GTask and Threaded Workers

GTask is super handy, but it’s important you’re very careful with it when threading is involved. For example, the normal threaded use case might be something like this:

state = g_slice_new0 (State);
state->frob = get_frob_state (self);
state->baz = get_baz_state (self);

task = g_task_new (self, cancellable, callback, user_data);
g_task_set_task_data (task, state, state_free);
g_task_run_in_thread (task, state_worker_func);

The idea here is that you create your state upfront, and pass that state to the worker thread so that you don’t race accessing self-> fields from multiple threads. The “shared nothing” approach, if you will.

However, even this isn’t safe if self has thread usage requirements. For example, if self is a GtkWidget or some other object that is expected to only be used from the main-thread, there is a chance your object could be finalized in a thread.

Furthermore, the task_data you set could also be finalized in the thread. If your task data also holds references to objects which have thread requirements, those too can be unref’d from the thread (thereby cascading through the object graph should you hit this undesirable race).

Such can happen when you call g_task_return_pointer() or any of the other return variants from the worker thread. That call will queue the result to be dispatched to the GMainContext that created the task. If your CPU task-switches to that thread before the worker thread has released it’s reference you risk the chance the thread holds the last reference to the task.

In that situation self and task_data will both be finalized in that worker thread.

Addressing this in Builder

We already have various thread pools in Builder for work items so it would be nice if we could both fix the issue in our usage as well as unify the thread pools. Additionally, there are cases where it would be nice to “chain task results” to avoid doing duplicate work when two subsystems request the same work to be performed.

So now Builder has IdeTask which is very similar in API to GTask but provides some additional guarantees that would be very difficult to introduce back into the GTask implementation (without breaking semantics). We do this by passing the result and the threads last ownership reference to the IdeTask back to the GMainContext at the same time, ensuring the last unref happens in the expected context.

While I was at it, I added a bunch of debugging tools for myself which caught some bugs in my previous usage of GTask. Bugs were filed, GTask has been improved, yadda yadda.

But I anticipate the threading situation to remain in GTask and you should be aware of that if you’re writing new code using GTask.

Introducing deviced

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been heads down working on a new tool along with Patrick Griffis. The purpose of this tool is to make it easier to integrate IDEs and other tooling with GNU-based gadgets like phones, tablets, infotainment, and IoT devices.

Years ago I was working on a GNOME-integrated home router with davidz which sadly we never finished. One thing that was obvious to me in that moment of time was that I will not do another large scale project until I have better tooling. That was Builder’s genesis and device integration is what will make it truly useful to myself and others who love playing with GNU-friendly gadgets.

Now, building an IDE is a long process. There is a ton of code to write, trade-offs to work through, and persistence beyond what any reasonable programmer would voluntarily sign up for. But the ends justify the slog.

So what we’ve created is uninterestingly called “deviced”. It currently has three components. A deviced daemon lives on the target device that we’re interested in writing software for. A GObject-based libdeviced library provides access to discover and connect to devices and do interesting things on them. Lastly, devicectl is a readline-based command line tool that allows you to interact with these devices without having to write a program using libdeviced.

The APIs in libdeviced are appropriately abstracted so that we can provide different transports in the future. Currently, we only have network-based communication but we will implement a USB transport in the not-too-distant future. Other protocols such as SSH or custom micro-controllers can be added. Although something like SSH is more complex because it’d be the combination of both a protocol and how to run commands to get the intended effect, which is non-portable. It will be possible to support devices that do not run deviced, but that is currently out of scope.

To allow devices to be discover-able, deviced will broadcast it’s presence using mDNS on networks it is configured to listen (based on network-manager connection UUID). Long term my goal is that you can configure deviced access in Control Center, similar to “Sharing and Privacy”. The network protocol is rather simple as it’s just JSON-RPC over TLS with self-signed certificates. When a client connects to the daemon, a gnome-shell notification is presented allowing you to accept the connection. At that point, the client certificate is saved for future validation.

Our libdeviced library is GObject introspectable and should therefore work with a number of languages.

Right now, only Flatpak applications are supported, but we have abstractions to allow for contributions to support additional application layers like docker or plain old .desktop files. Currently you can push flatpak applications and runtimes to the device and install them and run them. If you have a new enough Flatpak, you can do delta updates.

It can even bridge multiple PTY devices for a shell, which isn’t really meant to be an SSH replacement, but more of a single abstraction we can use to be able to control a debugger and inferior from the IDE tooling.

There are still lots of little bugs to shake out and more bits to implement, but this is a pretty sweet 2-week proof of concept.

https://gitlab.gnome.org/chergert/deviced/

Here is a 20 second demo running on a single machine. It’s the same when using multiple machines except you get the notification on the programmable device rather than on your workstation. Obviously for IoT devices we’d need to create some sort of freedesktop notification bridge or alternate notification mechanism.

