Rust and Vala

This post is based on my experience on not just using but creating and maintaining Vala libraries.

Rust is on the horizon and have voices to use it instead Vala. For Vala, we can say, is true to be niche oriented language, because it just create GObject based applications and libraries. For Rust, it has a more general purpose, with save concurrency and save programming: true again.

I have downloaded Rust to start using it, because seems to be very convenient for C development replacement, specially may be suitable to replace old libxml2 library, hopping some some have started to write an XML parser and writer, I can re-use in my own projects.

After taking a time to check at Rust documentation and write a post about GObject and Rust, I would like to share my thoughts about Vala and Rust.

Vala have a very specific target: GObject. We can use Vala to create GObject classes and define API interfaces using GInterface, but in a sugar and very productive syntax. Doing Object Oriented Programming using Vala and GObject is easy and natural.

I’ve managed to get W3C set of API interfaces based on specifications for DOM and SVG, because Vala provides a kindly close interface definition syntax to the ones from W3C. Implement them have been a matter of, you know, work. W3C interfaces are really complex in a way of their relations ships and dependencies, which should be very difficult to implement if doing in C and GObject/GInterface. This is not false for Rust, because it doesn’t have a GObject/GInterface mechanism, at least not jet.

In my opinion, Rust should develop its own, more powerful and secure, implementation of GObject/GInterface, based in their own internal types, like Traits.

I don’t know if Rust is planning to provide an Object Oriented like mechanisms, like GObject/GInteface, with properties, signals, introspection and inheritance, but is very convenient for other languages and implementing Object Oriented API, like the ones from W3C.

While I write this article, I’m studding Rust, to find equivalences and possibilities, thinking on how to port my work to Rust if possible. At least, for now, I can’t, but I have been just little time, I need to follow its development and road map.

Vala development can be used by Rust applications and libraries, because is C and GObject, and because it produce GIR files to create bindings easily for Rust, along with other languages.

If GObject is your choice to write your next library or Application, I can recommend to use Vala: you’ll get a very productive syntax and a easy bindable API.

No, I’ve don’t want to stop my self to Vala. Just is very convenient to produce GObject based libraries, use any C based library too, and is really productive. My work on GXml, can’t be just dropped and its capabilities to Serialize GObject classes, by introspection of its properties, are very useful and productive. I’ll share more in these later.

Rust and GObject

First all, I’m not a Rust programmer, this is just a point of view of my first impressions about Rust, from documentation of it, and how I see it to use with GObject.

From documentation Rust provides a low level and high level API to access common operations. Provides a set of assumptions to help its great features like automatic memory management, secure and concurrent data access. On high level side, Rust provides a rich set of common collection, iterators, tuples and others.

For GObject interoperability, there is a project , and this too, I found to allow you to use GObject based libraries in Rust, while they depends on other project, or directly on GObject Introspection generated XML files to introspect these C libraries.

I don’t see a GObject equivalent, not jet at least, into Rust. From GNOME developers site, I found an introduction to GObject:

  • A generic type system to register arbitrary single-inherited flat and deep derived types as well as interfaces for structured types. It takes care of creation, initialization and memory management of the assorted object and class structures, maintains parent/child relationships and deals with dynamic implementations of such types. That is, their type specific implementations are relocatable/unloadable during runtime.
  • A collection of fundamental type implementations, such as integers, doubles, enums and structured types, to name a few.
  • A sample fundamental type implementation to base object hierarchies upon – the GObject fundamental type.
  • A signal system that allows very flexible user customization of virtual/overridable object methods and can serve as a powerful notification mechanism.
  • An extensible parameter/value system, supporting all the provided fundamental types that can be used to generically handle object properties or otherwise parameterized types.

One of the most powerful features on GObject is C, but at the same time it its weakest one, because GObject through GObject Introspection makes easy to create bindings to any languages, including Rust. But is hard to write code for GObject classes and interfaces. GObject provides an Object Oriented programing paradigm to C.

I don’t think any one is thinking to rewrite GObject based libraries to Rust, because you can. Then lets put this option aside for a moment.

While Rust have great features, I would like to find a way to write a Rust library and share it through GObject Introspection GIR, making it available to other languages at day 0. Just remember GObject Introspection, is better suitable for GObject based libraries.

