Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tribblix - updates versus upgrades

Having released a new version of Tribblix, I thought it worth writing a little on how I see updates and upgrades in the Tribblix world, and how they differ.

After all, one thing I said about the Tribblix philosophy of keeping current is that Tribblix is essentially a rolling release, in that new versions of applications are continuously added. You can just update and you'll get the latest version of applications.

So, what defines an upgrade is that it's when the illumos components are updated. In fact, the only way to update any of the illumos packages is via an upgrade.

This is mostly for purely practical reasons. The way a package is updated is to remove it (using pkgrm underneath) and then install the new version (using pkgadd underneath). This is problematic in several ways: you don't want a system problem half way through to leave you with a critical package uninstalled; you can't operate at all with libc removed; and you want the system packages to be updated together as a coherent unit rather than individually. It might be possible to think of a horrendously complex system to solve these problems; it's much better just to do it another easier way.

As for implementation, the illumos packages live in their own software repo, and there's one illumos repo per release. No updates ever get applied to that repo, if there are updates a new repo gets created. The process of doing an upgrade is to clone the system to a new BE (boot environment), change that BE to point to the new repo, update all the packages in the new BE, then reboot into it.

In practice, the main Tribblix repo is also versioned per-release. Originally that was because it contains the zap package, which is where the repos are defined. However, it turns out that creating a new repo is an administrative convenience as well. The new repo at the point of a release contains the most up to date version of each package. (They're just hardlinks, so don't take any space.) This provides an easy way to claim back some space when I retire an old version of a repo, as you just delete the repo and any packages that aren't duplicated in other repos get deleted with it. It also means that an upgraded system cannot see old package versions, so you naturally prevent users getting out of date and incompatible versions.

Whether this approach is viable in the longer term is another matter. If there are stable releases that get "support" long term, then I'll have to keep old package versions and old repos for longer. But it's worked well so far.

By and large, once I've cut a new release, the older releases don't get updates. This isn't completely true, security updates (openssl, for example, and bind today) do get updated in the prior release, at least for a while. This means keeping an old machine around for the build (a simple VM is fine).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tribblix Milestone 18

Time for another Tribblix release, this one following the sequence and called Milestone 18.

The list of changes is pretty dry. Let me add a little colour to that.

On the desktop, MATE has been updated to the current 1.14 release. This provoked a little investigation into desktop caches, because adding MATE broke things. (I've just now added another little change to my MATE packaging which should catch another problem. Sigh.) I also added the EDE desktop as another fast and light option.

I finally got around to building my own copy of libtiff (rather than the old binary version I had inherited from OpenIndiana). This involved a major version bump, and then rebuilding anything that depended on the old version. I created a compatibility package containing the old shared libraries as a stopgap, while working my way through the list. One of the applications that needed updating was gdk-pixbuf, and then there are applications that link against both gdk-pixbuf and libtiff directly.

Very little of the software I ship needs or wants GTK3, so I'm happy with GTK2 (which I did a minor update of). But at some point I'm going to have to update to GTK3. So I tried to update to a later version than I had, in accordance with the Tribblix philosophy of keeping current. Because I don't actually use GTK3 much, it was well behind. Unfortunately, getting completely up to date involved updating Cairo, Pango, GLib, ATK, D-Bus, returning ETOOMUCHWORK. I went to an intermediate step of version 3.14.15, which involved updating ATK. As part of that, I had to update D-Bus, another component I had previously inherited from OpenIndiana. As it's pretty foundational, that required some care and attention to detail, but after working out the appropriate tweaks to match how it had been built before, that went very smoothly. The Linux community (rightly) gets a lot of stick for not caring about compatibility, but I have been very pleased at how good binary compatibility has been with the various desktop components.

As I was going through the various version bumps, I realized that almost everything using LCMS now used lcms2, so I made sure that the one holdout, gimp, was forced to use lcms2 rather than the lcms1 that it picked by default.

It's not only the desktop. Tribblix isn't just a desktop distro, that's just rather more visible (and sometimes more fun). Some of the work here tends to follow a theme - for example on load balancers. Reading between the lines you might be able to detect that I've been working on antivirus (clamav and c-icap), there are other cases where I've used Tribblix to build, package, and test components that might be useful elsewhere

There are some isolated new packages that don't obviously make sense. Sometimes, I have to build and package prerequisites as part of building something else. For example, I had a look at pitivi. While building pitivi itself wasn't successful, I needed to get tools like meson and ninja and nose built, and components like pycairo. As I've gone to the effort of packaging, I'll keep them - they'll be useful in the future when I return to pitivi, and may well be useful for other tools. The same is true for snort, which is why libdnet and daq have been added, even though snort itself isn't there yet.

There was a mailing list thread on shells, which mentioned Plan9. So I went and added Plan9 from User Space because, well, I could, and it was an interesting opportunity to play with something different. I've also removed csh, it's now a link to tcsh. That wasn't a result of the thread, it was something I had meant to do for the last 2 releases but had forgotten in the build.

User feedback is always good. It tends to catch the cases I've never encountered myself. I've added an editor to the live environment, there's nano there now, if ever you need to edit any files.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Tribblix philosophy - software fidelity and currency

One of the key things about Tribblix is that it is very light-touch.

Partly this is out of necessity - this is a part-time endeavour for one person, and I do what I can to minimize the amount of effort I have to put in.

So, as far as possible, I don't change what I get from upstream.

For illumos, I'm as vanilla illumos-gate as you can get (I make one change to the SVR4 packaging tools, important to me as I'm the only distro based on illumos-gate who uses SVR4 packaging).

For other packages, apart from setting the install prefix, I only make changes necessary for applications to build and run. I make no real attempts to tweak or flavour them for Tribblix, you get as much as possible what the original author intended.

This is deliberate, who am I to decide to change the behaviour of somebody else's software?

Also, it makes maintenance easier, as I don't have to try and port patches forward to new versions.

Talking about new versions, I try and keep current. Yes, this implies a rolling release model, of sorts. If there's a problem with a package, I'll roll it forward to a newer release. I won't backport fixes to an older version, I'll simply push out the newer version.

If I can, that is. Sometimes a newer version is broken and doesn't work or won't build. Sometimes a newer version requires an update somewhere else, so it gets stalled and dumped back on the TODO list until the other component gets updated. Sometimes, especially for libraries, the new version isn't API compatible, so anything using it will also need to be rebuilt. This tends to get blocked, although I occasionally go in and update a whole dependency tree at once (which is a pain to do).

Fortunately, most of the core packages have learnt the value of compatibility. Things such as X11, Glib, D-Bus, Cairo, Pango, Gtk, most of the core desktop stack are never much of an issue. (Although because of their position in the dependency tree, I tend to be fairly cautious when I do have to touch them.)