This article is not an how to or explaining anything, I just wanted to share how I spend my current free time. It's obviously OpenBSD related.
When updating or making new packages, it's important to get the dependencies right, at least for the compilation dependencies it's not hard because you know it's fine once the building process can run entirely, but at run time you may have surprises and discover lacking dependencies.
What's a dependency? §
Software are made of written text called source code (or code to make it simpler), but to avoid wasting time (because writing code is hard enough already) some people write libraries which are pieces of code made in the purpose of being used by other programs (through fellow developers) to save everyone's time and efforts.
A library can propose graphics manipulation, time and date functions, sound decoding etc... and the software we are using rely on A LOT of extra code that comes from other piece of code we have to ship separately. Those are dependencies.
There are dependencies required for building a program, they are used to manipulate the source code to transform it into machine readable code, or for organizing the building process to ease the development and so on and there are libraries dependencies which are required for the software to run. The simplest one to understand would be the library to access the audio system of your operating system for an audio player.
And finally, we have run time dependencies which can be found upon loading a software or within its use. They may not be well documented in the project so we can't really know they are required until we try to use some feature of the software and it crashes / errors because of something missing. This could be a program that would call an extra program to delegate the resizing of a picture.
What's up? §
In order to spot these run time dependencies, I've started to use an old laptop (a thinkpad T400 that I absolutely love) with a clean OpenBSD installation, lot of local packages on my network (see it later) and a very clean X environment.
The point of this computer is to clean every package, install only one I need to try (pulling the dependencies that come with it) and see if it works under the minimal conditions. They should work with no issue if the packages are correctly done.
Once I'm satisfied with the test process, I will clean every packages on the system and try another one.
Sometimes, as we have many many packages installed, it happens we have a run time dependency installed by that is not declared in the software package we are working on, and we don't see the failure as the requirement is provided by some other package. By using a clean environment to check every single program separately, I remove the "other packages" that could provide a requirement.
When I work on packages I often need to compile many of them, and it takes time, a lot of time, and my laptop usually make a lot of noise and is hot and slow to do something else, it's not very practical. I'm going to setup a dedicated building machine that I will power on when I'll work on ports, and it will be hidden in some isolated corner at home building packages when I need it. That machine is a bit more powerful and will prevent my laptop to be unusable for some time.
This machine in combination with the laptop are a great combination to make quick changes and test how it goes. The laptop will pull packages directly from the building machine, and things could be fixed on the building machine quite fast.
The end §
Contributing to packages is an endless work, making good packages is hard work and requires tests. I'm not really good at doing packages but I want to improve myself in that field and also improve the way we can test packages are working. With these new development environments I hope I will be able to contribute a bit more to the quality of the futures OpenBSD releases.