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Name: Jelmer Vernooij
Member since: 2001-11-05 12:35:18
Last Login: 2013-06-03 23:02:56

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Homepage: http://samba.org/~jelmer/

Notes:

At the moment, I'm studying Computer Science at the
University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. During my spare
time, I work on Samba, Bazaar and Bitlbee on a regular basis
but I also contribute patches to several other open source
projects.

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Using Propellor for configuration management

For a while, I've been wanting to set up configuration management for my home network. With half a dozen servers, a VPS and a workstation it is not big, but large enough to make it annoying to manually log into each machine for network-wide changes.

Most of the servers I have are low-end ARM machines, each responsible for a couple of tasks. Most of my machines run Debian or something derived from Debian. Oh, and I'm a member of the declarative school of configuration management.

Propellor

Propellor caught my eye earlier this year. Unlike some other configuration management tools, it doesn't come with its own custom language but it is written in Haskell, which I am already familiar with. It's also fairly simple, declarative, and seems to do most of the handful of things that I need.

Propellor is essentially a Haskell application that you customize for your site. It works very similar to e.g. xmonad, where you write a bit of Haskell code for configuration which uses the upstream library code. When you run the application it takes your code and builds a binary from your code and the upstream libraries.

Each host on which Propellor is used keeps a clone of the site-local Propellor git repository in /usr/local/propellor. Every time propellor runs (either because of a manual "spin", or from a cronjob it can set up for you), it fetches updates from the main site-local git repository, compiles the Haskell application and runs it.

Setup

Propellor was surprisingly easy to set up. Running propellor creates a clone of the upstream repository under ~/.propellor with a README file and some example configuration. I copied config-simple.hs to config.hs, updated it to reflect one of my hosts and within a few minutes I had a basic working propellor setup.

You can use ./propellor <host> to trigger a run on a remote host.

At the moment I have propellor working for some basic things - having certain Debian packages installed, a specific network configuration, mail setup, basic Kerberos configuration and certain SSH options set. This took surprisingly little time to set up, and it's been great being able to take full advantage of Haskell.

Propellor comes with convenience functions for dealing with some commonly used packages, such as Apt, SSH and Postfix. For a lot of the other packages, you'll have to roll your own for now. I've written some extra code to make Propellor deal with Kerberos keytabs and Dovecot, which I hope to submit upstream.

I don't have a lot of experience with other Free Software configuration management tools such as Puppet and Chef, but for my use case Propellor works very well.

The main disadvantage of propellor for me so far is that it needs to build itself on each machine it runs on. This is fine for my workstation and high-end servers, but it is somewhat more problematic on e.g. my Raspberry Pi's. Compilation takes a while, and the Haskell compiler and libraries it needs amount to 500Mb worth of disk space on the tiny root partition.

In order to work with Propellor, some Haskell knowledge is required. The Haskell in the configuration file is reasonably easy to understand if you keep it simple, but once the compiler spits out error messages then I suspect you'll have a hard time without any Haskell knowledge.

Propellor relies on having a central repository with the configuration that it can pull from as root. Unlike Joey, I am wary of publishing the configuration of my home network and I don't have a highly available local git server setup.

Syndicated 2014-08-18 21:15:00 from Stationary Traveller

The state of distributed bug trackers

A whopping 5 years ago, LWN ran a story about distributed bug trackers. This was during the early waves of distributed version control adoption, and so everybody was looking for other things that could benefit from decentralization.

TL;DR: Not much has changed since.

The potential benefits of a distributed bug tracker are similar to those of a distributed version control system: ability to fork any arbitrary project, easier collaboration between related projects and offline access to full project data.

The article discussed a number of systems, including Bugs Everywhere, ScmBug, DisTract, DITrack, ticgit and ditz. The conclusion of our favorite grumpy editor at the time was that all of the available distributed bug trackers were still in their infancy.

All of these piggyback on a version control system somehow - either by reusing the VCS database, by storing their data along with the source code in the tree, or by adding custom hooks that communicate with a central server.

Only ScmBug had been somewhat widely deployed at the time, but its homepage gives me a blank page now. Of the trackers reviewed by LWN, Bugs Everywhere is the only one that is still around and somewhat active today.

In the years since the article, a handful of new trackers have come along. Two new version control systems - Veracity and Fossil - come with the kitchen sink included and so feature a built-in bug tracker and wiki.

There is an extension for Mercurial called Artemis that stores issues in an .issues directory that is colocated with the Mercurial repository.

The other new tracker that I could find (though it has also not changed since 2009) is SD. It uses its own distributed database technology for storing bug data - called Prophet, and doesn't rely on a VCS. One of the nice features is that it supports importing bugs from foreign trackers.