Anytime you work on a new project people will inevitably ask “why not just use XYZ”. In this case, I would expect both SSH and ADB to fall into that category. Most importantly, libdeviced is going to be about providing a single “remote device” abstraction for us in Builder. So it’s reasonable that we could abstract both of those systems from libdeviced. But neither of those provide the work-flow I envision for out-of-box experience, hence the deviced daemon. In the ADB case, it will be very difficult to get code upstream and released to distributions as it is increasingly unlikely our use-case is interesting to upstream. There were experimental patches to ADB a couple years ago to support flatpak so we didn’t take on this effort without considering our options. Ultimately, this prototype was to see the feasibility of making something that solves our problems while not locking us out of supporting other systems in the future.

Builder happenings for January

I’ve been very busy with Builder since returning from the holidays. As mentioned previously, we’ve moved to gitlab. I’m very happy about it. I can see how this is going to improve the engagement and communication between our existing community and help us keep new contributors.

I made two releases of Builder so far this month. That included both a new stable build (which flatpak users are already using) and a new snapshot for those on developer operating systems like Fedora Rawhide.

The vast majority of my work this month has been on stabilization efforts. Builder is already a very large project. Every moving part we add makes this Rube Goldberg machine just a bit more difficult to maintain. I’ve tried to focus my time on things that are brittle and either improve or replace the designs. I’ve also fixed a good number of memory leaks and safety issues. However, the memory overhead of clang sort of casts a large shadow on all that work. We really need to get clang out of process one of these days.

Over the past couple years, our coding style evolved thanks to new features like g_autoptr() and friends. Every time I come across old-style code during my bug hunts, I clean it up.

Builder learned how to automatically install Flatpak SDK Extensions. These can save you a bunch of time when building your application if you have a complex stack. Things like Rust and Mono can just be pulled in and copied into your app rather than compiled from source on your machine. In doing so, every app that uses the technology can share objects in the OSTree repository, saving disk space and network transfer.

That allowed me to create a new template, a GNOME C♯ template. It uses the Mono SDK extension and gtk-sharp for 3.x. If you want to help here, work on a omni-sharp language server plugin for us!

A new C++ template using Gtkmm was added. Given that I don’t have a lot of recent experience with Gtkmm, it’d be nice to have someone from that community come in and make sure things are in good shape.

I also did some cleanup on our code-indexer to avoid threading in our API. Creating plugins on threads turned out to be rather disastrous, so now we try extra hard to keep things on the main thread with the typical async/finish function pairs.

I created a new messages panel to elevate warnings to the user without them having to run Builder from a terminal. If you want an easy project to work on, we need to go find interesting calls to g_warning() and use ide_context_warning() instead.

Our flatpak plugin now tries extra hard to avoid downloads. Those were really annoying for people when opening builder. It took some troubleshooting in flatpak-builder, and that is fixed now.

In the process of fixing the extraneous downloading I realized we could start bundling flatpak-builder with Builder. After a couple of fixes to flatpak-builder Builder Nightly no longer requires flatpak-builder on the host. That’s one less thing to go wrong for people going through the newcomers work-flow.

We just landed the beginning of a go-langserver plugin. It seems like the language server for Go is pretty new though. We only have a symbol resolver thus far.

I found a fun bug in Vala that caused const gchar * const * parameters to async functions to turn into gchar **, int. It was promptly fixed upstream for us (thanks Rico).

Some 350 commits have landed this month so far, most of them around stabilizing Builder. It’s a good time to start playing with the Nightly branch if you’re into that.

Oh, and after some 33 years on Earth, I finally needed glasses. So I look educated now.

Builder 3.27 Progress (Again)

As normal, I’ve been busy since our last update. Here are a few highlights of features in addition to all those bug fixes.

Recursive Directory Monitors

Builder now creates a recursive directory monitor so that your project’s source tree can be updated in case of external modification, such as from a terminal. If you need a recursive directory monitor, the implementation can be found in libdazzle.

Project Tree Drag-n-Drop

The project tree now supports basic drag-n-drop. You can drag within the tree as well as from external programs supporting text/uri-list into the project tree. Nautilus is one such example.

VCS Status in Project Tree

The project tree can now query the VCS backend (git) to provide status about the added and changed files to your project.

vcs status for project tree

Editor Grid Drag-n-Drop

You can drag text/uri-list drag sources onto the editor grid and place them as you like. Drag to the top or bottom to create new above/below splits. Drag to the edges for left/right splits.

