My Debian activities in May 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, then you can learn how I spent your money. Otherwise it’s just an interesting status update on my various projects.

I have been…

Doing some work towards Debian Rolling

At the start of the month, the discussions about Debian rolling were still very active on debian-devel. Declaring that testing would be rolling did not make it (as I hoped), the argument that some RC bugs last for far too long in that distribution carried the discussion and thus the most consensual proposition ended up being the one of Josselin Mouette were rolling would be testing plus a few selected cherry-picked packages from unstable.

I believe it’s a workable solution if we only care about a subset of architectures. Otherwise the same reasons that keep the fixed packages out of testing would probably also apply for rolling.

Given this, I did setup britney (the software that controls testing) on my laptop to investigate how we can create rolling. It turns out britney is a very specialized software with very few configuration knobs.

At the same time Joachim Breitner made a proposition that immediately grabbed my attention. He suggests to use SAT solvers to find out the set of packages that should migrate from unstable to testing. I thought that rolling would be a good testbed for this new implementation of britney (which he calls SAT-britney) so I jumped right in this project.

I was not at all familiar with this science field, so I looked up quite some documentation: I learned that all SAT solvers expect the problem to be presented in CNF form, and that DIMACS was the file format of choice to represent those boolean constraints. Several SAT solvers are available in Debian and picosat appears to be one of the best.

Then I started some early coding/prototyping to play with the concept. You can find the result in this git repository, you can grab a copy with git clone git://

There’s not much yet, except some Python code to generate a SAT problem that can be fed to a SAT solver. But I really look forward to this project.

Representing Debian during Solutions Linux

During the second week, I spent 3 days in Paris to help manage the Debian booth at Solutions Linux.

We have responded to lots of queries but most visitors already knew Debian, and many of them use it at work and/or at home. We tried to recruit those people as new members for Debian France, the local association. We also sold all our remaining goodies.

The Ubuntu people were interviewed by France 3 (an important TV channel) and we took this opportunity (with the consent of the Ubuntu guys) to show our Debian t-shirts in the background: you can watch the video here (in French), you can see me with Carl Chenet at 1:21.

We have also been interviewed by Intelli’n TV: here and here (both in French). I’m not very good at this exercise. 🙂

Improving dpkg triggers

The third week was a vacation week, in theory I should have stayed away from my computer but I really wanted to take this opportunity to improve the state of dpkg triggers in Debian.

I already covered my work in another article: Trying to make dpkg triggers more useful and less painful.

The result is not merged yet, I just asked a question to all package maintainers who are using triggers to be able to decide whether I’ll merge it as is, or if I can make the new behavior the default one.

Supporting users after Alioth’s migration

When I came back from my vacation, many services provided by were non-functional after a migration to a new setup that involves two machines instead of one. Given that I used to be an Alioth admin, I know that in those periods you tend to be get bogged down on many user support requests. So I re-joined #alioth on IRC and tried to help a bit.

I did investigate some of the reported problems and prepared fixes (updated scripts, configuration files, etc.) for some of the issues. I also created a list of remaining issues that should have lasted only a few days but that’s still active because there are still regressions left.

The most important things still missing are:

  • proper support for delegation of rights. We used ACL setup by the admins in the past. With the new FusionForge, each project admin should be able to delegate rights to external “roles”. There’s a Debian Developer role already but trying to grant him right fails…
  • access to the Ultimate Debian Database. Many tools rely on this database to work.
  • anonymous FTP access to download project files.
  • clear guidelines on how we’re supposed to deal with websites that are updated by VCS hooks.
  • clear guidelines on how we’re supposed to deal with personal git repositories

Improving the “3.0 (quilt)” source format

I have made some proposals to change the way the new source format would work. The goals are to be less painful for packagers who are using a VCS, and to avoid unexpected changes slipping through a new patch generated by dpkg-source.

It seems that the proposals are relatively consensual so I’ll implement them at some point.

Missing in action on my blog

I did a lots of stuff for Debian between travel and vacation, and in the remaining time, I did not manage to write many articles for my blog.

In fact, besides the article on my triggers work mentioned above I only published one interview: People behind Debian: Steve Langasek, release wizard.

I’ll try to do better this month!


Many thanks to the people who gave me 151.61 € in May.

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

Quick news: dpkg, collab-maint, alioth and the future

Dpkg got rid of Perl

Let’s start with the interesting part and the great news: dpkg 1.15.8 (to be uploaded soon) will no longer need perl! After my changes to rewrite update-alternatives in C, Guillem recently pushed the rewrite of dpkg-divert/mksplit in C. Please test it out (binary package for i386 or .dsc).

This is rather exciting news for those who would like to use dpkg in embedded contexts. And it’s great to see this completed in time for Squeeze. In Squeeze+1, we might go one step further and merge cdebconf, the C replacement for debconf.

I got rid of some recurring administrative tasks

I have been administrating the Alioth server since its inception (see the announce I sent in 2003) but I’m no longer enjoying the day-to-day administrative work that it represents. That’s why I just retired from the team. We recently recruited Tollef Fog Heen so the number of admins is still the same (that said, Alioth could benefit from some more help, if you’re a DD and interested, drop a mail to or come to #alioth).

Same goes for the collab-maint project. I have dealt with hundreds of requests to add new contributors to the project since it’s the central repository where all Debian developers have write access and where they put the VCS for their packages that do not belong to a more specialized team. The new administrator that will approve the requests is Xavier Oswald and he’s doing the work under the umbrella of the New Maintainer’s Front Desk.

The future

I will continue to spend the same amount of time on Debian, the time freed will quickly be reallocated to other Debian and free software related projects. In fact, I even anticipated a bit by launching Flattr FOSS last week but that’s a relatively simple project. 🙂

The other projects that will never all fit in the freed time: I want to spend more time working on dpkg. I do plan to blog more often too, but I’m sure you’ll notice that yourself soon. I would like to see my Debian book translated into English (another post coming on the topic sometimes soon). In my dreams, I could even start yet another software project, I have some ideas that I really would like to see implemented but I don’t see how that could fit in this year’s planning… unless I can convince someone else to implement them! Maybe I should blog about them.