I don’t find in Rust a direct GInterface equivalent, no classes, no object properties and signals, no error reporting equivalent to GError. All of them are getting in, by bindings from GLib, GObject and GIO libraries, written in C, using GIR. I don’t think any one will re-write that libraries to Rust.

GObject bindings to Rust are not stable jet and may mature enough in a few years, depending on demand, resources and their use in new written code.

My personal conclusion
  • GNOME will relay on GObject for next 5 to 10 years.
  • GObject will be improved and maintained in same period.
  • GObject Introspection will be a vehicle to easy access C libraries from other languages, including Rust.
  • Rust will grow and hope they’ll add object oriented mechanisms equivalent to GObject/GInterface, in order to provide equivalent more secure and concurrent safe API to create new libraries.
  • C language, will be here for next 20 years, but may gradually delegated to raw operations.


GObject and SVG

GSVG is a project to provide a GObject API, using Vala. It has almost all, with some complementary, interfaces from W3C SVG 1.1 specification.

GSVG is LGPL library. It will use GXml as XML engine. SVG 1.1 DOM interfaces relays on W3C DOM, then using GXml is a natural choice.

SVG is XML and its DOM interfaces, requires to use Object’s properties and be able to add child DOM Elements; then, we need a new set  of classes.

GXml, have a Serialization framework, it can be used to provide GObject properties to XML Element properties and collection of child nodes as GObject. I’ve created some other projects, like LibreSCL, using it.

Serialization framework, requires to create an XML tree first, then fill out GObject properties. This could add some delays on large files.

Considering LibreSCL have to deal with files about 10 MB to 60 MB, with thousand of XML nodes, this process XML Tree -> GObject properties, could take 10 to 20 seconds.

A few time ago, I imagined to have a GObject class as a XML Node. This is, an XML Element node, represent a GObject, XML Element’s properties should be mapped directly to GObject’s ones and XML Element’s child nodes, should be a collection inside GObject’s properties.

Now with SVG and GXml supporting DOM4, I face the opportunity to create a GObject class you can derive from, to convert your classes in XML nodes, making serialization/deserialization faster and reducing memory footprint.

Let’s see what is coming and how they evolve. As always, any help is welcome.

PD. As a side note, I’ve able to copy/paste with little modifications, W3C’s interfaces definitions to Vala ones in a short time, because Vala’s syntax.

Vala and Reproducibility

Reproducibility, in Debian, is:

With free software, anyone can inspect the source code for malicious flaws. But Debian provide binary packages to its users. The idea of “deterministic” or “reproducible” builds is to empower anyone to verify that no flaws have been introduced during the build process by reproducing byte-for-byte identical binary packages from a given source.

Then, in order to provide reproducible binaries to Vala projects we need:

  1. Make sure you distribute generated C source code
  2. If you are a library, make sure to distribute VAPI and GIR files

This will help build process to avoid call valac in order to generate C source code, VAPI and GIR files from your Vala sources.

Because C source is distributed with a release’s tarball, any Vala project could be binary reproducible from sources.

In order to produce development packages, you should distribute VAPI and GIR files, along with .h ones. They should be included in your tarball, to avoid valac produce them.

GXml distribute all their C sources, but not GIR and VAPI files. This should be fixed next release.

GNOME Clocks distributes just Vala sources; this is why bug #772717 against Clocks, has been filed.

libgee distributes Vala sources also, but no Debian bug exists against it. May be its Vala source annotations helps, but may is a good idea to distribute C, VAPI and GIR files in future versions.

My patches to GNOME Builder, produce Makefiles to generate C sources form Vala ones. They require to be updated  in order to distribute VAPI and GIR files with your Vala project.

Should we drop Vala?

Richard Huges, on my recent post, has pointed out his interest to re-write GXml in C in order to avoid Vala dependency, quoting his words:

[…] Being honest; I’m not going to be depending on a vala library any time soon as I have to maintain all my stuff for the next decade and Vala isn’t an ideal long-term support option at all. […]

Is it Vala development a waste of time? Is Vala suitable for long term support libraries?

In GNOME, core technologies have been written in C, with high level bindings using Python and, as an intermediate solution Vala, both with strong relation to GObject Introspection.

Vala have a candy syntax, making write C API and C objects based on GLib really productive, while avoids any overhead.

While GLib have provide an Object Oriented approach because GObject, it is still C. You have to use C sentences all time even for the most common tasks. You can write really resource and speed optimized code if written in C.

