On language bindings & Relaunching Guile-GnuTLS

The Guile bindings for GnuTLS has been part of GnuTLS since spring 2007 when Ludovic Court├Ęs contributed it after some initial discussion. I have been looking into getting back to do GnuTLS coding, and during a recent GnuTLS meeting one topic was Guile bindings. It seemed like a fairly self-contained project to pick up on. It is interesting to re-read the old thread when this work was included: some of the concerns brought up there now have track record to be evaluated on. My opinion that the cost of introducing a new project per language binding today is smaller than the cost of maintaining language bindings as part of the core project. I believe the cost/benefit ratio has changed during the past 15 years: introducing a new project used to come with a significant cost but this is no longer the case, as tooling and processes for packaging have improved. I have had similar experience with Java, C# and Emacs Lisp bindings for GNU Libidn as well, where maintaining them centralized slow down the pace of updates. Andreas Metzler pointed to a similar conclusion reached by Russ Allbery.

There are many ways to separate a project into two projects; just copying the files into a new git repository would have been the simplest and was my original plan. However Ludo’ mentioned git-filter-branch in an email, and the idea of keeping all git history for some of the relevant files seemed worth pursuing to me. I quickly found git-filter-repo which appears to be the recommend approach, and experimenting with it I found a way to filter out the GnuTLS repo into a small git repository that Guile-GnuTLS could be based on. The commands I used were the following, if you want to reproduce things.

$ git clone https://gitlab.com/gnutls/gnutls.git guile-gnutls
$ cd guile-gnutls/
$ git checkout f5dcbdb46df52458e3756193c2a23bf558a3ecfd
$ git-filter-repo --path guile/ --path m4/guile.m4 --path doc/gnutls-guile.texi --path doc/extract-guile-c-doc.scm --path doc/cha-copying.texi --path doc/fdl-1.3.texi

I debated with myself back and forth whether to include some files that would be named the same in the new repository but would share little to no similar lines, for example configure.ac, Makefile.am not to mention README and NEWS. Initially I thought it would be nice to preserve the history for all lines that went into the new project, but this is a subjective judgement call. What brought me over to a more minimal approach was that the contributor history and attribution would be quite strange for the new repository: Should Guile-GnuTLS attribute the work of the thousands of commits to configure.ac which had nothing to do with Guile? Should the people who wrote that be mentioned as contributor of Guile-GnuTLS? I think not.

The next step was to get a reasonable GitLab CI/CD pipeline up, to make sure the project builds on some free GNU/Linux distributions like Trisquel and PureOS as well as the usual non-free distributions like Debian and Fedora to have coverage of dpkg and rpm based distributions. I included builds on Alpine and ArchLinux as well, because they tend to trigger other portability issues. I wish there were GNU Guix docker images available for easy testing on that platform as well. The GitLab CI/CD rules for a project like this are fairly simple.

To get things out of the door, I tagged the result as v3.7.9 and published a GitLab release page for Guile-GnuTLS that includes OpenPGP-signed source tarballs manually uploaded built on my laptop. The URLs for these tarballs are not very pleasant to work with, and discovering new releases automatically appears unreliable, but I don’t know of a better approach.

To finish this project, I have proposed a GnuTLS merge request to remove all Guile-related parts from the GnuTLS core.

Doing some GnuTLS-related work again felt nice, it was quite some time ago so thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thoughts or comments? Happy hacking!

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