Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My journey to Rust

As most folks who know me already know, I've been in love with Rust language for a few years now and in the last year I've been actively coding in Rust. I wanted to document my journey to how I came to love this programming language, in hope that it will help people to see the value Rust brings to the world of software but if not, it would be nice to have my reason documented for my own sake.

When I started my professional career as a programmer 16 years ago, I knew some C, C++, Java and a bit of x86 assembly but it didn't take long before I completely forgot most of what I knew of C++ and Java, and completely focused on C. There were a few difference reasons that contributed to that:
  • Working with very limited embedded systems (I'm talking 8051) at that time, I quickly became obsessed with performance and C was my best bet if I didn't want to write all my code in assembly.
  • Shortly before I graduated, I got involved in GStreamer project and became a fan of GNOME and Gtk+, all of which at that time was in C. Talking to developers of these projects (who at that time seemed like gods), I learnt how C++ is a bad language and why they write everything in C instead.
  • An year after graduation, I developed a network traffic shaping solution and the core of it was a Linux kernel module, which as you know is almost always done in C. Some years later, I also wrote some device drivers for Linux.
The more C code I wrote over the years, the more I developed this love/hate relationship with it. I just loved the control C gave me but hated the huge responsibility it came with. With experience, I became good at avoiding common mistakes in C, but nobody is perfect and if you can make a mistake, you eventually will. Another reason C didn't seem perfect to me was the lack of high-level constructs in the language itself. Copy&pasting boilerplate to write simple GObjects is nothing most people enjoy. You end up avoiding to organise your code in the best way to spare yourself the trouble of having to write GObjects.

So I've been passively and sometimes actively seeking a better programming language for more than a decade now. I got excited about a few different ones over the years but there was always something very essential missing. The first language I got into was Lisp/Scheme (more specifically Guile) but the lack of type declarations soon started to annoy me a lot. I felt the same after then about all scripting languages, e.g Python. Don't get me wrong, python is a pretty awesome language for specific uses (e.g writing tests, simple apps, quick prototyping etc) but with lack of type declarations, any project larger than 1000 LOCs can quickly become hard to maintain (at least it did for me).

Because of my love for strong-typing, C# and Java did attract me too briefly. Not having to care about memory management in most cases, not only helps developers focus on the actual problems they are solving, it indirectly allows them to avoid making very expensive mistakes with memory management. However, if developer is not managing the memory, it's the machine doing it and in case of these languages, it does that at run time and not compile time. As a C developer and a big hater of waste in general, that is very hard to be convinced of as a good idea.

There was another big problem all these high-level languages: you can't nicely glue them with the C world. Sure you can use libraries written in C from them but the other way around is not a viable option (even if possible). That's why you'll find GNOME apps written in all these languages but you will not find any libraries written in them.

Along came Vala


So along came Vala, which offered features that at that time (2007-2008) were the most important to me:
  • It is a strongly-typed language.
  • It manages the memory for you in most cases but without any run time costs.
  • It's high-level language so you avoid a lot of boilerplate.
  • GNOME was and still is the main target platform of Vala.
  • It compiled to C, so you can write libraries in it and use them from C code as if they were written in C. Because of GObject-introspection, this also means you can use them from other languages too.
Those who know me, will agree that I was die-hard (I'm writing this on Christmas day so that reference was mandatory I guess) fan of Vala for a while. I wrote two projects in Vala and given what I knew then I think it was the right decision. Some people will be quick to point out specific technical issues with Vala but I think those could have been helped. There two other reasons, I ultimately gave up on Vala. The first one was that the general interest in it started to decline after Nokia stopped funding projects using Vala and so did its development.

