Archive for the ‘Programming’ Category


From “power on” to “gtk GUI usable” as fast as possible

In gtk+,Programming,raspberry pi on November 22, 2015 by oli4444

In my Raspberry Pi + Hifiberry-amp + Pitft project I’ve been looking how to speed up the boot process.

[edit] I updated various parts of this post with suggestions from the comments. [/edit]

The original boot process took around 60 seconds from “power on” until my gtk app was visible and responding. I used the original (Wheezy based) raspbian, with autologon on tty1, and in the .bash_profile I called startx. In /home/pi/.xinitrc I started my application without starting a display manager:
exec /usr/bin/python /home/pi/

(b.t.w. the PYTHONIOENCODING is there otherwise python will give an exception when calling print with a non-ascii unicode character)

By removing a few services from the init process I removed 10 seconds from the boot process. Still 50 seconds. But further options on Raspbian Wheezy are limited.

Next step was to move to Raspbian Jessie, which has systemd. This gave an unwanted side effect: the hifiberry was detected correctly, but did not produce any sound anymore. Removing a line added for the pitft device_tree=bcm2708-rpi-b-plus.dtb from /boot/config.txt fixed this problem. And the pitft is still working.

In systemd I can start X11 as soon as userspace is running. However this generated an error – the touchscreen device has to be available first. The touchscreen input is in udev configured as /dev/input/touchscreen. I created /etc/systemd/system/xinit-login.service with the following content:
ExecStart=/bin/su pi -l -c /usr/bin/xinit -- VT08

[edit] with suggestions from the comments in now looks like:


and .xinitrc is now a hardlink to the gtk application [/edit]

This makes my xinit session start directly after the touchscreen device is available. This reduced the startup time to 28 seconds. Much better! (b.t.w. I haven’t look if all entries in xinit-login.service are correct, perhaps the contents can be improved).

Systemd has a good tool called systemd-analyze which analyzes the boot process. That way you can easily see which parts take too much time. That helped me to strip off another 2 seconds. An interesting question is how the udev config can be improved to create the touchscreen device earlier in the boot process. Another interesting question is how X11 can be configured to start faster, or how python + gtk3 can be configured to start faster. If you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments.

Next thing was to make the system readonly. I installed busybox-syslogd instead of rsyslogd, since it can do in-memory logging. [edit] I now switched to systemd-journald for in memory logging [/edit]

I analyzed which directories changed after a reboot, and moved those to a tmpfs in-memory filesystem. The /etc/fstab now looks like:
proc /proc proc defaults 0 0
/dev/mmcblk0p1 /boot vfat defaults,ro 0 2
/dev/mmcblk0p2 / ext4 defaults,noatime,ro 0 1
tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults,noatime 0 0
tmpfs /var/lock tmpfs defaults,noatime 0 0
tmpfs /var/lib/dhcpcd5 tmpfs defaults,noatime 0 0
tmpfs /var/log tmpfs defaults,noatime 0 0

Possibly this can be optimized with a single tmpfs mount and symlinks to reduce the mount time of 4 tmpfs filesystems.

[edit] did that, they are all symlinks to /tmp now [/edit]

The only remaining issue that I didn’t solve yet is handling of /etc/resolv.conf when moving the setup to a different network. Because /etc/ is readonly the resolv.conf is now fixed for my local wifi network.

[edit] disabling the UART, and moving from the debian networking scripts to systemd-networkd reduced the boot time to 21 seconds! [/edit]


A search interface in a 320×240 touchscreen

In gtk+,open source,Programming,raspberry pi on October 24, 2015 by oli4444

Last evenings I spent some time on my raspberry pi + hifiberry amp + piTFT + squeezebox project. Previously I created the interface to load a predefined playlist, and to control basics like volume and time. I also finished the integration of the display in the top of the Mission 731i speaker and placed the pi and amp inside the box (will post some pictures soon).


