GUADEC 2020 and Flatseal 1.6.1

GUADEC 2020

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to share my experiences Flooding the desktop with learning tools, with the wider GNOME community at GUADEC Even though the event went online for the first time, due to COVID-19, it went pretty smooth!

The event was full of great talks, including many from former colleagues, Archaeology of Accessibility by @ebassi, Parental controls in GNOME by @pwithnall, What’s new with JavaScript in GNOME by @ptomato, Communication Hacks by @1nuritzi and many, many others.

The social hours were hilarious and was great to see so many familiar faces. I am really hoping that, whenever we go back to physical events, we can still keep this online experience for those unable to assist.

Flatseal 1.6.1

Since the previous release, I have been slowly making improvements and have finally collected enough of these for a new release.

What’s new?

I started with a second pass on the big refactor I made for 1.6.0. I finally got rid of some “evolutionary” leftovers, and made all the individual permissions models even more self-contained. Again, this makes things much easier to extend and maintain.

Before I move on to the user-visible work, a few words about this project. Flatseal uses overrides as its backend to modify permissions, but it’s really more than just a graphical version of flatpak-override command-line tool. What I am (at least) trying to do with this project is to provide an improved experience for how Flatpak users interact with their applications permissions.

The most noticeable change in this release happens to be a good example of that.

This release adds support for session-bus and system-bus overrides. Users can remove, add or modify existing bus names. Thanks to @digitalethics for requesting this feature.

Being able to modify an existing bus name without having to explicitly think in terms of removing an existing name and adding a new one, seems trivial, but it’s quite an improved experienced already. The model is “smart” enough to detect these changes and translate these properly to one or more overrides. Like this, every switch and text entry in Flatseal went through these kind of considerations.

This release also adds other minor changes, including a fix for cases where applications icons were missing (e.g. for LibreOffice), a small change in the permissions groups labels to match even closer the terms used in flatpak-run and flatpak-override (e.g. “allow” instead of “features“), a fix that prevents Flatseal from crashing when multiple versions of libhandy are available (e.g. when running non-flatpak versions of Flatseal) by @fushinari , among other even minor fixes.

What’s next?

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, my short term goal was to keep adding support for more overrides. Now that Flatseal has almost reached feature-parity with flatpak-override, and that the model representation is way more readable, I will start to reach out to some people from the community to see if they would be interested in seeing Flatseal model moved into a separate library. Help will be welcome!

Last but never least, special thanks to @eson57, @AsciiWolf, @ovari@cho2 , @Vistaus and others for keeping Flatseal translations up to date.

Flatseal 1.6.0 and beyond

It’s been five months since the original release of Flatseal. Seventeen releases later, this project has evolved incredibly fast thanks to the Flatpak community.

Flatseal is a graphical utility to review and modify basic permissions from your Flatpak applications.

When I started this project as a weekend-long challenge, I considered the possibility of creating something useful but, I clearly did not expect such overwhelming reception.

From the first Flathub discourse members testing it, to having a humble chunk of the Flatpak community using and recommending it, this has been a really fun experience that I’d love to share in more detail at some point.

For now, I would simply like to thank everyone who contributed so far and share the new things coming with the 1.6.0 release.

So, what’s new?

The biggest change in this release is the complete rewrite of how Flatseal manages and mixes permissions and overrides. This is one of those things that no one should ever notice, when it goes well of course. In this case though, these changes makes it easier to expand Flatseal with new override options and, more importantly, to maintain it.

To put these changes to test, I added support for two new overrides options: persistent  homedir-relative paths and environment variables.

You can add new persistent homedir-relative paths. Even though this override is not the most commonly used one, it has proven to be quite useful. Thanks to @ManIVIctorious for the suggestion.
You can add, remove or modify the environment variables that are exported to the application. Thanks to @trashcan55 for the suggestion. I have been using this quite a lot myself to debug Flatseal.

Another key feature, made possible with the rewrite, is that Flatseal is now fully aware of overrides that it doesn’t support. If you have been using Flatseal and flatpak-override CLI together you know exactly what I am talking about.

Before this release, Flatseal would only load the overrides that it did support, and later drop the ones that didn’t. Of course this caused confusion and headaches to people using both tools. Well, these will be kept intact from now on, making Flatseal future proof at the same time.  Thanks @WhyNotHugo for highlighting this issue.

Before moving on to other changes, I would really like to give special thanks to Tobias Bernard @bertob for all the design ideas, mockups and feedback from the very beginning of this project.

Talking about Tobias and his ideas, now Flatseal displays basic information for applications. Aside for the obvious usefulness of this information, e.g. for troubleshooting, I like to see this as a small tribute to applications developers.

The title, author, version, last-updated date and Flatpak runtime are now displayed.

Moving on, another quite popular family of requests from the community has been to include application-management features, e.g. options to uninstall or launch an application. Even though I understand why it would make sense to have those, I decided to draw a line and keep Flatseal focused on managing permissions. Well, that was until @Johnn3y suggested to add a show details button, which is a good compromise.

This button will redirect you to the software manager page for the application, where you can launch, update or uninstall the application. For the time being, only GNOME Software is supported since it provides API for doing this, but I am looking forward to add support for others if possible.

As part of this change, I had to reconsider how to display these buttons, so that there would be enough space left in the top header bar in mobile mode. To solve this, Tobias suggested to move these buttons to a separate action bar at the bottom.

Having these buttons down there solves the space problem, and also improves Flatseal ergonomics when used on a phone.

Another small change I managed to land last minute was to rename permissions references. Instead of showing something like features=bluetooth, it will now show allow=bluetooth which is what you would use from flatpak-override or flatpak-run CLI. Thanks to @digitalethics for the suggestion.

Last but not least, special thanks to @eson57, @MiloCasagrande, @AsciiWolf, @ovari, @cho2 and others for keeping an eye on Flatseal and helping me with translations!

So, What’s next?

Well, for the short term I will keep adding support for more overrides requested by the community.

For the longer term though, considering that I now have a better idea of how to model this problem and, that other projects have found Flatseal source code useful to kickstart their permissions managers, I think it would be interesting to consider moving Flatseal backend to an introspectable library, to make things easier for other projects. But, let’s see if there’s interest for that.