Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'packaging'

Michael Hall

Today I reached another milestone in my open source journey: I got my first package uploaded into Debian’s archives.  I’ve managed to get packages uploaded into Ubuntu before, and I’ve attempted to get one into Debian, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten a contribution in that would benefit Debian users.

I couldn’t have done with without the the help and mentorship of Paul Tagliamonte, but I was also helped by a number of others in the Debian community, so a big thank you to everybody who answered my questions and walked me through getting setup with things like Alioth and re-learning how to use SVN.

One last bit of fun, I was invited to join the Linux Unplugged podcast today to talk about yesterday’s post, you can listen it it (and watch IRC comments scroll by) here:

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Michael Hall

Today was a distracting day for me.  My homeowner’s insurance is requiring that I get my house re-roofed[1], so I’ve had contractors coming and going all day to give me estimates. Beyond just the cost, we’ve been checking on state licensing, insurance, etc.  I’ve been most shocked at the differences in the level of professionalism from them, you can really tell the ones for whom it is a business, and not just a job.

But I still managed to get some work done today.  After a call with Francis Ginther about the API website importers, we should soon be getting regular updates to the current API docs as soon as their source branch is updated.  I will of course make a big announcement when that happens

I didn’t have much time to work on my Debian contributions today, though I did join the DPMT (Debian Python Modules Team) so that I could upload my new python-model-mommy package with the DPMT as the Maintainer, rather than trying to maintain this package on my own.  Big thanks to Paul Tagliamonte for walking me through all of these steps while I learn.

I’m now into my second week of UbBloPoMo posts, with 8 posts so far.  This is the point where the obligation of posting every day starts to overtake the excitement of it, but I’m going to persevere and try to make it to the end of the month.  I would love to hear what you readers, especially those coming from Planet Ubuntu, think of this effort.

[1] Re-roofing, for those who don’t know, involves removing and replacing the shingles and water-proofing paper, but leaving the plywood itself.  In my case, they’re also going to have to re-nail all of the plywood to the rafters and some other things to bring it up to date with new building codes.  Can’t be too safe in hurricane-prone Florida.

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Michael Hall

Quick overview post today, because it’s late and I don’t have anything particular to talk about today.

First of all, the next vUDS was announced today, we’re a bit late in starting it off but we wanted to have another one early enough to still be useful to the Trusty release cycle.  Read the linked mailinglist post for details about where to find the schedule and how to propose sessions.

I pushed another update to the API website today that does a better job balancing the 2-column view of namespaces and fixes the sub-nav text to match the WordPress side of things. This was the first deployment in a while to go off without a problem, thanks to  having a new staging environment created last time.  I’m hoping my deployment problems on this are now far behind me.

I took a task during my weekly Core Apps update call to look more into the Terminal app’s problem with enter and backspace keys, so I may be pinging some of you in the coming week about it to get some help.  You have been warned.

Finally, I decided a few weeks ago to spread out my after-hours community a activity beyond Ubuntu, and I’ve settled on the Debian new maintainers Django website as somewhere I can easily start.  I’ve got a git repo where I’m starting writing the first unit tests for that website, and as part of that I’m also working on Debian packaging for the Python model-mommy library which we use extensively in Ubuntu’s Django website. I’m having to learn (or learn more) Debian packaging, Git workflows and Debian’s processes and community, all of which are going to be good for me, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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Michael Hall

Now that Google+ has added a Communities feature, and seeing as how Jorge Castro has already created one for the wider Ubuntu community, I went ahead and created one specifically for our application developers.  If you are an existing app developer, or someone who is interested in getting started with app development, or thinking about porting an existing app to Ubuntu, be sure to join.

Google+ communities are brand new, so we’ll be figuring out how best to use them in the coming days and weeks, but it seems like a great addition.

