Tag Archives: Development

Haxx – the first year

Last year I left my former employment, and focused on Haxx full-time. My brother joined me a few months afterward (January 2010). Today, at October 1 2010 we celebrate the official one year anniversary of Haxx AB as employer.Haxx

The history of Haxx goes far longer back than so. Linus Nielsen Feltzing and I first registered the company Haxx back in October 1997 and we used it then primarily as a way to market and do business on the side of our “real” jobs. To have a way to charge and do things we wanted to, that wasn’t conflicting with our day jobs. And of course we also bought the domain and could setup our “permanent” email addresses etc, which turned out great since I’ve thus used the same email address since back then and I hope I never need to change it again!

The first year of Haxx has been nothing but great fun and a major success.

As we’re contract developers and consultants, we of course need to make sure that our employees are sold to customers to a high degree with as little gaps as possible. Our projects are typically going on from a few months up to a year or two. During this year, both me and Björn have worked with several end customers and we’ve thus both managed to change assignments several times and none of the times caused any gaps – at all. Our services seem to be in high demand.

Being only two employees brings challenges on how to deal with sales, financial accounting etc as we’re just a few guys and we’re experts on development! We have found a few great partners that “sell” us (and of course we pay them a certain amount of percentage, but that’s a price we need to accept and is nothing but fair anyway since we can then remain doing what we’re good at and what we love) and we’re buying the bookkeeping etc from another company that is specialized at doing it for companies like us.

We’re looking forward to many more years of great fun. We also hope to be able to grow the company slightly over time, so if you’re a kick-ass embedded open source guy with networking experience and some 10+ years in the business and you live in the Stockholm Sweden area, do get in touch! As I’ve mentioned before, we’re gonna start out our second year with Linus onboard.

I’ll get back with an update next year! 🙂

poll vs select

I’m a person working a lot with networking and development around it. I mostly do this on Linux, often involving drivers or otherwise very close to the operating system and C and the core libraries.

The other day I once again fell over some random inaccuracy about poll compared to select and instead of trying to whine on some IRC channel or complain on their mailing list, I decided I would instead strike back by writing up and presenting a web page of my own. It details as much as possible about poll vs select and related event-based functions. I want it to become a placeholder for everything that is relevant to say about poll and select in a comparison aspect and when comparing them to event-based alternatives like libevent and libev.

So the next time I face someone not quite understanding this whole situation or perhaps when someone reiterates something that isn’t quite true, I have a resource to point to.

Not to mention that I think this new poll vs select page fits in nicely with my other “X vs Y” articles and docs pages I’ve written the last few years.

If you find flaws, or miss details or have questions about this page. Please do not hesitate to comment here, or to mail me about it or tweet me on twitter or whatever method you prefer. I appreciate your feedback!

poll vs select

professional libcurl hackers look this way!

In my company, Haxx, we work as consultants and we do contract development for customers who pay for our skill, time and dedication. We help them develop stuff.Haxx

We’re a small company, with basically two full-time employees. Most of our working days, we are involved with a single customer each who pays for our full-time involvement during a number of months. This is all good and fine. We love our jobs and we love our customers. We’re in it for the fun.

Now, these days we can see that the economy is slowly but surely gaining ground again and is getting up to speed. We hear more and more requests for help and potential assignments are starting to pour in. That’s great and all. Except that we’re only two guys and can’t accept very many projects…

Recently we’ve experienced a noticeable increase in amount of requests for support and other development help that involves curl and libcurl. I am the originator and maintainer of curl, there’s really no surprise or wonder that these companies contact me and us about it. I’m always very happy to see that there are companies and persons who are willing to pay for support of open source and in many cases pay for extending and bug fixing libcurl and have those fixes going back to the mainline sources without complaints.

Since we fail to accept a lot of requests, I’m interested in finding you who are interested in helping out with such work. Are you interested in helping out customers with curl related problems? Customers often come to us when they’ve got stuck within something they can’t easily solve themselves and they turn to us as experts in general, and experts on curl and libcurl in particular. And we are.

Before you think this is a great idea and you send me an email introducing yourself and your greatness in this area, please be aware that I will require proof of your qualifications. Most preferably, that proof is at least one good patch posted to the libcurl mailing list and accepted into the mainline libcurl code, but I’m open to accepting slightly less ideal proofs as well if you can just motivate why you failed to provide the ideal ones. Of course you will also need to be able to communicate in English without problems. Your geographical location, gender, race, religion, skin-color and shoe size are completely uninteresting.

I’m looking for someone interested in contract development, not full-time employment. We still do these kinds of jobs on a case by case basis and there may be one every two days, one per week or sometimes even less frequently. I want to increase my network of people I know and trust can deliver quality code and services for this kind of projects.

Can you help us?

