My Debian Activities in March 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 (227.83 €, thanks everybody!), then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

Dpkg

Thanks to Guillem, dpkg with multiarch support is now available in Debian sid. The road has been bumpy, and it has again been delayed multiple times even after Guillem announced it on debian-devel-announce. Finally, the upload happened on March 19th.

I did not appreciate his announce because it was not coordinated at all, and had I been involved from the start, we could have drafted it in a way that sounded less scary for people. In the end, I provided a script so that people can verify whether they were affected by one of the potential problems that Guillem pointed out. While real, most of them are rather unlikely for typical multiarch usage.

Bernhard R. Link submitted a patch to add a new –status command to dpkg-buildflags. This command would print all the information required to understand which flags are activated and why. It would typically be called during the build process by debian/rules to keep a trace of the build flags configuration. The goal is to help debugging and also to make it possible to extract that information automatically from build logs. I reviewed his patch and we made several iterations, it’s mostly ready to be merged but there’s one detail where Bernhard and I disagree and I solicited Guillem’s opinion to try to take a decision. Unfortunately neither Guillem nor anyone else chimed in.

On request of Alexander Wirt, I uploaded a new backport of dpkg where I dropped the DEB_HOST_MULTIARCH variable from dpkg-architecture to ensure multi-arch is never accidentally enabled in other backports.

One last thing that I did not mention publicly at all yet, is that I contacted Lennart Poettering to suggest an improvement to the /etc/os-release file that he’s trying to standardize across distributions. It occurred to me that this file could also replace our /etc/dpkg/origins/default file (and not only /etc/debian_version) provided that it could store ancestry information. After some discussions, he documented new official fields for that file (ID_LIKE, HOME_URL, SUPPORT_URL, BUG_REPORT_URL). Next step for me is to improve dpkg-vendor to support this file (as a fallback or as default, I don’t know yet).

Packaging

I packaged quilt 0.60 (we’re now down to 9 Debian-specific patches, from a whopping 26 in version 0.48!) and zim 0.55.

In prevision of the next upstream version of Publican, I asked the Perl team to package a few Perl modules that Publican now requires. Less than two weeks after, all of them were in Debian Unstable. Congrats and many thanks to the Perl team (and Salvatore Bonaccorso in particular, which I happen to know because we were on the same plane during last Debconf!).

On a side note, being the maintainer of nautilus-dropbox became progressively less fun over the last months, in particular because the upstream authors tried to override some of the (IMO correct) packaging decisions that I made and got in touch with Ubuntu community managers to try to have their way. Last but not least, I keep getting duplicates of a bug that is not in my package but in the official package and that Dropbox did not respond to my query.

Book update

The translation is finished and we’re now reviewing the whole book. It takes a bit more time than expected because we’re trying to harmonize the style and because it’s difficult to coordinate the work of several volunteer reviewers.

The book cover is now almost finalized (click on it to view it in higher definitions):

We also made some progress on the interior design for the paperback. Unfortunately, I have nothing to show you yet. But it will be very nice… and made with just a LaTeX stylesheet tailored for use with dblatex.

The liberation fundraising slowed down with only 41 new supporters this month but it made a nice bump anyway thanks to a generous donation of 1000 EUR by Offensive security, the company behind Backtrack Linux. They will soon communicate on this, hopefully it will boost the operation. It would be really nice if we managed to raise the remaining 3000 EUR in the few weeks left until the official release of the book!

The work on my book dominated the month and explains my relative inactivity on other fronts. I worked much more than usual, and my wife keeps telling me that I look tired and that I should go in bed earlier… but I see the end of the tunnel: if everything goes well, the book should be released in a few weeks and I will be able to switch back to a saner lifestyle.

Thanks

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

My Debian Activities in February 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 (384.14 €, thanks everybody!), then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

Dpkg and multiarch

The month started with a decision of the technical committee which allowed me to proceed with an upload of a multiarch dpkg even if Guillem had not yet finished his review (and related changes). Given this decision, Guillem made the experimental upload himself.

I announced the availability of this test version and invited people to test it. This lead to new discussions on debian-devel.

We learned in those discussions that Guillem changed his mind about the possibility of sharing (identical) files between multiple Multi-Arch: same packages, and that he dropped that feature. But if this point of the multiarch design had been reverted, it would mean that we had to update again all library packages which had already been updated for multi-arch. The discussions mostly stalled at this point with a final note of Guillem explaining that there was a tension between convenience and doing the right things every time that we discuss far-reaching changes.

After a few weeks (and a helpful summary from Russ Allbery), Guillem said that he remained unconvinced but that he put back the feature. He also announced that he’s close to having completed the work and that he would push the remaining parts of the multiarch branch to master this week (with the 1.16.2 upload planned next week).

That’s it for the summary. Obviously I participated in the discussions but I didn’t do much besides this… I have a “mandate” to upload a multiarch dpkg to sid but I did not want to make use of it while those discussions remained pretty unconclusive. Also Guillem made it pretty clear that the multiarch implementation was “buggy”, “not right” and “not finished” and that he had reworked code fixing at least some of the issues… since he never shared that work in progress, I also had no way to help even just by reviewing what he’s doing.

We also got a few multiarch bug reports, but I couldn’t care to get them fixed since Guillem clearly held a lock on the codebase having done many private changes… it’s not quite like this that I expect to collaborate on a free software project but life is full of surprises!

