bugs are better when fun

August 12th, 2007

Gentoo is fabled to be the maverick of a distro that blows up right, left and center. While I find that to be a gross exaggeration, it does occasionally crash in scary ways. Although I don't think it's any worse than the others, upgrading Ubuntu from release to another is still broken (Edgy -> Feisty, check), and last time I tried the Fedora upgrade cycle it was busted as well. Obviously, I wouldn't be running Gentoo these last five years if it were as fragile as some people think. I actually find it the most sane distro in many ways.

But yesterday I must say I had quite a bit of fun with it. I keep to a fairly recent upgrade path, so I rarely fall behind more than a week. The expat1->2 upgrade had been in the works for some time, but the einfo flew by without me seeing it, as it often is. Interestingly, half the packages on the system depend on expat, and all of them were suddenly broken. The first thing I noticed was Firefox behaving odd.

Some things cannot readily be captured in a picture, an audio recording, or a video. Not even in a piece of text. A cool bug is one of those things. It has to be investigated, experimented upon, to understand the extent of it. I regret that I had no way to record this work of art for posterity. So Firefox was running happily along, as it had been doing for hours. Then at one point, I open a new tab and type fa in the location field to call up facebook from the drop down list. But I never got to a. Just as I hit f on the keyboard, Firefox crashed.

Of course, Firefox *does* love the crash, it crashes several times a day. But it almost always crashes over Adobe's frightfully stable flash plugin. This was not one of those times, I didn't have flash content in any of the open tabs. Well, never mind, it was probably a coincidence. So I start it up again, I get my tabs back, and again I open a new tab to load facebook. Again I never get to a. Hm, this is starting to get interesting.

It turns out that a single key press would crash Firefox, but it didn't have a problem with the mouse. And not just Firefox, any Gtk application. At this point I was quite amused.

Not surprisingly, bugs are more fun when you have an idea what to do about them. I did track down the expat problem after some digging, but it made me recompile a boat load of packages. All of them seem to work again, although revdep-rebuild hadn't been run for a while and exposed some other problems. One package that didn't recover, however, was digikam. I'm back on 0.8.2-r1 after running 0.9.2 happily for weeks. Odd.

The moral is this: if you're going to crash, find a fun way to crash.

:: random entries in this category ::

5 Responses to "bugs are better when fun"

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks for pointing out that this expat upgrade was coming. You saved me some potential breakage.

    How did you know the expat upgrade had been in the works for some time? What was your source of information?

  2. numerodix says:

    Well, I read it on the gnome upgrade guide. I haven't seen it on the main site, but it was linked in from the forum. At the time I was already underway debugging the problem. I have very few gnome packages installed, but it breaks almost all of KDE too.

  3. Chxta says:

    Have you tried KDE 4 alpha?

  4. numerodix says:

    Only the suse livecd..

  5. [...] It struck me today that as coders we do what we can to wrap our nasty, complicated code in a neat package that the user will love. They don’t realize, and we don’t want them to know, just how convoluted and messy the stuff is on the inside. And this holds up for long periods of time. But there comes a time when our neat little illusion cracks up and the ugliness comes into view. Bugs expose it sometimes, but upgrades do this with immaculate regularity. [...]