There’s something about Webmin

So a week or so ago I masked Webmin, because it dinged a lot on my tinderbox and I decided to take a look at it. The ChangeLog shows a very bleak story: webmin hasn’t had a dedicated maintainer since March 2008; that’s two and a half years ago; the last five versions were bumped by Patrick (who, if you should be reminded, rarely picks up the pieces of what he might break); last October, Victor “fixed” a bunch of sandbox violations in the 1.490 version.

Given the hits on the tinderbox and the above-noted history; I decided to mask it until somebody actually stepped up to maintain it; this was also positively acknowledged by the security team: having a package with the security issue of Webmin lacking a dedicated maintainer is calling for trouble.

Since then I received a long list of email messages of users using Webmin, either in production or for local environments, wondering why I masked it and insisting that it is in its design to access files owned by other packages anyway. I guess I’ll have to rephrase the masking reason given that, that wasn’t what I meant.

It is a common, enforced policy in Gentoo that all the packages are self-contained, and mess the least possible with the running system as they can, so that if you just emerge MySQL, it won’t start up right away, or even at the next reboot; this is one thing that put Gentoo drastically in contrast with most other distributions. And what a lot of people, me included, love the most.

If there are commands to execute to properly setup the package before making use of it, we have the special pkg_config() function that can be called through emerge --config — there aren’t many packages doing that though.

Instead, webmin-1.510.ebuild goes the totally wrong way: it tries to second-guess the user’s setup; it runs the setup step of Webmin directly within src_install() which should be protected by the sandbox; but Victor’s “fixes” actually simply allowed the ebuild to access what it shouldn’t be, not at that state at least: real devices, kernel modules, and the cron configuration.

How did I notice that? Very simple, actually: the tinderbox, just like my own system, uses fcron as cron daemon. The fcron configuration file is not predicted within the ebuild, so it still triggered sandbox violation, and caused my tinderbox to start screaming at me like my mother when I come back at 6am .

Now, if that was the only problem it wouldn’t be much; but the ebuild also fail to actually provide a decent/stable PAM configuration, and a lot of the shell code in the ebuild file is just… icky.

What can be done to save webmin? Well, more than certainly it needs a new maintainer, one who does a lot more than copying a file and running cvs add on it. The new maintainer will have to rewrite most of the ebuild, implement the good parts of it as pkg_config and make sure that it respects the user’s settings.

For most other packages, like I did for Ruby packages, I would have said that I’m happy to be hired to take care of the problematic package, with a reasonable fee to keep maintaining it from then on. But given it’s Webmin we’re talking about.. I’m not sure if I’m ready to pick it up. If somebody else actually uses it, and feels like maintaining it, it’d be best. I’m still open to be the proxying maintainer if somebody feels like pick up the pieces of it all, but wants to have somebody else reviewing the ebuild before it get pushed to users.