5 The challenge for port maintainers

This section will give you an idea of why ports need to be maintained and outline the responsibilities of a port maintainer.

5.1 Why ports require maintenance

Creating a port is a once-off task. Ensuring that a port is up to date and continues to build and run requires an ongoing maintenance effort. Maintainers are the people who dedicate some of their time to meeting these goals.

The foremost reason ports need maintenance is to bring the latest and greatest in third party software to the FreeBSD community. An additional challenge is to keep individual ports working within the Ports Collection framework as it evolves.

As a maintainer, you will need to manage the following challenges:

5.2 Maintainer responsibilities

5.2.1 Keep your ports up to date

This section outlines the process to follow to keep your ports up to date.

This is an overview. More information about upgrading a port is available in the Porter's Handbook.

  1. Watch for updates

    Monitor the upstream vendor for new versions, updates and security fixes for the software. Announcement mailing lists or news web pages are useful for doing this. Sometimes users will contact you and ask when your port will be updated. If you are busy with other things or for any reason just cannot update it at the moment, ask if they will help you by submitting an update.

    You may also receive automated email from the FreeBSD Ports Version Check informing you that a newer version of your port's distfile is available. More information about that system (including how to stop future emails) will be provided in the message.

  2. Incorporate changes

    When they become available, incorporate the changes into the port. You need to be able to generate a patch between the original port and your updated port.

  3. Review and test

    Thoroughly review and test your changes:

    • Build, install and test your port on as many platforms and architectures as you can. It is common for a port to work on one branch or platform and fail on another.

    • Make sure your port's dependencies are complete. The recommended way of doing this is by installing your own ports tinderbox. See resources for more information.

    • Check that the packing list is up to date. This involves adding in any new files and directories and removing unused entries.

    • Verify your port using portlint(1) as a guide. See resources for important information about using portlint.

    • Consider whether changes to your port might cause any other ports to break. If this is the case, coordinate the changes with the maintainers of those ports. This is especially important if your update changes the shared library version; in this case, at the very least, the dependent ports will need to get a PORTREVISION bump so that they will automatically be upgraded by automated tools such as portupgrade(1).

  4. Submit changes

    Send your update by submitting a PR with an explanation of the changes and a patch containing the differences between the original port and the updated one. Please refer to Writing FreeBSD Problem Reports for information on how to write a really good PR.

    Note: Please do not submit a shar(1) archive of the entire port; instead, use diff(1) -r. In this way, committers can much more easily see exactly what changes are being made. The Porter's Handbook section on Upgrading has more information.

  5. Wait

    At some stage a committer will deal with your PR. It may take minutes, or it may take weeks - so please be patient.

  6. Give feedback

    If a committer finds a problem with your changes, they will most likely refer it back to you. A prompt response will help get your PR committed faster, and is better for maintaining a thread of conversation when trying to resolve any problems.

  7. And Finally

    Your changes will be committed and your port will have been updated. The PR will then be closed by the committer. That's it!

5.2.2 Ensure your ports continue to build correctly

This section is about discovering and fixing problems that stop your ports from building correctly.

FreeBSD only guarantees that the Ports Collection works on the -STABLE branches. You should be running 5-STABLE or 6-STABLE, preferably the latter. In theory, you should be able to get by with running the latest release of each stable branch (since the ABIs are not supposed to change) but if you can run the branch, that is even better.

Since the majority of FreeBSD installations run on PC-compatible machines (what is termed the i386 architecture), we expect you to keep the port working on that architecture. However, as more and more people start using the amd64 architecture running native, it is going to be more and more important to make sure that ports run there as well. It is completely fair to ask for help if you do not have one of these machines.

Note: The usual failure modes for non-i386 machines are that the original programmers assumed that, for instance, pointers are ints, or that the relatively lax gcc 2.95 compiler was being used. More and more, application authors are reworking their code to remove these assumptions -- but if the author is not actively maintaining their code, you may need to do this yourself.

These are the tasks you need to perform to ensure your port is able to be built:

  1. Watch for build failures

    Regularly check the automated ports building cluster, pointyhat, and the distfiles survey to see if any of the ports you maintain are failing to build or fetch (see resources for more information about these systems). Reports of failures may also come to you from other users or automated systems via email.

