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RPM Maintenance

Git branches

Rpm development takes place in the git master branch, but releases are created from stable branches, created when a development cycle is coming to an end. Alfa tarball is traditionally cut from master, but prior to beta release the tree is branched and beta and later releases are always created from a branch, not master.

  • rpm-4.15.x branch from which all 4.15.x versions are cut from
  • rpm-4.14.x branch from which all 4.14.x versions are cut from

When pulling fixes from git master to stable branches, always use -x to get the automatic cherry-pick commit marker. This way its easier to see which patches come from master, and which commit exactly. If a cherry-pick conflicts, see if it’s resolvable with a suitable upstream commit and if not, when fixing manually change the “(cherry picked from commit …)” message into “(backported from commit …)” to mark the difference.

Selecting commits

Crafting a stable release is inherently a manual process which starts by selecting suitable commits from the master branch to cherry-pick or backport into the respective stable branch.

While you can do this directly in git, it is recommended that you first create a text file that lists all commits on the master branch since the last release and mark those that you intend to pick. This approach allows you to:

  • Keep track of which commits you’ve reviewed so far

  • Ensure that commits are always picked in chronological order

  • Email the plan to the team to get feedback

  • Tweak the plan easily, without having to (re)do any conflict resolution

  • Use a shell script to automate the cherry-picking

  • Try out different variants of the plan to see which apply cleanly

  • Track the plan in a git repo

The rest of this section describes a workflow that involves such a text file, one per stable branch, and a helper script.

Installing the script

Download the script, make it executable and put it into your $PATH.

Making a plan

First, generate a plan for the stable branch (e.g. rpm-4.15.x):

$ git checkout <stable>
$ git cherry-plan make master

This will create a file <stable>.plan in the current directory with a chronological list of commits on master since the branching point, in a format similar to that of git rebase -i, and mark with noop those that have been cherry-picked already.

For complete usage help, run:

$ git cherry-plan -h

Backported commits

Adapted commits won’t be automatically detected as their patches differ from the original ones. These would ideally be indicated in commit messages by a fixed pattern referring to the original commit hash, similar to that added by git cherry-pick -x, however we currently use no such pattern consistently so for the time being, you’ll have to go through git log <stable> and mark such commits in the plan manually.

Once a standard pattern is used across our stable branches, you can use the cherryPlan.portedRegex config option to mark such commits automatically, for example:

$ git config cherryPlan.portedRegex '^(backported from commit \(.*\))$'

Updating a plan

To later pull new commits from master into the plan, use:

$ git cherry-plan pull master

Editing a plan

The next step is to go through the unmarked commits and mark those that you intend to include in the release with pick. For each commit you review, ask yourself:

  • Does it change the ABI or API in an incompatible way?

    Generally adding entirely new APIs is okay, any other change is not, except of course to fix behavior bugs.

  • Does it affect package building in an incompatible way?

    For example, adding new types of requires within stable releases is not a good idea (but provides are mostly harmless). New spec sanity checks may seem obvious, but unless its a crasher, chances are somebody is actually (ab)using it and will be unhappy if the package no longer builds. New warnings are generally okay, hard errors often are not.

    As a rule of thumb: If a package was buildable with rpm-X.Y.Z then it should also be buildable without changes on rpm-X.Y.Z+1, even if it relies on buggy behavior, except for security issues.

  • Does it affect package installation in an incompatible way?

    Rpm is commonly used to install much older and also newer packages built with other versions than the running version, installation compatibility is hugely important always and even more so within stable branches.

    As a rule of thumb: If a package was installable with rpm-X.Y.Z then it should also be installable without changes on rpm-X.Y.Z+1, even if it relies on buggy behavior, except for security issues.

If the answer to any of the above is “yes” then it’s almost certainly not appropriate for a stable maintenance release. Mark such a commit with drop.

