Gentoo Monthly Newsletter: 24 April 2008
This month in the GMN
Welcome to the April issue of the Gentoo monthly newsletter! This month, we
haven't made any significant changes from the previous edition. However, we have
featured an interview, and we hope to include more of them in future issues.
You'll note that we will be interviewing not only Gentoo developers, but also
people involved in the Gentoo community at large.
We also had to delay the publication of this issue by a few days in order to
accommodate the announcement of selected projects for this year's Summer of
As usual, you can discuss any aspect of this issue of the GMN in the
forum thread. We look forward to hearing from you!
baselayout-2 and OpenRC hit the tree
After a long wait, baselayout-2 and OpenRC have finally hit the unstable tree.
For those of you who want to be on the bleeding edge, please make sure you read
guide before attempting to upgrade. Both packages are in ~arch for a
reason. We recommend you don't upgrade these packages on machines where
stability is of prime importance.
Summer of Code 2008
The list of selected students for the Google Summer of Code 2008 was announced
today. Gentoo is happy to mentor 6 students on proposals which were ranked
highest by our developers:
We will be featuring interviews with all our students in the coming months. All
the best to our students!
Gentoo is always looking for new contributors. You can help us in a variety of
ways, not all of which are technical. Check out our guide
to becoming a new developer for more information.
Council Meeting Summary
The Gentoo Council held
its monthly meeting on April 10, 2008. The items put up for discussion were:
Minimal activity for ebuild devs: Current activity required is 1
commit every 60 days. Should it be higher? Agreement was hard to find. Some
people thought it should be 1 commit / week, others said that people have
busy lives and questioned the benefits. A number of people did agree that we
should trust the judgment of the undertakers,
and that the number of commits is not the only activity indicator.
Initial comments on PMS:
Are there any major changes needed, or just tuning details?
The council voted that kdebuild-1 and other unapproved EAPIs could
not be in an approved PMS document. The spec isn't a place for
proposals or things that will never be submitted for approval by the
council. It's a specification, a reference of what is allowed in the
Some items were rolled over from the previous meeting:
GLEP 46 (Allow upstream tags in metadata.xml): Approved.
Document of being an active developer: No updates.
Looking for a way to help out Gentoo without investing a lot of time? Join
us on May 03 for our monthly bugday, and help us squash some bugs.
Trustees Meeting: There will be a single topic trustees meeting
on May 04 - #gentoo-trustees on irc.freenode.net at 1900 UTC
- with the aim of adopting the bylaws. All are welcome to attend.
Meeting: The Gentoo Council meets every month to discuss important
technical issues that affect Gentoo as a whole. This month's meeting is
scheduled to be held on May 08, and everyone is welcome to
participate - #gentoo-council on irc.freenode.net at 2000UTC.
LinuxTag Berlin: The
biggest European Linux event is on again. On the Berlin Fairgrounds, Gentoo
will be featured again. Join developers and users on the booth between
May 28 and 31, we hope it'll be as much fun as Chemnitz was!
Heard in the Community
Interview: Gentoo in a production environment
This month, we had the opportunity to catch up with Ramon van Alteren, team leader of the
system engineering department at Hyves.
Hyves is a European social networking site akin to MySpace, FaceBook or Orkut.
GMN: Please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your role at Hyves.
Ramon: I'm a long time Gentoo user both personally and professionally and
started using Gentoo somewhere in 2002 coming from Mandrake. Before that I'd
been using Linux for about 5 years.
Hyves is a social network site akin to MySpace, FaceBook, Orkut etc. The
website was originally started by Koen, Floris and Raymond, I joined the company
in November 2005 as the first paid sysadmin to help with managing the 40+ Gentoo
The System Engineering department currently is a team of 9 people who manage all
servers from bare-metal provisioning up to the application software including
the network infrastructure. The website itself is created by the developers (a
team of 14 people).
GMN: What is the scale of your website?
