Monday, July 16, 2018

GUADEC 2018 Almería

I recently attended the recent GNOME Users and Developers European Conference (GUADEC) in Almería, Spain. This was my fifth GUADEC and as always I was able to attend thanks to my employer Canonical paying for me to be there. This year we had seven members of the Ubuntu desktop team present. Almería was a beautiful location for the conference and a good trade for the winter weather I left on the opposite side of the world in New Zealand.

This was the second GUADEC since the Ubuntu desktop switched back to shipping GNOME and it’s been great to be back. I was really impressed how positive and co-operative everyone was; the community seems to be in a really healthy shape. The icing on the cake is the anonymous million dollar donation the foundation has received which they announced will be used to hire some staff.

The first talk of the week was from my teammates Ken VanDine, Didier Roche and Marco Treviño who talked about how we’d done the transition from Unity to GNOME in Ubuntu desktop. I was successful in getting an open talk slot and did a short talk about the state of Snap integration into GNOME. I talked about the work I’d done making snapd-glib and the Snap plugin in GNOME Software. I also touched on some of the work James Henstridge has been working on making Snaps work with portals. It was quite fun to see James be a bit of a celebrity after a long period of not being at a GUADEC - he is the JH in JHBuild!

After the first three days of talks the remaining three days are set for Birds of a Feather sessions where we get together in groups around a particular topic and discuss and hack on that. I organised a session on settings which turned out to be surprisingly popular! It was great to see everyone that I work with online in-person and allowed us to better understand each other. In particular I caught up with Georges Stavracas who has been very patient in reviewing the many patches I have been working on in GNOME Control Center.

I hope to see everyone again next year!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Setting up Continuous Integration on

Simple Scan recently migrated to the new infrastructure. With modern infrastructure I now have the opportunity to enable Continuous Integration (CI), which is a fancy name for automatically building and testing your software when you make changes (and it can do more than that too).

I've used CI in many projects in the past, and it's a really handy tool. However, I've never had to set it up myself and when I've looked it's been non-trivial to do so. The great news is this is really easy to do in GitLab!

There's lots of good documentation on how to set it up, but to save you some time I'll show how I set it up for Simple Scan, which is a fairly typical GNOME application.

To configure CI you need to create a file called .gitlab-ci.yml in your git repository. I started with the following:

  image: ubuntu:rolling
    - apt-get update
    - apt-get install -q -y --no-install-recommends meson valac gcc gettext itstool libgtk-3-dev libgusb-dev libcolord-dev libpackagekit-glib2-dev libwebp-dev libsane-dev
    - meson _build
    - ninja -C _build install

The first line is the name of the job - "build_ubuntu". This is going to define how we build Simple Scan on Ubuntu.

The "image" is the name of a Docker image to build with. You can see all the available images on Docker Hub. In my case I chose an official Ubuntu image and used the "rolling" link which uses the most recently released Ubuntu version.

The "before_script" defines how to set up the system before building. Here I just install the packages I need to build simple-scan.

Finally the "script" is what is run to build Simple Scan. This is just what you'd do from the command line.

And with that, every time a change is made to the git repository Simple Scan is built on Ubuntu and tells me if that succeeded or not! To make things more visible I added the following to the top of the

[![Build Status](](

This gives the following image that shows the status of the build:

pipeline status

And because there's many more consumers of Simple Scan that just Ubuntu, I added the following to.gitlab-ci.yml:

  image: fedora:latest
    - dnf install -y meson vala gettext itstool gtk3-devel libgusb-devel colord-devel PackageKit-glib-devel libwebp-devel sane-backends-devel
    - meson _build
    - ninja -C _build install

Now it builds on both Ubuntu and Fedora with every commit!

I hope this helps you getting started with CI and Happy hacking.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Retiring my Ubuntu Phone after 1000 days

With some sadness I recently replaced my Ubuntu Phone with a Nexus 5. It lasted me just over 1000 days (almost three years) as my everyday phone, and I last wrote about it at the 500 mark.

Even though this is the end for me and Ubuntu Phone the hope of a true open source phone platform continues on:
  • The Ubuntu Phone project lives on ubports.
  • As I put my Ubuntu phone to rest the Purism Librem 5 project was funded with over $2 million!
I wish both these projects all the best.

My thoughts on my time with Ubuntu Phone:
  • It worked!
  • While the hardware (Meizu MX4) was reasonable hardware, it would have been nice to see it on something newer/faster and have gone through some more iterations on software performance.
  • The apps I missed most were:
    • An app for my bank and network provider (that I could use to quickly check balances).
    • Communication apps (e.g. Facebook messenger, WhatsApp)
    • Uber
  • I used a reasonable amount of webapps, which mostly filled the gap where apps weren't available. I does appear that most companies put more effort into their mobile apps than mobile web.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Snappy Sprint - London June 2017

I recently attended a Snappy Sprint in London, UK. As well as the Canonical people attending (including me) with experience in the whole Snappy stack (Snapcraft, the Snap store, snapd, snapd-glib) we had great representation from the Elementary, Fedora, GNOME, MATE and KDE communities. My goal was to help improve the Snap experience for desktop apps both on Ubuntu and other distributions.