Build Pipeline Stages

Sometimes you might want to peek into the build pipeline to get a bit more insight. Expand the “Build Details” to see the pipeline stages. They’ll update as the build progresses.

displaying build pipeline entries

Updating Dependencies

We want to ensure we’re doing less work when Builder starts-up. That means we won’t auto-update dependencies before long. In doing so, you’ll have to choose to update your dependencies when it makes sense. We might as well make that easy, so here is a button to do that. It currently supports flatpak and Cargo.

update dependencies button

Hamburger menu has gone away

We focus more on “contextual” menus rather than stashing things in the window menu. So much that we’ve managed to be able to remove the “hamburger” menu by default. It will automatically display should any enabled plugin use it.

hamburger menu is gone

Lots of bug fixes too, but those don’t have pretty pictures. So that’s it for now!

Builder gains multi-touch gestures

If you’re running Wayland and have a touchpad capable of multi-touch, Builder (Nightly) now lets you do fun stuff like the following video demonstrates.

Just three-finger-swipe left or right to move the document. Content is sticky-to-fingers, which is my expectation when using gestures.

It might also work on a touchscreen, but I haven’t tried.

Modern Text Editor Design

I’ve been fascinated about a few technologies in my career. I have a fondness for finding the right data-structure for a problem. Maybe it was because of all those years playing with cars that gave me the “I wanna go fast” mentality. It lead me to various jobs, including working on databases.

Another technology I love are text editors. There is some really fascinating technology going on behind the scenes.

Gtk4 development is heating up, and we are starting to see a toolkit built like a game engine. That’s pretty cool. But how will that change how we write editors? Should it?

In the Gtk3 cycle, I added support to GtkTextView that would render using Alex’s GtkPixelCache. It helped us amortize the cost of rendering into mostly just an XCopyArea() when drawing a frame. It’s why we have that nice 60fps two-finger-scrolling.

But now that we can have GPU textures, do we want to start doing paginated rendering like Apple did with Preview to make PDF rendering ultra fast? Do we want to focus on just sending text data to the GPU to render from an glyph atlas? How about layout? And intermixing right-aligned with left-aligned text? What if we just focus on code editing and not generic editing with rich font support. How about inserting widgets in-between rows? Do we want unlimited undo? How about crash recovery?

These are all questions that can inform the design of a text editor, and they are things I’m starting to think about.

To inform myself on the problem domain better, I started writing a piecetable implementation with various tweaks to outperform those I’ve seen previously. What I’ve come up with is a combination of a b+tree (bplus tree) and a piecetable. The neat thing about it is the high-density you get per-cacheline as compared to something in a RBTree or SplayTree (Atom recently did this, and AbiWord did it a decade ago). It’s at least as fast as those, but with much less malloc overhead because you need fewer, but densely packed allocations.

I prefer dense-cacheline packed structures over pointer chasing (dereferencing pointers) because the CPU can crunch through numbers in a cacheline much faster than it can load another cacheline (as it may not yet be in L1-3 caches). So while it looks like you’re doing more work, you may in fact be saving time.

On my 10 year old 1.2ghz ThinkPad, I can do 1.5 to 2 million random inserts per-second. So I think it’s “good enough” to move on to solving the next layer of problems.

One neat thing about using the linked-leaves from a b+tree is that you get a “next pointer” from each leaf to the next sequential leaf. So if you need to reconstruct the buffer, it’s a simple scan without tree traversal. This is a common problem in a text editor, because we’re sending out text data to diagnostic engines constantly and it needs to be optimized for.

Part of the piecetable design is that you have two buffers. The original data (file state at loading) and change data (append only buffer if each character typed by the user). The piece table is just pointing to ranges in each buffer set to reconstruct the final buffer.

If you log all of your operations to a log file, you can fairly quickly get yourself a crash recovery mechanism. Additionally, you can create unlimited undo.

One thing I don’t like about GtkTextBuffer today is that you cannot open “very large files” with it. It can certainly handle 100mb text files, but it has to load all of that data into memory. And that means that opening a 10gb SQL dump is going to be fairly difficult. But if we implemented on-demand, paginated data loading (reading from disk when that portion of the file is needed), we can get a fixed memory overhead for a file.

One downside to that approach is that if the file is modified behind the scenes, you are basically screwed. (A proper rename() would not affect things since the old FD would still be valid). One way to work around this is to copy the file before editing (a swap file). If your filesystem has reflink support, that copy is even “free”.

Some files are in encodings that require conversion to UTF-8. If a character encoding crossed the page/block boundary, we’d not be able to convert it without locating the neighboring page. So it seems somewhat at odds with this design. But if we just do the iconv (or similar) encoding conversion as part of the copy to our swap file, you can ensure you have valid UTF-8 to begin with. It’s also a convenient place to count new lines so that you can get relatively accurate document height from the start (otherwise you have to scan the data and count newlines which will jump the scrollbar around).

