3.26 Developments

My approach to development can often differ from my peers. I prefer to spend the early phase of a cycle doing lots of prototypes of various features we plan to implement. That allows me to have the confidence necessary to know early in the cycle what I can finish and where to ask for help.

We have some big stuff coming this cycle.

Panel Engine Revamp

Allan has been working on some major design work in how our panels and documents work. This has been needed for some time and things are looking good. To keep up with this, I’ve been doing some major improvements to panel-gtk, our panel engine. I managed to shake out a few bugs in the process and those fixes have made their way into the gnome-builder-3-24 branch.

The test program is not much to look at, but we have some necessary plumbing in place to do new things.

Shortcut Engine and Key Themes

Furthermore, I’ve been building a new shortcut engine to do the more advanced features we need. Gtk Shortcut Engine (GSE) provides plumbing for applications that need complex features such as multi-key “chords”, keyboard themes, and custom overrides by users. Many of you have asked for this in Builder, and I’m confident in saying it is coming for 3.26. You can find the work in progress in the shortcut-engine repository.

Ultimately I had to import a copy of the upstream’d GtkShortcutsWindow (based on what we wrote for Builder in 3.20) so that we could support chords. So the code-base looks bigger than it really is. The primary design (besides the keyboard themes) is the concept of a GseShortcutController and GseShortcutContext. These two things allow us to do some fun stuff like emacs-style “minor modes” as well as Vim-style modal keybindings.

I expect this to allow us to cleanup our Vim emulation quite a bit. It also solves some of our outstanding problems with keyboard shortcuts and unpredictable GAction activation. It’s really quite fundamental to how you’ll be interacting with Builder from a keyboard going forward.

Debugger

The big feature for 3.26 is the debugger. I have enough of a working prototype in place to have a reasonably good idea of what the moving parts are. As soon as we land the new shortcut engine and some of the panel updates I’ll be back finishing up that feature.

That’s it for now!

Rust’ic GNOME, Day 3

Today is day 3 of the GNOME+Rust hackfest in Mexico City at the beautiful new Red Hat office. We’ve been working on all sorts of stuff since we were graced with the presence of a few Rust hackers from Mozilla Research.

In particular, Niko and Federico have been working on a GObject plugin for Rust that allows us to have a nice, almost Vala-esque, syntax for writing GObjects. It’s pretty exciting to watch a compiler hacker at work. After lots of talks about GObject design internals, performance hacks, re-entrancy protections, and more, I think we’re headed down a solid path to enabling our Object Oriented style of development, but from Rust.

In addition to playing the code historian, I spent some time trying to get Builder’s support for the Rust Language Server up to snuff. It’s still a bit annoying to get rls installed¹, but it sounds like RustUp will support it soon which means we can make it seamless. Anyway, I fixed a bunch of little bugs that cropped up in the recent months as both Builder and rls projects churned like crazy.

I also implemented support for “Find all References” last night. In a Rust document, just Constrol+Shift+Space to get the list of references, followed by up/down, and return to jump. I’d like the IdeSymbolResolver’s for Clang and Vala to support this soon too.

¹ To install rls, start by installing the nightly toolchain from Builder’s Preferences → SDKs. If you’ve not done this before, you’ll need to first click the “Install” button for RustUp. Then add a new Rust Toolchain called “nightly” and set it as the default. Clone the rls repository and run ~/.cargo/bin/cargo install from within that project. The good news is we should be able to simplify this quite a bit in the near future.

Builder 3.24

I’m excited to announce that Builder 3.24 is here and ready for you to play with!

It should look familiar because most of the work this cycle was underneath the hood. I’m pretty happy with all the stabilization efforts from the past couple of weeks. I’d like to give a special thanks to everyone who took the time to file bugs, some of whom also filed patches.

With Outreachy and GSoC starting soon, I’m hoping that this will help reduce any difficulty for newcomers to start contributing to GNOME applications. I expect we’ll continue to polish that experience for our next couple of patch releases.

Under the hood: Runtimes

Now that 3.24 is almost here, I want to take a little downtime and write some information about pieces of the design underneath Builder. Today, let’s lift the hood and take a look at Runtimes.

In Builder, an IdeRuntime is an abstraction around an environment to run programs. That could be build tooling, SDK management, your application, unit tests, and more. Unsurprisingly, it’s naming is similar to Flatpak runtimes because they have a very 1:1 relationship in the Flatpak plugin. But it’s not an uncommon term by any means.

Today, Builder supports 3 types of runtimes: host, jhbuild, and flatpak.

The host runtime simply executes processes on the host system. This is as close to if you just opened a shell with gnome-terminal as we can give you. We actually go through great pains to do so when the application is distributed via Flatpak. For example, we use the HostCommand² developer-mode interface of Flatpak to execute the subprocess from the host session¹ yet using a PTY master/slave from within the sandbox.

The jhbuild runtime is similar to the host runtime except that we first enter the jhbuild environment using jhbuild run. This ensures that we are using dependencies that you may have built locally. Psuedo terminals are also run this way, so ctrl+alt+shift+t will naturally give you the equivalent of jhbuild shell inside a new embedded terminal.