Some of these provide the benefits you would expect of a distributed bug tracker. Unfortunately, all those I've looked at fail to even provide the basic functionality I would want in a bug tracker. Moreso than with a version control system, regular users interact with a bug tracker. They report bugs, provide comments and feedback on fixes. All of the systems I tried make these actions a lot harder than with your average bugzilla or mantis instance - they provide a limited web UI or no web interface at all.

Syndicated 2013-11-10 18:23:00 from Stationary Traveller

Quantified Self

Dear lazyweb,

I've been reading about what the rest of the world seems to be calling "quantified self". In essence, it is tracking of personal data like activity, usually with the goal of data-driven decision making. Or to take a less abstract common example: counting the number of steps you take each day to motivate yourself to take more. I wish it'd been given a less annoying woolly name but this one seems to have stuck.

There are a couple of interesting devices available that track sleep, activity and overall health. Probably best known are the FitBit and the jazzed-up armband pedometers like the Jawbone UP and the Nike Fuelband. Unfortunately all existing devices seem to integrate with cloud services somehow, rather than giving the user direct access to their data. Apart from the usual privacy concerns, this means that it is hard to do your own data crunching or create a dashboard that contains data from multiple sources.

Has anybody found any devices that don't integrate with the cloud and just provide raw data access?

Syndicated 2013-11-10 01:05:00 from Stationary Traveller

Porcelain in Dulwich

"porcelain" is the term that is usually used in the Git world to refer to the user-facing parts. This is opposed to the lower layers: the plumbing.

For a long time, I have resisted the idea of including a porcelain layer in Dulwich. The main reason for this is that I don't consider Dulwich a full reimplementation of Git in Python. Rather, it's a library that Python tools can use to interact with local or remote Git repositories, without any extra dependencies.

dulwich has always shipped a 'dulwich' binary, but that's never been more than a basic test tool - never a proper tool for end users. It was a mistake to install it by default.

I don't think there's a point in providing a dulwich command-line tool that has the same behaviour as the C Git binary. It would just be slower and less mature. I haven't come across any situation where it didn't make sense to just directly use the plumbing.

However, Python programmers using Dulwich seem to think of Git operations in terms of porcelain rather than plumbing. Several convenience wrappers for Dulwich have sprung up, but none of them is very complete. So rather than relying on external modules, I've added a "porcelain" module to Dulwich in the porcelain branch, which provides a porcelain-like Python API for Git.

At the moment, it just implements a handful of commands but that should improve over the next few releases:

from dulwich import porcelain

r = porcelain.init("/path/to/repo")
porcelain.commit(r, "Create a commit")
porcelain.log(r)

Syndicated 2013-10-03 22:00:00 from Stationary Traveller

Book Review: Bazaar Version Control

Packt recently published a book on Version Control using Bazaar written by Janos Gyerik. I was curious what the book was like, and they kindly provided me with a digital copy.

The book is split into roughly five sections: an introduction to version control using Bazaar's main commands, an overview of the available workflows, some chapters on the available extensions and integration, some more advanced topics and finally, a quick introduction to programming using bzrlib.

It is assumed the reader has no pre-existing knowledge about version control systems. The first chapters introduce the reader to the concept of revision history, branching and merging and finally collaboration. All concepts are first discussed in theory, and then demonstrated using the Bazaar command-line UI and the bzr-explorer tool. The book follows roughly the same track as the official documentation, but it is more extensive and has more fancy drawings of revision graphs.

The middle section of the book discusses the modes in which Bazaar can be used - centralized or decentralized - as well as the various ways in which code can be landed in the main branch ("workflows"). The selection of workflows in the book is roughly the same as those in the official Bazaar documentation. The author briefly touches on a number of other software engineering topics such as code reviews, code formatting and automated testing, though not sufficiently to make it useful for people who are unfamiliar with these techniques. Both the official documentation and the book complicate things unnecessarily by listing every possible option.

The next chapter is a basic howto on the use of Bazaar with various hosting solutions, such as Launchpad, Redmine and Trac.

The Advanced Features chapter covers a wide range of obscure and less obscure features in Bazaar: uncommit, shelves, re-using working trees, lightweight checkouts, stacked branches, signing revisions and using e-mail hooks.

The chapter on foreign version control system integration is a more extensive version of the public docs. It has some factual inaccuracies; in particular, it recommends the installation of a 2 year old buggy version of bzr-git.

The last chapter provides quite a good introduction to the Bazaar APIs and plugin writing. It is a fair bit better than what is available publically.

Overall, it's not a bad book but also not a huge step forward from the official documentation. I might recommend it to people who are interested in learning Bazaar and who do not have any experience with version control yet. Those who are already familiar with Bazaar or another version control system will not find much new.

The book misses an opportunity by following the official documentation so closely. It has the same omissions and the same overemphasis on describing every possible feature. I had hoped to read more about Bazaar's data model, its file format and some of the common problems, such as parallel imports, format hell and slowness.

Syndicated 2013-09-28 17:33:00 from Stationary Traveller

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