I’ll be relieved once this story is over. In the mean time, I have added one new thing on my TODO list since I made a proposal to handle bin-nmu changelogs and it’s something that could also fix #440094.

Misc dpkg stuff

After a discussion with Guillem, we agreed that copyright notices should only appear in the sources and not in manual pages or --version output, both of which are translated and cause useless work to translators when updated. Guillem already had some code to do it for --version strings, and I took care of the changes for the manual pages.

I merged some minor documentation updates, fixed a bug with a missing manpage. Later I discovered that some recent changes lead to the loss of all the translated manual pages. I suggested an improvement to dh_installman to fix this (and even prepared a patch). In the end, Guillem opted for another way of installing translated manual pages.

Triggered by a discussion on debian-devel, I added a new entry to my TODO list: implementing dpkg-maintscript-helper rm_conffile_if_owner to deal with the case where a conffile is taken over by another package which might (or might not) be installed.

Misc packaging

At the start of the month, I packaged quilt 0.51. The number of Debian specific patches is slowly getting down. With version 0.51, we dropped 5 patches and introduced a new one. Later in the month I submitted 4 supplementary patches upstream which have been accepted for version 0.60.

This new version (just released, I will package it soon) is an important milestone since it’s the first version without any C code (Debian had this for a long time but we were carrying an intrusive patch for this). Upstream developer Jean Delvare worked on this and based his work on our patch, but he went further to make it much more efficient.

Besides quilt, I also uploaded dh-linktree 0.2 (minor doc update), sql-ledger 2.8.36 (new upstream version), logidee-tools 1.2.12 (minor fixes) and publican 2.8-2 (to fix release critical bug #660795).

Debian Consultants

The Debian Project Leader is working on federating Debian Companies. As the owner of Freexian SARL, I was highly interested in it since Freexian “contributes to Debian, offers support for Debian and has a strategic interest in Debian”. There’s only one problem, you need to have at least 2 Debian developers on staff but I have no employees (it’s me only). I tried to argue that I have already worked with multiple Debian developers (as contractors) when projects were too big for me alone (or when I did not have enough time). Alas this argument was not accepted.

Instead, and since our fearless leader is never afraid to propose compromises, he suggested me (and MJ Ray who argued something similar than me) to try to bring life to the Debian Consultants list which (in his mind) would be more appropriate for one-man companies like mine. I accepted to help “animate” the list, and on his side, he’s going to promote both the “Debian Companies” and the “Debian Consultants” lists.

In any case, the list has seen some traffic lately and you’re encouraged to join if you’re a freelancer offering services around Debian. The most promising thing is that James Bromberger offered to implement a real database of consultants instead of the current static page.

Book update

We made quite some progress this month. There’s only one chapter left to translate. I thus decided to start with proofreading. I made a call for volunteers and I submitted one (different) chapter to 5 proofreaders.

The liberation campaign made a nice leap forwards thanks to good coverage on barrapunto.com. We have reached 80% while we were only at 72% at the start of the month (thanks to the 113 new supporters!). There’s thus less than 5000 EUR to raise before the book gets published under a free license.

Looking at the progression in the past months, this is unlikely to be completed on time for the release of the book in April. It would be nice though… so please share the news around you.

Speaking of the book’s release, I’m slowly preparing it. Translating docbook files is not enough, I must be able to generate HTML, ePub and PDF versions of the book. I’m using Publican for most formats, but for the PDF version Publican is moving away of fop and the replacement (webkit-based) is far from being satisfactory to generate a book ready for print. So I plan to use dblatex and get Publican to support dblatex as a backend.

I have hired Benoît Guillon, the upstream author of dblatex, to fix some annoying bugs and to improve it to suit my needs for the book (some results are already in the upstream CVS repository). I’m also working with a professional book designer to get a nice design.

I have also started to look for a Python Django developer to build the website that I will use to commercialize the book. The website will have a larger goal than just this though (“helping to fund free software developers”) but in free software it’s always good to start with your own case. :-)

Hopefully everything will be ready in April. I’m working hard to meet that deadline (you might have noticed that my blog has been relatively quiet in the last month…).

Thanks

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

Dpkg with multiarch support available in Debian experimental

As I announced on debian-devel, Guillem Jover uploaded a snapshot of dpkg’s multiarch branch to experimental (version 1.16.2~wipmultiarch). Beware: There will
likely be some small “interface” changes between this version and the version that will be released later in unstable (possibly in the output of dpkg --get-selections, dpkg --list, maybe other commands).

multiarch allows you to install packages from different architectures on the same machine. This can be useful if your computer can run programs from 2 architectures (eg. x86 CPU supporting i386 and amd64), or if you often need to cross-compile software and thus need the libraries of your target architecture.

Test dpkg with multiarch support

If you want to test multiarch support in dpkg, install the package from experimental (apt-get install dpkg/experimental assuming you have experimental in your sources.list).

Then you can add a supplementary architecture to your system by doing sudo dpkg --add-architecture <arch> (e.g. i386 if you are on amd64, and vice-versa). APT will automatically pick up the new architecture and start downloading the Packages file for the new architecture (it uses dpkg --print-foreign-architectures to know about them).

From there on you can install packages from the “foreign” architectures with “apt-get install foo:<arch>“. Many packages will not be installable because some of their dependencies have not yet been updated to work with in a multiarch world (libraries must be installed in a multiarch-compliant path so as to be co-installable, and then marked “Multi-Arch: same“). Other dependencies might need to be marked “Multi-Arch: foreign“. See wiki.debian.org/Multiarch/Implementation for more HOWTO-like explanations.

