Time to Build

Claudio did some interesting profiling (and patching) of the BookmarkFile implementation in GLib — so kudos to him and Felix.

one thing that he noted is:

However, I still have the feeling that letting ~\.recently-used.xbel grow without control is very, very wrong. In my laptop, this file is about 5MB, which accounts for ca. 9000 files(!).

this is very true, but I feel it needs some context. when I first wrote the RecentManager code I only had the EggRecent implementation as a comparison; the old EggRecentModel had an hardcoded limit of 500 items stored per file. limiting on the number, instead of the age of an item inside a recently used file list did not feel right, so I thought about hardcoding a limit of 30 days — but stopped short of doing it because I realized that hardcoding limits at the toolkit level was not a good idea:

  • application developers will not be able to change it in any way
  • users will not be able to change it in any way
  • system administrators will not be able to change it in any way

just to give a few examples: while I was still writing the RecentManager inside libegg, Alex Graveley was writing Gimmie. Gimmie had1 a local document and application history that could allow you to go back in time of months; had I hardcoded a limit, the Gimmie developers would have needed a new implementation, defeating the purpose of shipping the RecentManager inside GTK+ to cut down the amount of code replication.

hardcoding limits is also something that makes it hard, or even impossible, for users and administrators to control; I might want a 30 days limit, but other might want a 90 days, or a 7 days — or even a 1 day limit. some might not even want to save the recently used files at all (think kiosks).

I don’t believe in strictly hardcoding policies in the toolkit; providing fallbacks is perfectly fine, but preventing people from actually having different settings is akin to convince everyone that you’re right and they’re wrong.

still, this doesn’t solve the problem at hand, that is the current lack of policy.

what I’d like to see is some process taking care of purging the old entries, using some key inside gconf, at the end of the session; gnome-settings-daemon would fit the role for GNOME, and other desktop environments using GTK+ could provide the same functionality2. after all, gnome-settings-daemon should already flush the thumbnails cache — it wouldn’t be much of a complication.

  1. and might still have — I haven’t checked it for a while now []
  2. if you’re not using a GTK+ based desktop environment you’re either using the same spec used by GTK+ so you can provide your own way of purging the cache, or you’re using another way to store the recently used files, so the size of the file saved/read by the RecentManager will not bubble out of control so easily — and you can still flush it yourself []

Company Calls Epilogue

Today I gave the final touches to a patch based upon the patch for search capabilities in the GtkFileChooser embeddable widget, adding the “Recently Used” shortcut:

File Chooser Support for Recently Used Files

there are still a few missing bits (the icon for the shortcut is one of them) but it’s already working remarkably well. I’ll work toward implementing what’s left in the next few days, while I also fix some of the warts of the search support.

Time For Lovin’

You can see I’m listening to the Beastie Boys, right now

In the last three days I’ve finally managed to resolve as fixed these GTK+ bugs:

  • Bug 347375 – Not possible to set startup notification ID on a GtkWindow
  • Bug 418219 – GtkRecentChooser should apply filter before sorting and clamping the list
  • Bug 418634 – gtk_recent_chooser_menu_set_show_numbers docs
  • Bug 418673 – gtk_recent_manager_add_item
  • Bug 338843 – add recent files support inside the ui manager

Bug #347375 contained a patch Vytautas Liuolia wrote last year, as part of his guniqueapp Summer of Code project.

Bugs #418219, #418634 and #418673 have also been backported to the stable branch, as they fixed documentation or simply bad behaviours in the code.

Bug #338843 finally closes the long standing bug about the integration between the recent files and GtkUIManager; you can now add a GtkRecentAction to your actions group and let it do the right thing.

Many thanks go to Vytautas Liuolia, Matthias Clasen, Paolo Borelli and Morten Welinder.

Come and See

Decemberists: Yesterday evening, The Decemberists were in London, and made a wonderful concert at Shepherd Bush. I’ve fallen in love with the band after vieweing the video of their song Sixteen Military Wives and I started getting my hands on their whole discography (right now, only the singles are missing). They played mostly songs from their new album, The Crane Wife, which is really as good as it can get (so go out and buy it now).

gnome-utils: It seems that my plea for someone to work on GFloppy has been useful; right now, Paul Betts and Riccardo Setti are working on a replacement using HAL and libparted, and are also getting the ball rolling for adding formatting support directly in HAL. Guys, you rock!