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Michael Hall

More than a few, actually. As part of our ongoing focus on App Developers, and helping them get their apps into the Ubuntu Software Center, we need to keep the Application Review Board (ARB) staffed and vibrant. Now that the App Showdown contest is over, we need people to step up and fill the positions of those members who’s terms are ending. We also want to grow the community of app reviewers that work with the ARB to process all of the submissions that are coming in to the MyApps portal.

ARB Membership

Two of the existing members, Bhavani Shankar and Andrew Mitchell, will be continuing to serve on the board, and Alessio Treglia will be joining them. But we still need four more members in order to fill the full 7 seats on the board.  ARB applicants must be Ubuntu Members, Ubuntu Developers, and should create a wiki page for their application.

ARB members help application developers get their apps into Software Center by reviewing their package, providing support and feedback where needed, and finally voting to approve the app’s publication.  You should be able to dedicate a few hours each week to reviewing apps in the queue, and discussing them on IRC and the ARB’s mailing list.

If you would like to apply, you can contact the current ARB members on #ubuntu-arb on Freenode IRC, or the team mailing list (app-review-board at  The current term will expire at the end of the month, so be sure to get your applications in as soon as you can.

ARB Helpers

In addition to the 7 members of the ARB itself, we are building a community of volunteers to help review submitted packages, and work with the author to make the necessary changes.  There are no limits or restrictions on members of this community, though a rough knowledge of packaging will surely help.  This group doesn’t vote on applications, but they are essential to helping get those applications ready for a vote.

The ARB helpers community was launched in response to the overwhelming number of submissions that came in during the App Showdown competition.  Daniel Holbach put together a guide for new contributors to help them get started reviewing apps, and you can still follow those same steps if you would like to help out.

Again, if you would like to get involved with this community, you should join #ubuntu-arb on Freenode IRC, or contact the mailing list (app-review-board at

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Michael Hall

Due to the popularity of the Ubuntu App Showdown Workshops, I plan to start holding a weekly Q&A session for all Ubuntu app developers using the same format: A live Google+ Hangout with IRC chat.

The first of these will be Wednesday of this week, at 1700 UTC (6pm London, 1pm US Eastern, 10am US Pacific).  Because it will be an On-Air hangout, I won’t have a link until I start the session, but I will post it here on my blog before it starts.  For IRC, I plan on using the #ubuntu-on-air channel on Freenode, though again the exact details will be posted the day of the session.

So bring your questions about developing apps for Ubuntu, packaging an submitting them to the Software Center.  If I can’t answer your question myself, I’ll help you find someone who can.

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Michael Hall

Last week we introduced a new ‘Download for Ubuntu’ campaign for upstreams to use on their websites, letting their users know that the app is available in Ubuntu already.  We event generated a list of targeted upstreams we wanted to reach out to in order to spur the adoption of these buttons.  What we didn’t go into much detail about why upstreams should use them.  I hope to remedy that here.

It’s easy

Let’s just get that out of the way, this won’t take a significant amount of work on the part of an upstream.  It’s just a one time change to a website.  You don’t even need to change it every cycle, since the buttons point to the App Directory entry for the application itself, not any specific version of it.

It makes installing your app more appealing

The button isn’t just another way of getting your app, it also tells the user that it will install correctly, all of it’s dependencies are available and will be installed, everything is configured to work with their system, and they will get be getting updates and security fixes to it through a mechanism they already use and trust.  In short, it’s a promise of a good user experience (which I’ll admit we don’t always live up to, more on that below).  Telling 20 million users (and growing) that your app is safe and easy to install is surely worth a few pixels on your website.

It’s good social exposure for your app

By sending users to the App Directory, instead of just immediately installing, new users get to see what others are saying about your app through the ratings and reviews (which will be mostly positive, because your app is awesome right?)  of other Ubuntu users.  Not only does this tell your users that other people like your app, but it’s also telling them that they can add their own ratings and reviews, which will in turn boost your app’s standing.  More reviews leads to more users, which leads to more reviews, it’s a great positive feedback loop.

