16 510: Maintaining your Bioconductor package

16.1 Instructor name and contact information

16.2 Workshop Description

Once an R package is accepted into Bioconductor, maintaining it is an active responsibility undertaken by the package developers and maintainers. In this short workshop, we will cover how to maintain a Bioconductor package using existing infrastructure. Bioconductor hosts a range of tools which maintainers can use such as daily build reports, landing page badges, RSS feeds, download stats, support site questions, and the bioc-devel mailing list. Some packages have their own continuous integration hook setup on their github pages which would be an additional tool maintainers can use to monitor their package. We will also highlight one particular git practice which need to be done while updating and maintaining your package on out git system.

16.2.1 Pre-requisites

Accepted Bioconductor package or plans to contribute a Bioconductor package in the future.

16.2.2 Participation

Students will be expected to follow along with their laptops if they choose to, although it is not needed.

16.2.3 Time outline: 50 mins short workshop

  • Introduction: 10 mins
    • Why maintain your package
    • Infrastructure used for maintenance
  • Outline how to use infrastructure: 35 mins
    • Build report
    • Version numbering
    • Landing page badges
    • Download statistics
    • RSS feeds
    • Support site, Bioc-devel mailing list
    • Github
      • Sync package with Github / Bioconductor before every change
      • Github issues
  • Round up of resources available: 5 mins
  • Acknowledgements

16.2.4 Workshop goals and objectives

  • Gain knowledge of how to track Bioconductor packages via download statistics, RSS feeds.
  • Understand the importance of supporting their user community and how to do so using the support site and bioc-devel mailing list.
  • Maintain their package and fix bugs using build reports, continuous integration tools.
  • Update their package consistently on both Github and Bioconductor private git server.

16.3 Introduction

Maintainer - Who should people contact if they have a problem with this package? You must have someones name and email address here. You must make sure this is up to date and accurate.

Maintaining it is an active responsibility undertaken by the package developers and maintainers. Users contact developers for various reasons.

Keep your email up to date in the DESCRIPTION file!

Maintainer: Who to complain to <your_fault@fix.it>


Authors@R: c(
    person("Complain", "here", email="your_fault@fix.it", role=c("aut", "cre"),
    person("Don't", "Complain", role="aut"))

NOTE: There should be only 1 maintainer (one “cre”). But all authors get credit for the package.

Interchangeable terminology

Bioconductor maintainers <-> Bioconductor developers <-> Package developer <-> developer

16.3.1 Why maintain your package

  1. Changes in underlying code (upstream dependencies of your package) might break your package.

  2. Packages using web resources might fail because of change of location of these resources.

  3. Bug fixes reported or discovered due to usage.

  4. Feature requests from users.

  5. Improvements in the science behind your package, which lead to updates.

  6. It leads to wide spread usage of your package.

  7. It’s required, also a good practice that users appreciate.

  8. Poorly maintained packages get deprecated if they fail build and check on Bioconductor during release cycles. (Bioconductor is fairly serious about this)

16.3.2 Infrastructure used for maintenance

Build machines are dedicated towards building your package daily. As a maintainer it’s useful to check your package build report once a week, both in the current RELEASE and DEVEL cycle.


Build machines cover three platforms (Linux, Windows and OS X) over RELEASE and DEVEL versions of Bioconductor.

Version control - Since last year, GIT has been the primary version control system.

16.4 Outline how to use infrastructure

Everything you need is on the Bioconductor website. As a developer the link with most important resources,


16.4.1 Build report

Report of the build status of your package. It posts at around 11AM EST (can change sometimes) and is located on the time stamp at the top of the page.

Two versions of the build report.

Six build machines in total at Bioconductor.

DEVEL (3 for devel)

  1. Linux (malbec1)
  2. Windows (tokay1)
  3. OS X (merida1)
Build machines on DEVEL

Build machines on DEVEL

RELEASE (3 for release)

  1. Linux (malbec2)
  2. Windows (tokay2)
  3. OS X (merida2)
Build machines on RELEASE

Build machines on RELEASE What is running on these machines? INSTALL


  /home/biocbuild/bbs-3.7-bioc/R/bin/R CMD INSTALL a4





/home/biocbuild/bbs-3.7-bioc/R/bin/R CMD build a4


a4 R CMD build

a4 R CMD build CHECK


/home/biocbuild/bbs-3.7-bioc/R/bin/R CMD check a4_1.28.0.tar.gz


a4 R CMD check

a4 R CMD check BUILD BIN

This makes the tar ball which is specific to the platform and propagates it to main repository.

a4 buildbin

a4 buildbin

Lights next to the build-bin

Lights next to the build-bin

The build machines display a status for each package. They indicate different things.