Autotool alternatives

Lots of people whine and complain on the set of build tools we often refer to as a collective by the term ‘autotools’. That term tends to include autoconf, libtool and automake.

I think a certain amount of criticism is warranted against this family of aged tools that are unix-centric, have cryptic ways to control them (I think there’s a reason m4 macros  is not widely used…) and they are several independent tools with a tricky mix of cross-breeding.A build tool

The upsides include them being well tested, fairly well known, there’s a wide range of existing tests done for them, they work fine when cross-compiling and they support building out-of-source tree just fine.

But what about the alternatives?

I spend time in projects where the discussion of ditching autoconf come up every once in a while, as sure as that the sun will rise tomorrow. The discussion is always that tool Z is much better and easier to deal with and that everything gets shiny if we just switch. That Z is a lot of different tools that are available today, including CMake, scons, waf or cDetect.

The problem as I always see and why I almost always argue against Z is that autoconf is old, trusty, proven and I know it. The Z tool is often much newer, less proven, less peoeple involved in the project know Z, use Z or know how to customize it (since new tests will be needed and some tests will need to be changed etc). So even though Z is sometimes accepted as a testing ground in my projects, a year or two after the Z was accepted – unless I myself have accepted it and joined its efforts – Z has lagged behind to a point where it isn’t good anymore since I don’t know it and most people are rather fixing the traditional autoconf stuff. So we extract the Z support again.

But if we would never accept new tools we would never evolve, and yes indeed autoconf and friends have their share of flaws.

The question is of course when to switch – what kind of project in what development state etc – and which alternative that is useful for a particular project. Me being a developer primarily working with plain C and working with lowlevel code and libraries mostly will no doubt have a different view than those who use other languages, who do more “apps” or perhaps even GUI programming…

Can you help me point out good build system comparisions and overiews? I’ve tried to find good comparisions but I failed. Just about all of them are written by the authors of one of these tools.

My ambition is to create some sort of comparison document myself. I think the comparison could include autotools, cmake, waf, scons, cdetect, qmake and ant. Any more?

(I got triggered to write this blog post after my post to the trio mailing list on this topic.)

How much for a bug?

no bugsWarning: blog post with no clear conclusion!

I offer support deals to companies that want to get help with Open Source programs I’ve contributed to. The deals I’ve made so far have primarily involved libcurl, c-ares or libssh2, but that’s basically because those are projects in which I participate a lot in (and maintain) so people find me easily in relation to those projects.

I wouldn’t mind accepting service and support deals for other projects or software products either, as long as they are products I know and am fairly familiar with already and I am not scared of digging in and fixing things under the hood when that is required.

In fact, I could very well consider to offer to fix bugs in any Open Source software. Like a general: if you have a bug in an open source project that you really want fixed and you can’t do it yourself I might be your man. Of course this would be limited to some certain kinds of projects and programs, but it could still include a wide range of software. A lot more than the ones I happen to be involved in at any particular point in time.

But while “a bug” is a fairly easily defined term to a user who can’t make something work in a given program it can be anything from dead simple to downright impossible for a developer to fix. The fact that users many times cannot determine if a “bug” is hard or easy, if it’s a bug or a feature not working on purpose, makes such a business deal very hard to provide.

How to pay to get a bug fixed?

Fixed price per bug? Presumably only tricky bugs would be considered for this so it would require a fairly high fixed price. But then it’ll also never be used for simple bugs either since the fixed price would scare away such use cases. I don’t think a fixed-price scheme works very well for this.One dollar bill

Then we only have a variable price approach left. A common way for a consultant like me is to charge for my time spent on a project: I set an hourly rate, I fix the issue in N hours. I charge hourly rate * N. For smallish projects, this is less attractive to customers. If we have no previous relationship, there’s a trust issue where the customer might not just blindly accept that I worked 10 hours on a task they think sounds easy so they feel overcharged. Also, there’s the risk that I estimate the job to be 2 hours but end up spending 12. My conclusion is that per-hour pricing doesn’t work for this either.

A variable price approach based on something else than number of hours it took for me to fix the problem is therefore needed.

A bug fix is of course worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. But we don’t know what they are prepared to pay. On the other end, a bug fix can get done by someone for the price he/she is willing to accept to get the job done. So where is the cross section of those two unknown graphs?

I don’t have the answer here. I’m very interested in feedback and suggestions though. If you would pay for a bug fix, how would you like to get the price set?

Going full-time Haxx

I realize noHaxxt a lot of you who read my site or blog are aware of my actual real world day-job situation (nor should you have to care), but I still want to let you guys know that I’m ending my employment at CAG Contactor and my intention is to find my way forward with my own company, Haxx AB, as employee number 1.

Haxx has existed for over ten years already, but we’ve so far only used it for stuff on the side that wasn’t full-time nor competing with our day-jobs. Starting in October, I’ll now instead work only for and with Haxx.

