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.


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).


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.


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 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…).


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 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

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://
$ cd dpkg
$ git remote add guillem git://
$ git remote add buxy 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.


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/ 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

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.


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