 

Hello Rust


But the main reason for giving up was that I saw something better finally becoming a viable option (1.0 release) and gaining adoption in many communities, including GNOME. While Vala had many good qualities I mentioned above, Rust offered even more:
  • Firstly the success of Rust is not entirely dependent on one very specific project or a tiny group of people, even if until now most of the development has been from one company. Ever month, you hear of more communities and companies starting to depend on Rust and that ensure it's success even if Mozilla was to go down (not that I think it's likely) or stopped working on it. i-e "it's too big to fail". If we compare to Vala, the community is a lot bigger. There are conferences and events happening around the world that are entirely focused on Rust and there are books written on Rust. Vala never came anywhere remotely close to that level of popularity.

    When I would mention Vala in job interviews, interviewers would typically have no idea what I'm talking about but when I mention Rust, the typical response is "Oh yes we are interested in trying that out in our company".
  • While Vala is already a safer language than C & C++, you still have null-pointer dereferencing and some other unsafe possibilities. Safety being one of the main focus of the language design, Rust will not allow you to build unsafe code, unless you mark it as such and even then, your possibilities of messing up are limited. Marking unsafe code as such, makes it much easier to find the source of any issues you might have. More over, you usually only write unsafe code to interface with the unsafe C world.

    This is a very important point in my opinion. I really do not want to live in a world where simple human errors are allowed cause disasters.
Admittedly, there are some benefits of Vala over Rust:
  • Ability to easily write GObjects.
  • Creating shared libraries.
However, some people have been working on the former and latter is already possible with some compromise and tricks.

 

Should we stop writing C/C++ code?


Ideally? Yes! Most definitely, yes. Practically speaking, that is not an option for most existing C/C++ projects out there. I can only imagine the huge amount of resources needed for porting large projects, let alone training existing developers on Rust. Having said that, I'd urge every developer to at least seriously consider writing all new code in Rust rather than C/C++.

Especially if you are writing safety-critical software (people implementing self-driving cars, militaries and space agencies, I'm looking at you!), laziness and mental-inertia are not valid reasons to continue writing potentially unsafe code, no matter how smart and good at C/C++ you think you are. You will eventually make mistake and when you do, lives will be at stake. Think about that please.

 

Conclusion


I am excited about Rust and I'm hopeful the future is much safer thanks to people behind it. Happy holidays and have a fun and safe 2018!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Moving to Berlin

I have been meaning to document my experience of moving to Berlin, mainly to help people who are considering to move or are about to move. However I'm lazy and unless I'm paid to do so, I just won't get around to doing that so instead of ending up posting nothing, I'll just quickly list all the advice I have here:

  • Don't actually order any services through check24 website. Only use them to compare prices etc.
  • Avoid Vodafone for broadband connection. Follow this thread for why.
  • Consider using an online bank, like N26.
  • For your Anmeldung,
    • go to Bürgeramt in Neukölln or Kreuzberg (unless you speak German).
    • book appointment around noon or be prepared to wait a month.
  • Make sure you have local friends who speak German and are willing to help you out. Many locals will tell you that you don't need German in Berlin but that is simply not true.
  • Either consider hiring an estate agent or make sure your temporary residence allows you to register on their address.
  • Related to above, you don't have to pay deposit upfront if you use EuroKaution service.
  • Consider the after 10am monthly travel pass if you don't commute to work before that time.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ich bin ein Berliner

Well, no, not really but maybe I'll be able to claim that at some point because I'm moving to Berlin to join Kinvolk. I'm told that I'm changing countries and companies too often but that's not true. I was at Red Hat for 5 years and at Nokia before that for 5 years as well. The decision to move out of Finland was not exactly mine.

Regarding Pelagicore


I'm not as much leaving Pelagicore as I'm leaving the automotive industry, more specifically the software side of it. While the automotive industry is changing and mostly for the good, I realized that it still is not a place for me. Things typically move very slowly in this industry and I realized that I don't have the required patience for it. Also, C++/Qt are big here and while an year ago I thought it's just another language and Open Source UI framework, I no longer think so. Since you can find a lot of rants from very experienced C++ developers on why C++ is a horrible language, I won't rant about that in here.

My experience with Qt hasn't been that great either. Most of the documentation I found would simply assume you use Qt Creator and despite my years of experience with D-Bus, it took me weeks to figure out how to make a few D-Bus calls from Qt (I have to admit though that the calls involved complex types). While Nokia made Qt a normal Open Source project by relicensing it under LGPLv2, the Qt company recently realized that it's loosing a lot of money by people using Qt in products without paying them anything so they relicensed it under GPLv3 and commercial (i-e dual-license).  I maintained Genivi Development Platform for 6 months and because of this relicensing, we were unable to upgrade Qt 5.6 to Qt 5.7 and overtime it had been becoming a major pain point in that project. To make things even less open-sourcy, they require all contributors to sign a CLA. I believe (and I think many would agree) that CLAs are bad for Open Source. So all those things put together, I don't think of Qt as a typical Open Source project. Feel free to disagree but that's how I feel and hence I'm not keen on working with Qt in future.

Having said all that, Pelagicore is a very awesome company and probably the best place to be if you're fine with C++/Qt and want to be part of the next-gen automotive. It might sound like I just contradicted myself but not everyone thinks and sees the world like me. To each, his own and all. Also Pelagicore is hiring!


Why leave Gothenburg?


Gothenburg is a very lovely city and I'm going to miss it a lot for sure, even though I've been only here for an year. I still love the Swedish language, which I have been learning slowly over the year. However, I've not been happy with the cost of living in here, especially Veterinary costs. I have an old cat with multiple conditions so I need to visit the Vet every few months. The Vet charge 700 SEK just to see him and most often they don't even care to read through his records beforehand.

Gothenburg is also currently the best place to find an accommodation in. To get a first-hand contract, you register yourself in on Boplats website and keep on applying to new listings but typical wait-time is in years, not months or weeks. In practice, it's usually not a problem. Most people just get a second-hand contract or a room in a shared flat to start with and then look for a more permanent solution. However, add a cat into the picture and things get very difficult again.

Kinvolk comes along


Because of the reasons stated above, I've been looking for some exciting opportunities outside automotive world in some nice location. I had been focused on finding jobs that either involve Rust language or at least there were good chances of Rust being involved. Long story short, I ultimately got in touch with Kinvolk folks. I already knew the company's founders: Chris, Alban and Iago. They are very good at what they do and fun folks to hang out with.

While Rust is not a big part of work at Kinvolk currently, they (especially Chris) seem very interested in it. From what I know, main languages at Kinvolk are C and Go. I don't mind coding in C anyway and I've been missing the times when I did any kernel programming in it. I've no experience of Go but from what I hear, it's a pretty decent language.

So after interviews etc, when Kinvolk offered me a job, I couldn't resist accepting it. Berlin is an awesome city and it's hard to say "no" to moving there.

If you're looking for a great place to work at on Linux-related tech with some very competent Open Source developers, do consider applying at Kinvolk.

Cellink


Talking of great companies to work at, I recently got in contact with some folks from Cellink. It's a biotech company based in Gothenburg, whose aim is to end animal testing. They plan to achieve this very noble goal through 3D printers that print human tissues. They already have 2 products that they sell to pharmaceutical companies in 30 countries across the globe. While they already have the bio and hardware side of things covered, they are looking to expand their software side of things now and to do that, they need good software engineers, especially ones with Open Source experience.

Here is a video of a very nice intro to their awesome work from their CEO, Erik Gatenholm.

So if you're an Open Source developer and either live in or willing to relocate to (especially) Gothenburg, Cambridge (USA) or Bay Area, please contact me and I can connect you to the right people. Alternatively, feel free to contact them directly. I only want to help these folks achieve their very noble cause.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Help me test gps-share

For gps-share to be useful to people, it needs to be tested against various GPS dongles. If you have a GPS dongle, I'd appreciate it if you could test gps-share. If you don't use the hardware, please consider donating it to me and that way I'll ensure that it keeps working with gps-share.

Thanks!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Introducing gps-share

So yesterday, I rolled out the first release of gps-share.

gps-share is a utility to share your GPS device on local network. It has two goals:

  • Share your GPS device on the local network so that all machines in your home or office can make use of it.
  • Enable support for standalone (i-e not part of a cellular modem) GPS devices in Geoclue. Since Geoclue has been able to make use of network NMEA sources since 2015, gps-share works out of the box with Geoclue.

The latter means that it is a replacement for GPSD and Gypsy. While "why not GPSD?" has already been documented, Gypsy has been unmaintained for many years now. I did not feel like reviving a dead project and I really wanted to code in Rust language so I decided to create gps-share.

Dependencies


While cargo manages the Rust crates gps-share depend on, you'll also
need the following on your host:

  • libdbus
  • libudev
  • libcap
  • xz-libs

Supported devices


gps-share currently only supports GPS devices that present themselves as serial port (RS232). Many USB are expected to work out of the box but bluetooth devices need manual intervention to be mounted as serial port devices through rfcomm command. The following command worked on my Fedora 25 machine for a TomTom Wireless GPS MkII.


sudo rfcomm connect 0 00:0D:B5:70:54:75

gps-share can autodetect the device to use if it's already mounted as a serial port but it assumes a baudrate of 38400. You can manually set the device node to use by passing the device node path as argument and set the baudrate using the '-b' commandline option. Pass '--help' for a full list of supported options.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rust Memory Management

In the light of my latest fascination with Rust programming language, I've started to make small presentation about Rust at my office, since I'm not the only one at our company who is interested in Rust. My first presentation in Feb was about a very general introduction to the language but at that time I had not yet really used the language for anything real myself so I was a complete novice myself and didn't have a very good idea of how memory management really works. While working on my gps-share project in my limited spare time, I came across quite a few issues related to memory management but I overcame all of them with help from kind folks at #rust-beginners IRC channel and the small but awesome Rust-GNOME community.

Having learnt some essentials of memory management, I thought I share my knowledge/experience with folks at the office. The talk was not well-attended due to conflicts with other meetings at office but the few folks who attended were very interested and asked some interesting and difficult questions (i-e the perfect audience). One of the questions was if I could put this up as a blog post so here I am. :)

Basics


Let's start with some basics: In Rust,

  1. stack allocation is preferred over the heap allocation and that's where everything is allocated by default.
  2. There is strict ownership semantics involved so each value can only and only have one owner at a particular time.
  3. When you pass a value to a function, you move the ownership of that value to the function argument and similarly, when you return a value from a function, you pass the ownership of the return value to the caller.

Now these rules make Rust very secure but at the same time if you had no way to allocate on the heap or be able to share data between different parts of your code and/or threads, you can't get very far with Rust. So we're provided with mechanisms to (kinda) work around these very strict rules, without compromising on safety these rules provide. Let's start with a simple code that will work fine in many other languages:

fn add_first_element(v1: Vec<i32>, v2: Vec<i32>) -> i32 {
    return v1[0] + v2[0];
}

fn main() {
    let v1 = vec![1, 2, 3];
    let v2 = vec![1, 2, 3];

    let answer = add_first_element(v1, v2);

    // We can use `v1` and `v2` here!
    println!("{} + {} = {}", v1[0], v2[0], answer);
}

This gives us an error from rustc:

error[E0382]: use of moved value: `v1`
  --> sample1.rs:13:30
   |
10 |     let answer = add_first_element(v1, v2);
   |                                    -- value moved here
...
13 |     println!("{} + {} = {}", v1[0], v2[0], answer);
   |                              ^^ value used here after move
   |
   = note: move occurs because `v1` has type `std::vec::Vec<i32>`, which does not implement the `Copy` trait

error[E0382]: use of moved value: `v2`
  --> sample1.rs:13:37
   |
10 |     let answer = add_first_element(v1, v2);
   |                                        -- value moved here
...
13 |     println!("{} + {} = {}", v1[0], v2[0], answer);
   |                                     ^^ value used here after move
   |
   = note: move occurs because `v2` has type `std::vec::Vec<i32>`, which does not implement the `Copy` trait

What's happening is that we passed 'v1' and 'v2' to add_first_element() and hence we passed its ownership to add_first_element() as well and hence we can't use it afterwards. If Vec was a Copy type (like all primitive types), we won't get this error because Rust will copy the value for add_first_element and pass those copies to it. In this particular case the solution is easy:

Borrowing


fn add_first_element(v1: &Vec<i32>, v2: &Vec<i32>) -> i32 {
    return v1[0] + v2[0]; 
}

fn main() {
    let v1 = vec![1, 2, 3];
    let v2 = vec![1, 2, 3];

    let answer = add_first_element(&v1, &v2);

    // We can use `v1` and `v2` here!
    println!("{} + {} = {}", v1[0], v2[0], answer);
}                 

This one compiles and runs as expected. What we did was to convert the arguments into reference types. References are Rust's way of borrowing the ownership. So while add_first_element() is running, it owns 'v1' and 'v2' but not after it returns. Hence this code works.

While borrowing is very nice and very helpful, in the end it's temporary. The following code won't build:

struct Heli {
    reg: String
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: String) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg }
    }
    
    fn hover(& self) {
        println!("{} is hovering", self.reg);
    }
}

fn main() {
    let reg = "G-HONI".to_string();
    let heli = Heli::new(reg);

    println!("Registration {}", reg);
    heli.hover();
}

rustc says:

error[E0382]: use of moved value: `reg`
  --> sample3.rs:20:33
   |
18 |     let heli = Heli::new(reg);
   |                          --- value moved here
19 | 
20 |     println!("Registration {}", reg);
   |                                 ^^^ value used here after move
   |
   = note: move occurs because `reg` has type `std::string::String`, which does not implement the `Copy` 

If String had Copy trait implemented for it, this code would have compiled. But if efficiency is a concern at all for you (it is for Rust), you wouldn't want most values to be copied around all the time. We can't use a reference here as Heli::new() above needs to keep the passed 'reg'. Also note that the issue here is not that 'reg' was passed to Heli:new() and used afterwards by Heli::hover() afterwards but the fact that we tried to use 'reg' after we have given its ownership to Heli instance through Heli::new().

I realize that the above code doesn't make use of borrowing but if we were to make use of that, we'll have to declare lifetimes for the 'reg' field and the code still won't work because we want to keep the 'reg' in our Heli struct. There is a better solution here:

Rc


use std::rc::Rc;                                                                                         

struct Heli {
    reg: Rc<String>
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: Rc<String>) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg }
    }

    fn hover(& self) {
        println!("{} is hovering", self.reg);
    }
}

fn main() { 
    let reg = Rc::new("G-HONI".to_string());
    let heli = Heli::new(reg.clone());

    println!("Registration {}", reg);
    heli.hover();
}

This code builds and runs successfully. Rc stands for "Reference Counted" so by putting data into this generic container, adds reference counting to the data in question. Note that while you had to explicitly call clone() method of Rc to increment its refcount, you don't need to do anything to decrease the refcount. Each time an Rc reference goes out of scope, the reference is decremented automatically and when it reaches 0, the container Rc and its contained data are freed.

Cool, Rc is super easy to use so we can just use it in all situations where we need shared ownership? Not quite! You can't use Rc to share data between threads. So this code won't compile:

use std::rc::Rc;                                                                                         
use std::thread;

struct Heli {
    reg: Rc<String>
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: Rc<String>) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg }
    }

    fn hover(& self) {
        println!("{} is hovering", self.reg);
    }
}

fn main() { 
    let reg = Rc::new("G-HONI".to_string());
    let heli = Heli::new(reg.clone());
    
    let t = thread::spawn(move || {
        heli.hover();
    });
    println!("Registration {}", reg);

    t.join().unwrap();
}

It results in:

error[E0277]: the trait bound `std::rc::Rc<std::string::String>: std::marker::Send` is not satisfied in `[closure@sample5.rs:22:27: 24:6 heli:Heli]`
  --> sample5.rs:22:13
   |
22 |     let t = thread::spawn(move || {
   |             ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ within `[closure@sample5.rs:22:27: 24:6 heli:Heli]`, the trait `std::marker::Send` is not implemented for `std::rc::Rc<std::string::String>`
   |
   = note: `std::rc::Rc<std::string::String>` cannot be sent between threads safely
   = note: required because it appears within the type `Heli`
   = note: required because it appears within the type `[closure@sample5.rs:22:27: 24:6 heli:Heli]`
   = note: required by `std::thread::spawn`

The issue here is that to be able to share data between more than one threads, the data must be of a type that implements Send trait. However not only implementing Send for all types would be very impractical solution, there is also performance penalties associated with implementing Send (which is why Rc doesn't implement Send).

Introducing Arc


Arc stands for Atomic Reference Counting and it's the thread-safe sibling of Rc.

use std::sync::Arc;                                                                                      
use std::thread;

struct Heli {
    reg: Arc<String>
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: Arc<String>) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg }
    }

    fn hover(& self) {
        println!("{} is hovering", self.reg);
    }
}

fn main() {
    let reg = Arc::new("G-HONI".to_string());
    let heli = Heli::new(reg.clone());

    let t = thread::spawn(move || {
        heli.hover();
    });
    println!("Registration {}", reg);

    t.join().unwrap();
}

This one works and the only difference is that we used Arc instead of Rc. Cool, so now we have a very efficient by thread-unsafe way to share data between different parts of the code but also a thread-safe mechanism as well. We're done then? Not quite! This code won't work:

use std::sync::Arc;                                                                                      
use std::thread;

struct Heli {
    reg: Arc<String>,
    status: Arc<String>
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: Arc<String>, status: Arc<String>) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg,
               status: status }
    }

    fn hover(& self) {
        self.status.clear();
        self.status.push_str("hovering");
        println!("{} is {}", self.reg, self.status);
    }
}   

fn main() { 
    let reg = Arc::new("G-HONI".to_string());
    let status = Arc::new("".to_string());
    let mut heli = Heli::new(reg.clone(), status.clone());

    let t = thread::spawn(move || {
        heli.hover();
    });
    println!("main: {} is {}", reg, status);

    t.join().unwrap();
}

This gives us two errors:

error: cannot borrow immutable borrowed content as mutable
  --> sample7.rs:16:9
   |
16 |         self.status.clear();
   |         ^^^^^^^^^^^ cannot borrow as mutable

error: cannot borrow immutable borrowed content as mutable
  --> sample7.rs:17:9
   |
17 |         self.status.push_str("hovering");
   |         ^^^^^^^^^^^ cannot borrow as mutable

The issue is that Arc is unable to handle mutation of data from difference threads and hence doesn't give you mutable reference to contained data.

Mutex


For sharing mutable data between threads, you need another type in combination with Arc: Mutex. Let's make the above code work:

use std::sync::Arc;                                                                                      
use std::sync::Mutex;
use std::thread;

struct Heli {
    reg: Arc<String>,
    status: Arc<Mutex<String>>
}

impl Heli {
    fn new(reg: Arc<String>, status: Arc<Mutex<String>>) -> Heli {
        Heli { reg: reg,
               status: status }
    }

    fn hover(& self) {
        let mut status = self.status.lock().unwrap();
        status.clear();
        status.push_str("hovering");
        println!("thread: {} is {}", self.reg, status.as_str());
    }
}
    
fn main() {
    let reg = Arc::new("G-HONI".to_string());
    let status = Arc::new(Mutex::new("".to_string()));
    let heli = Heli::new(reg.clone(), status.clone());

    let t = thread::spawn(move || {
        heli.hover();
    });

    println!("main: {} is {}", reg, status.lock().unwrap().as_str());

    t.join().unwrap();
}

This code will work. Notice how you don't have to explicitly unlock the mutex after using. Rust is all about scopes. When the unlocked value goes out of the scope, mutex is automatically unlocked.

