• See #8654.

  • Our automated builds/testing/QA/CI/whatever system needs that.

  • For example, it would be good to allow building Jessie-based topic branches with the feature-jessie APT suite. Right now, the only way to build a topic branch based on Jessie is to first merge it into feature/jessie locally... and our Jenkins stuff doesn't support that, so we cannot add Jessie-based topic branches to our automatic ISO build setup yet.

Random ideas and notes

Storing the base branch's name elsewhere

... e.g. in config/base_branch, as opposed to recording the corresponding base APT suite in config/APT_overlays?

This may be useful for other purposes: how CI infrastructure will soon need to know what's the base branch for a given topic branch.

Current conclusion: Yes. The work done in feature/8654-encode-apt-suite-in-git assumes we'll be doing that. (Update: we finally went for config/APT_overlays.d/*, implemented in feature/8654-encode-apt-suite-in-git-with-APT-overlays-dot-d.)

Also, it could be needed if/once we use the union merge driver for config/APT_overlays (when merging a base branch into another one, the union merge driver wouldn't DTRT, and surely another merge driver would be more suitable for config/base_branch; that merge driver should ensure that the current version of the file is left as is, which can possibly be achieved simply with driver = /bin/true).

Getting rid of the base APT suites

Entirely get rid of the suites for the main branches: only keep a base branch per base-major-distro-version (tails-wheezy, tails-jessie, etc.)?

Once we stop adding packages to main branches' APT suites except at release time, it make little sense to merge their pile of overlays into each base suite when we release, while we can simply merge them into e.g. tails-wheezy, and in turn into the release tag's APT suite. If we go this way, we need to encode the distribution name somewhere in Git, e.g. config/Debian_codename. As a bonus, if we do that, we could even:

  • pass the content of that file to $RUN_LB_CONFIG --distribution in auto/config
  • possibly generate parts of config/chroot_sources and config/chroot_apt/preferences dynamically at build time
  • in the end, we could almost build ISOs based on Debian sid simply by changing a single configuration file in Git?

Current conclusion: No. It makes things a little bit too complicated e.g. during freeze time for major releases: one wonders where the overlay APT suites merged into testing would be aggregated.


gitattributes(5) files enable us to define path-specific behaviour, such as a speficic merge driver, or filters that shall be applied upon checkin or checkout. For what matters here, this file should be stored in .gitattributes at the root of our main Git repository; whatever is defined in-tree can be overriden locally via $GIT_DIR/info/attributes. This means that we can have:

  • default settings suitable for human contributors, stored in .gitattributes in Git;
  • local overrides for bits of our infrastructure that may need to behave differently.

Git ships with some built-in filters and merge drivers, that can directly be used by specifying what path they should apply to via gitattributes(5). However, it's a different matter whenever one wants to use custom merge drivers and filters: they have to be defined in Git configuration, which can't be stored in the repo itself. Then, contributors who need their Git to use custom filters and merge drivers have to add an [include] section to their .git/config, that points to a config file:

  • that defines the needed filters and merge drivers;
  • that is hosted in another repo: otherwise, when checking out an untrusted branch, arbitrary untrusted code could be run e.g. via a smudge filter.

Note that the merge driver only "affects how three versions of a file are merged when a file-level merge is necessary during git merge". It's not going to be used at all if only one side of the merge has modified the file that has a merge driver defined.

Merge driver for config/APT_overlays

What merge driver should we use for config/APT_overlays?

What follows assumes that we're not storing the base branch's APT suite in that file.

  • When doing base-branch-into-topic-branch merges in Jenkins, we'll probably want to use the union merge driver for config/APT_overlays, in order to resolve trivial merge conflicts by including the lines from both sides. Ideally, we should use the union merge driver only when the Git merge strategy being used would leave a conflict unresolved. To achieve this, it might be that we can use a custom merge driver, that first tries running git merge-file, and if that one returns a strictly positive number, then runs it again with --union.

  • When manually merging a base branch into another one, the union merge driver is not very good: it'll introduce duplicated lines in config/APT_overlays, e.g. when merging e.g. stable into devel. A clean filter defined in .gitattributes might be enough to de-duplicate these lines.

  • When manually merging a base branch into a topic branch, there are several sub-cases:

    • the base branch's config/APT_overlays has had new suites added: then we want to add them in the topic branch too; in this case the union merge driver could work, except if the base branch's config/APT_overlays also had lines removed during the last release;
    • the base branch's config/APT_overlays has had suites removed, e.g. during a release: then, ideally we want to remove them from the topic branch as well. It's no big deal in practice if lines that were deleted from config/APT_overlays in the base branch are still in the topic branch post-merge (the same packages are in the base branch's APT suite anyway), but it's a bit ugly and there are chances that we end up mistakenly re-adding the deleted lines in config/APT_overlays in the base branch when merging the topic branch in it, and then the release manager would merge these APT suites into the corresponding base APT suite at release time, potentially downgrading packages that have been upgraded by other merged branches.

At this point, it doesn't feel worth analyzing all other possible cases. It seems clear that no custom merge driver would do the right thing in all cases of merges we do manually.

Current conclusion:

  • human contributors will handle config/APT_overlays the good old way, as any other file in our Git tree;
  • we'll use the union merge driver in Jenkins.

Update: all this reasoning is moot since we've moved to config/APT_overlays.d/*, so we don't need the union merge driver anymore.

And later, we can reconsider if we need something more clever, e.g.:

  • We might have to use a custom merge driver to force a manual conflict resolution for every manual merge that involves config/APT_overlays, to avoid the case when Git tries to be clever and makes the wrong decision.
  • For Jenkins merges, we may need to investigate using the union merge driver only when it's really needed.

Merge driver for config/base_branch

What merge driver should we use for config/base_branch?

When merging between branches that have the same base branch, there's no conflict, what should be done is quite obvious and then Git will figure it out just fine.

When merging between branches that don't have the same base branch, the cases that matter most are:

  • Merging a base branch (B1) into another one (B2): as above, config/base_branch should be left unchanged in the resulting B2.

  • Changing the base branch of a topic branch T, from B1 to B2: we want T's old base branch to be replaced by B2.

  • Merging into B2 a topic branch T which is based on B1. In practice, this should only happen when B1 = stable or testing, and B2 = devel, and then the Right Way™ to do it would instead be to:

    • either first merge T into B1 if it's ready, and then B1 into B2: the first step is trivial, and the second one is the "merging a base branch into another one" case, which was covered above;
    • or, merge B2 into T, and then T into B2: the first step is essentially about "changing the base branch of a topic branch" case, which was covered above; the second step is trivial. But mistakes may arise, so ideally we would cover cases when merges are not done in ideal order. What should happen, then, is that config/base_branch is left unchanged in B2 after the merge.

To sum up, in all cases except "changing the base branch of a topic branch", we want to keep whatever was in the branch we're merging into. To achieve the general case, perhaps one can define a custom merge driver, used for config/base_branch, that would simply call git merge-file --ours if we're merging into a base branch, and git merge-file otherwise. Git will handle the "changing the base branch of a topic branch" corner case somehow, and it's still the responsibility of the topic branch's developer to ensure that config/base_branch is correct.

Current conclusion: all this feels like premature optimization, or bonus foolproof protection. We'll see how it goes in practice.