Now is a good time to see if you can install the foreign packages that you could need in such a setup and to help to convert the required libraries.

You can also read Cyril Brulebois’ article which quickly shows how to hunt for the problematic packages which have not been converted to multiarch (in his sample, “ucf” is not ready. Since it’s an “Architecture: all” package which can run on any architecture, it means that it’s lacking a “Multi-Arch: foreign” field).

Report bugs

If you discover any bug in dpkg’s multiarch implementation, please report it to the Bug Tracking System (against “dpkg” with the version “1.16.2~wipmultiarch”).

If you notice important libraries or packages which are not yet multiarch ready, please open wishlist bug reports requesting the conversion and point the maintainers towards the wiki page linked above. Even better, prepare patches and submit those with your bug reports.

Again, you can follow the lead of Cyril Brulebois who filed 6 bugs!

Review the multiarch implementation

If you’re a C programmer and have some good knowledge of dpkg (or are willing to learn more of it), we would certainly benefit from more eyes reviewing the multiarch branch. If you want to discuss some design issues of the multiarch implementation in dpkg (or have questions related to your review), please get in touch via debian-dpkg@lists.debian.org.

The latest version of the branch is pu/multiarch/master in Guillem’s personal repository. I have my own version of the branch (pu/multiarch/full) which is usually a snapshot of Guillem’s branch with my own submitted fixes.

$ git clone git://git.debian.org/dpkg/dpkg.git
$ cd dpkg
$ git remote add guillem git://git.hadrons.org/git/debian/dpkg/dpkg.git
$ git remote add buxy git://git.debian.org/~hertzog/dpkg.git
$ git fetch guillem && git fetch buxy

If you followed the instructions above, the relevant branches are thus guillem/pu/multiarch/master and buxy/pu/multiarch/full. Both branches are regularly rebased on top of master where Guillem merges progressively the commits from the multi-arch branch as his review progresses.

Thank you in advance for your help bringing multiarch in shape for Debian Wheezy,

My Debian Activities in January 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 (213.68 €, thanks everybody!), then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

Dpkg

The “biggest change” I made is a small patch that brings to an end years and years of recurring discussions about the build-arch and build-indep targets of debian/rules (see #229357). Last year the technical committee took this issue in its hands (see #629385) but it failed to take any resolution. Fortunately thanks to this we got some concrete numbers on the colateral damages inflicted on the archive for each possible approach. In the end, Guillem and I managed to agree on the way forward.

The remaining of what I did as dpkg maintainer has not much to do with coding. I reviewed the work of Gianluca Ciccarelli on dpkg-maintscript-helper who is trying to provide helper functions to handle migration between directories and symlinks. I also reviewed a 2000-lines patch from Patrick Schoenfeld who’s trying to provide a perl API to parse dpkg log files and extract meaningful data out of them.

I updated the dpkg-architecture manual page to document the Makefile snippet /usr/share/dpkg/architecture.mk and to drop information that’s no longer releveant nowadays.

I reviewed a huge patch prepared by Russ Allbery to update the Debian policy and document the usage of symbols files for libraries. As the author of dpkg-gensymbols, I was keen to see it properly documented at the policy level.

I brought up for discussion a detail that was annoying me for quite some time: some copyright notices were embedded in translatable strings and updating them resulted in useless work for translators. In the end we decided to drop those notices and to keep them only at the source level.

I updated my multiarch branch on top of Guillem’s branch several times, all the fixes that were in my branch have been integrated (often in a modified form).

Unfortunately even if the code works quite well, Guillem doesn’t want to release anything to Debian until he has finished to review everything… and many people are annoyed by the unreasonable delay that it imposes. Cyril Brulebois tried to release a snapshot of the current multiarch branch to experimental but Guillem has been prompt to revert this upload.

I’m somewhat at a loss in this situation. I offered my help to Guillem multiple times but he keeps doing his work in private, he doesn’t share many details of his review except some comments in commit logs or when it affects the public interface. I complained once more of this sad situation.

Debian Package Maintenance Hub

That’s the codename I use for a new infrastructure that I would like to develop to replace the Package Tracking System and the DDPO and several other services. I started to draft a Debian Enhancement Proposal (DEP), see DEP-2, and requested some comments within the QA team.

For now, it looks like that nobody had major objections on the driving idea behind this project. Those who commented were rather enthusiastic. I will continue to improve this DEP within the QA team and at some point I will bring the discussion to a larger audience like debian-devel@lists.debian.org.

Package Tracking System

Even if I started to design its replacement, the PTS will still be used for quite some time so I implemented two new features that I deemed important: displaying a TODO notice when there is (at least) one open bug related to a release goal, displaying a notice when the package is involved in an ongoing or upcoming transition.

Misc packaging tasks

I created and uploaded the dh-linktree package which is a debhelper addon to create symlink trees (useful to replace embedded copies of PHP/JavaScript libraries by symlinks to packaged copies of those files).

I packaged quilt 0.50. I helped the upstream authors to merge a Debian patch that had been forwarded by Martin Quinson (a quilt’s co-maintainer). I packaged a security release of WordPress (3.3.1) and a new upstream release of feed2omb and gnome-shell-timer.

I prepared a new Debian release of python-django with a patch cherry-picked from the upstream SVN repository to fix the RC bug #655666.

Book update

We’re again making decent progress in the translation of the Debian Administrator’s Handbook, about 12 chapters are already translated.