  2. Collect information

    Once you are aware of a problem, collect information to help you fix it. Build errors reported by pointyhat are accompanied by logs which will show you where the build failed. If the failure was reported to you by a user, ask them to send you information which may help in diagnosing the problem, such as:

    • Build logs

    • The commands and options used to build the port (including options set in /etc/make.conf)

    • A list of packages installed on their system as shown by pkg_info(1)

    • The version of FreeBSD they are running as shown by uname(1) -a

    • When their ports collection was last updated

    • When their INDEX file was last updated

  3. Investigate and find a solution

    Unfortunately there is no straightforward process to follow to do this. Remember, though: if you are stuck, ask for help! The FreeBSD ports mailing list is a good place to start, and the upstream developers are often very helpful.

  4. Submit changes

    Just as with updating a port, you should now incorporate changes, review and test, submit your changes in a PR, and provide feedback if required.

  5. Send patches to upstream authors

    In some cases, you will have to make patches to the port to make it run on FreeBSD. Some (but not all) upstream authors will accept such patches back into their code for the next release. If so, this may even help their users on other BSD-based systems as well and perhaps save duplicated effort. Please consider sending any applicable patches to the authors as a courtesy.

5.2.3 Investigate bug reports and PRs related to your port

This section is about discovering and fixing bugs.

FreeBSD-specific bugs are generally caused by assumptions about the build and runtime environments that do not apply to FreeBSD. You are less likely to encounter a problem of this type, but it can be more subtle and difficult to diagnose.

These are the tasks you need to perform to ensure your port continues to work as intended:

  1. Respond to bug reports

    Bugs may be reported to you through email via the GNATS Problem Report database. Bugs may also be reported directly to you by users.

    You should respond to PRs and other reports within 14 days, but please try not to take that long. Try to respond as soon as possible, even if it is just to say you need some more time before you can work on the PR.

  2. Collect information

    If the person reporting the bug has not also provided a fix, you need to collect the information that will allow you to generate one.

    If the bug is reproducible, you can collect most of the required information yourself. If not, ask the person who reported the bug to collect the information for you, such as:

    • A detailed description of their actions, expected program behavior and actual behavior

    • Copies of input data used to trigger the bug

    • Information about their build and execution environment - for example, a list of installed packages and the output of env(1)

    • Core dumps

    • Stack traces

  3. Eliminate incorrect reports

    Some bug reports may be incorrect. For example, the user may have simply misused the program; or their installed packages may be out of date and require updating. Sometimes a reported bug is not specific to FreeBSD. In this case report the bug to the upstream developers. If the bug is within your capabilities to fix, you can also patch the port so that the fix is applied before the next upstream release.

  4. Find a solution

    As with build errors, you will need to sort out a fix to the problem. Again, remember to ask if you are stuck!

  5. Submit or approve changes

    Just as with updating a port, you should now incorporate changes, review and test, and submit your changes in a PR (or send a follow-up if a PR already exists for the problem). If another user has submitted changes in the PR, you can also send a follow-up saying whether or not you approve the changes.

5.2.4 Providing support

Part of being a maintainer is providing support -- not for the software in general -- but for the port and any FreeBSD-specific quirks and problems. Users may contact you with questions, suggestions, problems and patches. Most of the time their correspondence will be specific to FreeBSD.

Occasionally you may have to invoke your skills in diplomacy, and kindly point users seeking general support to the appropriate resources. Less frequently you will encounter a person asking why the RPMs are not up to date or how can they get the software to run under Foo Linux. Take the opportunity to tell them that your port is up to date (if it is, of course!), and suggest that they try FreeBSD.

Sometimes users and developers will decide that you are a busy person whose time is valuable and do some of the work for you. For example, they might:

  • submit a PR or send you patches to update your port,

  • investigate and perhaps provide a fix to a PR, or

  • otherwise submit changes to your port.

In these cases your main obligation is to respond in a timely manner. The timeout for non-responsive maintainers is 14 days. After this period changes may be committed unapproved. They have taken the trouble to do this for you; so please try to at least respond promptly. Then review, approve, modify or discuss their changes with them as soon as possible.

If you can make them feel that their contribution is appreciated (and it should be) you will have a better chance persuading them to do more things for you in the future :-).

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from ftp://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/.

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <questions@FreeBSD.org>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <doc@FreeBSD.org>.