The flatpak runtime uses flatpak build to enter the runtime environment. Our build pipeline will have had to advance to the point at least the IDE_BUILD_PHASE_PREPARE phase to ensure that the manifest and build directories are setup. So there is just a bit extra complexity involved here. But the result is pretty nice. Your subprocess will see /usr, /app and such just like during the application build process. This makes exploring the build environment very simple. Just open a new terminal with ctrl+alt+shift+t.

Running your application naturally uses runtimes too. This allows us to setup the environment, DBus, network namespaces, Wayland access, and more in the way your application needs. We use information from the build configuration (such as your org.gnome.Foo.json flatpak manifest) to determine what that is.

So what’s next?

I’m relatively happy with this design so far and I think it could work for a few more scenarios. One might be a runtime accessible via adb to your phone. Or possibly a remote container. Or far more interesting to me, inside a GNOME virtual machine providing a simulator with GNOME continuous.

Until next time…

  1. Obviously this means Builder has a more relaxed sandboxing story than a general purpose application. This comes with the territory of developer tooling of this magnitude.
  2. If you want to see this feature land in MonoDevelop/Xamarin Studio, go help fix https://github.com/mono/dbus-sharp/issues/57

Simplifying newcomer setup

One thing we are striving for in 3.24 is to make it as simple as possible for newcomers to get their development environment setup. Hopefully in time so that our next round of Outreachy and GSoC interns have an easier time getting started.

A common installation issue we’ve seen is that people have flatpak, but not flatpak-builder. Without it, Builder can’t do builds inside of the target mount namespace with all your proper dependencies. So now Builder will detect this and install it for you if you like.

Builder Documentation

I’ve been slowly getting started on documentation for Builder in-between the 3.24 stabilization process and conference time. But there is a lot to do and we could use your help. Here is me publicly requesting that you help us get some documentation in place for 3.24.

We’re going to try an experiment of using readthedocs.io with reStructuredText for quickly writing documentation. It is what both OSTree and Flatpak are using for documentation which seem to be on the up and up. Given the experimental ethos behind Builder, it seems worth exploring.

Here is a bit of info on how to contribute documentation. Check out the Creating Plugins section for all the things we need to document.

We don’t yet have cross-referencing to API documentation, but I’ll try to have that in place soon.

Sharing your app with friends

It’s a rainy afternoon in Portland so I’m cozy with an espresso watching the rain. After a short hacking session you can now export your application as a Flatpak bundle quickly and easily. Just select the workbench menu in the top right corner of the workbench, followed by Flatpak, and then Export as Bundle.

A normal build will proceed but also includes a finalization step to populate the OSTree repository (flatpak build-export) and then create the bundle (flatpak build-bundle). Finally, Files will be opened with the bundle selected for your copy-and-paste ease. If you double-click the bundle, GNOME Software will be opened and allow you to quickly install the bundle.

Additionally, we’ve split off the update dependencies phase of the build pipeline for Flatpak-based configurations so you can work offline while still updating dependencies at your convenience. Just activate the menu item and the build pipeline will progress to download updates if the network is enabled.

Exploring your application runtime

In Builder, we landed a new feature for 3.24 that allows you to create a new terminal inside the application runtime. If you’re building against your host system, then this is nothing special. If you’re building against jhbuild you’ll get a shell inside of that (but again, nothing really special).

However, if you’re building for a flatpak runtime, such as org.gnome.Platform, your shell will look completely different from your host system. Instead, it will be what the application sees at runtime. (Okay, it’s actually what it sees at build time, but the SDK is just the Platform with compiler bits, headers, pkg-config, and such).

  • ctrl+shift+t for a terminal on your host
  • ctrl+alt+shift+t for a terminal inside your application runtime

So here is an image of a shell in the host system on left and the runtime on the right. This makes it very convenient to figure out what your application is seeing during execution and audit the files you need to remove in your cleanup phase. Or maybe you just want to explore!

If you are not using Builder, you can explore a SDK or runtime with flatpak run org.gnome.Sdk. Additionally, if you’re interested in exactly what your application sees after you have packaged and installed it, try:

flatpak run --command=bash com.example.MyApp

Adding -d to the above will give you the SDK instead of the runtime. This is much closer to what Builder will give you.

flatpak run -d --command=bash com.example.MyApp

Flatpak at SCaLE 15x

A decade ago I lived on the west side of Los Angeles. One of my favorite conferences was Southern California Linux Expo. Much like Karen, this is the conference where I performed my first technical talk. It’s also where I met and became friends with great people like Jono, Ted, Jeff, the fantastic organizing staff, and so many more.

I was happy to come back again this year and talk about what I’ve been working on in GNOME. The combination of Flatpak and Builder (and Sysprof).

The event was live streamed on youtube, and you can watch it here. I expect the rooms to be cut and uploaded as individual talks but I don’t know the timeline for that. I’ll update this if/when I discover that so you can youtube-dl if you prefer.