The liberation campaign is also (slowly) going forward. We’re at 72% now (thanks to 63 new supporters!) while we were only at 67% at the start of January.

Thanks

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

People Behind Debian: Steve McIntyre, debian-cd maintainer, former Debian Project Leader

Steve McIntyre has been contributing to Debian since 1996, 2 years before I joined! But I quickly stumbled upon Steve: in 1999, he was struggling with getting his debian-cd script to produce 2 ISO images (it was the first time that Debian did no longer fit on a single CD), I helped him by rewriting debian-cd with a robust system to split packages on as many ISO images as required.

I remember those times very well because Steve was very supportive of my efforts and it was a real pleasure to get this done. His friendly nature probably also explains why he got elected Debian Project Leader twice!

Anyway, enough history, check out his interview to learn more about the great work he’s doing nowadays. My questions are in bold, the rest is by Steve.

Raphael: Who are you?

Steve: I’m a professional software engineer, 37, living in Cambridge (England) with my new wife Jo. I studied for the EIST degree at the University of Cambridge, then (like many people here, it seems) I just forgot to go home again afterwards and settled here. I spent more of my “study” time playing with Linux than working on my degree, so I guess I’m lucky that it worked and I found a career in that area!

Raphael: How did you start contributing to Debian?

Steve: During my time in college, I started hacking on software in my free time, using Slackware as my first Linux distribution from the middle of 1994. After encountering more and more problems with Slackware, I was encouraged by a number of friends to make the jump over to Debian and in October 1996 I did. The installation process back then was much harder than anything people see today, but after a long weekend I finally had my Debian system up and running.

I was already one of the main upstream developers for the Mikmod music player at that time, so that very same weekend I applied to be a DD so I could maintain it in Debian too. Back then, the NM process was much simpler: I just mailed a key to Bruce and he set me up with an account almost immediately!

I then found that Joey Hess had beaten me to it and already packaged Mikmod. Grrr! :-)

Raphael: What’s your biggest achievement within Debian?

Steve: Without a doubt, my proudest achievement within Debian is being elected Project Leader for 2 years by the other developers. It’s a great feeling to have earned the trust of your friends and peers, and also a great responsibility to go and help Debian where needed: talking to the press about Debian, assisting wherever problems crop up, etc. The DPL job is certainly a lot of hard work, and I have nothing but respect for anybody who volunteers for it.

“It’s a great feeling to have earned the trust of your friends and peers.”

Elsewhere, I’ve been leading the Debian CD team for years too, both doing most of the maintenance of the debian-cd package and producing and testing the regular installation CDs and DVDs that we ship to the world. Again, this is a time-consuming job but it needs doing and it’s worthwhile.

Raphael: You’re currently employed by ARM. What are you working on and are they supportive of your Debian involvement?

Steve: The situation within ARM is very interesting; I’m employed in PDSW (Processor Division, SoftWare), a new group founded just a couple of years back to help improve the state of software on ARM. Most of the people in the group are working on Free Software at this stage (e.g. toolchains, browsers, Linux kernel), which is lovely. Some of the engineers have also been seconded into a new non-profit company Linaro, which is a collaboration between ARM and a number of other companies investing in core Linux software and tools for ARM-based CPUs. I’m one of the ARM engineers in Linaro, and I’m a Technical Architect in the Office of the CTO. My role includes looking at future projects for Linaro to help with (e.g. ARM servers), but for the last few months I’ve been concentrating on the new armhf “architecture” in Debian, Ubuntu and elsewhere.

armhf is a new “architecture” in Debian and Ubuntu terms, but it’s not strictly a new type of hardware. Instead, it’s a new ABI. We have two reasons for doing this work:

  1. It targets the latest version of 32-bit ARM CPUs (v7) and makes better use of the hardware, for better performance. Compare targetting i686 instead of i386, for example. We’ll still support the older “armel” port for the foreseeable future for users with older hardware that can’t run armhf.
  2. More importantly: we are standardising on the ABI / compiler options / hardware support for future users.

In the past, there has been a huge amount of specialisation (aka fragmentation) in the ARM Linux environment, and that worked OK for specialised devices that only ever ran the software shipped with them. ARM CPUs are now becoming more and more mainstream, so people will expect to be able to install generic software on their machines. That gives a requirement for a standard base platform, and armhf (arm-linux-gnueabihf in GNU triplet terms) is that standard that we are pushing in the community. Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse and others are all going to use this, making compatibility possible.

I’ve been working with a small team of people to make armhf happen, helping where needed: putting together build machines; patching Debian packages directly; discussing and fixing toolchain issues with Ubuntu folks; agreeing ABI specifications with people from Fedora; advising people from other distros bootstrapping their new ARM ports.

ARM and Linaro are very supportive of this work, and it’s been lovely being sponsored to work directly on Free Software like this. It’s work that will directly benefit ARM and its partners (of course!), but it’s also helping out more generally too: Debian QA work, cross-build support, bootstrapping efforts, multi-arch. More and more of the ARM market is driven by Free Software, and companies are acknowledging that. I should probably also mention that we’re hiring…! :-)

Raphael: What are your plans for Debian Wheezy?

Steve: There are three main tracks here.

Obviously, I’m interested in seeing armhf release with Wheezy. We’ve just been added to Testing last weekend, so that’s going well. We’ve got over 90% of the archive built now, and we’re mopping up the remaining issues.

