My Debian Activities in May 2012

This is my monthly summary of my Debian related activities. If you’re among the people who made a donation to support my work (338.26 €, thanks everybody!), then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.


Like last month, I did almost nothing concerning dpkg. This will probably change in June now that the book is out…

The only thing worth noting is that I have helped Carey Underwood who was trying to diagnose why btrfs was performing so badly when unpacking Debian packages (compared to ext4). Apparently this already resulted in some btrfs improvements.

But not as much as what could be hoped. The sync_file_range() calls that dpkg are doing only force the writeback of the underlying data and not of the meta-data. So the numerous fsync() that follow still create many journal transactions that would be better handled as one big transaction. As a proof of this, replacing the fsync() with a sync() brings the performance on par with ext4.

(Beware this is my own recollection of the discussion, while it should be close to the truth, it’s probably not 100% accurate when speaking of the brtfs behaviour)


I uploaded new versions of smarty-gettext and smarty-validate because they were uninstallable after the removal of smarty. The whole history of smarty in Debian/Ubuntu has been a big FAIL since the start.

Once upon a time, there was a smarty package and some plugins. Everything was great except that the files were installed in a way that differs from the upstream recommendations. So Ubuntu changed the path in their version of the package and did not check whether it broke anything else (and it did break all the plugins). Despite the brokenness of the plugins, this divergence survived for years. So several packages that were using Smarty were modified to use dpkg-vendor to use the correct path depending on whether it was built on Debian or Ubuntu.

In 2010, Smarty 3.0 has been released and instead of upgrading the smarty package to this version, one of the smarty co-maintainers introduced a smarty3 package that used yet another path (despite the fact that smarty 3 had a mode to be compatible with smarty 2).
At some point, I informed him that he had to handle the migration of users of smarty to smarty3… he acknowledged and then lost interest in smarty (“I’m no longer using it”) and did nothing.

After some more bitrot, smarty has been forcefully orphaned in August 2011 by a member of the security team. And in March this year, it has been removed from unstable despite the fact that it still had reverse dependencies (usually removals only happen when they impact no other packages, I don’t know why this wasn’t the case here).

At least the brokenness attracted some attention to the situation and Mike Gabriel contacted me about it. I offered him to take over the various packages since they all needed a real maintainer and he accepted. I sponsored his uploads of all smarty related packages (bringing in the latest upstream versions at the same time).

In the end, the situation is looking better now, except that there’s no migration path from users who rely on smarty in Squeeze. They will discover that they need smarty3 in Wheezy and that the various paths have to be adjusted. It’s probably acceptable since the new upstream versions are no longer backwards compatible with smarty 2…

The Debian Administrator’s Handbook

At the start of the month, I was busy preparing the release of the book. I introduced the publican-debian package to unstable, it’s a Publican brand (aka a set of CSS and XSL stylesheets to tailor the output of Publican) using the Debian colors and using the Debian logo. This brand is used by the book.

I also created the debian-handbook package and setup the public Git repository on

I was ready or so I thought. A few hours after the announce, the website became unusable because the numerous visitors were exhausting the maximum number of client connections. And I could not increase the limit due to Apache’s memory usage (with PHP and WordPress). We quickly off-loaded most of the static files traffic to another machine and we setup bittorrent. The problem was solved for the short term. Thousands of persons downloaded the ebook and to this date, 135 copies of the paperback have been sold.

Then I took a one-week vacation. Even though I had no Internet at the place I was, I wandered in the street to find a “Freewifi” wifi network (customers of the Free ISP can use those freely) to stay on top of incoming email. We quickly received some bug reports and I dealt with the easy ones (typos and the like) on the fly.

When I came back at home, I manually placed 54 lulu orders for the people who opted for the paperback as reward during the fundraising campaign. A bit tedious but it had to be done (if only Lulu supported a way to batch many orders at once…).

I also wanted a long term solution to avoid the use of an external host to serve static files (should a new traffic spike arrive…). So I installed nginx as a front-end. It serves static files directly, as well as WordPress pages which have been cached by wp-super-cache. Apache is still here listening on a local port and responding to the remaining queries forwarded by nginx. Once I’ll migrate to wheezy, I might completely ditch apache in favor of php5-fpm to handle the PHP pages.

Last but not least, I wanted to bootstrap the various translations that people offered to contribute. I wrote some documentation for interested translators and blogged about it. It’s shaping up nicely… check it out if you’re interested to help!


See you next month for a new summary of my activities.

Additional Resources

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  1. Rick Lutowski says:

    Mr Hertzog: Bought your CD for installing Linux 6.0 “Squeeze”. Install process went well and new system booted OK with gnome login window displayed. Unfortunately, both mouse and keyboard were totally dead. Because input to system was impossible, had to reboot to old Lenny system using hardware reset button. When back in Lenny, compared new Squeeze X11 directories with old Lenny system and found /etc/X11 in the new Squeeze was missing xorg.conf. Copied xorg.conf from Lenny and modified “Input Device” sections per Squeeze X11 docs, but this did not fix problem. Maybe Squeeze does not use xorg.conf? If it does, then Squeeze graphical install has a serious error causing critical X files to be omitted. Problem occurred with both normal Graphical install and Expert Graphical install. Any ideas how to fix dead keyboard and mouse on new Squeeze gnome install? My system is a several year old 64-bit AMD CPU, but 32-bit 686 kernel works better. General comments: Nice install disk. Especially like Expert install mode because it gives choice of lilo or grub instead of defaulting to grub (prefer lilo). Only problem is dead mouse and keyboard — but is pretty bad problem! Suggest a fix and I will give you feedback to let you know if it works or not. Thanks for any advice, and for all your hard work on Linux. Rick Lutowski, Austin TX,