Hakone 1.1: the new face of Wesnoth-UMC-Dev

After so much work, codename “Hakone”, the new website layout and software powering the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev website is finished, bringing with it a series of changes to begin to renew the project for the upcoming new year.

Ancient, old, and new

The Wesnoth-UMC-Dev website has gone through three revisions counting “Hakone” — “Soradoc” and “Kalari” being its predecessors.

My emphasis during the construction of codename “Hakone” was placed on functionality, standards compliance at the web interface level, and a soft, elegant and modern look, all of which I think have been accomplished. Through the integration of technologies such as XML feeds using SimplePie, and the minimalistic yet extensible blog engine provided by Blosxom along with our homegrown Poison Ivy PHP engine, we have achieved our ultimate objective of establishing our own network identity as an independent, parallel project to Battle for Wesnoth.

We have also added an embedded IRC client using freenode’s neat webchat gateway, available from within the Contact section. This should pave the way for further coordination between developers and repository administrators using our official discussion and support channel.

In this opportunity I’ve also opted for standardizing the spelling of our short project name to “Wesnoth-UMC-Dev”, as opposed to the earlier “wesnoth-umc-dev” and “Wesnoth UMC Dev[elopment]”.

There are bugs that remain to be fixed though, which are related to the feeds handling within the various site components — but nothing that is going to matter for the moment due to our rather restricted audience.

So there goes another bit to add to my web design stories, an experience from which I’ve learned a lot of valuable information for my work on “Dorset5”.

State of Wesnoth-UMC-Dev, and Codename Hakone

The Wesnoth-UMC-Dev Project has been around for quite a while now and it’s helped in the preparation of three user-made add-ons for entering Wesnoth’s mainline repository. As time passes more content finds its place into our facilities and more people learn to take advantage of Subversion. There’s still more to come, as ESR and Fabian Müller (fabi/fendrin) are working on a new drake campaign for mainline titled Wings of Victory.

We are currently in need of more people interested in helping around with repository maintenance and application processing tasks, though. Espreon, AI and I do our best to handle new registrations and keep everything tidy and clean, but we also have projects of our own!

As part of a series of changes I hope to have ready before March 2011 — just in time for our 3rd anniversary — the development of a new website “skin” codenamed Hakone, has started today.

I already have most of the CSS rules working, but this template is not leaving the early development stage soon, for I still want to try new and crazy ideas on it before the final deployment phase. In particular, I want to reorganize the site structure at the same time to make it more accessible to our target audience while providing as much documentation as we can. You can have a taste of the preliminary plan clicking on the screenshot above.

Due to my unusual workflow, things are likely to be dropped, replaced and added as I deem necessary or convenient. I’m going to make use of Twitter to post major updates as I go during the next few months.

Finally, I’ve also been making steady progress on improving Rei 2 IRC Bot’s power and cleanness, and for a couple of weeks Shikadibot has been running with her core instead of Shikadibot 0314’s (R.I.P.). Nonetheless, #wesnoth-umc-dev’s bot is unlikely to change much in terms of features, as she doesn’t run with all of Rei 2’s modules for the sake of resource saving.

Wesnoth-UMC-Dev reaches another milestone!

Being just two years old, the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev fulfills its mission again and beetlenaut's Dead Water has just entered mainline (about 45 minutes ago)!

Since its inception on March 14th 2008, Wesnoth-UMC-Dev has hosted and served as a staging area for the following mainline campaigns:

  • Legend of Wesmere (entered mainline on October 7th 2008, 02:28 UTC)
  • Delfador's Memoirs (entered mainline on April 10th 2009, 02:08 UTC)
  • Dead Water (entered mainline on April 6th 2010, 17:02 UTC)

It's hard to bid farewell

My own software projects tend to be very much like pets to me. I take care of them, carry them with me anywhere if it's possible, I feel horribly sad when something bad happens to them and, even when I go mad at them for something, in a few hours we are together like a neat happy family again.

Invasion from the Unknown has been the Wesnoth add-on project of mine since around September 10th 2007 and it has evolved throughout time and endured 3 mainline development cycles introducing drastic game engine changes, receiving little automated help from the likes of wmllint. Instead, it has been kept on shape by me and a few people who have helped with the huge maintenance burden that this epic-length campaign is.

With an initial goal of 30 playable scenarios, 29 of them were made at first and I later shrank the campaign to approx. 26 stages per suggestions from various people including ESR, and split it into two halves of roughly 13 scenarios each. IftU outlasted two other projects of mine which finally rotted among my hard disk backups for good — one after 5 years of development and little progress, and the other after three months of development and decent progress. It also directly or indirectly created or inspired the following Wesnoth-related projects:

Continue reading “It's hard to bid farewell

Subversion blows

More than one year ago I commented on the consequences of interrupted commit transactions with the Subversion version control system. Back then, SVN was the only VCS I was familiarized with, but nowadays I also have a basic grasp of Git for local and remote repository management.

