Builder Nightly Flatpak

First off, I’ll be in Portland at the first ever LAS giving demos and starting on Builder features for 3.24.

For a while now, you’ve been able to get Builder from the gnome-apps-nightly Flatpak repository. Until now, it had a few things that made it difficult to use. We care a whole lot about making our tooling available via Flatpak because it is going to allow us to get new code into users hands quicker, safer, and more stable.

So over the last couple of weeks I’ve dug in and really started polishing things up. A few patches in Flatpak, a few patches in Builder, and a few patches in Sysprof start getting us towards something refreshing.

Python Jedi should be working now. So you can autocomplete in Python (including GObject Introspection) to your hearts delight.

Jhbuild from within the Flatpak works quite well now. So if you have a jhbuild environment on your host, you can use the Flatpak nightly and still target your jhbuild setup.

One of the tricks to being a module maintainer is getting other people to do your work. Thankfully the magnificent Patrick Griffis came to the rescue and got polkit building inside of Flatpak. Combined with some additional Sysprof patches, we have a profiler that can run from Flatpak.

Another pain point was that the terminal was inside of a pid/mount/network namespace different than that of the host. This meant that /usr/lib was actually from the Flatpak runtime, not your system /usr/lib. This has been fixed using one of the new developer features in Flatpak.

Flatpak now supports executing programs on the host (a sandbox breakout) for applications that are marked as developer tools. For those of you building your own Flatpaks, this requires --allow=devel when running the flatpak build-finish command. Of course, one could expect UI/UX flows to make this known to the user so that it doesn’t get abused for nefarious purposes.

Now that we have access to execute a command on the host using the HostCommand method of the org.freedesktop.Flatpak.Development interface, we can piggy back to execute our shell.

The typical pty dance, performed in our program.

/* error handling excluded */
int master_fd = vte_pty_get_fd (pty);
grantpt (master_fd);
unlockpt (master_fd);
char *name = ptsname (master_fd);
int pty_fd = open (name, O_RDWR, 0);

Then when executing the HostCommand method we simply pass pty_fd as a mapping to stdin (0), stdout (1), and stderr (2).

On the Flatpak side, it will check if any of these file-descriptors are a tty (with the convenient isatty() function. If so, it performs the necessary ioctl() to make our spawned process the controller of the pty. Lovely!

So now we have a terminal, whose process is running on the host, using a pty from inside our Flatpak.

Quick Highlight

Martin Blanchard put together a new “quick highlight” plugin for Builder this last week. It was a great example of how to submit a new feature, so I just wanted to highlight it here. Post to bugzilla, attach a patch, and we will review quickly and help with any additional integration that might be necessary.

Thanks Martin!

Highlights words matching the current selection
Highlights words matching the current selection

Sysprof + Builder

After the GNOME 3.20 cycle completed I started revamping Sysprof. More here, here, and here. The development went so smoothly that I did a 3.20 release a couple of weeks later.

A primary motivation of that work was rebuilding Sysprof into a set of libraries for building new tools. In particular, I wanted to integrate Sysprof with Builder as our profiler of choice.

On my flight back from GUADEC I laid the groundwork to integrate these two projects. As of Builder 3.21.90 (released yesterday) you can now profile your project quite easily. There are  more corner cases we need to handle but I consider those incremental bugs now.

Some of our upcoming work will be to integrate the Sysprof data collectors with Python and Gjs. The Gjs implementation is written, it just needs polish and integration with upstream. I think it will be fantastic once we have a compelling profiling story weather you are writing C, C++, Vala, Python, or Gjs.

We’ve also expanded the architectures supported by Sysprof. So I expect by time 3.22 is released, Sysprof will support POWER8, ARM, ARM64, mips, and various others as long as you have an up to date Linux kernel. That is an important part of our future plans to support remote profiling (possibly over USB or TCP). If you’re interested in working on this, contact me! The plumbing is there, we just need someone with time and ambition to lead the charge.

Selecting the Profiler

Builder's Callgraph View

Builder Happenings

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started implementing Run support for Builder. This is somewhat tricky business since we care about complicated manners. Everything from autotools support to profiler/debugger integration to flatpak and jhbuild runtime support. Each of these complicates and contorts the problem in various directions.

Discovering the “target binary” in your project via autotools is no easy task. We have a few clever tricks but more are needed. One thing we don’t support yet is discovering bin_SCRIPTS. So launching targets like python or gjs applications is not ready yet. Once we discover .desktop files that should start working. Pretty much any other build system would be easier to implement this.