I don’t expect much in my actual day to day business to change much as I intend to continue as a contract developer / consultant / hacker doing embedded, Linux, open source and network development as an expert and senior engineer.

So if you want my help, you can continue to contact me the same way as before, and I can offer my services like before! 😉 The only difference is in my end where I get more freedom and control.

This move on my behalf will affect some of you indirectly: I will move a lot of web and other internet-based services from servers owned and run by Contactor to servers owned by Haxx. So, expect a lot of my sites and contents to get some uptime glitches in the upcoming month in my struggle to get things up on the new place(s).

Concepts of a new distributed build

It was time to make an overhaul of our distributed builds system for Rockbox. The one currently in place is quite fancy and it does build 106 builds in around 7-8 minutes, but during the years it has served us we have found a few areas where we want to improve.

The goals for the new system were primarily:

  • do all the builds faster
  • reverse the connection so that people can contribute clients easier
  • make a system that is more allowing for slower machines to contribute

The biggest weaknesses of the existing system:

  • The master uses ssh to the distributed clients, which forces them to have an accessible ssh server and port etc. It also makes it awkward for people behind NATs who wants to run more clients.
  • It only hands out a particular build to one client, so thus if a large build happens to get handed to a slow client towards the end of a build round, all the other clients will sit idle waiting for the last client to finish.
  • The build and the subsequent upload of results to the master are synchronous, so thus a client with a very slow uplink may spend a significant time on the upload before it can start the next build.

The  new system is currently in development. It consists of a server that runs on one of our main servers, and there’s a client script that each volunteer contributor runs on their systems.

The clients connect to the master on a dedicated TCP port, specifying user name, password, name of the particular client instance, what particular architectures the client can build and how many bogomips the client boasts. While bogomips is a bogus way to measure anything, we’ve started out using it for a rough way to sort the the build clients based on speed.

The clients keep connected to the server all the time. There’s a ping message from the master every N second of idleness to make sure the connection is kept alive. As soon as the master wants the client to do a build, it sends a message to it detailing exactly how it should build it and using what SVN revision. The client will then do the build at once, upload the results using HTTP to a dedicated place and then tell the server the build is complete.

The server knows about all builds to do at a  commit, what we call a build round. It has a rough “score” or “weight” for each build that grades them in a slow to fast order. When a build round starts, the server will first sort all builds based on number of times they’ve been handed out and as secondary sort key the “weight” of it. Then it loops over the currently connected build clients and hand out builds from the sorted build table. The server then continues to do that until all clients have three builds each to build. As soon as a build is reported to have been completed by a client, that client will get the next build from the sorted build list.

If a client connects to the server and the server deems the client to be too old (since it does specify its version in the handshake message), it will be told to update to a specific version instead and come back then. This way the server can update all build clients when important things are fixed.

The clients will soon start to get assigned builds that already have been assigned to another client. This is not a problem but in fact our intention. The client that completes the build first will simply tell the server, and the server will then tell all the other clients that build that same build that they should cancel that particular build.

A client that joins the server in the middle of a build round will simply get a bunch of builds immediately and join in. A client that disconnects during a build round simply won’t complete its builds and other clients will instead do them. The system is also tolerant against the fact that bogomips is lame to compare computers with, and that the build “score” may not be very accurate or even that some server will have very slow or very fast upload speeds at unpredictable times.

The build master itself does not know when to start a new build round. It simply knows about the concept and it knows how to tell clients to complete a round. To make the master to start a new round, you need to connect to the server’s listening port and issue a special command and provide a password and then you can tell the server to start a build of a specific SVN revision. Or to queue up a build to be performed after the current one if there happens to be one in progress already.

When a full build round is complete, a hundred or so builds have been done, and full packages and log files are now in a directory on the build server, the server will simply trigger an external script that then takes care of updating our build table etc. In fact, every single completed build will optionally trigger an external script to allow web pages or stats pages to get updated as we go.

This build system is currently pretty Rockbox-specific as this is the project and development system we’re writing this for, but there’s really nothing in this that must be this way. I’m sure that if someone (you?) wants to adapt this for another project, I’d be more than happy to assist and to help ensuring that this becomes a more generic distributed build system. Just raise your hand and step forward!

At the time of this writing, (primarily) me and Björn are still ironing out quirks in this new system to hopefully get it going live real soon…

Rockbox

Lyre

I’ve previously blogged about the initiative to build an own open hardware platform that can run Rockbox fine, and just today I noticed their new site is up and alive at:

http://lyre.sourceforge.net/

The hardware has changed quite significantly since the last blog entry of mine, and they’re now using a LPC3130 from NXP instead of the Atmel they had before, and I believe they’ve also changed codec/DAC etc. Me knowingly, Rockbox does not yet run on this newly produced board.