GTK+: I’ve been working on fixing some bugs of the GtkRecentChooserMenu widget; specifically, bug #377164 and bug #405696. While I was at it, I finally closed the FIXME I left in code, for supporting both appending and prepending custom menu items in the recent files menu, and finally added a test case for the widget, so I can track regressions.

Recent files menu
Obligatory screenshot of the test application

FOSDEM ’07: Like last year, at the end of February I’ll be in Bruxelles, attending FOSDEM.

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Lately there has been some activity in projects moving from EggRecent to GtkRecent. Obviously, this led to questions and bugs opened about the API.

One of the questions is: if I had a EggRecentModel singleton what should I use now?. Since EggRecent needed a EggRecentModel around for the entire lifetime of the recently used files list, you had to keep at least a singleton around; you also had to pass it to the objects (not widgets) displaying the list, because each istance of the objects would modify the list itself. GtkRecentManager does not need that, since the widgets usually use their own internal instance of the manager and they don’t change the list in any way. So you can create a new GtkRecentManager and keep it around as a singleton (remember to call g_object_unref() on it when finished, otherwise you’ll leak it):

GtkRecentManager *manager_singleton = gtk_recent_manager_new ();

and then pass it to the widgets:

GtkWidget *dialog =
  gtk_recent_chooser_dialog_new_with_manager ("Recent Documents"
                                              GTK_STOCK_CLOSE,  GTK_RESPONSE_CLOSE,
                                              GTK_STOCK_CANCEL, GTK_RESPONSE_CANCEL,

Nevertheless, you should really use gtk_recent_manager_get_default() which will do the right thing, and pass you a per-process instance and you won’t have to care about its memory management (no g_object_unref() when quitting). Also, using gtk_recent_manager_get_default() means that you don’t have to use the _with_manager variant of the widgets constructor, as they will use the per-process GtkRecentManager by default. Using your own GtkRecentManager makes sense only if you want to use the “filename” constructor-only property to specify your own storage file (and you should do that only if you know what you are doing):

GtkRecentManager *manager = gtk_recent_manager_get_default ();


GtkWidget *dialog =
  gtk_recent_chooser_dialog_new ("Recent Documents"
                                 GTK_STOCK_CLOSE,  GTK_RESPONSE_CLOSE,
                                 GTK_STOCK_CANCEL, GTK_RESPONSE_CANCEL,

Another question is the dreaded I want an inline list of recent files in the File menu; I’ll redirect you to the bug report linked for the rationales about why I think the inline list sucks, and should be removed from the UIs of GNOME applications in favour of the sub-menu. Anyhow, for those Unbelievers still using this Windows-cloned relic of the past, here’s a simple function for adding an inline list to an existing GtkUIManager instance; it’s part of a example of integration between GtkRecent and the UI manager I sent to the gtk-devel mailing list before GUADEC.

static void
add_inline_recent_items (guint         merge_id,
                         GtkUIManager *ui_manager)
  GtkActionGroup *action_group;
  GtkRecentManager *manager;
  GList *items, *l;
  guint i;

  action_group = gtk_action_group_new ("recent-info");
  gtk_ui_manager_insert_action_group (ui_manager, action_group, 0);

  manager = gtk_recent_manager_get_default ();

  /* we don't care about sorting and filtering, but it can
   * be done using g_list_sort_with_data() and clamping the
   * resulting list to the desired length
  gtk_recent_manager_set_limit (manager, 4);
  items = gtk_recent_manager_get_items (manager);

  /* no items: attach an insensitive place holder */
  if (!items)
      GtkAction *action;

      action = g_object_new (GTK_TYPE_ACTION,
      			     "name", "recent-info-empty",
			     "label", "No recently used files",
			     "sensitive", FALSE,
      gtk_action_group_add_action (action_group, action);
      g_object_unref (action);

      gtk_ui_manager_add_ui (ui_manager, merge_id,


  for (i = 0, l = items;
       l != NULL;
       i += 1, l = l->next)
      GtkRecentInfo *info = l->data;
      gchar *name = g_strdup_printf ("recent-info-%d-%lu",
				     (gulong) time (NULL));
      gchar *action_name = g_strdup (name);
      GtkAction *action;

      action = g_object_new (GTK_TYPE_ACTION,
      			     "name", action_name,
			     "label", gtk_recent_info_get_display_name (info),
			     "stock_id", NULL,
      g_object_set_data_full (G_OBJECT (action), "gtk-recent-info",
                              gtk_recent_info_ref (info),
			      (GDestroyNotify) gtk_recent_info_unref);
      g_signal_connect (action, "activate",
                        G_CALLBACK (recent_activate_cb), NULL);
      gtk_action_group_add_action (action_group, action);
      g_object_unref (action);

