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The myth of the perfectionist QA

There is a bad trend going on that seems to purport Gentoo’s QA (which for the past couple of years has meant mostly me alone), as a perfectionist hindering getting stuff done — and I call all of this utter bull feces. It’s probably telling that the people who seem to then expect that every single issue has an explicit written rule, with no leeway for different situations.

So let me give you some insights so that you can actually get a realistic clue of what’s going on. Rich is complaining that I made it a task of mine to make sure that the software in Portage don’t use bundled libraries; for some reasons, he seems to assume that I have no clue on how cumbersome it is to deal with said bundled libraries, and he couldn’t be more wrong. You know what my first bundled libraries project? xine. And it took me quite a long time to get rid of (almost all) the bundled libraries; even more so because many of said libraries were more or less heavily modified internally. Was it worth it? Totally. It actually made the xine package much more reliable to security issues (and there had been quite a few), as well as solving a number of other issues, including the most infamous problem with the symbols’ collisions between the system’s libfaad (brought in by ffmpeg) and the internal copy of it.

So, I know it’s a lot of work, and I know it’s not always a task for the faint of heart, and most of the times there is no immediate improvement by fixing those. Why am I insisting on it as a point of policy? Because we have quite a few examples with software being bundled for which vulnerabilities were found and could be leveraged by an attacker, especially for what concern zlib and software that either downloads or receives compressed content over the network.

So from what Rich wrote, we’re trying to hinder getting stuff in tree by refusing it if it bundles libraries. That’s so much of a lie that it’s not even funny. We have had packages entering the tree with bundled libraries, and I’m pretty sure there still is a ton of it. Heck, do you remember what I wrote about Blender just last month? Blender has a number of bundled libraries, and yet it’s in tree, I maintain it, and it’s going stable from time to time.

What is important in that scene? That I’m trying to get rid of said libraries. The same applies to Chromium and most other packages that have a ton of bundled libraries; most packages are responsible enough, and generally know enough about the package that they can work on getting rid of said libraries, if that’s feasible at all — in the case of Chromium it’s an extremely difficult task I’m sure, mostly because upstream does not care the least, and that was clear at last VDD when we were discussing the patches applied over ffmpeg/libav.

So let’s get into the specific details for the complains, as Rich’s “just an example” is not an example of what happens at all. There is a server software written by Logitech for their SqueezeBox devices, that is now called logitechmediaserver-bin in Gentoo. Said package has been known to be a bundled for years — Logitech is bundling a large set of CPAN modules with it, as it seems like the bulk of the code is written in Perl or something like that. I’ve known it at quite a few versions to bundle a CPAN module that, in turn, bundled an old copy of zlib, one that is vulnerable to a few different issues. Right now, it’s not only bundling a bunch of modules, but I found out that it installs a number of files for architectures that are completely incompatible with your system (i.e. a PowerPC binary on amd64). This bothered me quite a lot more. Why? Because it means that the (proxy) maintainer is not discriminating at all, and just installing whatever the upstream package comes with. Guess what? That’s not a good way to package the software.

When the proxy maintainer is not doing stuff that gets even nearby the quality level of most of the rest of the tree, and the Gentoo developer who should be proxying him ignoring the problems, things are messy enough. But it gets worse when you get a person known for bad patches sold as fixes from over three years ago, who still expect to be able to call the shots.

If you see bug #251494 he’s actually suggesting marking the package stable because it’s not going to run with the current unstable Perl which is a completely backward reason (if it can’t work with the latest Perl, it means that it hasn’t been tested in testing for a long time), and is going to create more trouble later on (the moment when the new Perl goes stable, we have a known broken, unfixable package in stable). But he’s Daniel Robbins, and some people expect that that’s enough for him to be right — if that was the case, I suppose he’d still be the Gentoo Linux lead, and not just of a wannabe project.

Anyway, here’s the deal: QA policies are more like a guideline, in general. On the other hand, there is no reason why we should be forced to mark things stable if they do not follow the common QA policies — especially for proprietary software, and software requiring particular hardware, marking things stable is not that great an idea, as they tend to be orphaned quite easily if a single developer retires. We already have quite enough packages stable in x86, ppc and sparc that are not really able to run, because they were always broken, but has been stabled in ancient times. Sometimes, we even have packages keyworded that cannot be used on a given arch, but they do build, and the failure would only happen at runtime, so they have been, again in ancient times, keyworded.

Maybe this is what people who want to follow Daniel expect: coming back to the “it builds, ship it!” mentality that made Gentoo a joke in the eyes of almost everybody at the time. For sure, it’s not what I want, and I don’t think it’s what the users as a whole group want or need.

Comments 1
  1. wrt logitechmediaserver-bin, this particular software has recently been discontinued upstream.…They claim to support it with maintenance fixes but don’t hold your breath, it is logitech speaking. So unbundling libs would from now on be the only development going on with this package, otherwise I guess it will soon be impossible to support. Having two squeezeboxes myself, I’m pretty pissed off. ty logitech…

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