I’m the primary maintainer of cdrkit at this point, but I’d prefer to have it go away. Xorriso and the associated software in libisoburn is almost capable of replacing all the aging cdrtools-derived software that we have in Debian, The only missing feature that I’m aware of is creating the HFS hybrid filesystems that we use for installations on Mac systems. I’ve been talking with the upstream folks about this for some time already, and I’m hoping we can finish this soon enough that we can get it into Wheezy.

Finally, I’ve got the ever-growing wishlist of things for debian-cd. We’ve got the beginnings of an automated test suite that Martín Ferrari has written, but it needs integrating and improving. I want to help get regular weekly/daily/release debian-live builds running on the main CD build machine. There’s work needed if we want to make good installation media for the new multi-arch world, too. The Emdebian people are asking for help making CD images… The list goes on :-)

Raphael: The ARM community seems to be very interested in multi-arch. Can you explain why?

Steve: There are a number of reasons for ARM people to be interested in multi-arch; two really stand out for me:

  • With the historical issues around the plethora of ARM ABIs in the wild, multi-arch will allow us to potentially support multiple ABIs cleanly on one system. That allows users to have (for example) an up-to-date system that makes the most of their current hardware, yet also run legacy programs that might use an older ABI. There’s also a new 64-bit architecture coming (ARMv8) which will run older 32-bit software; again, multi-arch makes mixed installation of old and new software reasonable.
  • ARM has traditionally been a common target for cross-compilation, and I’d expect that to remain the case for a long time to come yet. For a lot of embedded developers, using a big fast i386/amd64 machine to compile is much faster than using a limited-power small ARM CPU. However, setting up sane cross-compilation environments has long been a bugbear for developers. Getting the toolchain and all the cross-architecture libraries to work together correctly can be like black magic. This is potentially the “killer app” for multi-arch: simply install the libraries for the target architecture directly on your development machine. Install a simple cross-gcc package and (maybe) qemu, and you’re all set.

“This is potentially the “killer app” for multi-arch: simply install the libraries for the target architecture […], install a simple cross-gcc package […] and you’re all set.”

Raphael: What’s the biggest problem of Debian?

Steve: For me, Debian’s biggest problem has been the same for a long time: we are forever short of enough people to do the work that we’re trying to do. That might sound like a weird thing to claim when Debian is one of the largest Free Software projects on the planet, but it’s more a statement of just how huge our goals are. Many of the largest things in Debian are developed or controlled by very small teams working very hard, and there’s always a risk of losing people due to burnout in those situations.

“We are forever short of enough people to do the work that we’re trying to do.”

Some of the tasks that should be easy given our large membership (e.g. large-scale packaging transitions) can often instead take a very long time. We are fortunate to have more people wanting to join in Debian’s work all the time, but we also need to be careful to keep on promoting what we’re doing and recruiting new contributors, encouraging them to get more and more involved in core work. Debian gets ever bigger in terms of the size and the number of packages we distribute; we’re not currently matching that growth rate elsewhere.

Raphael: What motivates you to continue to contribute year after year?

Steve: This one is much easier to answer! The thing that first attracted me to Debian was the fact that I could help to develop it, help to decide how things could and should be done within it. Instead of being forced to accept what some corporation decided I could do with my computer, I could change the software to suit my needs and preferences. Alongside that, I could get involved with a strong community of similar people all over the world, all with their own strong opinions about how software should work.

I joined in and found it was great fun and very rewarding. That hasn’t changed for me in the intervening years, and that’s why I’m still around. I work on Debian because it helps me to get the OS that I want to use. It seems that lots of people around the world find it useful too, and that’s awesome. :-)

Raphael: Do you believe that Stefano Zacchiroli will be the first DPL who managed to stay 3 consecutive years on the seat? Would you like him to candidate again?

Steve: To be honest, I would be very surprised if Zack stood again for DPL this year. He told me himself that he wasn’t planning on it, and I can understand that decision. He’s been an awesome DPL in my opinion, and I’m glad that he took the job. But: it is also a very difficult and time-consuming task that would be enough to wear down anybody. If Zack does decide to stand again, I would support him 100%. But I know that we also have lots of other good people in Debian who would be ready to take up the challenge next.

Raphael: Is there someone in Debian that you admire for their contributions?

Steve: There are lots of people I admire in Debian, so many so that I almost don’t want to list individuals here for fear of missing people out. But… :-)

Bdale Garbee has been an inspiration to many of us, for many years. He’s technically excellent, a great friend to many of us, an endless source of sage advice and (last but not least) he has some wonderful stories to tell about his experiences over the years. On top of that, he’s just cool. :-)

Christian Perrier is another exceptional developer, in my eyes – he’s great at co-ordinating people in translations, working tirelessly to make this very important part of Debian work better and better with every release. He’s also a really nice guy and we all love him.

I also have to mention Joey Hess here, whether he likes it or not. *grin* He’s been responsible for so many good things in Debian over the years, even if he did steal my first package…

Finally, the teams of people who make sure that Debian is always working: the security team and DSA. The rest of us can choose to take time off from Debian to go and do other things, but these people need to cover things every day. That’s a major responsibility, and I salute them for taking on that challenge.


Thank you to Steve for the time spent answering my questions. I hope you enjoyed reading his answers as I did. Note that you can find older interviews on http://wiki.debian.org/PeopleBehindDebian.

Subscribe to my newsletter to get my monthly summary of the Debian/Ubuntu news and to not miss further interviews. You can also follow along on Identi.ca, Google+, Twitter and Facebook

.