      /* all you need is a UI definition with a "placeholder" element called
       * "RecentFiles" under a "menu" element called "FileMenu".
      gtk_ui_manager_add_ui (ui_manager, merge_id,

      g_print ("* adding action `%s'\n", action_name);

      g_free (action_name);
      g_free (name);

  /* unref the info objects so that they will be destroyed when
   * the actions to which they are bound are destroyed with the
   * UIManager instance
  g_list_foreach (items, (GFunc) gtk_recent_info_unref, NULL);
  g_list_free (items);

This code should give you an idea on how to implement your own version. Making the menu reloading the inline list means removing the UI definitions using the merge_id integer and calling this function again inside a callback attached to the “changed” signal of a GtkRecentManager instance, and it is left as an exercise for the reader. ;-)

GtkRecent and GtkUIManager

I’m really sorry that the UIManager integration did not happen in time for 2.10; it means that some applications will have to implement it by themselves until GTK+ 2.12 is out with a common implementation. In the meantime, continue asking me or opening bugs in Bugzilla.

Update@2006-08-02T09:51+0100: the complete code now has the “reload-when-list-change” feature. Remember: you may cut and paste this code for a basic support of recent files inside an inline menu; there are at least another couple of ways to implement the same level of support, and mostly it depends on how you handle your own documents. I’d like for GTK+ or libgnome or GLib to have a “document” class abstracting most of this and other stuff, like Cocoa on OSX has the NSDocument class.

Update@2006-08-02T16:05+0100: another update – I’ve fixed a couple of leaks (a GtkAction is a GObject and not a GtkObject) and added the sorting function for the inlined list.

Tides that I tried to swim against

gtk-recent: For those who missed the mail on gtk-devel-list, language-bindings and desktop-devel:

Unfortunately, when importing the GtkRecent API in GTK+ I made a mistake and these two functions have been erroneously left inside the GtkRecentChooser interface API:


These two functions try to set the “show-numbers” property, which is installed only by GtkRecentChooserMenu and it’s not one of the properties defined by the GtkRecentChooser interface. Using these functions on a GtkRecentChooserMenu (or any other custom GtkRecentChooser implementation which defines a boolean “show-numbers” property) will yield the expected results, while using them on a GtkRecentChooser implementation that does not support the “show-numbers” property will result in a warning.

Since we are in a stable release we can’t mark those functions as deprecated, and we cannot remove them without breaking the API. You are advised not to use these functions: use the GtkRecentChooserMenu functions instead:


Language binding authors should not bind those functions, but bind the GtkRecentChooserMenu functions instead.

These functions will be marked as deprecated as soon as GTK+ will branch off for the 2.11/2.12 cycle, so you’ll have to bear with this inconsistency for a short period of time.

language-bindings/1: By the way, gtk2-perl now supports the GtkRecent code in HEAD, thanks to the hard work of Torsten kaffee Schoenfeld who fixed most of my first iteration binding code and wrote the tests for it.

language-bindings/2: I also finished the Perl bindings for Clutter, as well as the Python ones. As I changed Clutter to behave like GTK, with the ClutterActor objects being created with a “floating” reference count, you’ll have to update Clutter to HEAD if you want to test the bindings. Beware that Clutter’s API is still a bit fuzzy at the moment. Of course, if you find bugs in the library or in the bindings, be sure to report them.

Now Listening: Last-exit, Neighbour radio

The Mariner’s Revenge Song

From the libegg’s ChangeLog:

2006-05-07  Emmanuele Bassi  

	Finally deprecate EggRecent.  So long, and thanks for all the bugs.

