Debarshi's den

The ways of the GNOME people

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This is a serious post. Or is it? 😉

Hidden away in the farthest corner of the planet, its slopes covered in mist and darkness and its peaks lost in the clouds, stands the formidable Mount GNOME. Perched atop the mountain is a castle as menacing as the mountain itself – its towering walls made of stones as cold as death, and the wind howling through the courtyard like a dozen witches screaming for blood.

Living inside the imposing blackness are a group of feral savages, of whom very little is known to the world outside. The deathly walls of the castle bear testimony to their skull-crushing barbarism, and their vile customs have laid waste to the surrounding slopes and valleys. Mortally fearful of invoking their mad wrath, no human traveller has dared to come near the vicinity of their territory. Shrouded in anonymity, they draw their name from the impregnable mountain that they inhabit – they are the GNOME people.

Legend has it that they are unlike any human settlement known to history. Some say that they are barely human. They are like a foul amorphous mass that glides around Mount GNOME, filling the air with their fiendish thoughts, and burning every leaf and blade of grass with their fierce hatred. Living in an inferno of collectivism, the slightest notion of individuality is met with the harshest of punishments. GNOMEies are cursed with eternal bondage to the evil spirits of the dark mountain.

Happy Easter!

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Written by Debarshi Ray

30 March, 2018 at 11:48

Posted in GNOME, Internet

Emojis in VTE

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It’s been one of those weeks when gnome-terminal and vte keep stumbling on some really weird edge cases, so it was a happy moment when I saw this on Fedora 27 Workstation.

Emoji rendered in gnome-terminal

Written by Debarshi Ray

5 March, 2018 at 16:28

Posted in Fedora, GNOME, GTK+, Terminal, VTE

GNOME Photos: an overview of thumbnailing

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From time to time, I find myself being asked about various details about how content is thumbnailed in GNOME Photos, and the reasons behind various implementation decisions. I can never remember all the details, and always have to dig through Git history and bug reports across multiple modules to come up with an answer. I am hoping that this brain dump will be more persistent than my memory, and more holistic than random comments here and there.

Feel free to read and comment, or you can also happily ignore it.

Background

Having accurate and quality thumbnails is absolutely crucial for Photos. The main user interface is a grid of thumbnails. By design, it tries hard not to expose the filesystem, which means that the user doesn’t have the path or directory hierarchy to complement the contents of the grid. In comparison, thumbnails can be optional in a file manager. Note how Files has settings to disable thumbnailing, and defaults to not thumbnailing remote content, but users can still go about interacting with their files.

Thumbnailing in GNOME is spread across GIO, GVfs, GnomeDesktopThumbnailFactory, and together they implement the Thumbnail Managing Standard. Usually, one uses GIO to lookup thumbnails from the cache and the state they are in, while GnomeDesktopThumbnailFactory is used to create and store the thumbnail files. These thumbnails are stored in the global thumbnail cache in $XDG_CACHE_HOME/thumbnails, and are often, but not necessarily, created by the thumbnailers listed under /usr/share/thumbnailers. This is how most components (eg., GTK+’s GtkFileChooserWidget), and applications (eg., Files and Videos) show thumbnails.

Then there are those “odd” ones that have their own custom setup.

Prior to version 3.24, Photos entirely relied on the global cache and the aforementioned GNOME APIs for its thumbnails. That changed in 3.24 when it switched to its own custom thumbnailer and application specific cache.

Requirements

Ever since editing was added in 3.20, we felt the need to ensure that the thumbnail represents the current state of each item. Being a non-destructive editor, Photos never modifies the original file but separately serializes the edits to disk. The image is rendered by loading the original file, deserializing the edits into objects in memory and running the pixels through them [1]. Therefore, to have the thumbnails accurately represent the current state of the item, it would have to do something similar. However, the edits are application-specific [2], so it is not reasonable to expect the generic OS-wide thumbnailers to be able to handle them.

I believe this is a requirement that all non-destructive image editors have [3]. Notable examples are Darktable and Shotwell.

Secondly, it is important to be able to create and lookup thumbnails of a specific size, as opposed to enumerated constants with pre-determined presets.

The standard specifies two sizes – normal, which is 128×128, and large, which is 256×256. I think this was alright in a world without HiPPI, and is also fine if the thumbnails are either too small or are not an existential necessity for the application. For a HiPPI display with a scaling factor of N, we want to make the thumbnail grid as visually appealing as possible by pumping in NxN times more pixels. Since Photos wants the thumbnails to be 256×256 logical pixels, they should be 256Nx256N raw device pixels on HiPPI. To make things complicated, the cache might get used across different scaling factors – either display or disk got switched, multi-monitor with different resolutions, etc..

Upscaling the low-resolution counterpart of a thumbnail by N is still passable, but it looks much worse if the thumbnail is significantly smaller. Although, I must note that this was the easiest hurdle to surmount. It originates from GIO’s desire to fallback to 128×128 thumbnails, even if the application asked for 256×256. This is pretty straightforward to fix, if necessary.

