Dropping Gentoo reflex

After hitting the publish button on Dropping Gentoo a few friends commented that I was either unnecessarily harsh about Gentoo or we wasted an enormous amount of time on it. It definitely was the former, and I feel a touch ashamed for implying the latter.

I was writing my thoughts in the “project obituary” form that I’m used to, and that is entirely about spotting the downsides to make sure they don’t reoccur. And with that in mind I was being incredibly unfair to Gentoo, both the project and by extension the people working on it.

There were many, many good points about Gentoo and I’ll nod towards a few now.


No, no. Not the “Oh my god, my KDEs are so fast” that many people fairly associate with Gentoo users. I’m talking about the basic package handling tasks.

There are very few other distributions that can match Gentoo when it comes to the speed of editing a package. Or, for that matter, the speed of installation if you share binary packages.

Almost the first thing you notice when switching to Debian or Fedora as a heavy binary package user on Gentoo is just how slow package installation and removal is. Binary package installation on Gentoo feels on par with a distribution like Slackware, and what passes for package management there is just choosing the right argument to tar’s -C option.

Where Gentoo really excels though is in the speed of creating new packages or editing existing packages.

Lets take a look at an example. Say, for example, that you just found out that flask-dashed’s ebuild mistakenly installs a /usr/README file. We we can fix the problem with the following simple change and a call to repoman manifest, the rest takes care of itself.

diff --git i/flask-dashed-0.1b_p2.ebuild w/flask-dashed-0.1b_p2.ebuild
index dd64877a387e..cf3e3cbf272b 100644
--- i/flask-dashed-0.1b_p2.ebuild
+++ w/flask-dashed-0.1b_p2.ebuild
@@ -29,5 +29,6 @@ S="${WORKDIR}/${MY_P}"

 src_prepare() {
+       sed -i /data_files/d setup.py || die "sed failed"
        rm -rf "${S}/tests"


Of course, you should fix the package properly and send the fix upstream but this is just to prove a point. Calling die with sed there isn’t recommended and is practically pointless, but it is the style upstream.

I have to mention a small downside here however, because very few people seem to test portage’s binary package support you’ll occasionally have to do some leg work to fix problems. This normally arises when you have an eclass change that needs to ripple through, or when a library breaks compatibility and its ebuild hasn’t been bumped properly.

Almost every time that happens you can fix it with a quick loop in your shell though. A couple of such problems and solutions that I found in my shell history can be seen below.

# When you were stuck with packages that used python-distutils-ng, and you
# needed to scrub packages because you changed Python version
for p in $(portageq pkgdir)/*-*/*.tbz2; do
    qtbz2 -xO $p | qxpak -xO - ${${p##*/}/.tbz2}.ebuild | grep -q 'SUPPORT_PYTHON_ABIS' && echo $p

# When you were using packages that used python’s “-r1” eclasses and all
# you could see is a flood of blockages in your update output
for p in $(portageq pkgdir)/*-*/*.tbz2; do
    qtbz2 -xO $p | qxpak -xO - RDEPEND 2>/dev/null | grep -q "dev-python/python-exec" && echo $p


The excellent devmanual and the incredible Package Manager Specification made life so much easier. The devmanual was both short enough to be used as quick reference and complete enough that you could learn most of what you’d need to know from it. The unfortunately named PMS acted as the reference that finally allowed us to switch from away from portage completely at the office.

The PMS documented much of the nastiness that portage suffers from, and made life in general a whole lot nicer when you were chasing bugs deep down the rabbit hole. And, let us be honest here it also stopped a little of the fluidity that plagued portage too.

Some people argue that it acts as unnecessary stop motion but those people must be forgetting what happened when behaviour changed randomly between portage versions. PMS, and the EAPI process, also brought some much needed design and stability to newer features.

All Gentoo users owe Ciaran McCreesh a few beers for all the hard work he put in to those documents, especially in the early days.

The personal touch

On a personal note I’ve met some awesome people over the years as a result of using Gentoo. Many of them at the old Gentoo UK conferences, which were always fun. More recently at LoFu’s annual summit which seems to have taken Gentoo UK’s place with practically everyone you saw at Gentoo UK(minus the students), and oddly about the same Gentoo to non-Gentoo ratio of talks too.

Two excellent people on our current team were recruited following the Gentoo UK conference at UCL, and we met a spectacular contract hire at the one prior to that as well.

I’ve even been lucky enough to have a few doors held open for me via people I’ve met at Gentoo-themed or Gentoo-heavy events, and I suspect I’d be writing this from a less happy place without them.

Wrapping up

It is true that you really can not always see the forest for trees.

Had recent events not clouded my vision I would have commented on the train wreck that is webapp.eclass and app-admin/webapp-config in Dropping Gentoo. It sucked tonnes and tonnes of time away until we eventually just trashed any package that interacted with it and moved on.

That was so long ago that I had forgotten about it until a co-worker asked me why I hadn’t mentioned it. I suspect most of the other negative comments I made will feel equally inconsequential when compared to the benefits Gentoo gave us as time moves on.

Instead of making this rant even longer, I’ll take the time to reflect on the fun memories.