Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A very productive weekend

I just hosted a NetSurf Developer weekend which is an opportunity for us to meet up and make use of all the benefits of working together. We find the ability to plan work and discuss solutions without loosing the nuances of body language generally results in better outcomes for the project.

NetSurf Development build
Due to other commitments on our time the group has not been able to do more than basic maintenance activities in the last year which has resulted in the developer events becoming a time to catch up on maintenance rather than making progress on features.

Because of this the July and November events last year did not feel terribly productive, there were discussions about what we should be doing and bugs considered but a distinct lack of commuted code.

As can be seen from our notes this time was a refreshing change. We managed to complete a good number of tasks and actually add some features while still having discussions, addressing bugs and socialising.

We opened on the Friday evening by creating a list of topics to look at over the following days and updating the wiki notes. We also reviewed the cross compiler toolchains which had been updated to include the most recent releases for things like openssl, curl etc.

As part of this review we confirmed the decision to remove the Atari platform from active support as its toolchain builds have remained broken for over two years with no sign of any maintainer coming forward.

While it is a little sad to see a platform be removed it has presented a burden on our strained resources by requiring us to maintain a CI worker with a very old OS using tooling that can no longer be replicated. The tooling issue means a developer cannot test changes locally before committing so testing changes that affected all frontends was difficult.

Saturday saw us clear all the topics from our list which included:
  • Fixing a bug preventing compiling our reference counted string handling library.
  • Finishing the sanitizer work started the previous July
  • Fixing several bugs in the Framebuffer frontend installation.
  • Making the Framebuffer UI use the configured language for resources.
The main achievement of the day however was implementing automated system testing of the browser. This was a project started by Daniel some eight years ago but worked on by all of us so seeing it completed was a positive boost for the whole group.

The implementation consisted of a frontend named monkey. This frontend to the browser takes textural commands to perform operations (i.e. open a window or navigate to a url) and generates results in a structured text format. Monkey is driven by a python program named monkeyfarmer which runs a test plan ensuring the results are as expected.

This allows us to run a complete browsing session in an automated way, previously someone would have to manually build the browser and check the tests by hand. This manual process was tedious and was rarely completed across our entire test corpus generally concentrating on just those areas that had been changed such as javascript output.

We have combined the monkey tools and our test corpus into a CI job which runs the tests on every commit giving us assurance that the browser as a whole continues to operate correctly without regression. Now we just have the task of creating suitable plans for the remaining tests. Though I remain hazy as to why, we became inordinately amused by the naming scheme for the tools.

Google webp library gallery rendered in NetSurfWe rounded the Saturday off by going out for a very pleasant meal with some mutual friends. Sunday started by adding a bunch of additional topics to consider and we made good progress addressing these. 

We performed a bug triage and managed to close several issues and commit to fixing a few more. We even managed to create a statement of work of things we would like to get done before the next meetup.

My main achievement on the Sunday was to add WEBP image support. This uses the Google libwebp library to do all the heavy lifting and adding a new image content handler to NetSurf is pretty straightforward.

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