Monday, May 23, 2016

GStreamer and Meson: A New Hope

Anyone who has written a non-trivial project using Autotools has realized that (and wondered why) it requires you to be aware of 5 different languages. Once you spend enough time with the innards of the system, you begin to realize that it is nothing short of an astonishing feat of engineering. Engineering that belongs in a museum. Not as part of critical infrastructure.

Autotools was created in the 1980s and caters to the needs of an entirely different world of software from what we have at present. Worse yet, it carries over accumulated cruft from the past 40 years — ostensibly for better “cross-platform support” but that “support” is mostly for extinct platforms that five people in the whole world remember.

We've learned how to make it work for most cases that concern FOSS developers on Linux, and it can be made to limp along on other platforms that the majority of people use, but it does not inspire confidence or really anything except frustration. People will not like your project or contribute to it if the build system takes 10x longer to compile on their platform of choice, does not integrate with the preferred IDE, and requires knowledge arcane enough to be indistinguishable from cargo-cult programming.

As a result there have been several (terrible) efforts at replacing it and each has been either incomplete, short-sighted, slow, or just plain ugly. During my time as a Gentoo developer in another life, I came in close contact with and developed a keen hatred for each of these alternative build systems. And so I mutely went back to Autotools and learned that I hated it the least of them all.

Sometime last year, Tim heard about this new build system called ‘Meson’ whose author had created an experimental port of GStreamer that built it in record time.

Intrigued, he tried it out and found that it finished suspiciously quickly. His first instinct was that it was broken and hadn’t actually built everything! Turns out this build system written in Python 3 with Ninja as the backend actually was that fast. About 2.5x faster on Linux and 10x faster on Windows for building the core GStreamer repository.

Upon further investigation, Tim and I found that Meson also has really clean generic cross-compilation support (including iOS and Android), runs natively (and just as quickly) on OS X and Windows, supports GNU, Clang, and MSVC toolchains, and can even (configure and) generate XCode and Visual Studio project files!

But the critical thing that convinced me was that the creator Jussi Pakkanen was genuinely interested in the use-cases of widely-used software such as Qt, GNOME, and GStreamer and had already added support for several tools and idioms that we use — pkg-config, gtk-doc, gobject-introspection, gdbus-codegen, and so on. The project places strong emphasis on both speed and ease of use and is quite friendly to contributions.

Over the past few months, Tim and I at Centricular have been working on creating Meson ports for most of the GStreamer repositories and the fundamental dependencies (libffi, glib, orc) and improving the MSVC toolchain support in Meson.

We are proud to report that you can now build GStreamer on Linux using the GNU toolchain and on Windows with either MinGW or MSVC 2015 using Meson build files that ship with the source (building upon Jussi's initial ports).

Other toolchain/platform combinations haven't been tested yet, but they should work in theory (minus bugs!), and we intend to test and bugfix all the configurations supported by GStreamer (Linux, OS X, Windows, iOS, Android) before proposing it for inclusion as an alternative build system for the GStreamer project.

You can either grab the source yourself and build everything, or use our (with luck, temporary) fork of GStreamer's cross-platform build aggregator Cerbero.

Personally, I really hope that Meson gains widespread adoption. Calling Autotools the Xorg of build systems is flattery. It really is just a terrible system. We really need to invest in something that works for us rather than against us.

PS: If you just want a quick look at what the build system syntax looks like, take a look at this or the basic tutorial.

Friday, June 12, 2015

एक बच्चों की पद्यक

आो मीलो (clap clap clap)
शीलम शालो (clap clap clap)
कच्चा धागा (clap clap clap)
रेस लगा लो (clap clap clap)

(जलदी से)

आो मीलो शीलम शालो कच्चा धागा रेस लगा लो

दस पत्ते तोड़े
एक पत्ता कच्चा
हिरन का बच्चा
हिरन गया पानी में
पकड़ा उस्की नानी ने
नानी गयी लंडन
वहां से लाइ कंगन

कंगन गया टूट (clap)
नानी गयी रूठ (clap)

(और भी तेज़ी से)

नानी को मनाएंगे
रस मालाइ खाएंगे
रस मालाइ अच्छी
हमने खाइ मच्छी
मच्छी में निकला कांटा
मम्मी ने मारा चांटा
चांटा लगा ज़ोर से
हमने खाए समोसे
समोसे बढे अच्छे

नानाजी नमसते!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Transcoding Proxy for HTTP Video Streams

Sometime last year, we worked on a client project to create a prototype for a server that is, in essence, a "transcoding proxy". It accepts N HTTP client streams and makes them available for an arbitrary number of clients via HTTP GET (and/or over RTP/UDP) in the form of WebM streams. Basically, it's something similar to Twitch.tv. The terms of our work with the client allowed us to make this work available as Free and Open Source Software, and this blog post is the announcement of its public availability.