Ramon: We currently have over 6 million registered users and counting,
peak performance is currently at 150+ million page views per day (13 million per
hour). These are filtered page views, raw http requests on our web farm are well
over 20.000 req/sec.
On our mysql database backend, we serve roughly 100.000 actions/sec at peak
performance. Aside from the web frontend and the database backend we have a very
large file-storage for media that our users upload. The total used storage
totals around roughly about 280 Terabytes. All in all with all hosts accounted
for we have 1800 servers most of them with 2 or 4 cores each. All of these run
Gentoo Linux. :-)
GMN: Why did you choose Gentoo Linux to power your infrastructure? What
features in particular made you choose Gentoo over all the other distributions
Ramon: We've been running on Gentoo Linux since the inception of the
website. There has been a very short period at the very beginning when the
company owned two colocated servers which came with Fedora but that was a very
long time ago. Our main reasons to switch to Gentoo were:
USE flags (the ability to easily switch additional functionality on or off)
- Extreme customizability (custom ebuilds, install locations etc.)
- Close tracking of upstream (speed of updates)
- Good community support
- Excellent documentation
We're using some very bleeding edge software in some cases to run our website
with fairly extensive customizations in general to adjust for scale and/or
performance. Portage, overlays and the ebuild system in general go a long way to
achieve that while staying within the Gentoo distribution framework for all the
The fact that a bare-bones Gentoo install doesn't come with all kinds of cruft
and distribution-centric customizations, helps to keep our systems mean and
In upgrading from php-4 to php-5 we've found slotting to be an invaluable
feature which eased the migration a great deal. Additionally we had to stay on
php-4 for some time after Gentoo deprecated support for it, pulling in security
patches with an ebuild turned out to be fairly simple, enabling us to migrate at
our own pace.
GMN: Please describe how you used the tools Gentoo offers to make
maintaining such a huge pool of servers easier.
Ramon: Most of our system administration is not done using Gentoo tools
but by using an automated configuration management system for Unix hosts called
puppet. It uses eix to build a package database.
Among the tools Gentoo offers:
We use catalyst to
build our own stage3 and stage4 tarballs.
We use quickinstall by Andrew Gaffney as part of our provisioning
Catalyst relies on genkernel to build
- We use Portage's binary package support for critical fixes
GMN: Have you been through any major "stumbling blocks" while setting up
your infrastructure? If so, how did you go about resolving them? Did you find
the various support avenues that Gentoo offers to be helpful at the time?
Ramon: Several of course! Most of them had absolutely nothing to do with
Gentoo but more with bugs and performance issues in various software packages.
With respect to community support, we actively search and query IRC, bugzilla
and sometimes the forums as well. Additionally we track the gentoo-dev list for
changes. The forums tend to be a valuable source of information for desktop
issues we might have had (most of the system engineering team runs Gentoo as
desktop OS). However for large-scale server issues it has a bit too high
noise/content ratio because of its desktop oriented nature.
We try to give stuff that we learned back to the community by filing bugs, if
possible with patches. However we find that most of the stuff we customize is of
fairly limited interest to the larger community because of its focus on our own
Running a server park this large is usually eats away most of the time
available, so there is little left to clean up patches and/or ebuilds to make
them more generally usable. We do try to file amd64 keyword stabling reports on
stuff we deploy in our server park that hasn't been marked stable (yet).
GMN: Is there a feature that you wish Gentoo had?
Ramon: Let's see [rumbles around desk for the long list of features we'd
wish gentoo had]. More seriously, the list is actually surprisingly short:
Currently I'm working on getting stackless python working in an
agreeable fashion with the rest of the python framework in Gentoo. We've
rolled out a preliminary stackless ebuild which basically installs it side
by side with the normal python setup in /opt but I consider
this to be sub-optimal at the least. We haven't finished it yet, but I think
it will be doable.