	* libegg/recent-files/egg-recent-model.h: Deprecate the EggRecent code,
	now that GTK 2.9.0 is out; if you want to compile it, you
	must define EGG_ENABLE_RECENT_FILES before including

This is the first version of the so-called “Ramone Deprecation System”: it means that if you blindly re-sync with libegg HEAD, or if you decide to use the EggRecent code now, a guy called Ramone will be sent directly to your home by the Gtk+ Cabal; he will politely knock at your door and once you’ve opened, he will beat the crap out of you.

Next, the Gtk+ Cabal will implement the “Puppies Deprecation System”. And believe me: you don’t want to know how that works.

Now listening: The Decemberists, Picaresque

For the price of a cup of tea

Here’s a screenshot of testaction test showing the GtkRecentAction action for use with the GtkUIManager. The action is bound to a menuitem tag inside the UI definition markup.

GtkRecentAction test

The code needs cleaning up and the hooking up of the GtkRecentChooser interface virtual methods, but it’s not a big issue; setting all the recent chooser knobs using the recent chooser API is not the most beautiful approach I could come up with, though. But so is setting all the properties using specially crafted functions.

The next issue is inlining the list inside a menu (to make the Gedit maintainers happy ;-)). The current (and soon to be deprecated) EggRecent code used the awful EggRecentViewGtk object and its evil spawn (EggRecentViewUIManager and the most devilish EggRecentViewBonobo). The GtkRecent approach “get the list from the recent manager and build the menu items” works for hand-built menus, but for menus created using the UI manager there’s no real option, as there’s no way to create a list of items from a GtkAction. One way to implement it might be adding a GList * (*create_menu_items) (GtkAction *action); virtual method inside GtkActionClass.

Update 2006-04-18@03:51: the tracking bug with my initial draft for the GtkRecentAction is #338843

Now listening: Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit


moving out: Marta has been in London a couple of times, in these two weeks; she has found a nice house in Crystal Palace, and began to buy furniture and stuff, and preparing it for us to move in. Next week, we’re both going to London and buy the remaining stuff (a sofa-bed, a table for the living room and some chairs to begin with). We should return in Milan for a couple of days on the 4th of May, as we must sign documents and papers for the marriage, and actually choose its date (it’ll be in July, probably).

gtk+ recent: the merge went well; on the gtk-devel list, Murray Cumming pointed out a couple of issues; most notably, the lack of integration with the GtkUIManager. The plan was to add a placeholder tag to the markup used to build the UI, but I really don’t like this approach anymore: it’s inherently messy. As a replacement, I coded up in a couple of hours a new GtkAction subclass: GtkRecentAction; when bound to a menu item tag, it creates a new submenu hooked to a GtkRecentChooserMenu; when bound to a toolbar item tag, it creates a GtkMenuToolButton like the one Gedit uses for the Open toolbar button. Unfortunately, I still can’t see a way to hook up an inlined list of menu items. Well, I suppose I’ll have to file a bug to the HIG and have it changed to use submenus for the list of recently used files. ;-)

gnome-utils: good news everyone: I’ve asked Fabio Marzocca for his permission to include into the gnome-utils package the fine disk usage tool called Baobab that he wrote; he agreed, and work is underway to clean up the code and hook it up to the gnome-utils build, in order to have it ready for the 2.15.1 release. Also, work is underway to add Solaris support to the system log viewer, and I’m fixing up a bunch of open bugs for the dictionary, including the re-addition of the “speller tool” (the list of matching words showed if no definitions were to be found).

The API has landed

The GtkRecent code is finally in gtk+ HEAD branch.

A couple of things are still missing, mostly documentation and examples (the exact list is here, if you want to check).

The code needed a year to take shape (I was beginning to mull over it a bit too much), but it is cleaner, more efficient and works better than the EggRecent code, that has been copied and pasted all around the world.

The heroes of this tale are undoubtedly: James Willcox, for writing the original code (even if he didn’t reply to my email about its state bad boy, bad boy); Federico Mena-Quintero, for listening to me while we were waiting at a terrible restourant in Stuttgart, and for saying: Go ahead, implement it, and everyone will love you!; Matthias Clasen (still no blog, Matthias?), for helping and suggesting and asking and for maintaining the Best. Toolkit. Ever.

This work is dedicated to my soon-to-be wife, Marta, and for the patience she had while I hacked till the wee hours of the morning. I love you.

And this is just the beginning… I sense bug reports coming…