Go and try it out!

git clone http://code.centricular.com/soup-transcoding-proxy/

The purpose of this release is to demonstrate some of the streaming/live transcoding capabilities of GStreamer and the capabilities of LibSoup as an HTTP server library. Some details about the server follow, but there's more documentation and examples on how to use the server in the git repository.

In addition to using GStreamer, the server uses the GNOME HTTP library LibSoup for implementing the HTTP server which accepts and makes available live HTTP streams. Stress-testing for up to 100 simultaneous clients has been done with the server, with a measured end-to-end stream latency of between 150ms to 250ms depending on the number of clients. This can be likely improved by using codecs with lower latency and so on—after all the project is just a prototype. :)

The N client streams sent to the proxy via HTTP PUT/PUSH are transcoded to VP8/Vorbis WebM if needed, but are simply remuxed and passed through if they are in the same format. Optionally, the proxy can also broadcast each client stream to a list of pre-specified hosts via RTP/UDP.

Clients that want to stream video from the server can connect or disconnect at any time, and will get the current stream whenever they (re)connect. The server also accepts HTTP streams via both Chunked-Encoding and fixed-length HTTP PUT requests.

There is also a JSON-based REST API to interact with the server. There is also in-built validation via a Token Server. A specified host (or address mask) can be whitelisted, which will allow it to add or remove session id tokens along with details about the types of streams that the specified session id is allowed to send to the server, and the types of streams that will be made available by the proxy. For more information, see the REST API documentation.

We hope you find this example instructive in how to use LibSoup to implement an HTTP server and in using GStreamer for streaming and encoding purposes. Looking forward to hearing from you about it!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Making things better

When I read Matthew’s post a week ago about creating desktop features that cater to developers, I found myself agreeing quite strongly with the sentiment put forth, and I started to wonder how we could better integrate development features into GNOME. We’ve so far focused strongly on general ease of use and the use-cases of non-technical users, but as we’ve seen time and again, FOSS projects tend to first become popular on the shoulders of technical users. One must be in a position to attract both kinds of users if one wants broad acceptance and use.

On the other hand, I found myself disagreeing very strongly with the sentiment in Philip Van Hoof’s post yesterday. I found it strange that Philip chose to state that greater focus on development integration goes hand-in-hand with a lesser focus on the Outreach Program for Women. Surely one’s immediate reaction would be to utilize the manpower (sic) OPW provides to make development integration happen, right? I’m left wondering what sets of biases, prejudices, or misconceptions one must have to conclude otherwise.

In fact, being in the position to call multiple former OPW participants friends and hence being intimately familiar with their work, I’ve begun to realize that the removal of the “programmers only” requirement that GSoC has, actually leads to a much more holistic approach towards patching the deficiencies that GNOME has.

Without OPW, would we have had a Usability Researcher for GNOME 3? Or a professional Typeface Designer improving the shapes of our UX font, Cantarell and expanding the character set? And surely as programmers and users we understand the importance of documentation? To those who want to see some code, there's plenty of that to see as well.

Over the years, GNOME as an organisation has accreted talent and expertise in a wide spread of technical domains. We have the ability to create the most “usably-featured” OS out there — but only with all our arms working together. Cutting one off in the hope that another will become stronger will only result in a gaping, bleeding, wound.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A New Chapter

Yesterday, my 20-month-long stint at Collabora ended. The company culture, work environment, and perks were brilliant, and working with friendly and extremely competent colleagues was a pleasure.

Starting today, and for the next couple of months, I'll be spending most of my time on the various projects that I've been working on, and on tackling the enormous backlog of itches to scratch that I have accumulated over the past two years. In addition, I'll be looking for (and am available for) part-time consultancy gigs to fill the gaps in-between.

I'm excited about the possibilities that have opened up for me due to this, and I'm really looking forward to spending more time on GNOME!