Lyre PCB

I should probably also add that this board is of course still quite far from being portable and there’s no news or info anywhere on how or if you can actually get one of these yourself yet.

USB converter woes

USB to rs232 converters are just never sold properly advertising what chip’s inside and right now I want to know if this one UART I’m working with perhaps is not playing fine with my existing converter cable.

I have this XScale PXA270 on a toradex-colibriboard, and it has only one full featured RS232 (FFUART) and I’m about to move things over to the lesser featured BTUART.

A theory is that my current USB converter that is based on a “Prolific PL2303” doesn’t play nicely on the serial port that isn’t a full RS232.

So I ran off and bought a new cable. I grabbed the only model I found in my local Kjell & Company store – it’s quite different looking than my existing but there’s no hint anywhere on the package or inside of it that says what chipset that empowers it.

A quick drive back home (I’m working from home in this assignment), I plugged it in and I got to see this depressingly familiar dmesg output:

usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
usbserial: USB Serial Driver core
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for pl2303
pl2303 2-2.4:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
usb 2-2.4: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303
pl2303: Prolific PL2303 USB to serial adaptor driver

So what now? I hate how (my) computers these days don’t have serial ports while the entire embedded world still very much uses them. I think I’ll go searching in my closet to see if I can find an old crap computer with a serial port to try.

Another theory is that the port simply is broken hw-wise on the dev board but that’s harder to check for me right now.

Update: it was (as usual) only my stupidity that prevented this from working. If I switch it over to the correct baudrate the usb converter does fine. But before I found that out, I did find a computer with a serial port and I did see it working on that too…

C Code Commandments

I’m an old school C programmers guy and I stay true to some of the older and commonly used rules present in many open source and similar projects. Since I sometimes rant about this to people, I thought I’d amuse my surrounding by stating them here for public use/ridicule. Of course heavily inspired by the great and superior The Ten Commandments for C Programmers. My commandments are not necessarily in any prio order.

Thy Code Shall Be Narrow

Only in very rare situations should code be allowed to be wider than 80 columns. I want my two or three windows next to each other horizontally and still see the code fine. Not to mention the occasional loading up in an editor in a 80 columns terminal and that is should be possibly print nicely (for reviews etc). Wide code is also harder to read I think, quite similarly to how very wide texts in web pages etc aren’t kind to your eyes either.

Thou Shall Not Use Long Symbol Names

To be able to keep the code easily readable by human eyes so that you quickly get an overview and understand things, you simply need to keep the function and variable names fairly short. Not to mention that the code gets harder to keep within 80 columns if you use ridiculously long names.

Comments Shall Be Plenty

Yes, this is something we know everyone says and few live up to. In statistical analyzes of my own C code I usually reach around 25-27% comments and I’m usually happy with that amount. Comments should explain what is otherwise not obvious in the code.

No Hiding What’s Really Happening

I’m not a fan of overloaded operators or snazzy macros that do fancy stuff without it being noticeable in the code. It should be clear when reading the code what it does. That’s also one of the reasons you don’t catch me doing a lot of C++ work…

Thou Shalt Hunt Down and Kill Compiler Warnings

Compiler warnings may be significant and in some cases they are not. Either way, it is our duty to silence them at all times. Firstly because it is often simpler to fix the code to not warn than to figure out if the warning is indeed right or not, but perhaps primarily because it makes it harder to see new warnings appearing if the old ones have been left there.

Write Portable Code Unless Forced by Evil

You may first believe that your code will live on forever on this single platform with this single compiler, but soon and very soon you will learn otherwise. Then you will cheer this rule as it makes you consider unaligned memory accesses, assuming byte-order of binary data or the size of your ‘long’ variable type.

Repeat Not, Use Functions

I see a lot of “copy and paste” programming in my daily life and I’ve learned that sooner or later such practices lead to sorrow. If you paste the same code on multiple places it not only makes it repetitive and boring to update it when an API or something changes, more seriously it increases the risk that you address bugs only on one out of many places or that the fix differ etc. It also makes the code larger and thus harder to follow and understand.

Thou Shalt Not Typedef Away Pointers

A really nasty habit to be seen in some source codes is when people use typedefs to define their own types that is simply a pointer to something. Like with ‘typedef struct whatever * whatever_t’. While I’m in general against excessive typedefing, I’m fine with them in many cases but not when used to hide pointers to look like “ordinary” types. It makes code harder to follow.

Defines, no fixed numbers

Code that relies on zero and non-zero can get away without this, but as soon as you start relying on more numbers in the code you must start using #defines or possibly enums to make them appear with names in the code. Using names is more clever than hardcoded numbers since you can avoid having to explain the number in a comment, and of course it’ll be easier to change the actual number in the code at a later point without it being a painful search-and-replace operation.