I'd really really like to see a release-based Portage snapshot released
together with the actual release. However, that is not of much use without a
snapshot from the distfiles mirrors at the same time. This would make
Gentoo less of a moving target and a more reliable base to build servers on.
There has been talk about this on several mailing lists where people
invariably object that this would create a false sense of stability because
no one would port security patches and/or issues but as far as we are
concerned that would not be necessary. I understand the constraints placed
on the mirror system by such a setup. We are doing this internally for our
stage4 files at the moment and that's pretty doable, but then, we only
mirror the distfiles part (that we actually use in our stage4 builds) and
not the entire Gentoo release with all the related desktop software.
We depend fairly heavily on the binary package support in Gentoo, and we
need to separate packages over multiple ServerOS images (stage4 builds) if
we need them with different USE flags. I would like proper USE flag support
for binary packages.
A little less aggressive pruning of ebuilds in the Portage tree would help.
A lot of people are probably still running apache-2.0.x versions, as we are.
They've left the Portage tree which is kind of sad, I miss them!
GMN: Any concluding comments?
Ramon: The beauty of Gentoo is that it offers a flexible framework for
building a highly customizable linux base to run your application on without
getting in the way. That flexibility and customizability brings its own
complexity but as far as I'm concerned it has been worth the trouble.
Running this kind of infrastructure with just 9 people is a form of highly
organized madness! If there are any developers or sysadmins out there with a
healthy interest in high-performance large-scale infrastructures and Amsterdam
I'd like to talk to them. We have open positions in both development and system
engineering and would prefer to hire people from the Gentoo community.
We welcome feedback from the community, you can reach me personally by
email or poke me on IRC
(My nick is Innocenti on the Freenode network). If you're interested in
working with us, please don't contact me directly but send mail to:
And last but not least I'm really pleased to make the following announcement:
Based on a recent discussion with Robin H. Johnson and
Alex Howells from gentoo-infra, Hyves will sponsor the Gentoo
community by helping out with new servers for Bugzilla. We are putting up
two large AMD64, 16Gb servers with fast SCSI disks for the database backend
and 2 beefy webservers to improve the current bugzilla situation. We're
currently working with infra to get the stuff up and running and I hope
the servers to go live soon.
GMN: Thank you, Ramon, for your time and for speaking with us!
Figure 3.1: The team at Hyves (L-R): Jeffrey Lensen, Marlon de Boer, Eugene Molenaar, Ramon van Alteren, Gerwin Scheeve, Maarten van der Bogaard, Stefan van der Wiele and Frank Zwart
The good user: Ben de Groot explains to us in a series
of posts, how one can become a successful
Gentoo user and stay that way.
Baselayout status: Doug Goldstein informs us about the status
of the new baselayout.
Translations: Translations are an important part and free software has
spread into markets because of translation into some uncommon languages. Diego Elio Pettenò shares his thoughts
on ebuild internationalization.
Alternative package search engine: Steve Dibb implemented the
old design of packages.gentoo.org
with new code.
Workplaces: Ever wanted to know where Gentoo is hand-crafted with lots of
love? Some developers
setups are presented
in a few
Man pages with Vim: Ali Polatel tells us how to view man
pages from your Vi-like editor.
Playstations and Gentoo: Although older Playstations are MIPS based,
Stuart Longland tells us why they are not supported.
Book review: For our German readers, Christian Faulhammer posted a little
on the second German Gentoo book by Gunnar Wrobel.
Go for Gold: Maybe you have heard about the new linker in
binutils. Bernard Cafarelli tells us how
to use it beside a stable version for your own projects.