The thing is, SVN is pretty simple and easy to learn for novice users — which is one of the reasons I haven't decided yet, as the founder admin of the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev Project, to switch to Git. A distributed version control system such as Git or Mercurial are not “better” than SVN, just like Linux cannot be “better” than Windows — they are completely different models for both users and site admins, and switching your version control system isn't as easy as switching from KDE to GNOME as your desktop environment or buying a new printer, especially when you have lots of users and the model conversion isn't easily reversible.

But let's not forget that there's more to SVN, or any other revision tracking system than just the philosophy and the model behind. There is an official client which ships in major Linux distributions such as Debian GNU/Linux, Ubuntu and openSUSE, and which also has shared library code used by third-party GUI front-ends such as kdesvn, or other SVN clients such as the git-svn infrastructure.

I have not seen the code, and I believe I do not want to see it with my eyes, but SVN's network code seems to be crap.

The issue mentioned in my second blog post remains the same after several versions of the vanilla SVN client. Then there are other issues that have been here for a long time, and an issue I only discovered some days ago:

  • It is possible in middle of a networked transaction (commit, update) for the Subversion client process to get stuck if a network error occurs. Subversion normally traps SIGTERMs (and apparently SIGHUPs and SIGINTs too) to perform cleanup routines after such interruptions. However, when it gets stuck, the SIGTERM handler becomes useless and the client ignores the signal forever. This means that SVN can get stuck and sit idle on the terminal (most likely waiting for data from the remote host) until it a SIGKILL is sent to force the destruction of its process. Since SIGHUPs are also trapped, killing the terminal leaves a hidden, waiting SVN process. In other words, you can get a dead SVN client running for months if your power source is stable enough. Wonderful.
  • Clients that terminate abnormally (SIGKILL and such) may leave random crap hidden in your SVN checkout's control directories that are normally cleaned up by the SIGTERM handler. While this is often inoffensive and svn cleanup or svn cleanup .. can handle it all, there are times when this is not enough and SVN gets confused for missing/extra files or directory metadata and refuses to update or cleanup a path. In such cases, removing the path and its contents and re-checking it out with svn update (or, if it was the whole working dir, svn checkout) is necessary.
  • There seems to be a lot of overhead in the SVN subprotocol on any transport class, be it http, https, svn or svn+ssh. Commits containing simple changes to file/dir object properties can take as long as a regular commit diff when they should probably contain less data (if they contain as much data, then...?!). This is very noticeable on low-bandwidth connections for me. In comparison, a SVN commit of about 20 property changes can take longer than a Git push through SSH of about 10 large commits introducing whole new files.

Then there are some odd things with the SVN client library (libsvn), specifically the Perl bindings, namely the issues I mentioned at the start of this month, that leave me very disappointed at this version control system, rumored to be better than CVS (which I haven't ever used...imagine!). The Debian version in Squeeze, and possibly Lenny or upstream too, has a really nasty bug which caused a massive memory leak with Wesnoth-UMC-Dev's umcpropfix tool when I ran it to set properties on a version of Extended Era for Wesnoth, manipulating over 1300 files on multiple dirs. The parent Perl interpreter process allocated over 2 GB of overall virtual memory, making Linux page most memory out to swap, thus hurting performance.

The cause? Pool management. libsvn's Perl bindings are supposed to do automatic memory management unless the client wants to do their own pool management with the library's facilities, but that somehow causes the aforementioned leak instead. The solution turns out to be doing custom pool management by allocating a new pool for every libsvn call, and forgetting the old one. r6567 in the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev repository applies this workaround for our SVN property setting tool.

Honestly, I'm tired of SVN. I use git-svn wherever I can but this isn't a magic solution for the crappy design of SVN's innards. git-svn can skip upstream commits if the connection interrupts during a fetch operation, and it forgets about local commits during pushes (git svn dcommit) after it has sent the first commit and fetched missing ones, which can cause loss of commits and history if the connection to the remote host breaks at that point or git-svn exits in any other fashion.

git-svn doesn't replace SVN's network code either (it uses it instead), so it's still subject to the perceived overhead, but at least it doesn't get stuck forever ignoring SIGTERMs.