GObject Introspection makes bindings to different languages available at release-day of C libraries, so for Vala ones. Vala create directly GIR required files at compilation time.

Vala generates C code. It isn’t of course, may never, perfect or reproducible. This is true and a hard issue for libraries providing interfaces, because its algorithm, I think, uses hash tables to store some parsed code representation, making impossible to generated reproducible code each time it is generated, because function position in its C form, could change producing ABI incompatible sources; this never change C behavior or security.

There are a set of fixes introduced recently to Vala to avoid interfaces issues, used by, for example libgee. This is the path for GXml to follow if it is written in Vala.

Reproducible C code generation may  require to change a lot of things internally in Vala compiler.

GLib and GObject uses macros to reduce hand written C code, Vala coders use Vala compilers because C development could be slow and error prone; and because you should care about memory management by hand too.

If Vala is not going to be maintained, because a set of core developers prefer to use C, and GNOME Builder is not going to take the time to improve its Vala support, because C is the way to go for long term support projects, then may we should stop to use Vala for libraries. Is it?

Improve Vala C code generation.

While there is macros in C to reduce burden on hand code generation, still there is room to have macros written in Vala to do the same. This is a really futuristic, wish list, sentence.

Vala syntax makes possible to write GXml, with the features it have today. Serialization framework, was possible once a GObject based API (and in Vala) was available and DOM4, was possible because we was able to copy and paste specification declarations making just few changes to Vala syntax.

Vala provides a high productive C code generator with lot of candy syntax to most common activities, like string manipulation, with automatic memory management, using secure GLib’s methods and so on.

Is it possible to improve Vala compiler to create more readable C code, suitable to switch from Vala to C?

Is it possible to embed Vala code in C or C in Vala code?

We need to explode how C generated code from Vala code, can be imported *as is* to GLib and improve over time, removing temporally variables and replace some more code to C’sh style according with the target project code standard. May this, task for GXml, is a little hard because it depends on libgee, another Vala library; but no impossible.

C limits expanded with Vala

C have lot of applications and Vala generics is pushing C limits with Generics, libgee use generics along a set of interfaces and implementations, allowing as to use different kind of collection for our objects, this powerful combination of GInteface and Vala generics, is a feature hard to reproduce (in its easy and convenient way in Vala syntax) to C API.

GObject and GInterface have a set of limits, expanded with Vala too. Now is possible to define very quickly a set of interfaces and implementations, figuring out really fast its relation ship, thanks to Vala syntax.

This advantages, in others out of the scope (and my mind), make me ask if we can embed Vala code in C or C in Vala code. Even if once a feature is mature enough in Vala code, may someone can (with C code generation optimization) import to other core libraries like GLib. Again this is one of my wish list.

Vala as a Long Term supported language

Vala syntax provides lot of advantages over hand written GObject classes, in the spirit of productivity.

GXml provides C and Vala API. Vala is more easy to use and allows to implement object oriented specifications (may be based on the idea of Java classes), but providing back a C API. Vala code is more Object Oriented syntax, than C/GObject.

Then how we can continue to contribute Vala libraries to be used by any one, and suitable to be used by any other projects even written in C?

How we can make a Vala library, like GXml, a GNOME core component with Long Term Support?

There are plenty of bugs and room to improvements to C code generation in Vala compiler, we, their users, should care about and may pay for improvements. I really want to some one add Jürg Billeter, Rico Tzschichholz or Matthias Berndt to the list of “Adopt a Hacker” list from GNOME Foundation, in order to push at least one of this ideas to improve GNOME infrastructure.

XPath on next GXml 0.14

Yanic Inizan have implemented XPath on GXml in a few hours!!! Wow!!!

It was the first requested feature for GXml after a poll in G+. Now is available upstream.

For QA reasons, we need to add Unit Tests to this XPath implementation. I really love to see tests mimic different use cases but all of XPath 3.1 specification, this will help us to know where libxml2’s implementation is and how we can improve them using GXml.

Just to comment, if some feature or function is missing, we should add an expected fail case, in order to finish correctly make check, and to leave space to change it as how it should be when this feature is considered XPath 3.1 compliant.

GXml 0.12 is here!

