Flatseal 1.8.0

I am happy to announce a new release of Flatseal 🎉. This new release comes with the ability to review and modify global overrides, highlight changes made by users, follow system-level color schemes, support for more languages and a few bugs fixes.

Let’s start with bug fixes. Since Flatpak 1.12.4, removing filesystem permissions with modes in Flatseal caused Flatpak to warn people about the mode being included as part of the override. Justifiably, this confused many. With this release, it will no longer include these modes, e.g. :ro,  when removing filesystem permissions.

Although Flatseal main distribution is Flatpak, there are people who prefer to install it from their regular package manager. So, I included a fix which handles the creation of the overrides directory. Under Flatpak, this scenario is handled by permissions themselves.

Moving on to new features, @A6GibKm added support for the new system-level color schemes recently added to GNOME. Plus, he streamlined both shortcuts and documentation windows behavior by making both modal.

The main feature I focused on for this release is the ability to review and modify global overrides, which is actually three features in one. Let me elaborate.

Currently, when people look at a particular application permissions they are actually seeing the mix of two things: a) the original permissions that came with that application and b) the permissions changed by them. But there’s a third source of changes that wasn’t taken into account, and that is global overrides.

So, the first part was to make Flatseal aware of these global overrides. That means, when people look at an application permissions, these global overrides need to be accounted for and displayed. With this release, all sources of permissions changes are taken into account. Now, what you see is effectively and exactly what the application can or can’t do.

But this introduces a new problem or, better said, it exacerbates an existing one. It goes like this; people go to Flatseal, select an application, switch a few options and close it. Next day, they go back, select the same application and have absolutely no idea what changed the day before. This only gets worse when introducing global overrides to the mix.

Therefore, the second part was to extend Flatseal models to differentiate between original permissions and the two types of overrides, and to expose that information to the UI. Now, with this release, every permission changed by the user or globally is highlighted as shown above. This includes tooltips to let people know exactly where the change came from.

Lastly, the third part was to expose global overrides themselves to the UI, so people can review and modify these. I tried different approaches as for how to expose this but, finally, I let occam’s razor decide. I exposed global overrides as-if it was just another application, under an “All Applications” sticky item on the applications lists.

The benefit of this approach is that it’s quite easy to find, and even search, and it’s literally the same interface as for applications. But simplicity comes with a price.

If you’re a heavy user of Flatseal you probably noticed that it only allows to a) grant permissions that the applications don’t have or b) remove permissions that the applications have but, with the exception of filesystem permissions, c) it doesn’t allow to remove permissions that the applications don’t have.

Of course, most of the time, this wouldn’t even make sense for a particular application, but it is a limitation when thinking in terms of global overrides. So unfortunately, you can’t go and remove network access for all your applications in one click. At least not just yet.

Moving on to translations, support for Bulgarian, Danish and Chinese (China) languages were added by @RacerBG@exponentactivity, @EricZhang456 respectively. Big kudos to @libreajans, @AsciiWolf, @Vistaus, @cho2, @eson57, @daPhipz, @ovari, @TheEvilSkeleton,  and @Garbulix for keeping translations up to date.

Moving forward, I would like to revise the backend models to remove some of the limitations I mentioned earlier, polish the global overrides UI, and finally port it to GTK4 and Libadwaita.

Last but not least, special kudos to @rusty-snake for always keeping an eye on newly opened issues and patiently responding to people’s doubts.

Flatseal 1.7.5

A new Flatseal release is out 🥳🎉, and it comes with subtle visual improvements, a few bugs fixes, one more permission and a big quality of life improvement.

Starting with the visuals, @BrainBlasted replaced the custom widgets, used in the applications list, for proper libhandy’s widgets. Plus, he fixed a small styling detail to make applications icons look sharper!

This change results in more consistent visuals and less custom code for me to maintain 😊

On the permissions side of things, @Arxcis added support for  the per-app-dev-shm permission, which was added to Flatpak a few releases ago.  Also, I extended the Other files subsection to allow negated filesystem overrides, e.g. !home.

Moving on to quality of life improvements, I took the time to make the UI fully usable with keyboard input. For some of us, who prefer the keyboard, this makes the UI faster to navigate. For other people, it makes Flatseal accessible for the first time. Thanks to @sophie-h for reminding me of this 🙌

With a good combination of shortcuts and mnemonics Flatseal has finally become keyboard friendly. Still far from perfect, but it’s the perfect start.

On the bug fixing front, @Arxcis fixed an issue that prevented users from overriding originally-negated permissions, and I fixed a couple more that caused undefined values to appear in override files. Although these were very rare, both issues were present since the original version of Flatseal.

Additionally, by popular demand, applications are now sorted by the application’s name 😅

Last but never least, thanks to @AsciiWolf, @ovari, @cho2, @Vistaus, @BigmenPixel0 and @eson57 for keeping their translations up to date, and to @TheEvilSkeleton and @usnotv for new French and Turkish translations, respectively.

Flatseal 1.7.0

A big new release of Flatseal is out! It took a bit longer, due to that little Portfolio detour 😅, but it finally happened. This release introduces some subtle improvements to the UI, along with one major new feature; initial support for Portals.

Starting with the UI improvements, a massive libhandy’fication happened. Main widgets such as the window, groups and permissions rows are now using libhandy widgets. This helped to remove a lot of custom code, but also brought neat little details like rounded corners, the ability to toggle permissions by simply tapping the rows, among other things. Thanks to @BrainBlasted for starting this work.

The applications search entry can now be toggled, and its position is now independent of the scrolled window. Not having to scroll back to the top to change the search terms, makes it a bit more usable.

This release comes with an offline version of Flatseal’s documentation, thanks to a newly-added viewer. For now, the documentation is only available in English. I am hoping to improve the document before any attempt to translate it. Thanks to Apostrophe for such nice exporters 🙂.

Moving on to the new big feature, yes, portals! With this release, it’s now possible to review and manage dynamic permissions. Thank @hferreiro for requesting this feature.

This initial support includes six of the most basic permissions. The plan is to support as many of these, as long as it makes sense of course. Having said that, a few important notes:

  • Not all dynamic permissions rely on stored “decisions” and, therefore, there’s nothing for Flatseal to manage.
  • Not all Flatpak applications use portals currently and, therefore, many of these new options won’t be very useful until portals get more adoption.
  • It is expected to see many of these permissions “grayed out”. Check the tooltips for the specific reason but, it is likely due to the fact that some of these portals have not been used yet and, therefore, have not set up any data for Flatseal to manage.

Well, that’s it for now. Any suggestions, ideas, bugs, I am always available. And if you haven’t tried Flatseal yet, I recommend getting it from Flathub.

Last but never least, thanks to everyone who contributed to this release, @BrainBlasted, @cho2@Vistaus, @ovari, @eson57, @TheEvilSkeleton, @AsciiWolf and @MiloCasagrande.

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.