Users will be looking for it

Not right now, obviously, since we just started this campaign.  But as more upstreams adopt the new button, it’s going to be one of the first things Ubuntu users will be looking for on your website (for all the reasons mentioned above).  With a majority of website visitors leaving in less than a minute (according to a lazy Google search), the promise of a quick and easy install might just be the difference between a new user and a lost opportunity.

This campaign benefits everybody: end users, upstream developers and, yes, Ubuntu too.  So let’s improve these ties, together.  If you’re an upstream, you can copy/paste the following HTML snippet directly into your website (replacing {{pkgname}} with the name of your application’s package in Ubuntu).  If you want to reach out to an upstream developer, please add them to our list so we know who’s contacting them, and what the status is.

<a href="{{pkgname}}/">
 <img src=""  title="Download for Ubuntu" alt="Download for Ubuntu button" width="122" height="49" />

Now I know we can’t always give the best user experience possible (see, I told you I’d get to that).  Sometimes our packagin isn’t quite right, or the default configuration of your app is sub-optimal.  Our six month release cadence and package freezes mean that rapidly developing applications will often be out of date in our main repositories.  We’ve taken on a lot of work by distributing apps the way we do, and even though we’re a very large community, it’s still hard to get every package right.  Luckily, you’re not powerless here, if you spot problems with the way we distribute your app, or you need to get a newer version out to Ubuntu users, you can do something about that.

Package fixes

Even though our process locks applications to the version in the archives for that particular release of Ubuntu, we will still allow changes to the packaging itself.  So if we’ve done something wrong on our end that is giving your app a hard time, we’ll fix it and make that available to all of your Ubuntu users as a Stable Release Update.

Backport newer versions

A six-month release cycle means that every Ubuntu release has relatively up to date versions of applications, at least compared to distros that have a longer cadence.  But for rapidly developed applications, where new versions come out more frequently than that, this means their packages can become outdated quickly.  And with the five year lifetime of our LTS releases, most packages will get to be stale by the end.  That’s why we have a special repository just for backporting new versions of packages to stable releases of Ubuntu. And starting with 11.10, this repository is enabled by default.

In order to have your application backported to a stable release, it first has to be accepted into the current development release.  If your new version was in Debian’s unstable repository at the beginning of the development cycle, chances are it’s already there.  If it’s not in Debian you’ll need to submit your package to be included in the development release.  Once it’s there, you can request that it be backported to one more more stable Ubuntu releases.  You can use the requestbackport command line tool (from ubuntu-dev-tools package) to automate much of the process, or if you’re not running Ubuntu simply file a bug to start the request.

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Michael Hall

Expanding on my previous post calling for pkgme backend contributors, here’s a list of the backends we would like to see added, and who in the community you can contact for help in making them. If you can act as a mentor for one of these backends, please say so in the comments and I will add your name to the list.    For any questions about pkgme itself, and what options are available to backends, your best bet is to ask James Westby (james_w) in the #pkgme channel on freenode.


QMake is a Makefile-generator. It uses information that the application author puts into a project file to build the Makefile for a project. A qmake backend would need to either use qmake to extract the information requested by pkgme, or parse the same project file that qmake uses in order to provide that information.

Information about qmake:

Help Contact: Angelo Compagnucci


Flash applications can be packaged for Ubuntu by wrapping them in a GTK window that contains a Webkit browser widget, and an index.html file for it to load that embeds the given flash file.

The Quickly Flash template currently does much the same thing. To do the same in pkgme, you will need to pass the necessary wrapper files to the extra_files request. extra_files should return a JSON object where the key is the file path relative to the root of the target application, and the value is the contents of that file.

Help Contacts: Michael Terry and Stuart Langridge


A backend for an HTML5 application would also require wrapping the target application in a GTK window with embedded Webkit widget. Only instead of creating an index.html, you would just point the Webkit widget to the target application’s HTML files.

Help Contact: Didier Roche


The Java backend would need to parse ant’s build.xml files to extract information about the target application or an already built jar file’s manifest.