GXml is a Vala library providing a C and Vala API, along side Python, JavaScript and other languages bindings supported by GObject Introspection, for XML like files for read and write, like HTML, and a framework for GObject serialization to XML. It uses libxml2 as XML engine, wrapped using classes called GNode/GDocument series, and as a reader/writer of a pure GObject implementation of XML trees called TNode/TDocument.

Each implementation have its advantages, GNode have less memory usage but suffer on speed, while TNode require much more memory but is really fast. All measurements were done using Serialization/De-serialization tests for large XML files.

GXml 0.12 provides DOM4 specification implementation as main feature. This allows to deprecated the old DOM1 one. DOM4 requires API changes, but almost all Vala should compile with little modifications.

DOM4 implementation is still incomplete, but allows to you access any XML like trees, like HTML, using a GObject API.

DOM4 was possible thanks to GObject+Vala, because most of its interfaces was really easy to port using Vala syntax and GInterface. GNode/GDocument is the only classes implementing DOM4 interfaces, but other will come.

With these lasts changes, GXml API is becoming more and more stable, suitable to try new use cases.

Some one talk about to support XPath, me about to support XSD and large XML files. May you want to leave comments on what should be the next step on GXml development. Search at G+ Vala channel for a poll.

GTK+ Tester Window?

For an internal application, I’ve created a Gtk.Window derived tester class, added some widgets to show current test, status, number of fails and a Gtk.Grid to attach custom widgets. This class expose some API to set a widget to test, autoclose and some signals you can use to run some tests.


GTK+ custom widget testing is no an easy task, at least it is not integrated into GTK+, making you to figure out how to add public API or signals you can use to connect to test it. Of course, you don’t have to do the same, I just starting to create this tester window class.

My widgets, are in a library then no app is used. I’ve tested each one at a time to check it constructs without warnings, making Unit Test to pass. See my post about this warnings.

Now, when I need to see if my custom widget is showing the correct information, like in a Gtk.TreeView, is hard if you don’t API exposing it; I really don’t want to expose public API to test it, because is not the intention to allow any other to interact with each internal widgets. I’m open to see if this is the correct way to do so, but for now I really would not like to do so.

When testing a GUI widget, you should be inside a GLib loop to catch signals, may be not the only one method. Catch them allows to see if the widget is sending them; if when it is raised is showing correct information to the user (requiring to add public API to access internal widgets), and so on.

I really would like to see GNOME Builder merge my work on templates, I would like to publish this class (written in Vala), to any one to use for its custom widgets testing.

Once, I’ve finished to try to use already existing Gtk.Widget signals and API, I’ll back to suggest one feature to be added to GTK+ to make them testable.

Unit Testing GTK+ libraries: has_default GtkWidget property

For my GTK+ based library, I use Vala and Glade to create templates for custom widgets with Unit Testing. For some reason I set can_default and has_default to true, this throws a warning message:

Gtk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-z20Lwo/gtk+3.0-3.20.7/./gtk/gtkwidget.c:8550: widget not within a GtkWindow

That 8550 line is related to method gtk_widget_grab_default, when you create your new custom Gtk.Grid derived widget, before to add it to a Gtk.Window, it calls this method before it has a top level window, sending this warning.

Now, for general GTK+ applications this is not a problem; but for GTK+ libraries trying to add a kind of Unit Testing. GTest will fail your test case, when any warning is raised, then you can’t continue until you fix it.

This is to help any one with same issue and for me for future developments.

Hope to share some of my work to create a custom GTK+ Window widget for custom widget testing using  GTest; stay tuned.


Vala & Documentation: Part I

When you have developed a library using Vala programing language, or any other language, you should generate documentation about its API. You can use Valadoc to generate Documentation for Vala based libraries.

GXml, is a Vala project using valadoc command line tool and Autotools, to automatically generate its documentation. As you can see in this link, Vala documentation provides a very convenient graph about object’s hierarchy; properties and methods provided by current class; and all inherited properties and methods from base classes and interfaces it implements.

But how can I add this feature to my own Vala project? Well, you can use Autotools to call valadoc, generate your documentation and then install in the system, to be available for GNOME DevHelp to show up locally and, at the same time, in GNOME Builder integrated help facility.

While I haven’t, yet, found the way to generate C API documentation using valadoc, from my Vala API one, I’ll show you, in a second part, how you can do it, but not before I have figured out how to create a mk file you can use in your project for an out-of-the-box procedure.