What Wesnoth-UMC-Dev needs at the moment is a distributed (yes) version control system that's as more user-friendly as than SVN and has a nice, well documented Windows front-end that's easy to setup, learn and understand. If we can't find that, I'll continue complaining about SVN at any time and on every place where I see fit, here or in IRC.

Rewriting the past, and the woes of SVN

Long ago, I wrote a little Bash script — set-properties — for the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev project, to ensure the correctness of SVN properties such as svn:keywords and svn:executable on files. It was pretty simple:

#! /bin/sh
# Set properties on PNG files
for f in $(find -iname *.png); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type image/png $f
# Set properties on Ogg files
for f in $(find -iname *.ogg); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type audio/x-vorbis
# Set properties on PCM files
for f in $(find -iname *.wav); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type audio/x-wav
# Set properties on JPEG files
for f in $(find -iname *.jpg); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type image/jpeg $f
for f in $(find -iname *.jpe); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type image/jpeg $f
for f in $(find -iname *.jpeg); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
svn propset svn:mime-type image/jpeg $f
# Set properties on CFG file
for f in $(find -iname *.cfg); do
svn propdel svn:executable $f
# Set properties on scripts
for f in $(find -iname *.sh); do
svn propset svn:executable '*' $f
for f in $(find -iname *.cmd); do
svn propset svn:executable '*' $f
for f in $(find -iname *.bat); do
svn propset svn:executable '*' $f
for f in $(find -iname *.py); do
svn propset svn:executable '*' $f

Some time after I learned Perl with my work on Shikadibot 0314, I rewrote that script in Perl to arrange the “ideal” property values in a neat table (hash), check current properties instead of blindly overwriting them in the working copy, and cover plenty of other file types. It also gained a blinking progress bar to display the search progress for some reason.

To have an idea of how known file types are defined in the source, let's take a look at these bits:

# proptab:
# extension => [svn:executable, svn:mime-type, svn:eol-style, svn:keywords]
# properties set to the empty string '' (except svn:executable) are left unchanged;
my %proptab = (
cfg => [FALSE, '', 'native', ''],
ign => [FALSE, '', 'native', ''],
"map" => [FALSE, '', 'native', ''],
# [...]
pl => [TRUE, '', 'native', 'Author Date Id Revision'],
# [...]
gif => [FALSE, 'image/gif', '', ''],
png => [FALSE, 'image/png', '', ''],
# [...]
xcf => [FALSE, '', '', ''],
# [...]

The table we have used since then (around Sept. 2008) has always contained more than 10 extensions with their minimum required property sets. As of this writing, it covers approximately 57 file types. Keep this on mind.

It would be overkill to fork-exec find processes to discover paths that could require SVN property changes, right? So, instead, I used find2perl to generate File::Find client code to embed it into set-properties. So far, so good. But how about running that code (scalar keys %proptab) times (e.g. number-of-extensions-times) anyway? Overkill?

No! It's plain stupid. But definitely less stupid than what you are about to read.

I apparently decided, for some reason, that any matching paths in each cycle should be added to a plain scalar (a text string to be exact) separating individual paths with newlines, of all things. Then, another cycle is performed at the end, (scalar keys %proptab) times again, to put each array of paths matching a certain extension into another hash, then iterating over the newly inserted hash element (array of paths) checking and fixing SVN properties in the same cycle.

Very roughly summarized as the following pseudocode:

FOREACH extension FROM file_extensions
    FIND IN ./ AS file
        ; all while displaying a cute blinking bar!
        IF file MATCHES extension
            APPEND file TO file_list_string
        END IF

FOREACH extension FROM file_extensions
    ; split 'file_list_string' every newline
    FOREACH path FROM (SPLIT /\n/ file_list_string)
        INSERT path IN file_index[extension]

    FOREACH path FROM file_index[extension]
        fix_properties( extension, path )

Careful readers will quickly realize that something is horribly wrong with this pseudocode. I wish I was making it up. This algorithm has actually been in use by the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev set-properties script for one year and 4 months! I must have been on something when I wrote this shit. I've honestly never seen any program so awful as this in my life. Not even build-external-archive.sh (a.k.a. “Scrappy”) can compete with this abomination.

So, yesterday, I took a look at set-properties after noticing how much CPU time it ate working with very scarcely populated directories of the project — and I was blaming the usage of backticks (svn propset foo bar baz and such) as a possible cause of overhead. Then I slowly realized what I had written. There isn't any emoticon here for the expression in my face at that moment.