This time I wanted to extend the user interface with a feature to search and browse in the mp3 collection. But that immediately raised the question: what kind of interface works best for a small screen size (320×240) and touch input (no keyboard, no mouse)? A possibility was a virtual keyboard with a entry or a combo, but my first mockup in glade resulted in 300×140 pixels just for the keyboard – leaving very little space for the search results. So I tried a treeview so the user can quickly scroll through the results. To reduce the number of results I added a combo with a prefix (a-z0-9) to the top.
search gui
The results work reasonably well, but there are some issues to resolve.

First of all the scrolling in the GtkTreeView is not using “kinetic scrolling” (you can’t scroll like you normally do on a touchscreen) although I enabled kinetic scrolling for the GtkScrolledWindow parent in glade. Scrolling using the scrollbar on the side works, but kinetic scrolling would work better.

Second, most touchscreen users kind of expect the context menu when you hold your finger for a while. I hoped this was automatically translated to a right-click, but that doesn’t work. So I have to find a way now to catch these events for the context menu’s (anybody a hint how to do this?).

The last issue I have is not related to the touchscreen. I have some scaling layout issues, sometimes a multiline label with a long text forces some buttons off the screen.
So I also have to find out how ellipsize works with multiline labels.


backwards rendering compatibility

In Bluefish,gtk+,open source,Programming on July 3, 2015 by oli4444

The last year I didn’t keep up with the latest GTK versions. With less time to code, installing new software was not my priority, so I did most of my programming on a machine running Ubuntu LTS.

Last week I had some spare time and I installed the latest Fedora. I installed the same Bluefish version (the latest, 2.2.7) but to my surprise some bits didn’t look as good anymore. Bluefish has a sidebar with several plugins, each in a GtkNotebook tab. This normally looks like this:


But on the latest and greatest Fedora, it looks like this, instead of showing all the icons, only two are visible, unless you make the sidebar extremely wide:


This makes me wonder if GTK has something like “backwards rendering compatibility testing”: see if applications that were not developed for the latest GTK release still look good and function properly. I have no idea if this could be done in an automatic way, but there are probably brighter people around that do have an idea how to do this.

b.t.w. I haven’t found a way yet to change my code in such a way that all icons become visible again. If anybody is willing to drop me a hint how to get all icons back in the original space I will be happy :)


Cross-platform keyboard issues

In Bluefish,gtk+,Programming on October 5, 2014 by oli4444

We often receive bugreports from windows or OSX users with keyboard problems. For example on windows changing the keys ” to ¨ and ‘ to ´. Or on OSX the square brackets [] are not possible on a German keyboard layout (see, or curly braces not on AZERTY layout (see

From what I understood this is caused by gtk handling the keyboard events itself, instead of waiting for the key-value that the operating system provides.

Is there a way how this can be fixed? Either in Bluefish or in GTK?


Engaging developers

In Bluefish,Gnome,gtk+,open source,Programming on March 22, 2014 by oli4444

As Bluefish developer I’m not really tightly involved with gnome and gtk development. However, it is our platform, and although we ship OSX and Windows binaries, most of our users are on Linux, many of them using Gnome. We are as much affected by a gtk bug than any other gnome part. So if we find any, we try to contribute.

However, for some reason it feels that our “outside” contributions are not so welcome. I believe this is not intentional, but still this is not a good thing. So what makes me feel that these contributions are not so welcome? The lack of feedback and results.

An example: In 2012-09-05 I filed a bugreport with a patch to improve the GList documentation. I noticed that new developers often make trivial mistakes (for example appending in a loop). I got some feedback and reworked the patch, submitted on 2012-09-12. And then nothing happened anymore. For 1 year and 4 months there was a total silence. I was originally planning to work trough all of the glib documentation to make it easier for novice programmers to work with, but this result was not really motivating me to do any more work on glib. Until on 2014-01-20 the bug was closed with “fixed”. A tiny bit of documentation was added, but the majority of the patch was not committed. Perhaps it was considered low quality, but at least tell the contributer! And tell how to improve it!