Help Contact: James Page

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Michael Hall

pkgme is a small utility created by James Westby, its purpose is to create a Debian package for any unpackaged applications.  It’s currently used when applications are submitted through the Ubuntu Developer Portal as tarballs, inspecting the contents of the application to determine how to build a package from it.  In order to support many different types and configurations of application, James built pkgme to support any number of different backends.

Currently there is support for apps using Python and Distutils, apps compiled by cmake, and apps written in Vala.  But there are still many, many applications out there that aren’t covered by these backends, including Qt apps, HTML5 apps, Flash apps and more.  That’s where you, dear contributor, come in.

UPDATE: Here is a list of desired backends and mentors to help you with them.

But I don’t know how to create packages!

That’s okay, you don’t need to know how to make packages to create a pkgme backend.  It already knows how to make packages, what it doesn’t know is where to find the information it needs to do that.  This is what backends are, just one or more small scripts that extract enough information about a project to let pkgme do its thing.

Ok, I’m interested, how do I start?

First of all, get a copy of the latest pkgme code from its bazaar branch in Launchpad:

bzr branch lp:pkgme ./pkgme

Then, create a VirtualEnv environment to install it into:

virtualenv ./env

Then, install it into the Virtualenv:

source ./env/bin/activate
cd ./pkgme
python develop

Now you’ve got a working pkgme installed and running in your virtualenv. You can leave your virtualenv by running ‘deactivate’.  Time to get started on your backend!

Where do I put my new backend code?

Since we’re going to submit your new backend to the pkgme branch, we can just create it there:

cd ..
mkdir ./pkgme/pkgme/backends/<your backend name>

Great, now I have an empty Backend, what do I put here?

The first thing your backend needs is a ‘want’ file.  You see, in order for pkgme to know which backend it should use on any particular application, it needs to ask every backend how much they want it.  It does this by executing a script named ‘want’ in each backend.

Your want file is executed from the target application’s directory, so in your script ./ will be the root of the target application’s directory.  This lets you script easily browse through the files in the application to determine how well it can provide packaging information for it.

In order to tell pkgme how much your backend wants to handle the target application, your ‘want’ file simply needs to print a number to STDOUT.  The backend with the highest number is the one pkgme will use.  These are the suggested ranges for your ‘want’ value:

  • 0 – no information can be provided about the project (e.g. a Ruby backend with a Python project).
  • 10 – some information can be provided, but the backend is generic (e.g. Ruby backend).
  • 20 – some information can be provided, and the backend is more generic than just language (e.g. Ruby on Rails backend).
  • 30 – some information can be provided, and the backend is highly specialized.

Now I have what I want, what do I do with it?

Once pkgme has chosen your backend to use against an application, it will call one or more scripts from your backend to get information about the application.  As the backend author, you can choose to provide separate scripts for each piece of information, or you can provide just a single script called ‘all_info’ that will provide everything.

Lots of scripts

For separate scripts, you will need to provide an executable in your backend directory for each of the pieces of information that pkgme might request.  Each script should print that information to STDOUT, or exit with an error if it can not provide it.

Just one script

However, if looking up bits of information one at a time is a time-consuming task for your backend, you can do it all in one shot.  If you want to do that, then the only script you need is one called ‘all_info’.  When this script is called, it is also given a JSON list on STDIN.  This list contains the keys for all the pieces of information that pkgme needs from your backend.  As output, this scripts needs to print a JSON dictionary to STDOUT.  This dictionary should contain a key for each of the fields sent as input, along with its corresponding value.  If your backend can’t provide a value for one of those fields, it should be left out of the dictionary.

You can test your new backend by switching to the directory of a project your backend is made to support, and running:


Make sure your virtualenv is still activated, or pkgme won’t be found. If everything works, you should have a ./debian/ directory in the application’s root folder.

Hurray, my backend works.  Do you want it?