My Debian activities in June 2011

This is my monthly summary of my Debian related activities. If you’re among the people who made a donation to support my work (195 €, thanks everybody!), then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

Dropbox for Debian

This is not free software but Dropbox is very popular and they did only provide an Ubuntu package that did not work on Debian. So I created an official package.

I have been in touch with Dropbox developers and they have been very helpful. They’ll shortly release a signature mechanism (with GPG) so that we can further improve the package by verifying the origin of the downloaded binaries.

SAT Britney

At the start of the month, I continued my work on the britney reimplementation (the software that creates testing out of unstable) but I quickly stalled it because the release managers asked the feedback of Stefano Zacchiroli and Ralf Treinen (who have extensive knowledge on the topic with their research work on Mancoosi) and I did not want to invest further work in case they would identify a major flow… the feedback came only very late this month and while it was somewhat negative, I still think it’s worth pursuing the effort for a bit longer.

Converted ftplib to multiarch

While dpkg still doesn’t support multiarch (no news from Guillem and no visible sign of progress :-(), unstable got all the remaining bits allowing us to convert libraries to multiarch (see the announce). As soon as the required libc6 landed in unstable, I looked into converting the only library package that I maintain. I had no major problem but I still identified 2 issues in Lintian (filed as #630164 and quickly fixed by Niels Thykier).

build-arch / build-indep support

For the 42th time in the last 10 years, the idea of using build-arch/build-indep targets in the rules file has surfaced again. I had already decided some time ago that I would accept a patch implementing a new field Build-Features to enable dpkg-buildpackage to use those targets and this time Bill Allombert completed such a patch so I merged it.

The technical committee also decided that it would take a final decision on this topic (see #629385). Roger Leigh provided useful input by doing an archive-wide rebuild with the various solutions suggested. Given that the majority would like to make the target mandatory at some point in the future, I provided the dpkg patch for my preferred solution. We would use “auto-detection” as a temporary measure until all packages have been converted to have the targets.

The technical committee has not yet taken any decision even though the discussion stalled since the 12th of June. But that’s usual with that body. I’m sure it will be solved during Debconf. ;-)

Misc dpkg work

  • Modified dpkg-source --after-build to automatically unapply patches if they have been applied by dpkg-source --before-build.
  • Lots of small bug fixes (#628726, #629582, #630996, #631435, #631439, #631547, #632168) and that’s just to keep with the flow of incoming bug reports!
  • Added 2 supplementary Perl modules to the supported API for the benefit of Lintian.
  • Spent an evening to track down the possible causes of an long-standing and annoying assertion failure related to triggers.
  • Updated my branch with improved triggers directives to take into account the feedback of Guillem, and merged it.
  • While doing this I discovered a design flaw with the usage of “prerm failed-upgrade” and merged a fix.
  • Discussed integration of dpkg-buildflags with debhelper in #544844 and decided of further improvements for dpkg-buildflags as a result.

Hamster applet update

Hamster-applet is a GNOME application which did not have a 3.0 release, but it had a development release (2.91.x). I checked out whether it was possible to package this version for experimental and have the applet work with the GNOME fallback mode. Apparently not, the code was not yet updated to be compatible with the newer panel.

Instead I uploaded the latest stable version (2.32.1) to unstable. It has some nice improvements in the standalone version (and the name of the executable changed). For usage with GNOME 3, I have created a custom shortcut to start it quickly (with gconf-editor set /apps/metacity/global_keybindings/run_command_1 to “<Mod4>t” and /apps/metacity/keybinding_commands/command_1 to “hamster-time-tracker” because the GNOME 3 control panel does not seem to work to set custom keybindings currently).

Translated my professional website into English

While I’m grateful for all the people who are supporting my work, I’m still far from my goal to have one third of my time funded through donations and sales of products on this blog.

So I decided to also bring more visibility to my company and in particular to its Debian-related service offering. It was only available in French up to now so I translated it and expanded it a bit. My “support page” on this blog now also links to my company’s website.

If your company needs help to create Debian packages, or needs Debian technical support by email, you just found the right partner. :-)

BTW, I have discounted prices for individuals and non-profits who would like to benefit from my help to create Debian packages.

The Debian Administrator’s Handbook

This is the title of the upcoming translation of my book. The project now has a dedicated website: debian-handbook.info.

You can subscribe to its RSS feed to keep up with the latest news. The full table of contents is online along with a FAQ.

I’m actively looking for partners to help me promote the fundraising once it goes live. If you can reach a large set of readers interested by a good Debian book, get in touch with me to join the affiliate program.

Thanks

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

My Debian activities in April 2011

This is my monthly summary of my Debian related activities. If you’re among the people who support my work, then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

GNOME 3 packaging

Right after the GNOME 3 release, I was eager to try it out so I helped the pkg-gnome team to update some of the packages. I did some uploads of totem, totem-pl-parser, gvfs, mutter, gnome-shell, gnome-screensaver. I also kept people informed via my blog and prepared a pinning file for adventurous users who wanted to try it out from experimental (like me).

One month later, I’m still using GNOME 3. There are rough edges still, but not so many. And I’m starting to get used to it.

Debian Rolling planning

Debian Rolling is a project on my TODO list for quite some time. I decided it was time to do something about it and started a series of articles to help clarify my ideas while getting some early feedback. My goal was to prepare a somewhat polished proposal before posting it to a Debian mailing list.

