GNOME 40 available in Gentoo

GNOME 40 was released at the end of March, and yesterday I added the last bits of it to Gentoo. You may not think that's fast, and you'd be right, but it's a lot faster than any GNOME release has been added to Gentoo that I can recall. I wasn't looking to become Gentoo's GNOME maintainer when I joined the team 18 months ago. I only wanted to use a GNOME release that was a little less stale. So how did I get here?

GNOME has two major releases per year (in March and September), so to be more than two major releases behind is significant. At least two of my coworkers on the Mesa team at Intel switched to Gentoo for one reason or another, but ultimately switched back to their old distribution because Gentoo's GNOME packages were so out of date. That was pretty disappointing to hear, but I sympathized with them.

I maintain the X11/Wayland stack in Gentoo, and I think I do a good job of keeping on top of it. I make upstream releases of X packages and contribute to Mesa professionally so I'm often able to make the upstream and downstream changes at the same time.

But for GNOME I was just a user who happened to be a Gentoo Developer, so I started by just poking and asking if there was anything I could do to help. Unfortunately the answer was "no" nearly every time.

So I just watched and occasionally asked how things were going. And occasionally GNOME updates happened, but the gap between Gentoo and upstream never really closed. GNOME 3.26 was added to Gentoo, and before significant progress was made on adding 3.28 or 3.30 a new major version 3.32 was released upstream. It looked like we were just treading water.

What's worse, there were multiple unofficial overlays often providing newer versions of GNOME than what the ::gentoo repository contained. For reasons that were never clear to me, it seemed that none of the external overlay contributors (one of whom was a full Gentoo Developer!) were willing or able to collaborate with the Gentoo GNOME team.

I started small by adding new versions of GNOME packages and making pull request on GitHub for more experienced GNOME team members to review. Unfortunately by this time, the GNOME team had only one active member.

I joined the GNOME team in October 2019 and worked around the edges, doing small version bumps of non-critical packages.

Since most of the GNOME packages were behind, I began adding the next major GNOME's glib to the tree to get extra testing. I figured if that additional testing caught issues before they could block the rest of GNOME from being updated that I could save us some time.

That worked out pretty well, and I felt a little more confident so I added the next major GNOME's mutter and gnome-shell. Kind of scary.

But that worked out well too. Users tested, filed bugs, and I fixed them. And since the most critical GNOME packages entered the ::gentoo repo long before the ancillary applications we didn't have any big surprises when it was time to ask for stabilization.

Initially I had no idea which packages were related or if there were particular problems to look out for. This knowledge existed only in the head of one Gentoo Developer, so as I squeezed it out of him (as I made mistakes and he let me know!) I began documenting it on the Wiki.

As I updated packages, I encountered various build system bugs. Gentoo naturally uncovers problems binary distributions don't notice. Whenever possible, I made a merge request upstream so that the next time we added a new version we wouldn't have to carry a patch. So far I've had 13 merge requests accepted!

Starting on March 20 I added the first bits of GNOME 40 to the tree (glib and some other packages are often released before the official release date). I added glib first, and then I figured I couldn't break anything too badly if I just bumped the GNOME games. I added gnome-shell (behind package.mask), and then sort of forgot that's where I normally stopped. Less than 8 weeks later, all of GNOME is entirely up to date in Gentoo!

The bookends of adding GNOME 40 are commits 71e9245b05e6 and b93e3e581161. In that time I made 610 commits. The vast majority are GNOME-related (511 of them by my count). Categorized, they are:

Those commits closed 120 bugs (and referenced 21 more), which made a nice dent in the Gentoo GNOME team's bug backlog. At the time of this writing, there are 514 bugs assigned to the GNOME team or with the GNOME team in the Cc list. By default, Bugzilla only shows 500 bugs on a single page, so the GNOME bug list doesn't even fit. That was a bit of a psychological hurdle for me to get started. It'll be a nice moment when we get to the other side of 500.

I hope that with the gap to upstream now closed that some other Gentoo Developers and users will be more willing to help contribute. GNOME fell behind in Gentoo because it was too much work for a single person to maintain sustainably. I've remedied the most glaring symptom of the situation but not the underlying problem. Reach out to me if you'd like to help!

Because it's fun to look at, here's the output of our tool, showing that we're indeed up-to-date on everything.

– Tags: gentoo gnome linux