Last but not the least, I find it important to version the cache to tide over bugs in the thumbnailer. If the cache isn’t versioned, then it is difficult to discard thumbnails that might have been generated by a broken thumbnailer. Hopefully, such bugs would be rare enough that it won’t be necessary to invalidate the cache very often, but when they do happen, it is very reassuring to be able to bump the version, and be guaranteed that users won’t be looking at a broken user interface.

Solution

Starting from version 3.24, Photos uses its own out-of-process thumbnailer and cache [4]. The cache is at $XDG_CACHE_HOME/gnome-photos/thumbnails/$SIZE-$GENERATION, where SIZE is the thumbnail size in raw device pixels and GENERATION is the cache’s version. The main application talks to the thumbnailer over peer-to-peer D-Bus and a simple, cancellable private D-Bus API.

The thumbnailer isn’t separately sandboxed, though. It might be an interesting thing to look at for those who don’t use Flatpak, or to restrict it even more than the main application when running inside Flatpak’s sandbox.

Known bugs

Photos’ thumbnailing code can be traced back to its origins in GNOME Documents. They don’t persistently track thumbnailing failures, and will attempt to re-thumbnail an item that had previously failed when any metadata change is detected. In short, they don’t use G_FILE_ATTRIBUTE_THUMBNAILING_FAILED. The current behaviour might help to overcome a temporary glitch in the network, or it can be simply wasteful.

They predate the addition of G_FILE_ATTRIBUTE_THUMBNAIL_IS_VALID and don’t update the thumbnail once an item gets updated. This could have still been done using GnomeDesktopThumbnailFactory, but that’s water under the bridge, and should possibly be fixed. Although, images don’t tend to get updated so often, which is probably why nobody notices it.

Related to the above point, currently the modification time of the original doesn’t get stored in the thumbnail. It slipped through the cracks while I was reading the sources of the various modules involved in creating thumbnails in GNOME. However, a versioned cache makes it possible to fix it.

[1] If you are reading between the lines, then you might be thinking that it is serializing and deserializing GeglOperations, and you’d be right.

[2] GEGL might be a generic image processing library with its set of built-in operations, but for various reasons, an application can end up carrying its own custom operations.

[3] The idea of an application storing its edits separately from the original can strike as unusual, but this is how most modern image editors work.

[4] Both Darktable and Shotwell have similar thumbnailing infrastructure. You can read about them here and here respectively.

Written by Debarshi Ray

29 January, 2018 at 17:17

Posted in C, Fedora, Flatpak, GEGL, GNOME, GTK+, GVfs, Photos

Image wrangling with GEGL: an introduction

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One of the core dependencies of GNOME Photos, other than GTK+ and Tracker, is a library called GEGL. It is a GObject-based image processing library primarily developed for GIMP. GEGL is used by Photos to load pixels from files, create thumbnails, edit, share and export images.

Unfortunately, even though GEGL is a powerful and generic image processing framework, it can be hard to find documentation and code samples to refer to, and the pool of people who understand it well enough is relatively small. I am going to do a series of blog posts to address this by feeding the search engines. Hopefully this will be useful for new contributors to GIMP and GNOME Photos, and some of it can be folded back into the reference GEGL documentation; or maybe it will encourage adoption in new and interesting places.

Nodes and operations

Processing images with GEGL requires the creation of a graph, represented by a GeglNode. A GeglNode can either have a number of child nodes connected to each other forming a directed acyclic graph, or it can have a GeglOperation. An operation is where the actual image processing takes place. Multiple operations are chained together in a graph to obtain the desired outcome.

This is enough to get started with some basic effects and enhancements. Here is a snippet that takes a path to an input image, enhances the blacks and saves it as a PNG.

  #include <gegl.h>
  …
  g_autoptr (GeglNode) graph = NULL;
  GeglNode *exposure;
  GeglNode *load;
  GeglNode *sink;

  graph = gegl_node_new ();
  load = gegl_node_new_child (graph,
                              "operation", "gegl:load",
                              "path", /* input path as C string */,
                              NULL);
  exposure = gegl_node_new_child (graph,
                                  "operation", "gegl:exposure",
                                  "black-level", 0.03,
                                  NULL);
  sink = gegl_node_new_child (graph,
                              "operation", "gegl:png-save",
                              "bitdepth", 8,
                              "path", /* output path as C string */,
                              NULL);

  gegl_node_link_many (load, exposure, sink, NULL);
  gegl_node_process (sink);

Notice the many similarities with GStreamer.