We spent a lot of time working on improving snap metadata for use with desktop apps. Improvements included:
  • Exposing the title field from the store down to clients.
  • A plan to get standard license information (using SPDX) attached to snaps.
  • We made progress on a solution for projects that use AppStream to be able to easily build snaps and provide some AppStream data that doesn't fit the Snap metadata model to pass through to clients.
  • Fixing of many small issues in GNOME Software so it is suitable to work in Fedora and other distributions.
  • Plans for a tool that allows graphical configuration of snap interfaces.
  • A plan to solve the limitation on desktop clients able to install / remove snaps without a store login.
  • Discussions around metadata translations.
I helped the MATE Software Boutique and KDE Discover developers make use of snapd-glib using GIR bindings in Python and the Qt bindings to make their stores work. It was great to see snapd-glib working in these different use cases and got back some great feedback and a few patches.

Thanks to all the community for attending, I found it very productive to work in-person with them all. If you're interested in following Snappy development check out the Snapcraft Forum where you'll find discussions about what I've described above and much more.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Back to GNOME

With recent changes in Ubuntu I found myself suddenly swung back into the GNOME orbit. It’s been a long journey and my GNOME contributions had reduced over time but it’s good to be back! Iain has written an excellent post about the challenges we face trying to balance the best possible experience for Ubuntu users while also having a mutually beneficial relationship with our upstreams.

After missing the last five GUADECs, I will be at Manchester this year. I hope to catch up with as many people as possible including many old friends I haven’t seen in person for quite some time. If you have any questions about Ubuntu please find me or others from our team, we’re excited to collaborate.

I’ll be spending a lot of my time this development cycle working on GNOME Software particularly around snap support. We’re already delivered some good changes to upstream GNOME like reviews and paid application support. GNOME Software has changed from being a stop-gap solution in Ubuntu to being our permanent software management solution (and has been working really well for us).

It is with some sadness that I say goodbye to the Unity desktop. In particular some things I will miss:
  • The performance and stability of Unity. After some early teething troubles Unity was rock solid and reliable.
  • Fullscreen window management. Unity was super efficient at making use of screen space and reducing distraction. I hope we can get a similar solution into GNOME Shell .
  • Convervenge. While we weren’t able to make a commercial success of it in Ubuntu I hope it will return in the future when the time is right.
  • The development experience of Ubuntu phone and clicks. I hope we can get that experience (and better) soon as next generation packaging systems start to take over. Luckily the click packages I worked on for the phone are being taken over by others in the community (as is the whole Unity 8 project). So I wish these projects success in the future.
  • Unfortunately we have decided it’s not possible to continue to use LightDM in the default Ubuntu install. This project has had wide support amongst many distributions and has a number of features that I will miss.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Introducing snapd-glib

World, meet snapd-glib. It's a new library that makes it easy for GLib based projects (e.g. software centres) to access the daemon that allows you to query, install and remove Snaps. If C is not for you, you can use all the functionality in Python (using GObject Introspection) and Vala. In the future it will support Qt/QML through a wrapper library.

snapd uses a REST API and snapd-glib very closely matches that. The behaviour is best understood by reading the documentation of that API. To give you a taste of how it works, here's an example that shows how to find and install the VLC snap.

Step 1: Connecting to snapd

The connection to snapd is controlled through the SnapdClient object. This object has all the methods required to communicate with snapd. Create and connect with:

    g_autoptr(SnapdClient) c = snapd_client_new ();
    if (!snapd_client_connect_sync (c, NULL, &error))
        // Something went wrong

Step 2: Find the VLC snap 

Asking snapd to perform a find causes it to contact the remote Snap store. This can take some time so consider using an asynchronous call for this. This is the synchronous version:

    g_autoptr(GPtrArray) snaps =
        snapd_client_find_sync (c,
                                SNAPD_FIND_FLAGS_NONE, "vlc",
                                NULL, NULL, &error);
    if (snaps == NULL)
        // Something went wrong
    for (int i = 0; i < snaps->len; i++) {
        SnapdSnap *snap = snaps->pdata[i];
        // Do something with this snap information

Step 3: Authenticate 

Some methods require authorisation in the form of a Macaroon (the link is quite complex but in practise it's just a couple of strings). To get a Macaroon you need to provide credentials to snapd. In Ubuntu this is your Ubuntu account, but different snapd installations may use another authentication provider.