Gentoo in the News
PC Magazine: An article featuring the Zonbu PC mentions that it runs
Gentoo Linux - "Though sold through a nontraditional channel there's no hard
drive, so you pay monthly for online storage the Zonbu PC is a good alternative
to the traditional desktop PC. It runs Gentoo Linux, which is a lot more usable
than the gOS Linux on the gPC. This is the EPEAT Gold and Energy Star 4.0
certified PC to buy if your computing needs run mainly on the Web. It's the
first PC Mag Green Approved product ever". For more information, check out the
Linux Devices: PC-Doctor, a well known software vendor has developed a
new Network Factory appliance, which is currently in the prototype phase. The
device runs Gentoo, on an undisclosed hardware platform. The company chose the
Gentoo distro, "because we know it," said van Aman. "We chose a source-based
distribution because we only need to support a few hardware configurations, and
we want to squeeze the maximum performance out of the hardware that we have". For
more information, check out the complete
ITWire: A news item on the website describes how a user used Gentoo to
create his own distribution - Kororaa.
Check out the complete article for
Tips and Tricks
Speedup Boot Time
Are you impatient when booting your computer? If yes, try the following:
Code Listing 4.1: Tell Gentoo's startup system to turn on services in parallel
$ $EDITOR /etc/conf.d/rc
Code Listing 4.2: Prevent the kernel from displaying status messages
$ $EDITOR /boot/grub/grub.conf
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-18.104.22.168 root=/dev/hda2 quiet
Code Listing 4.3: Remove services that you do not need
$ rc-status boot
$ rc-status default
$ rc-update del keymap
If you build your kernel with no modules, you can remove modules from boot.
If you do not understand what a particular service or module does, do not remove
You may also like to install BootChart, a tool for performance
analysis and visualization of the Linux boot process.
IRSSI and BitlBee
Irssi and BitlBee are both great for simple chat clients. If you have a shell
available, we recommend you run them off the server, since you will never
Code Listing 4.4: Installing
# emerge irssi bitlbee screenie
A previous GMN featured tips and tricks on screenie.
Now, configure bitlbee to your taste, and start it:
Code Listing 4.5: Starting bitlbee
$ /etc/init.d/bitlbeed start
Now start screenie and start an irssi session:
Code Listing 4.6: Creating an IRSSI session
$ /connect 127.0.0.1
Now follow the instructions and connect into your IM accounts and IRC, never
worrying about logging off.
Gentoo developer moves
Gentoo is made up of 259 active developers, of which 44 are
currently away. Gentoo has recruited a total of 637 developers since its
The following developers recently left the Gentoo project:
The following developers recently joined the Gentoo project:
- Ahmed Ammar (b33fc0d3) - amd64
- Josh Glover (jmglov) - CJK
The following developers recently changed roles within the Gentoo project:
- Alfredo Tupone (tupone) joined the net-zope herd
- Ben de Groot (yngwin) joined the desktop-misc herd
This section summarizes the current state of the Portage tree.
Figure 6.1: Package distribution by keyword
The following section lists packages that have either been moved or added to the
tree. The package removals come from many locations, including the Treecleaners and various developers.
The Gentoo community uses Bugzilla
(bugs.gentoo.org) to record
and track bugs, notifications, suggestions and other interactions
with the development team. The following chart summarizes activity on
Bugzilla between 16 March 2008 and 20 April 2008.
Figure 7.1: Bug activity split-up
Of the 10812 currently open bugs: 15 are labeled blocker,
106 are labeled critical, and 361 are labeled major.
Closed bug ranking
The developers and teams who have closed the most bugs during this period are as follows.
||Gentoo's Team for Core System packages
||Gentoo Linux Gnome Desktop Team
||Gentoo Sound Team
||Gentoo non-Linux Team
Figure 7.2: Bug closed rankings
Assigned bug ranking
The developers and teams who have been assigned the most bugs during this period are as follows.
||Default Assignee for New Packages
||Gentoo's Team for Core System packages
||Gentoo Linux Gnome Desktop Team
||Gentoo Release Team
||Default Assignee for Orphaned Packages
||Python Gentoo Team
Figure 7.3: Bugs assigned rankings
The GMN relies on volunteers and members of the community for content every
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The deadline for articles to be published in the next issue is
May 16, 2008.
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