Thus, set-properties got rewritten with a much cleaner and simpler algorithm:

    ; no more useless cute blinking bar!
    FOREACH extension FROM file_extensions
        IF file MATCHES extension
            fix_properties( extension, path )
        END IF

So yeah. 🙁

But wait, there's more! While optimizing replacing the script I also replaced svn foobar backtick code with invocations of libsvn, via the SVN::Client module. This worked very well at the end, but I discovered a few things in the process:

  • Those SVN::Client methods I used choke on non-absolute path specifications for some reason, causing an assertion failure in libsvn's C back-end and terminating the execution of Perl and the script with a SIGABRT.
  • Despite the documentation's claims for SVN::Client::url_from_path() returning undef if the specified path is not under version control, it actually causes the module to invoke die and get the client script terminated. Which means that I cannot even check if a file is versioned or not safely (e.g. without resorting to .svn/text-base/<FileName>.svn-base existence checks). What the hell?
$ set-properties
perl: /tmp/buildd/subversion-1.6.9dfsg/subversion/libsvn_subr/path.c:114: svn_path_join: Assertion `svn_path_is_canonical(base, pool)' failed.

Turns out the solution is to wrap SVN::Client method calls in eval blocks and handle whatever crap SVN comes up with. Oh, and make sure all paths are absolute using Cwd::realpath so that libsvn doesn't hit an assertion failure killing us, eval or no eval. How nice.

# No point in working with unversioned files.
my $svn_ret = undef;
eval { $svn_ret = $svn->url_from_path($path) };
if($@) {
# fucking libsvn dies if $path isn't under version control;
# the documentation says it should return undef above instead!

With this, I have absolutely lost my faith in Subversion's excellence as a version control system not only as a normal user, but also as a programmer integrating it into my own client applications. And I know I lost my faith as a user after seeing svn sit for two days doing fucking nothing because the damned connection died after 1 minute of running time — and then svn spent the next days ignoring SIGTERMs all the time, no less. It's been like this for so many versions that I'm almost convinced it's intentional.

(Ah, that was relaxing. I should do this more often.)

Wesnoth-UMC-Dev has to continue using SVN because we have several add-on authors using Windows and the few alternatives for using git (I love git, I don't think I could try anything else at the moment) on Windows seem to be rather awkward to install and/or use for the average Non-Computer Person. That's a pity. It's really a pity.

Finally, set-properties got renamed to umcpropfix for a change, to mark its rebirth after I solved the algorithmic mess above last night. It doesn't have a nifty codename like the rest, though, but the new umc-prefixed name is still something to be celebrated now that we are going to have umcdist, umcstat, umcreg and umcbotd. Yes, I know I'm crazy, thank you.

Throwaway code

It has become increasingly common for me to come up with a program for an amazing task one day, to rewrite it the next day.

umcdist, the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev Distribution Tool, has been in development hell for a year mostly for this reason; the other reason is that it seems like it will perform worse than build-external-archive.sh a.k.a. “Scrappy” due to an excessive usage of Perl's system function. I cannot make up my mind and choose between performance and maintainability; Espreon knows that build-external-archive.sh is broken, but I can't be bothered to try to understand that unholy abomination again to fix it.

Meanwhile, umcstat (Wesnoth-UMC-Dev Statistics Service) is still a work in progress, but with more emphasis in progress; there's actual code written already, and I've been using freenode's Eir bot framework to test it.<

While Eir could possibly be a nice way to get rid of umcreg's Net::IRC dependency and code, it's actually a C++ program that can be compiled only with GCC 4.4 at minimum, due to at least one C++0x feature used throughout the code: auto. The target machine runs Debian lenny, unlike my laptop (Squeeze), and therefore doesn't have GCC 4.4!

Instead of sticking with Eir, I'm refactoring umcreg's IRC code into a custom Perl-only framework, umcbotd, and making creative use of eval writing an abomination code-named “Naia”, which I'm rewriting again because the first version I wrote, which worked, was very badly designed and ugly. I know it's a problem when I have three classes or modules all depending upon each other's internals.

The goal of umcbotd/Naia is producing a Net::IRC-based abstraction layer for our bots that treats them as “services” with multiple “modules” (not in the Perl sense, though) that can be easily inserted and removed from the system by adding/removing their files. umcreg already runs with a prototype implementation of this mechanism, but it needs to be generalized further before it can be usable with Naia.

