1. My free software activities, May 2016
  2. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
    1. Xen work
    2. Frontdesk duties
    3. Other LTS work
    4. Future LTS work
  3. Other free software work
    1. Debian documentation
    2. Ikiwiki
    3. DNS diagnostics
    4. Link checking
    5. Other Debian packaging work
    6. Background radiation

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

This is my 6th month working on Debian LTS, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This is my largest month so far, for which I had requested 20 hours of work.

Xen work

I spent the largest amount of time working on the Xen packages. We had to re-roll the patches because it turned out we originally just imported the package from Ubuntu as-is. This was a mistake because that package forked off the Debian packaging a while ago and included regressions in the packaging itself, not just security fixes.

So I went ahead and rerolled the whole patchset and tested it on Koumbit's test server. Brian May then completed the uploaded, which included about 40 new patches, mostly from Ubuntu.

Frontdesk duties

Next up was the frontdesk duties I had taken this week. This was mostly uneventful, although I had forgotten how to do some of the work and thus ended up doing extensive work on the contributor's documentation. This is especially important since new contributors joined the team! I also did a lot of Debian documentation work in my non-sponsored work below.

The triage work involved chasing around missing DLAs, triaging away OpenJDK-6 (for which, let me remind you, security support has ended in LTS), raised the question of Mediawiki maintenance.

Other LTS work

I also did a bunch of smaller stuff. Of importance, I can note that I uploaded two advisories that were pending from April: NSS and phpMyAdmin. I also reviewed the patches for the ICU update, since I built the one for squeeze (but didn't have time to upload before squeeze hit end-of-life).

I have tried to contribute to the NTP security support but that was way too confusing to me, and I have left it to the package maintainer which seemed to be on top of things, even if things mean complete chaos and confusion in the world of NTP. I somehow thought that situation had improved with the recent investments in ntpsec and ntimed, but unfortunately Debian has not switched to the ntpsec codebase, so it seems that the NTP efforts have diverged in three different projects instead of closing into a single, better codebase.

Future LTS work

This is likely to be my last month of work on LTS until September. I will try to contribute a few hours in June, but July and August will be very busy for me outside of Debian, so it's unlikely that I contribute much to the project during the summer. My backlog included those packages which might be of interest to other LTS contributors:

Other free software work

Debian documentation

I wrote an detailed short guide to Debian package development, something I felt was missing from the existing corpus, which seems to be too focus in covering all alternatives. My guide is opinionated: I believe there is a right and wrong way of doing things, or at least, there are best practices, especially when just patching packages. I ended up retroactively publishing that as a blog post - now I can simply tag an item with blog and it shows up in the blog.

(Of course, because of a mis-configuration on my side, I have suffered from long delays publishing to Debian planet, so all the posts dates are off in the Planet RSS feed. This will hopefully be resolved around the time this post is published, but this allowed me to get more familiar with the Planet Venus software, as detailed in that other article.)

Apart from the guide, I have also done extensive research to collate information that allowed me to create workflow graphs of the various Debian repositories, which I have published in the Debian Release section of the Debian wiki. Here is the graph:

It helps me understand how packages flow between different suites and who uploads what where. This emerged after I realized I didn't really understand how "proposed updates" worked. Since we are looking at implementing a similar process for the security queue, I figured it was useful to show what changes would happen, graphically.

I have also published a graph that describes the relations between different software that make up the Debian archive. The idea behind this is also to provide an overview of what happens when you upload a package in the Debian archive, but it is more aimed at Debian developers trying to figure out why things are not working as expected.

The graphs were done with Graphviz, which allowed me to link to various components in the graph easily, which is neat. I also prefered Graphviz over Dia or other tools because it is easier to version and I don't have to bother (too much) about the layout and tweaking the looks. The downside is, of course, that when Graphviz makes the wrong decision, it's actually pretty hard to make it do the right thing, but there are various workarounds that I have found that made the graphs look pretty good.

The source is of course available in git but I feel all this documentation (including the guide) should go in a more official document somewhere. I couldn't quite figure out where. Advice on this would be of course welcome.


I have made yet another plugin for Ikiwiki, called irker, which enables wikis to send notifications to IRC channels, thanks to the simple irker bot. I had trouble with Irker in the past, since it was not quite reliable: it would disappear from channels and not return when we'd send it a notification. Unfortunately, the alternative, the KGB bot is much heavier: each repository needs a server-side, centralized configuration to operate properly.

Irker's design is simpler and more adapted to a simple plugin like this. Let's hope it will work reliably enough for my needs.

I have also suggested improvements to the footnotes styles, since they looked like hell in my Debian guide. It turns out this was an issue with the multimarkdown plugin that doesn't use proper semantic markup to identify footnotes. The proper fix is to enable footnotes in the default Discount plugin, which will require another, separate patch.

Finally, I have done some improvements (I hope!) on the layout of this theme. I made the top header much lighter and transparent to work around an issue where followed anchors would be hidden under the top header. I have also removed the top menu made out of the sidebar plugin because it was cluttering the display too much. Those links are all on the frontpage anyways and I suspect people were not using them so much.

The code is, as before, available in this git repository although you may want to start from the new ikistrap theme that is based on Bootstrap 4 and that may eventually be merged in ikiwiki directly.

DNS diagnostics

Through this interesting overview of various *ping tools, I got found out about the dnsdiag tool which currently allows users to do DNS traces, tampering detection and ping over DNS. In the hope of packaging it into Debian, I have requested clarifications regarding a modification to the DNSpython library the tool uses.

But I went even further and boldly opened a discussion about replacing DNSstuff, the venerable DNS diagnostic tools that is now commercial. It is somewhat surprising that there is no software that has even been publicly released that does those sanity checks for DNS, given how old DNS is.

Incidentally, I have also requested smtpping to be packaged in Debian as well but httping is already packaged.

Link checking

In the process of writing this article, I suddenly remembered that I constantly make mistakes in the various links I post on my site. So I started looking at a link checker, another tool that should be well established but that, surprisingly, is not quite there yet.

I have found this neat software written in Python called LinkChecker. Unfortunately, it is basically broken in Debian, so I had to do a non-maintainer upload to fix that old bug. I managed to force myself to not take over maintainership of this orphaned package but I may end up doing just that if no one steps up the next time I find issues in the package.

One of the problems I had checking links in my blog is that I constantly refer to sites that are hostile to bots, like the Debian bugtracker and MoinMoin wikis. So I published a patch that adds a --no-robots flag to be able to crawl those sites effectively.

I know there is the W3C tool but it's written in Perl, and there's probably zero chance for me to convince those guys to bypass robots exclusion rules, so I am sticking to Linkchecker.

Other Debian packaging work

At my request, Drush has finally been removed from Debian. Hopefully someone else will pick up that work, but since it basically needs to be redone from scratch, there was no sense in keeping it in the next release of Debian. Similarly, Semanticscuttle was removed from Debian as well.

I have uploaded new versions of tuptime, sopel and smokeping. I have also file a Request For Help for Smokeping. I am happy to report there was a quick response and people will be stepping up to help with the maintenance of that venerable monitoring software.

Background radiation

Finally, here's the generic background noise of me running around like a chicken with his head cut off:

Finally, I should mention that I will be less active in the coming months, as I will be heading outside as the summer finally came! I somewhat feel uncomfortable documenting publicly my summer here, as I am more protective of my privacy than I was before on this blog. But we'll see how it goes, maybe you'll hear non-technical articles here again soon!

Created . Edited .