Of course we want it!  What a silly question.  And it’s already in your local branch of pkgme too!  Well, it’s in the directory anyway, you still need to add it to the workingset:

cd ./pkgme/pkgme/backends/
bzr add <your backend name>

Then commit your changes and push them back to Launchpad:

bzr commit -m "Added backend for <your backend name>"
bzr push lp:~<your lp username>/pkgme/add-backend-<your backend name>

Then head on over to, click on your new branch name, and then click the “propose for merging” link.  Fill out the description of what your backend adds, and submit it.  From there it will get reviewed by one of pkgme’s maintainers, and either get merged into the main branch, or sent back to you for fixes.

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Michael Hall

My big focus during the week of UDS will be on improving our Application Developer story, tools and services.  Ubuntu 12.04 is already an excellent platform for app developers, now we need to work on spreading awareness of what we offer and polishing any rough edges we find.  Below are the list of sessions I’ll be leading or participating in that focus on these tasks.

And if you’re curious about what else I’ll be up to, my full schedule for the week can be found here:

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Michael Hall

Everybody knows that programmers can contribute to Unity, and I’ve shown in my previous posts that non-developers can still contribute features and fixes that make applications integrate better.  But what if your skills lay more on the creative side of the spectrum?

Well it just so happens that you have something to contribute to Unity too.  In fact, we’re currently in need of some graphic design talent to put some extra polish on some areas of application integration.  Specifically, we need people to help create vector art for application icons that only have raster images, PNG, XPM, etc.

This wiki page contains a list of applications that have been identified as needing an SVG icon.

Now graphic creation isn’t my specialty, so I’m not going to write a step by step guide to creating these images, that’s up to you artists.  What I am going to do, however, is walk you through the process of coordinating with the upstream application developers and submitting your finished image to Ubuntu.

1) Contact the upstream

This is an important step, because even if an application doesn’t have an SVG icon in Ubuntu, there’s still a chance that one already exists.  Read over the first half of my post on upstreaming Quicklists for ways to get in contact with with them. Ask them if they have an SVG  source for their application’s icon.  If they do, that’s great! You can take that and skip down to step #3.  If they don’t, then you will need to work with the upstream project to create one that is right for them.

2) Work with the current image

It’s important that we don’t try and re-brand an application unless the authors want it re-branded.  What we want is a more flexible/scalable version of the image icon we already have.  If you are creating a new SVG file, try to keep as close to the raster image as possible, and be sure to talk to the upstream developers about any deviations or changes you need to make.  And finally, keep with the spirit of open source and make your new image available to both Ubuntu and the upstream project under a copy-left license like the CC-BY-SA or another permissive license of the upstream’s preference.

3) Preparing your image

Since we are getting close to the release of 12.04, the requirements for any further changes are getting stricter.  In order to get your image into the Precise packages, you will need to meet the following two criteria:

It must be approved by the upstream project.  Since your image will be representing their application in Ubuntu, we absolutely need their acceptance of it before it can be used.  This is why step #1 is so vitally important, make sure you are working and communicating closely with upstream from the very beginning.

It must be a plain SVG file.  This is because it will be added as a patch file against the package, and patch files don’t work well with binary data.  Since a plain SVG file is text, not binary, it makes it much easier to convert into a patch.

4) Submit your new image

The wiki page containing the list of applications has a link to the corresponding bug report filed in Launchpad.  When your image is ready, attach it to the bug report.

You will also need to add the upstream project to the bug report.  Click the “Also affects project” link on the bug page, and choose the Launchpad Project that matches your upstream.

That’s it!  Well, almost.  Once we have your image, the application’s package in Ubuntu will need to be updated to use it, but that will require some changes to packaging scripts and patch files, which will be the subject of a more technical post.  But getting the necessary image is itself a big step.

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Michael Hall

Bazaar is a great tool for distributed development, but distros are built on packages, and so packages are what distro developer care about.  That’s why many of you who have followed my previous blogs have probably been asked for patches to the package itself, not to the bzr branch.