So much work behind the scenes for a cute little button.

Screenshot from 2016-07-17 22-09-21

While running, you can click stop to kill the spawned application’s process group.

Screenshot from 2016-07-17 22-10-38

But that is not all that is going on. Matthew Leeds has been working on search and replace recently (as well as a whole bunch of paper cuts). That work has landed and it is looking really good!

Screenshot from 2016-07-17 22-12-45

Also exciting is that thanks to Sebastien Lafargue we have a fancy new color picker that integrated with Builder’s source editor. You can visualize colors in your source files and change them using the dropper or numerous sliders based on how you’d like to tweak the color.

Screenshot from 2016-07-17 22-11-38

I still have a bunch of things I want to land before GUADEC, so back to the hacker den for me.

Builder Designs

Thanks to the wonderful design skill of Allan, Builder got a bunch of new designs this last month. Last week, after arriving home from the Toronto hackfest, I started reshaping Builder to match.

We’ve simplified the greeter to remove an interstitial page and raise the discoverability of some of Builder’s features.


Creating a project has been simplified and we made some features more discoverable by removing the need to dive into a GtkComboBox. Clearly, we still have a bunch of templates to land for 3.22.


Cloning a project from git is functionally the same, but we give a bit more context to what is going on.


Those that came to my talk at FOSDEM got to hear me complain about how we have a sidebar in Builder, but I didn’t like it and wanted something different going forward. Well, we finally have landed that.

The perspective selector is in the top left corner, and clicking on it will also show you some shortcuts to help you move through Builder faster. As we grow the application, we hope to provide a bunch more useful keybindings for folks. Some of this is going to require rethinking how keybindings work in modern gtk+.


One thing that was relatively buried in Builder that we wanted to improve was the Build support. We want to make it easy to build your project without getting overwhelmed by panels. So we’ve introduced a new center widget in the header called the OmniBar. It provides a high-level overview of the project and information on the current build progress, if any.


I hope to see some more iteration on this before 3.22, and possibly API to allow plugins to supplement information for the OmniBar.

Allan is still working on even more designs this cycle, so I have no doubt that 3.22 will be our best release yet.

Matthew Leeds has been working diligently on our new search and replace engine (in addition to many Vim compatibility improvements). I’m looking forward to having that land soon (and some screenshots to go with it)!

LAS, hosted by GNOME

Sri and many members of our community have spearheaded a wonderful new conference named Libre Application Summit. It’s hosted by the GNOME Foundation and has aspirations to bring together a wide spectrum of contributors.

This conference is meant to bridge a gap in Free Software communication. We need a place for application and game developers, desktop developers, systems implementers, distributions, hardware producers, and driver developers to communicate and solve problems face to face. There are so many moving parts to a modern operating system that it is very rare to have all of these passionate people in the same room.

This will be a great place to learn about how to contribute to these technologies as well. It seems likely that I’ll do tutorial workshops and other training for participants at LAS.

I’m very excited to see where this conference goes and hope to see you in Portland come September!

Secure from whom

Side-channel attacks are a thing, this is true. But they also cost a lot of time and money to develop. If you want something that can be applied to more than just a single target, that cost explodes. That is why the two most common places where side-channel attacks are developed are nation states and universities specializing in that research.

What is not helpful, beyond informing people of the existence of them, is to simply state that side-channel attacks exist and therefore nothing is secure. Even more so without demonstrating how they are real-word applicable and how that information should alter the direction of development.

Security is a nebulous word and is almost always used as an incomplete sentence. It lacks an important qualifier. Secure from whom.

Creating a side-channel attack almost always requires knowing a bit about your target. Doubly so for something as delicate as timing attacks. Also, don’t forget to take into account development time for said attacks. If the software changes at a rate faster than you can develop your exploit, well, that’s note worthy.

Making it more difficult for an application to extract information from outside the containment zone does in fact protect the user from practical attacks which do not require a nation state to develop. It also most certainly cannot protect you from everything. Such is the reality of existence. I’m not safe from a meteorite hitting me but my risk assessment shows everything is going fine and it is not worth the mental stress to worry about.

So in summation, I’m far more interested in focusing on our ability to get security fixes out to users in a timely fashion. Herd immunity can work for software too.