But as usual with Murphy’s law, my plan did not work out as expected. Almost immediately after my first post the discussion started on debian-devel:

At this point it’s a discussion thread of several hundreds of messages (there are several screens of messages like the one above). Many of the sub-threads have been interesting, but the general discussions mixed too many different things so that there’s no clear outcome yet. Lucas Nussbaum tried to make a summary.

Obviously I must adjust my plan, there’s lots of feedback to process. I accepted to drive a DEP together with Sean Finney to help structure the part of the discussion that focuses on allowing development to continue during freezes. But I’m also eager to fix the marketing problem of testing and have the project recognize that testing is a product in itself and that end-users should be encouraged to use it.

Package Tracking System maintenance

The Package Tracking System is an important tool for Debian developers, and it has been broken by some change on the Bug Tracking System. I worked around it quite quickly so that few people noticed the problem but Cron kept reminding me that I had to properly fix it.

I ended up doing it last week-end. While working on the PTS, I took the opportunity to merge a patch from Jan Dittberner to enhance the news RSS feed that the PTS provides. And I also integrated information from backports.debian.org (thanks to Mehdi Dogguy for reminding me #549115).

Multiarch update

Not much new this month. I fixed two bugs in the multiarch dpkg branch thanks to bug reports from Ubuntu users (LP 767634, LP 756381). I’m still waiting on Guillem Jover finishing his review of the multiarch branch. I’m pinging him from time to time but it looks like multi-arch is no longer in his short term priority list. :-(

I’ve been running this code for more than 2 months and it works fine. I want to see it merged. I’m ready to update my code should anything need to be changed to please Guillem. But without any feedback we’re in a deadlock.

Misc dpkg work

While fixing a bug in update-alternatives (found in one of the valid reports on launchpad), I noticed that there was room for improvements in the error messages output by update-alternatives. I changed them to reuse the same strings that were already used in other parts of dpkg. The result is that there are a few strings less to translate (always a nice thing for the poor translators who have to deal with the thousands of strings that dpkg contains).

I also tried to fix some of the most cryptic error messages in dpkg (see #621763) but that work is stalled at the request of Guillem.

Book update

We (me and Roland Mas) are almost done with the update of our French book for Debian Squeeze. It will hit the shelves in July or September. I’m starting to prepare the fundraising campaign to make an English translation of it. We’ll use ulule.com for this.

On my blog

I have been pleased to interview Meike Reichle, it’s the first women that I have interviewed in the series but it’s certainly not the last one. I also interviewed Adam D. Barratt, one of our tireless release managers.

Thanks

Many thanks to the people who gave me 180.35 € in March and 235.37 € in April. That represents 1.5 and 2 days of work for those months.

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

March 2011 wrap up

Since I’m soliciting donations to support my Debian work, the least I can do is explain what I do. You can thus expect to see an article like this one every month.

Multi-Arch work

I updated the code to use another layout for the control files stored in /var/lib/dpkg/info/. Instead of using a sub-directory per architecture (arch/package.type), we decided to use package:arch.type but only for packages which are Multi-Arch: same. dpkg is taking care to rename the files the first time it is executed with write rights and then updates /var/lib/dpkg/info/format to remember that the upgrade has been done and that we can rely on the new structure.

I filed a few bugs on packages that are improperly accessing those internal files instead of using the appropriate dpkg-query interface. I sent a heads-up mail on -devel to make other people aware of those problems in the hope to discover most of them as early as possible.

After that, the work stalled because Guillem went away for 2 weeks and thus stopped his review of my work. I hope he will quickly resume the review and that we will get something final this month.

With the arrival of dpkg 1.16.0, it’s now possible to start converting libraries to multi-arch even if full multi-arch support has not yet landed in dpkg proper. See http://wiki.debian.org/Multiarch/Bootstrapping for the detailed plan.

If you’re curious about Multi-Arch, you might want to read this article of Steve Langasek as well.

Bug triage for dpkg in launchpad

At the start of the month, there was close to 500 bugs reported against the dpkg package in Launchpad. Unfortunately most of it is noise… many of the reported bugs are misfiled, they show an upgrade problem of a random package and that upgrade problem confuses update-manager which tries to configure an already configured package. This generates a second error that apport attributes to dpkg and the resulting bug report is thus filed on dpkg. There are literally hundreds of those that have to be reclassified.

Michael Vogt and Brian Murray did some triaging, and I also spend quite some hours on this task. It’s a bit frustrating as I tend to mark many reports “Incomplete” because there’s no way they can be acted upon and many of them are so old that the reporter is unlikely to be able to provide supplementary information.

But in the middle of this noise, there are some useful bug reports, like LP#739179 which enabled me to fix a regression even before it reached Debian Unstable (because Ubuntu runs a snapshot of dpkg with multiarch support).

I subscribed to the Launchpad bugs for dpkg via the Debian Package Tracking System (thanks to the derivatives-bugs keyword) and will try to keep up with the incoming reports.

Misc dpkg work

The ftpmasters came up with a request for a new field (see 619131) in source packages. After a quick discussion and a round of review on debian-policy@l.d.o, I implemented the new Package-List field. This should allow the ftpmasters to save some time in NEW processing, but we deferred the change for the next dpkg version (1.16.1) to ponder a bit more on the design of the field.

I also fixed a bunch of bugs (#619541, #605719, #598922, #616096) and merged a patch of Mark Hymers to recognize the new Built-Using field.