Writing our bots could be this simple, if Naia gets completed:

sub ctcp_version_reply () { "Wesnoth-UMC-Dev Registry Service, using " . Naia::version_string() }
sub eh_ctcp_version
my ($self, $event) = @_;
$self->ctcp_reply($event->nick, 'VERSION ' . ctcp_version_reply());
# ...
my $bot = Naia::get_bot('umcreg');
my %eh = (
'cversion' => \&eh_ctcp_version,
'msg' => \&eh_msg_private,
'330' => \&eh_whoisloggedin,
'318' => \&eh_endofwhois,
'331' => \&eh_notopic,
'332' => \&eh_topic,
'403' => \&eh_nosuchchannel,

And their modules would be like this, more or less the same as umcreg's modules already are:

# token, subroutine, privilege level (A: admin, H: half-admin, U: user)
CO_MODULE('RAW', \&co_raw, 'A');
sub co_raw
my ($parent, $nick, $hostmask, $svaname) = (shift, shift, shift, shift);
if(!@_) {
$parent->notice($nick, "Not enough arguments for \002RAW\002.");
$parent->sl(join(' ', @_));
broadcast_to_log("RAW [$hostmask]");

... And of course it would still involve lots of ugly stuff under the hood (eval magic), but if done right I shouldn't have to touch it whenever I wanted to add or remove a feature from any of our two services.


At last, umcreg, Wesnoth-UMC-Dev's Registry Service, is finished, deployed and announced in the forums, thus completing the first part of introducing the Registry system to the project.

There were some changes from its original incarnation, but everything turned out pretty well for a bot written from scratch in approximately 6 days by a Perl fanatic with no knowledge of object-oriented Perl — I actually learned some object-oriented Perl while at this and I feel like I can do anything with it now. 😄

I was in a hurry to get this done right before freenode deployed ircd-seven today (yays!), for no particular reason; this resulted in a security feature not working with hyperion-ircd until I introduced a quickie hack that I'll be retiring later today.

I have already registered our current members using some basic, known information about them — even including their join date. Old projects' registration will be a little slow as I need to research the current structure of the repository, of which I lost track a year ago, and retrieve original timestamps. The registry's web interface, provided by the umcreg::Web and Thoria::Web packages, can be found here.

umcreg is already working at the project's admin channel on freenode too. It only obeys the project staff's orders, though, so there's no point in trying to send messages to it.

The next step in implementing the Registry model is writing the Statistics service, codenamed “Listra”, and most likely going to be named umcstat. That will definitively take much longer than umcreg's development. Meanwhile, Espreon is trying to convince me to take care of umcdist (codename “Blackmore”) first.

Building arcs

After some weeks of inactivity, I have finally completed the first arc (not the first episode, though) of After the Storm in the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev SVN repository, comprising 7 scenarios out of planned 11; this means that a 0.3.0 release is coming soon. It was about time!

With this new arc completed, I have introduced new background story elements that could be considered controversial if any mainline purist is actually paying attention to the campaign — that's okay, I never intended IftU or any sequels to be mainlined. I still struggle to keep everything as fuzzy as possible to give a certain degree of flexibility to any content authors who decide to take what is said in IftU and AtS as “canon”. It's harder than it sounds, particularly because it must still be clear enough to allow the plot to progress; so I cannot just throw a bunch of nonsense into the campaign and say “hey, look at this, this is our vague excuse for this pathetic plotline!”.

Now that the characters have a decidedly vague excuse for the plot of the next arc, I face a problem that I knew I'd have to handle sooner or later: artwork.

I am not a good pixel artist, but I don't have any loyal slav- pixel artist that could help me either. And even if I could get one, I'm not completely sure I could describe the concepts I have in mind in plain words to tell them what unit sprites I require. There's also the spoileriffic factor; there's a reason that I removed the original (clumsy) storyboard from the SVN repository and departed from the original plans, most notably by removing a main character and introducing two new sidekicks instead. So, it's up to me to create any pixel art needed to make the campaign work; baseframes are enough for this purpose, although I still wish IftU and AtS' original units had animations.

At least I don't need to write a game engine from scratch too, thanks to Wesnoth's scripting flexibility.

Kalari at last

It took me much less time than I expected to put the new layout of the Wesnoth-UMC-Dev website together. Observe.

Okay, that's basically because most of the design was already made long time ago, in the form of the site's earlier incarnation, codenamed “Soradoc”, which looked rather busy and useless with the sidebar and other design elements. The new design, “Kalari”, removes the sidebar, clears the site banner a bit, and blends the site with Wesnoth.org as far as appearance is concerned. It's not the same design, but it's similar — that should be a good thing considering the purpose of Wesnoth-UMC-Dev.

That site also had a Blosxom-based blog, but I removed it since nobody was making actual use of the space.

The greatest thing about all this is that most of the PHP, “Poison Ivy” was finished in 1 night, while the rest took me just a few additional hours. Now that Poison Ivy is completed, I can reuse its code for the next incarnation of this very website blog.

It's all for teaching some web design and programming basics to myself, really.