TIMEOUT - INSTALL, BUILD, CHECK or BUILD BIN of package took more than 40 minutes

ERROR - INSTALL, BUILD or BUILD BIN of package failed, or CHECK produced errors

WARNINGS - CHECK of package produced warnings


NotNeeded - INSTALL of package was not needed (click on glyph to see why)

skipped - CHECK or BUILD BIN of package was skipped because the BUILD step failed

NA- BUILD, CHECK or BUILD BIN result is not available because of an anomaly in the Build System

NOTE: The build machines run these commands a little differently and the maintainers need not do it the same way. Exercise:


Filter packages on the DEVEL build machines which have a WARNING on their
build report. List the top 5 packages from this filter.


What is the timestamp on DEVEL build report of the package BiocParallel?

16.4.2 Version Numbering

Version numbering is crucial to getting your package to build on the Bioconductor build machines. Every time you want to push a change, it’s important that you make a version number update if you want to your package to propagate to your users. The package is not built unless there is a version number update.

https://bioconductor.org/developers/how-to/version-numbering/ Exercise:


A very common developer question is, "I made a commit and pushed to my
package, but the new build was not triggered. Why wasn't the
build triggered?"
The immediate response is to check if they issued a version bump. How
would someone check this?


What is the version number next to the RELEASE and devel versions
of your package? Do they align with Bioconductor policy as given
on https://bioconductor.org/developers/how-to/version-numbering/ ?

16.4.3 Landing page badges

What are badges?

Badges can indicate the HEALTH and realiability of a package. A reason users look at the badges is to get a sense of which packages to use in their analysis. Active maintainers, useful posts and how long the package is in Bioconductor sway users towards packages.

BiocGenerics badges

BiocGenerics badges

Badges indicate the following:

  1. platforms availability of the package

  2. downloads statistics

  3. posts on support.bioconductor.org which are related to that package based on the tag.

  4. in Bioc how long the package has been in Bioconductor.

  5. build current build status.

Where can I find these badges?

  • Landing page to go to RELEASE


  • Landing page to go to devel


NOTE: After a push is made it can take up to 48 hours for it to appear on the build report and landing pages - i.e. we do one pull, build, check, propagate in 24 hours - so if your commit was after the pull for the day it wont be until the following day

16.4.4 Download statistics

The number reported next to each package name is the download score, that is, the average number of distinct IPs that hit the package each month for the last 12 months (not counting the current month).


Top 75 packages as of July 17th 3:15pm EST,

Top 75

Top 75

BiocGenerics Download statistics,

BiocGenerics Download Statistics

BiocGenerics Download Statistics Exercise:


Get the download statistics to the package you maintain or the package
you use the most. Next, get the month in 2017 with the most number of

16.4.5 RSS feeds

RSS feeds help developers keep track of the development going on in Bioconductor across all packages. There are multiple ways to use RSS feeds, and you can use the application of your choice to subscribe to the feeds.

Blog which shows the 12 best RSS reader apps across all platforms.

Links for RSS feeds,


Git log published on the website. The git log hosts the last 500 commits to bioconductor across all packages in the development branch of Bioconductor.


Git log on Jul 16th 2018 at 10:30 AM EST

Git log on Jul 16th 2018 at 10:30 AM EST Exercise:


Take a package of your choice and subscribe to the RSS feed. Use a
tool from the given link, or one of your own liking. (I use
"feedly" the chrome extension)

16.4.6 Support site, Bioc-devel mailing list

Support infrastructure set up for Bioconductor users to be in touch with maintainers. Mailing list

The mailing list bioc-devel is for all questions related package development, infrastructure, package support. If a question is misplaced, the author will be pointed to the correct location to ask the question.

https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/bioc-devel Support site

Public support site, with easy to use interface to ask questions among the broader community. Any and all end-user questions are welcome here.


16.4.7 GitHub

Optional, but recommended. Sync package with Github / Bioconductor before every change

Do this every time there is an update on your package from your end, or, before you start developing.

Help with Git (most canonical location),


Sync package from Bioconductor repository to Github repository

http://bioconductor.org/developers/how-to/git/sync-existing-repositories/ Github issues

Github issues are more developer centric than mailing list and support site questions. This needs to be posted directly on the development repositories of individual packages. Each package maintainer can choose to do their development on Github giving an interface for issues.

The Bioconductor core team manages issues on the repositories maintained under the Bioconductor Organization on Github.

The packages maintained by Bioconductor core follow the structure


Example: https://github.com/Bioconductor/GenomicRanges/issues

16.5 Round up of resources available

Material covered in this workshop very briefly, highlighting

  1. Build machines, what commands the build machines run and what information is displayed on the build reports.

  2. How to check the HEALTH of your package with badges on the landing pages.

  3. Download statistics of packages.

  4. RSS feeds and subscribing to them, checking package development across bioconductor with GIT logs.

  5. Support sites, mailing lists and where to get specific support as a maintainer.

  6. Github and social coding with issues.

There is plenty of infrastructure not covered in this short workshop,

  1. Docker containers.

  2. AWS - Amazon Machine images(AMIs).

  3. BiocCredentials Application for SSH key processing for developers.

  4. Git + Bioconductor private git server.

  5. Single package builder during package contribution.

  6. Github and webhooks for continuous integration.

16.6 Acknowledgements

The Bioconductor core team.

  1. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY