lunes, 4 de marzo de 2013

My Debian freeze experience (so far)

This is the first freeze in which I'm involved with upload rights. And it turned out to be a quite interesting ride so far, so I thought it would be nice to write about it.

As some of you may know, I'm a part of the Qt/KDE team. Before the freeze I was mostly involved in leaf packages, with some patch here or there, nothing fancy. And then the freeze came...

Bugs in Qt


...and bugs appeared in Qt. But they didn't get solved, even if the patches were there. Due to personal reasons, the manpower in Qt/KDE land decreased below normal levels (which were already low).

I took the time to review them, apply them in a local branch, build and test the fixes. I did a Qt upload before, but it was a team-consented one. This time there was not much reaction in our IRC channel as it used to be, so I was doubting if going ahead or not. I asked Ana, my great friend and former sponsor, for an opinion on the subject, and she gave me a really important advice: the patches were looking good and there is one really big true: if something get's broken, it can be fixed with a later upload.

You might be asking yourself why I was that afraid of doing the upload. Well, when one maintains such a medular package for many users one has to be careful  And I also got used that those "big ones" like Qt where normally handled by hand skilled people. Do not take me wrong here, it's not that those people where keeping them for themselves, it's knowing that one does not has the same skills nor experience as them.

But again, no one was able to upload and I had the chance and will to do another upload if needed, so off it went. That was Qt 4:4.8.2-2.

Then new experiences followed: asking a buildd maintainer for a giveback, asking the Release Team for an unblock (more on this later), etc. While sponsoring me, Ana gave me another excellent advice which I always keep in my mind:

You can't know **everything** about Debian.

And that also includes a not so technical skill: communicating with other teams. But finally we got this new version of Qt in testing. Cool :-)

Of course, new bugs appeared, and my lack of skills (and sometimes, time) where replaced by team work: Pino looking at patches and Sune contacting upstream. The eleven uploads that followed are a nice example of team work, even if I was the one who signed and did the uploads. Whoever uses Qt must know that these wonderful people (including those who are not so active nowadays like Modestas or Fathi) have done lots to bring the better to their users.Thank you guys!

Be careful, they might bite you back!


Coming back to the non-technical skills, sometimes you have to communicate with other teams in Debian. And each team is (naturally) a separate world: possibly different people, different goals, etc. Of course, we share the goal to make Debian the best experience we can, but we do not necessarily agree on the paths to achieve so.

During the freeze, there is a team that gets lots of pressure, and not by chance: the Release Team. They handle a very important task, which is to ride the freeze to get to a release. OK, that's what everyone knows. Now, one thing is knowing that and another is really understanding what does that means.

Of course I was in the first group. From the outside, communicating with the RT was a kind of "special art", and not an easy one. I have even been advised to not ask for more than one or two unblocks per weekend, as they might "bite me back". So I put on my flamesuit on and... launched reportbug release.debian.org.

Now I'm really happy to say that my experience was far from what I described above. And yes, I had the chance to even disagree on some stuff. But remember: non-technical skills, a.k.a. social skills. Once I started to know what was going on inside the RT (joining #debian-release was a big help for that) I learnt some nice tips to approach them. Please allow me to list some of them:

  • Remember: you are the maintainer of the package, they are like gatekeepers that are there to help us coordinate to do a release. But they don't maintain the code, you do that. So try to be verbose when needed, explain the changes and don't forget a nice diff. They need to understand what is going on: they can't read your mind.
  • They are human beings too: not everyday might be their best day (the same goes for you too!). And they are under the pressure of a release. Be patient, that finally pays off.
  • Does your changes seem not so clear? try to improve them.
  • The package has a lot of changes but you really feel they are needed? Try to explain that as good as you can.
  • Try to put yourself in their position: do we really want this? If in doubt, there is a nice way to know what they think: a pre-approval bug.
I want to make a stop in this last point. A pre-approval bug it's an unblock bug in which you edit the subject to add "pre-approval" in it. Easy, isn't it? It gives you the opportunity to know what the RT thinks before doing the upload. In other words: it gives you the chance to communicate and do things in the best possible way for all the parts involved.

I've have also seen pre-approval bugs that were really not needed. But to learn where the threshold of what can be directly uploaded and what deserves a pre-approval bug is you need to know the guidelines the RT gives you. Do you still have doubts? fire a pre-approval bug and try to be clear.

Of course, this are all fruits of my experience with the RT during this time. If the RT thinks different from what I'm writing here, please stand up: we are hear to listen to you and learn :-)

As a side note, I think I should file a wishlist bug to include the pre-approval bug option in reportbug. Yes, I'm lazy :-)

Summing up


Overall this was a very nice and positive experience. We are not done yet. Are we really done at some point? Let's hope not, because this is where the fun comes from :-)