Another thing that might be an interesting trick is to keep around PangoLayouts for each of the cursor lines. It might allow us to mutate the layout immediately upon the key-press-event and render the content out of order (without going through layout cycles). This is somewhat similar to what other editors do to make things “feel” more interactive. It guarantees you render the key event on the next frame, even if slightly incorrect.

In short, writing a good, fast, modern text editor today is the combination of writing a database and a graphics engine. Btrees, low-cardinality indexes, page caches, write ahead logs, transaction replays, memory pooling, GPU dispatching, texture atlases, layout, and more.

https://github.com/chergert/pieceplustree

Implementing GActionGroup

Gtk applications are more and more using GAction and GActionGroup and it’s easy to see why. They are stateful, allow parameters when activating, and can be inserted into the widget hierarchy using gtk_widget_insert_action_group(). The latter is useful so that you only activate actions (or toggle button sensitivity) in the portion of the user interface that makes sense.

One thing to consider is what your strategy will be for using GActionGroup. One way is to encapsulate the GActionGroup by using GSimpleActionGroup. Another, which I prefer, is to implement the GActionGroupInterface. Although, this requires much more boilerplate code.

Until now…

In libdazzle, I added a header-only helper to ease creating action groups with much less effort on your part.

It goes something like this.

#include <dazzle.h>

#include "foo-bar.h"

static void foo_bar_action_frobnicate (FooBar   *self,
                                       GVariant *param);

DZL_DEFINE_ACTION_GROUP (FooBar, foo_bar, {
  { "frobnicate", foo_bar_action_frobnicate },
})

G_DEFINE_TYPE_WITH_CODE (FooBar, foo_bar, G_TYPE_OBJECT,
                         G_IMPLEMENT_INTERFACE (G_TYPE_ACTION_GROUP, foo_bar_init_action_group))

There are a few niceties when defining action groups this way.

  • Your function signatures get your proper class type as parameter 1.
  • You no longer need to instantiate a GSimpleAction for every action.
  • No unnecessary parameters (like user_data) need to be provided anymore.
  • It uses GActionGroupInterface.query_action to optimize for certain queries.
  • You can change action state with ${prefix}_set_action_state().
  • You can change if an action is enabled with ${prefix}_set_action_enabled().
  • You can take your new GActionGroup and gtk_widget_insert_action_group() directly.

That’s it for now, happy hacking!

Builder 3.26 has landed

We’ve updated our Wiki page to give people discovering our application more insight into what Builder can do. You can check it out at wiki.gnome.org/Apps/Builder.

Furthermore, you’ll see prominently links to download either our Stable (now 3.26) or Nightly (3.27) builds via Flatpak.

We have also continued to fill in gaps in Builder’s documentation. If Builder is missing a plugin to do something you need, it’s high time you started writing it. ;-)

We want plugins upstream for the same reason the Linux kernel does. It helps us ship better software and avoid breaking API you use.

Debugging

I’ve been quiet since I got back from GUADEC. It’s been a busy summer, but I’ve managed to sneak away and build this in-between my other maintainer/GSoC duties.

There is still plenty to do, but this gets the basic plumbing in place for a debugger.

It can also debug flatpak-based applications (although you’ll need .Debug runtimes for good symbols in gtk/glib/etc).

Builder 3.25.5

Like every year, GUADEC has snuck up on me. I’ll be heading out to Manchester in a handful of days which means things are going to get hectic any moment now.

We just reached another milestone in our development phase towards 3.26. I’ve landed two important components which will have important roles in Builder’s future. The new visual layout, and the new shortcut engine. Neither are complete yet, but they are good enough to land on master and allow us to iterate without giant branches.

The new layout is based upon a design iteration lead by Allan which Andreas, Jakub, and myself took part. Not everything is implemented but the parts which most heavily contribute to user workflow are in place.

The new shortcut engine has also landed. This is a monumental amount of work because it completely overhauls the keyboard input model within Builder. We’ve moved to a “capture and bubble” event delivery for keyboard input so that we have more flexibility in how shortcuts are activated.

The event delivery is in one of three phases. Capture, Dispatch, or Bubble. The capture phase allows the widget hierarchy (starting from the toplevel) to handle an input event before the destination widget. Dispatch is delivery to the expected destination, where GtkBindingSets are activated. Finally, the bubble phase allows the hierarchy to handle the event if nothing handled it previously.

This also includes a whole swath of features around it for user-modifiable shortcut themes, custom keyboard controllers, a shortcut editor and more. To simplify the process of merging into Builder it has a compatibility interface to support CSS-based -gtk-key-bindings properties.

Effectively, bubble/capture allows us to have keyboard shortcuts that only activate if the source editor or terminal have not stolen the input. A convincing Vim implementation for our source editor can really benefit from this.

Enjoy some screenshots