leave it in your forums at help.nextcloud.com as, of course, we’re sharing OUR ideas here but we want and need YOUR input to make the result better than what we can come up with on our own!

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