Why the difference?  Well for package maintainers, it’s easier and faster to import  upstream changes if they keep their source code clean.  To do that, any changes made by the distro are applied on top of the unmodified upstream code in the form of patches.  There are many tools designed specifically to make this easy for the package maintainers.

Below I’m going to show you how to turn your code change into a package patch that is easy for Ubuntu developers to add to the distro’s packages.  Only do this if your submitted branch is to a package in main and it hasn’t already been merged.

0) Check your source package format

The following instructions will only work on source packages using quilt 3.0 for managing patches.  Before you do anything else, check that the file debian/source/format contains the following:

3.0 (quilt)


1) Find your revisions

Starting from your existing code branch, we first need to identify which revisions in your branch we need to turn into a patch.  To do that, we simply check for revisions in your branch that don’t exist in the main one.  Here is what I used for geany:

bzr missing --mine-only ubuntu:geany

You just need to replace ‘geany’ with your application’s branch name (the same you bzr branched in my earlier articles).  The –mine-only will limit the result to only revisions in your branch just to keep things simple.  You’ll want to make note of the first and last revisions in this output.  If, like me, you only had one revision missing, that makes it even easier.


2) Generate the patch

Fortunately the package “bzr-builddeb” provides a command that makes this step easy.

mkdir -p debian/patches
bzr dep3-patch -d ubuntu:geany . > debian/patches/add_keywords.patch

Again, just replace ‘geany’ with your application’s branch name, and dep3-patch will find the differences in your branch and convert them into a patch file.

Now that you have a patch file, we need to add it to the list of patches for this package.  To do that, all you need is to add it’s name to the end of the debian/patches/series file like this:

echo add_keywords.patch >> debian/patches/series


3) Convert your source changes

Now that your changes are in a patch file, we need remove those changes from the source code itself.  This is where those revision numbers from step 1 come in, you will need the highest revision number and one less than the lowest.  Since I only had one revision, rev 32, my numbers are 32 and 31.

bzr diff -r 32..31 | bzr patch

This causes bzr to generate a reverse-diff of your changes (by going from the higher to the lower revision), and then apply that reverse-diff to your current code, effectively undoing your changes.

Now you need to apply your new patch file using quilt, so that quilt knows about it:

quilt push -a

Which should give you the following output if everything applies cleanly (if not, then your package is going to need some extra work, and you should ask for help from someone in #ubuntu-devel on freenode IRC).

Applying patch add_keywords.patch
patching file

Now at patch add_keywords.patch


4) Log your changes

Since you are making changes to the package itself now, you need to add that information to the debian/changelog:

export DEBFULLNAME="Michael Hall"
export DEBEMAIL=""
dch -i

You will, of course, want to replace my name and email with your own (Hint: you can put those 2 export lines into ~/.bashrc for future packaging work). This will create a new entry in the chanelog for you, with one higher version number.  All you need to do it add in the comments:

* Add search keywords to .desktop file (LP: #942154)

Be sure to use the proper bug number for your changes.  Also, if you are not running on Precise, you  will need to change the release target at the top of the file to ‘precise’.  Here’s what my new record looks like:

geany (0.21.dfsg-1ubuntu4) precise; urgency=low

* Add search keywords to .desktop file (LP: #942154)

-- Michael Hall <> Wed, 07 Mar 2012 14:40:32 -0500


5) Commit and push

Now it’s time to put everything back into your bzr branch.  First you need to add your patch file:

bzr add debian/patches/add_keywords.patch
bzr add debian/patches/series
bzr add .pc/

If your package branch didn’t already have a ‘series’ file, my instructions in step 2 will have created one, so I’m adding it here just in case.  If it already existed, bzr add won’t do anything.

Next, commit and push your changes back to your submitted branch:

bzr commit -m "Convert source changes into a package patch file"
bzr push lp:~mhall119/ubuntu/precise/geany/add_keywords


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