Developers-reference work

The review process for changes to the developers-reference is not working as it should. And I suffered from it while trying to integrate the patch I wrote for the “Developer duties” chapter (see #548867).

We purposely changed the maintainer field from debian-doc to debian-policy in the hope to have more reviews of suggested changes and to seek some sort of consensus before committing anything. But we don’t get more reviews… and deciding to commit a patch is now even harder than it was (except for trivial stuff where personal opinions can’t interfere).

In my case, I only got the feedback of Charles Plessy which was very mixed to say the least. I tried to improve my patch based on what he expressed but I also clearly disagreed with some of his assertions and was convinced that my wording was in line with the dominant point of view within Debian.

We tried to involve the release team in the discussion because most of what I documented was about helping making stable release happen, but nobody of the team answered.

Instead of letting the situation (and my patch) rot, I solicited feedback from the DPL and from another developers-reference editor to see whether my patch was an improvement or not. After some more time, I went ahead and committed it.

It was not pleasant for anyone.

I don’t know how we can improve this. Contrary to the policy, the developers-reference is a document that is not normative, I believe the result is better when we put some “soul” into it. But it’s a real challenge when you seek a consensus and that the interest in reviewing changes is so low.

DVD shop listed on debian.org

In February, I launched a DVD shop whose benefits are used to fund my Debian work. Shortly after the launch I used the official form to be added to the official listing of Debian CD vendors and offered a few suggestions to deal with vendors who are selling unofficial images (with firmware in my case).

A few weeks later, I got no answers: neither for my request nor for my suggestions, I mailed the cdvendors@debian.org team directly asking for a status update and quickly got an answer suggesting that Simon Paillard usually does the work and can’t process the backlog due to some injury. At this point no concerns had been raised about adding me to the list. To save some time and some work for the team, I added myself to the list since I had commit rights and I informed them that I did it, so that they can review it.

Shortly after I did that, Martin Zobel Helas objected to my addition. I cleared some misunderstandings but the discussion also lead to some changes to please everybody: the listing now indicates that some images are unofficial and I have prepared a special landing page for people coming from the Debian website through this listing.

Debian column on OMG! Ubuntu

I have always been a firm believer that it’s important for Debian to reach out to the widest public with its message of freedom. Thus when Benjamin Humphrey contacted the debian-publicity team to find volunteers to write a Debian column on OMG! Ubuntu, I immediately jumped in.

I wrote 4 articles over there. The tone is very different from my articles on my blog and I like that duality. Check out Debian is dying! Oh my word!, Debian or Ubuntu, which is the best place to contribute?, Are you contributing your share? and Ubuntu’s CTO reveals DEX: an effort to close the gap with Debian.

It’s a great win-win situation, OMG! Ubuntu benefits from my articles, Debian’s values are relayed further, and OMG! Ubuntu’s large audience also helps me develop my own blog.

Work on my book

I had lots of paperwork to do this month (annual accounting stuff for my company) and I did not have as much time as I hoped for my book. Still I have a updated a few more chapters of my French book and I certainly hope to complete the update during April.

This means that the work on the English translation could start in may.

Work on my blog

Just like for my book, it has been relatively difficult for me to cope with my policy of two articles every week. But I still managed to get quite some good stuff out.

I interviewed Christian Perrier (Debian’s translation coordinator) and also Bdale Garbee (chair of Debian’s technical committee).

I finished my series of “Debian Cleanup Tips” with 2 supplementary articles:

The removal of firmware is causing troubles to quite some users so I wrote an article explaining how to deal with the problem. A regular reader also asked me to write an article about Jigdo, I executed myself because it was a good idea and that he has been very nice with me: Download ISO images of Debian CD/DVD at light speed with Jigdo.

Last but not least, I shared my package maintainer pledge which inspired my developers-reference patch (see discussion above).

Thanks

Many thanks to all the people who showed their appreciation of my work. The 324.37 EUR that you gave me in February represented 2 days and a half of my time that I have spent working on the above projects.

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

February 2011 wrap up

February has been again a busy month for me. Here’s a quick summary of what I did:

Multi-Arch work

I have spent many days implementing and refining dpkg’s Multi-Arch support with Guillem Jover (dpkg co-maintainer) and Steve Langasek (beta-tester of my code ;-)). Early testers can try what’s in my latest pu/multiarch/snapshot/* branch in my personal git repository.

A Debian DVD shop

I’m always exploring new options to fund my Debian work (besides direct donations) and this month—with the Debian Squeeze release—I saw an opportunity in selling Debian DVD. Nobody provides DVD with included firmwares and quite a few people would like to avoid the SpaceFun theme. So I built unofficial Debian DVDs that integrate firmware and that install a system with the old theme (MoreBlue Orbit). Click here to learn more about my unofficial DVDs.

On my blog

In my “People behind Debian” series, I interviewed Mike Hommey (Iceweasel maintainer) and Maximiliam Attems (member of the kernel team).

I started a “Debian Cleanup Tip” series and already published 4 installments:

For contributors, I wrote two articles: the first gives a set of (suggested) best practices for sponsoring Debian packages and adapted my article as a patch for the Developers Reference. In the second article, I shared some personal advice for people who are considering participating on Debian mailing list: 7 mistakes to avoid when participating to Debian mailing lists.

Click here to subscribe to my free newsletter and get my monthly analysis on what’s going on in Debian and Ubuntu. Or just follow along via the RSS feed, Identi.ca, Twitter or Facebook.