Other container types


Mutexes are rather expensive and sometimes you have shared date between threads but not all threads are mutating it (all the time) and that's where RwLock becomes useful. I won't go into details here but it's almost identical to Mutex, except that threads can take read-only locks and since it's possible to safely share non-mutable state between threads, it's a lot more efficient than threads locking other threads each time they access the data.

Another container types I didn't mention above, is Box. The basic use of Box is that it's a very generic and simple way of allocating data on the heap. It's typically used to turn an unsized type into a sized type. The module documentation has a simple example on that.

What about lifetimes


One of my colleagues who had had some experience with Rust was surprised that I didn't cover lifetimes in my talk. Firstly, I think it deserves a separate talk of it's own. Secondly, if you make clever use of the container types available to you and described above, most often you don't have to deal with lifetimes. Thirdly, lifetimes is Rust is something that I still struggle with, each time I have to deal with it so I feel a bit unqualified to teach others about how they work.

The end


I hope you find some of the information above useful. If you are looking for other resources on learning Rust, the Rust book is currently your best bet. I am still a newbie at Rust so if you see some mistakes in this post, please do let me know in the comments section.

Happy safe hacking!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

GNOME ❤ Rust Hackfest in Mexico

While I'm known as a Vala fanboy in GNOME, I've tried to stress time and again that I see Vala as more a practical solution than an ideal one. "Safe programming" has always been something that intrigued me, having dealt with numerous crashes and other hard-to-debug runtime issues in the past. So when I first heard of Rust some years back, it got me super excited but it was not exactly stable  and there was no integration with GNOME libraries or D-Bus and hence it was not at all a viable option for developing desktop code. Lately (in past 2 years) things have significantly changed. Not only we have Rust 1.0 but we also have crates that provide integration with GNOME libraries and D-Bus. On top of that, some of us took steps to start converting some C code into Rust and many of us started seriously talking with Rust hackers to make Rust a first class programming language for GNOME.

To make things really go foward, we decided to arrange a hackfest, which took place last week at the Red Hat offices in Mexico city. The event was a big success in my opinion. The actual work done and started during the hackfest aside, it brought two communities much closer together and we learnt quite a lot from each other in a very short amount of time. The main topics at the hackfest were:
  • GObject-introspection consumption by Rust.
  • GObject creation from Rust.
  • Better out of the box Rust support in GNOME Builder
  • GMainLoop and Tokio integration
  • D-Bus bindings
While most folks were focused on the first three and I did participate in discussions on all these topics (except for Builder, of which I don't know anything), I spent most of my time looking into the last one. D-Bus is widely used in automotive industry these days and I serve that industry these days so it made sense, aside from my person interest in D-Bus. We established (some of it before the hackfest) that to make Rust attractive to C and Vala developers, we need to provide:
  1. Syntactic sugar for making D-Bus coding simple

    Very similar to what Vala offers. Antoni already had a project, dbus-macros that targets this goal through the use of Rust's (powerful) macro system. So I spent a lot of time fixing and improving dbus-macros crate. Having Antoni and other Rust experts in the same room, greatly helped me get around some very hard to decipher compiler issues. I found out (the hard way) that while rustc is very good at spotting errors, it fails miserably to give you the proper context when it comes to macros. I complained enough about this to Mozilla folks that I'm sure they'll be looking into fixing that experience at some point in near future. :)

    We also contacted the author of dbus crate, David Henningsson over e-mail about a few D-Bus related subjects (more below) including this one. (I was surprised to find out that he also lives in Sweden). His opinion was that we probably should be using procedural macros for this. I agree with him, except that procedural macros are not yet in stable Rust. So for now, I decided to continue with current approach of the project.