Convert credentials to authorization with:

    g_autoptr(SnapdAuthData) auth_data =
        snapd_login_sync (email, password, code,
                          NULL, &error);
    if (auth_data == NULL)
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    snapd_client_set_auth_data (c, auth_data)

Once you have a Macaroon you can store it somewhere and re-use it next time you need it. Then the authorization can be created with:

    g_autoptr(SnapdAuthData) auth_data =
        snapd_auth_data_new (macaroon, discharges);
    snapd_client_set_auth_data (c, auth_data);

Step 4: Install VLC 

In step 2 we could determine the VLC snap has the name "vlc". Since this involves downloading ~100Mb and is going to take some time the asynchronous method is used. There is a callback that gives updates on the progress of the install and one that is called when the operation completes:
    snapd_client_install_async (c,
                                "vlc", NULL,
                                progress_cb, NULL,
                                install_cb, NULL);

static void
progress_cb (SnapdClient *client,

             SnapdTask *main_task, GPtrArray *tasks,
             gpointer user_data)

    // Tell the user what's happening

static void
install_cb (GObject *object, GAsyncResult *result,

            gpointer user_data)
    g_autoptr(GError) error = NULL;

    if (snapd_client_install_finish (SNAPD_CLIENT (object),

                                     result, &error))
        // It installed!
        // Something went wrong...


With snapd-glib and the above code as a starting point you should be able to start integrating Snap support into your project. Have fun!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Developing for Ubuntu Phone without the SDK

I'm not a fan of IDEs. So when developing apps for Ubuntu Phone, I went looking for a way of doing everything from the command line. I'll describe the method I'm currently using to do this. It's pretty rough and there are probably better ways of doing this, but it does work!

For an example, I've make a small application that:
  • Has some C++ code
  • Has some QML code
  • Uses gettext for translations
I need to do the following things:
  • Extract translatable strings from source files and merge in translations
  • Cross-compile for the target device (ARM CPU) from my laptop (AMD64 CPU)
  • Create a click package
  • Deploy the click package to my phone for testing
I'm using make for the build system. It's pretty basic, but it's fairly easy to understand what it does.

The project

My example project has the following files:

If you've done some Ubuntu phone apps hopefully these should be familiar.


To make my app translatable to other languages (French and German in this example) I've used gettext:
  • The .desktop file needs translations added to it. This is done by using and prefixing the fields that need translating with '_' (e.g. _Name). These are then combined with the translations to make hello.desktop.
  • In the .qml files translatable strings are marked with ("text to translate").
  • The compiled message catalogues (.mo files) need to be in the click package as share/locale/(language)/(appid).mo.
Gettext / intltool are somewhat scary to use, but here's the magic rules that work for me:

hello.desktop: po/*.po
    intltool-merge --desktop-style po $< $@

po/hello.robert-ancell.pot: main.qml
    xgettext --from-code=UTF-8 --language=JavaScript --keyword=tr --keyword=tr:1,2 --add-comments=TRANSLATORS main.qml -o po/hello.robert-ancell.pot
    intltool-extract --type=gettext/keys
    xgettext --keyword=N_ -j -o po/hello.robert-ancell.pot
    rm -f

share/locale/%/LC_MESSAGES/ po/%.po
    msgfmt -o $@ $<

Cross-compiling for the target device

To compile our package I need to make a chroot:

$ sudo click chroot -a armhf -f ubuntu-sdk-15.04 create

The following Makefile rule runs make inside this chroot, then packages the results into a click file:

        click chroot -a armhf -f ubuntu-sdk-15.04 run ARCH_PREFIX=arm-linux-gnueabihf- make
        click build --ignore=Makefile --ignore=*.cpp --ignore=*.h --ignore=*.pot --ignore=*.po --ignore=*.in --ignore=po .

Note the ARCH_PREFIX variable in the above. I've used this to run the correct cross-compiler when inside the chroot. When compiling from my laptop this variable is not set so it uses the local compiler.

hello_moc.cpp: hello.h
    moc $< -o $@

hello: hello.cpp hello_moc.cpp
    $(ARCH_PREFIX)g++ -g -Wall -std=c++11 -fPIC $^ -o $@ `$(ARCH_PREFIX)pkg-config --cflags --libs Qt5Widgets Qt5Quick`

Running 'make click' in this project will spit out


I connect my phone with a USB cable and copy the click package over and install it locally:

$ adb push /tmp/
$ phablet-shell
$ pkcon install-local --allow-untrusted /tmp/

Then on the phone I quit any instances of this app running, refresh the app scope (pull down at the top) and run my test version.


Just one more rule to add to the Makefile, then it all works:

all: hello \
     hello.desktop \
     po/hello.robert-ancell.pot \
     share/locale/de/LC_MESSAGES/ \

The whole example is available in Launchpad:

$ bzr branch lp:~robert-ancell/+junk/hello-example

Happy hacking!