Builder 3.20.4

Those of us happy hackers in #gnome-builder have been diligently preparing 3.20.4 for you. I expect that most people will end up using this version during the 3.20 life-cycle as the big distros are starting to ship 3.20. We might do another 3.20 release, but I haven’t decided. There are lots of stability and performance improvements, and I’m pretty happy with where things are going.

Now that this release is out, it is probably time to start pushing hard on our 3.22 features. I’m happy to have Fangwen Yu working on Builder this summer on our search and replace engine. We have some great mockups in the works and I have no doubt Fangwen is going to do a great things with the code-base.

A few screenshots, because that’s what I’m known for.

Screenshot from 2016-05-06 18-17-10

Screenshot from 2016-05-06 18-20-29

Screenshot from 2016-05-06 18-22-38

Tarballs can be found on

Build System Fallbacks

It’s no secret that I focus my build system efforts in Builder around Autotools. I’m happy to include support for other build systems, so long as I’m not the person writing it.

Sometimes the right piece of code falls together so easily you wonder how the hell you didn’t think of it before. Today was such a day.

If you are using Builder from git (such as via jhbuild) or from the gnome-builder-3-20 branch (what will become 3.20.4) you can use Builder with the fallback build system. This is essentially our “NULL” build system and has been around forever. But today, these branches learned something so stupidly obvious I’m ashamed I didn’t do it 6 months ago when implementing Build Configurations.

If you go into the Build Configuration panel (the middle button in the sidebar) you can specify environment flags. Builder will use CFLAGS, CXXFLAGS, and VALAFLAGS now to prime those compilers in the absence of Autotools (where we have discovered these dynamically).


And now semantic language features should work.


How to Sysprof

So now that a new Sysprof release is shipped, lets pick on an unsuspecting library to see what it is like to improve performance in a real-world scenario. Today we’ll pick on GtkSourceView. They shouldn’t feel bad though, GtkSourceView is an absolutely wonderful library and like any piece of software, it can be improved.

GtkSourceView has a lovely helper program to test things out in the tests/ directory. If you are an app or library developer, please do this! It makes things much easier.

So lets run ./test-widget in our jhbuild environment, and start-up Sysprof. Often times, you’ll want to see how your program affects the whole system. But for this test, I want to focus on test-widget, so we will limit our capture to samples in that process. Do this by turning off the Profile my entire system switch and then selecting your target process from the list.


Next, click record. You might be prompted to authorize your user to access performance counters based on your system configuration and user permissions.


After your profiling session has started, switch back to the test application and exercise the crap out of it. In this case, I turned on some features in the test widget like line numbers (something I always have enabled in Gedit and Builder) and started scrolling like crazy. I did this until I had about 30,000 samples recorded. Sysprof will tell you how many callchains have been recorded in the upper right corner of the window.

Then press the Stop button. Depending on the size of your capture, it might take a couple seconds, but the callgraph will then be generated. It has to crack open all of the linked libraries and extract symbol information from them, so it can take a second or two.


Now the mysterious part. Start diving into the descendants tree following the most expensive cumulative times. We want to find something that looks “out of place”. Getting good at that takes practice. If your callchain gets too deep, just hit enter on the row and it will focus in on that item.

In the image below, you’ll see I jumped past main, various main loop junk until i got to gtk_main_do_event(). This is the crux of event dispatch in GTK+. If we keep diving down by the most expensive callchain, we get to a peculiar function, center_on(). It seems to be calling into gtk_text_view_get_iter_location() a bunch, I wonder why.


So lets go find the code. It is clearly called by GtkSourceGutterRendererText, so that is where we will start.

In the code below, it looks like the text gutter renderer (what draws line numbers next to your code) needs to either place the text in the middle of the row, the top of the row (in the case of line wrapping), or the bottom of the row (also in case of line wrapping).


In Builder, shamefully, we don’t even allow line wrapping today. So clearly a shortcut can be taken. If wrapping is disabled, we know that we will always be centering our text to the entire height of the cell. So lets cook up a quick patch to avoid the center_on() calls altogether.


Now we build, and repeat our profiling session to compare the results. Originally the gutter_renderer_text_draw() was in about 33% of our collected callchains. Now, if you look below we are down to less than 20% of our collected callchains, and center_on() is nowhere to be seen!


So the moral of the story is that in about half an hour, you can profile, learn something about a code-base, and make measurable improvements. So go ye forth and make the F in Free Software stand for Fast.