    During the hackfest, I became the maintainer of the dbus-macros crate since the first thing I did was to reduce the very small amount of code by 70%. Next, I created a backlog for myself and worked my way through it one issue at a time. I'm going to continue with that.

  2. Asynchronous D-Bus methods

    While ability to make D-Bus method calls asynchronously from clients is very important (you don't want to block the UI for your IPC), it would be also very nice for services to be able to asynchronously handle method calls as well. Brian Anderson from Mozilla was working on this during the hackfest. His approach was to hack dbus crate to add async API through the use of tokio crate. I spent most of the second day of hackfest, sitting next to Brian for some peer-programming. The author of tokio, Alex Crichton, sitting next to us helped us a lot in understanding tokio API. In the end, Brian submitted a working proof of concept for client-side async calls, which will hopefully provide a very good bases for David's actual implementation.

  3. Code generation from D-Bus introspection XML

    With both GLib and Qt providing utilities to generate code for handling D-Bus for a decade now, most projects doing D-Bus make use of this. My intention was too look into this during the hackfest but just before, I found out that David had not only already started this work in dbus crate but also his approach is exactly what I'd have gone for. So while I decided not to work on this, I did have lengthy (electronic) conversations with David about how to consolidate code generation with dbus-macros.

    Ideally, the API of the generated code should be very similar to one you'd manually create using dbus-macros to make it easy for developers to switch from one approach to another. But since David and I didn't agree with current dbus-macros approach, I kind of gave-up on this goal, at least for now. Once macro procedures stabilize, there is a good chance we will change dbus-macros (though it'll be a completely new version or maybe even a different crate) to make use of them and we can revisit consolidation of code generation and dbus-macros.
A few weeks prior to the event, I decided to create a new project, gps-share. The aim is to provide ability to share your (standalone) GPS device from your laptop/desktop to other devices on the network and at the same time add standalone GPS device support into Geoclue (without any new feature code in Geoclue). I decided to write it in Rust for a few reasons, one of them being my desire to learn enough about the language before the event (I hadn't wrote any serious/complicated code in Rust before) and another one was to have an actual test case for D-Bus adventures (it's supposed to talk to Avahi on D-Bus). I'm glad that I did that since I encountered a few issues with dbus-macros when using them in gps-share and the awesome Mozilla folks were able to help me figure them out very quickly. Otherwise it would have taken me a very long time to figure the issues.




On the last day of hackfest, after a delicious lunch, we decided to go for a long stroll around Mexico city and hang out in the park, where we had more interesting conversations, about life, universe and everything (including Rust and GNOME).

After the hackfest, I stayed around for 3 more days. On Saturday, I mostly hung out with Federico, Christian, Antoni and Joaquín. We walked around the city center and watched Federico and Joaquín interviewed by Rancho Electronico folks. I was really excited to see that they use GNOME for their desktop and GStreamer for streaming. The guy handling the streaming was very glad to meet someone with GStreamer experience.

On Sunday, I rented a car and went to a hike at Tepoztlán with Felipe. Driving in Mexico wasn't easy so having a Mexican with me, helped a lot.


And on Monday, we drove to the Sun pyramid.


I would like to thank both GNOME Foundation and my employer, Pelagicore for sponsoring my participation to this event.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

GDP meets GSoC

Are you a student? Passionate about Open Source? Want your code to run on next generation of automobiles? You're in luck! Genivi Development Platform will be participating in Google Summer of Code this summer and you are welcome to participate. We have collected a bunch of ideas for what would be a good 3 month project for a student but you're more than welcome to suggest your own project. The ideas page, also has instructions on how to get started with GDP.

We look forward to your participation!