There is a whole list of such filters to choose from. Such as gegl:cartoon to simulate a cartoon drawn with a black felt pen, gegl:mosaic to transform an image into a mosaic, gegl:saturation to change the colourfulness of the image, or gegl:posterize, which is used by the similarly named tool in GIMP.

example-00

Buffers

Image pixels are held in a GeglBuffer. Most applications would directly interact with a GeglBuffer at one point or the other. For example, to decode an image file and carry the pixels around instead of repeatedly decoding them off the storage. In the above code sample, the buffers were implicitly created by GEGL unbeknownst to us, but we can use a similar graph to load pixels off a file into a GeglBuffer.

  #include <gegl.h>
  …
  g_autoptr (GeglBuffer) buffer = NULL;
  g_autoptr (GeglNode) graph = NULL;
  GeglNode *load;
  GeglNode *sink;

  graph = gegl_node_new ();
  load = gegl_node_new_child (graph,
                              "operation", "gegl:load",
                              "path", /* input path as C string */,
                              NULL);
  sink = gegl_node_new_child (graph,
                              "operation", "gegl:buffer-sink",
                              "buffer", &buffer,
                              NULL);

  gegl_node_link_many (load, sink, NULL);
  gegl_node_process (sink);

A loaded buffer can be then fed into a graph using a gegl:buffer-source.

As the custodian of pixels, GeglBuffer is similar to the role played by GdkPixbuf, but it has some extra features that are handy for image processing.

Most notably, a GeglBuffer is designed to handle massive images that are larger than the amount of physical RAM available on the system. Instead of holding all the pixels in a linear sequence of bytes, it splits them up into small tiles that can be paged out into a file when not in use. However, if necessary, it is possible to optionally dumb down a GeglBuffer by setting it up to use a single array of bytes, or forcing all tiles to be held in RAM.

A GeglBuffer is not restricted to a single pixel format such as RGB with 8 bits per channel. It can transparently handle a horde of formats — monochrome, Lab, HSL, etc. with different degrees of precision per channel. Finally, it is mipmap-capable.

All these features make GeglBuffer a very sophisticated data structure for storing image pixels. However, they aren’t that important for an introduction to GEGL, so we will save them for a future article.

Happy hacking

This is enough to start playing with GEGL. Here is the code used to create the above image, and is proof that knowing just this much is enough to do practically useful things.

Written by Debarshi Ray

20 November, 2017 at 13:30

Posted in C, GEGL, GIMP, GNOME, Photography, Photos

Fedora meets RHEL

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As we enter the final freeze before the Fedora 27 Workstation release, I’d like to highlight a new feature that will hopefully make Fedora more attractive for developers. Last month, I had written about our experiments to make it easier to consume gratis, self-supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux installations from Fedora Workstation. I am happy to report that this is now a reality.

gnome-boxes-new-source-selection-rhel

Starting from Fedora 27 Workstation, you’ll be able to install an infinite number of RHEL 7.x VMs right from inside GNOME Boxes. All you need is an account on developers.redhat.com, and it will automatically set up a RHEL virtual machine that’s entitled to the RHEL Developer Suite subscription.

gnome-boxes-new-source-selection-rhel-01

Thanks to Felipe Borges for a seemingly endless round of patch reviews, and Fabiano and Victor for occasionally lending us their brain.

Written by Debarshi Ray

20 October, 2017 at 16:36

Stable GNOME Photos Flatpaks moved to Flathub

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Starting from version 3.26, the stable GNOME Photos Flatpaks have been moved to Flathub. They are no longer available from GNOME’s Flatpak repository.

To migrate, first delete the old build:

$ flatpak uninstall org.gnome.Photos/x86_64/stable

Then install it from Flathub:

$ flatpak remote-add --from flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo
$ flatpak install flathub org.gnome.Photos

Note that this is only about the stable build. The nightly continues to be available from its existing location in GNOME’s repository. You can keep updating it with:

$ flatpak update --user org.gnome.Photos/x86_64/master

Written by Debarshi Ray

10 October, 2017 at 16:20

Posted in Flatpak, GNOME, Photos

Downloading RHEL 7 ISOs for free

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A year and a half ago, frighteningly close to 1st April, Red Hat announced the availability of a gratis, self-supported, developer-only subscription for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and a series of other products. Simply put, if you went to developers.redhat.com, created an account and clicked a few buttons, you could download a RHEL ISO without paying anything to anybody. For the past few months, I have been investigating whether we can leverage this to do something exciting in Fedora Workstation. Particularly for those who might be building applications on Fedora that would eventually be deployed on RHEL.

While trying to figure out how the developers.redhat.com website and its associated infrastructure works, I discovered that its source code is actually available on GitHub. Sadly, my ineptitude with server-side applications and things like JBoss, Ruby, etc. meant that it wasn’t enough for me to write code that could interface with it. Luckily, the developers were kind enough to answer my questions, and now I know enough to write a C program that can download a free RHEL ISO.

The code is here: download-rhel.c.

I’ll leave it here in the hope that some unknown Internet traveller might find it useful. As for Fedora Workstation, I’ll let you know if we manage to come up with something concrete. 😉

Written by Debarshi Ray

14 September, 2017 at 14:34