A second example: Early this year a reproducible way to crash Bluefish was reported. We realized the bug was not in Bluefish but in Gtk, GtkTreeModelFilter to be more specific. Instead of just filing a bugreport with the problem, we tracked down the problem and found how to fix it, and filed that in bugzilla For us this is a critical bug. It makes Bluefish crash. It’s now three months later, and nothing has happened. I’m afraid that the next major gtk release will still have this bug, and Bluefish will remain a crappy application because it crashes because of this bug in gtk.

We should improve this! This is not the way to attract new developers! On the contrary, this does discourage new developers!

End note: I realize that I am not heavily involved with gtk or gnome. So there might be many valid reasons why the above two examples are completely wrong. Perhaps my complete feeling about the feedback and results is wrong. Perhaps my expectations are completely unrealistic. But if I have this feeling, there might be more occasional contributing developers that have this feeling. So we could at least then try to explain the true situation.

End note 2: I’m not a native English writer. So if my language was blunt or rude in any way to any person: this was really not intentional and I apologize. I don’t want to attack anyone. I don’t want to complain. I just want to send a signal that we can do better and should do better.


a weird for loop

In Bluefish,Programming on November 5, 2013 by oli4444

Today I had the weirdest debugging session ever. A bug was reported that I could reproduce on Fedora 19, but not on Fedora 18, not on OSX, not on Ubuntu 12.04 (tried both 32bits and 64bits), and not on Ubuntu 13.10.

The bug report mentioned that the highlighting engine did not end single line comments on the first newline. First I tracked this down to a difference in the compiled DFA table. After further debugging I found that a variable in the language file compiler was not set correctly. This variable, only_symbols was defined in a loop:

gboolean only_symbols = TRUE;
gint j;
for (j = 0; j <=127 ; j++) {
  if (characters[j] == 1 && !character_is_symbol(st,context, j)) {
    only_symbols = FALSE;

what I found: j not only loops from 0 to 127, but continues far beyond that number!?!? The function character_is_symbol() is a simple array lookup.

I even added an extra check inside the loop

if (j > 127) {

but although j reached values of 10000, this assertion was never reached????

The fix for the bug was to reverse the loop:
for (j = 127; j >=0 ; j--)

I am still completely baffled by this bug. How is this possible? Does this have to do with loop vectorization? Is this a bug in gcc? Is this a bug in my code? What is going on?

edit: thanks for your comments. It most likely was a combination of a 1-over array size (undefined) with the aggressive loop optimization that the latest gcc has (which then seems to remove the condition in the loop). Problem solved, code fix in svn!


Icons in the file tree

In Bluefish,Gnome,gtk+,open source,Programming on November 2, 2013 by oli4444

The file tree in Bluefish shows icons for the files. To do so, it has an “icon name” column in the tree model, using the special feature of the cell_renderer_pixbuf to render icons by name.

renderer = gtk_cell_renderer_pixbuf_new();
gtk_tree_view_column_set_attributes(column, renderer, "icon-name", COL_ICON_NAME,NULL);

The column COL_ICON_NAME just contains the name (as string) of the icon.

Currently, the icon name is retrieved from a GIcon. The GIcon is retrieved by asking for the property “standard::icon” in g_file_enumerate_children_async().

This means that, for every file, the code creates a GIcon object, just to get a string with the icon name. From browsing trough the glib and gio code I understand that the GIcon is searched for using the mime type, with a binary search in an array that defines all the icons.

I was wondering if I can make the Bluefish code more efficient by caching the icon names for each mime type in a hash table. This has two advantages:

  1. a GIcon object is only created once for each mime type; after we know the corresponding icon name we can do a lookup in the hash table
  2. This needs only one copy of the icon name in memory. In the treestore we can have a pointer to the string in the hash table. Currently 500 text files have 500 copies of the string “text-plain” in memory.

But does this have disdvantages? Any ideas / comments ?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.