The general priorities for stable branches are (descending order):

  1. Regression, crash and security fixes
  2. User visible breakage with no workarounds
  3. User visible breakage with major impact
  4. Other major impact stuff (if budget allows)

Choosing a starting point

You may want to skip any commits that were already reviewed in the last release (if any). For a newly created plan, the last noop commit is a good indication of where the review stopped, but it’s a good idea to look a bit further back, in case some otherwise suitable commits were omitted due to budget constraints and such. In particular, regression or security updates (e.g. rpm- tend to include very specific cherry-picks, leaving gaps behind that may contain useful material for the next stable release.

Otherwise, when editing an existing plan, simply start at the first unmarked commit.

Once you’ve chosen your starting point, either delete the lines above it or bookmark the place by inserting an empty line(s) or comment. It’s handy to keep the previous commits, though, in case some of them turn out to be needed to resolve a conflict.

For a newly created plan, if you choose to keep the previous commits, make sure to mark them with drop, for example (replace <linenum> with the last line to mark):

$ sed -i '1,<linenum> s/^     /drop /' <stable>.plan

Choosing a commit budget

A useful tool to help you pick and, in particular, not pick stuff, is a “commit budget”. For stable releases, 30 is a good ballpark figure, but of course, feel free to tweak it as needed.

Generally speaking, the budget is for code changes only, so any test and documentation additions or updates do not count and should always be picked if possible.

You can check the number of picks so far by running:

$ grep '^pick ' <stable>.plan | wc -l

VIM config

If you use VIM, you can add this snippet into your ~/.vimrc to cycle through markers on the current line with the C-a key and do a git show with the Enter key.

Sharing a plan

Once you’re satisfied with your picks, send the plan as a plain-text email to the team and ask for feedback. That way, people can reply directly to the individual commits inline. Feel free to strip the old commits from the email to keep it short.

Applying a plan

Once the plan is ready, make a copy of the plan and create a topic branch for the release (e.g. rpm-4.15.1):

$ cp <stable>.plan <release>.plan
$ git checkout -b <release>

Then, apply the plan:

$ git cherry-plan apply

This will go through each pick commit and run git cherry-pick -x on it.

In case a commit doesn’t apply cleanly, the process will stop and a message will be printed. At that point, proceed with conflict resolution as usual and when committing the changes, make sure to replace the line “(cherry picked from commit …)” with “(backported from commit …)”, then run:

$ git cherry-plan update

This will update the noop markers in the plan copy so that they reflect the actual branch, i.e. any cherry-picks that were applied successfully above. Continue the process by re-running git cherry-plan apply. If another conflict occurs, repeat the same process until the plan is applied completely.

While preparing the plan, it can be handy to try this out on a throwaway branch every now and then, to make sure you’re not missing some pre-requisite commit(s).

Cutting a release

  1. Prepare preliminary release notes at

    • Not every commit needs a corresponding release notes entry, eg internal refactoring and cleanup should not be detailed, and often a new feature consists of multiple commits that deserve exactly on entry in the notes
    • Follow common style in the text, git commit messages are rarely good as-is. Start with what it does: add/fix/remove/change/optimize, followed by concise description. Group and sort by types of change.
    • Not all releases need the same exact subtitle groups, use common sense.
    • Upstream GH tickets can use #ticketno shortcut, references to external bugzillas follow naming conventions: RhBug:bugno, SuseBug:bugno, MgaBug:bugno (optimally make these actual links)
  2. Prepare the sources:

    • Bump the version in
    • Bump rpm_version_info (ie library soname version info) in Basic libtool guidelines for maintenance updates to stable versions:
      • consult the libtool manual
      • soname bumps can only occur at the first version of a new branch (ie alpha/beta)
    • Update the sources for the above (Makefiles, .po regeneration and all): make dist
    • Commit the changes from the previous step with something like ‘Preparing for X.Y.Z’ as message
  3. Generate the final release tarball:

    make distcheck

  4. Check that the previous step does not introduce any new changes (eg ‘git diff’)

  5. Unpack the tarball next to the previous version and inspect the differences (something like ‘diff -uNr rpm- rpm-<X.Y.Z+1>') and watch out for unexpected material. If you find any, STOP, figure it out and go back as many steps as required.

  6. Submit the whole lot as a pull-request to the branch in question

    • In case of maintenance releases, leave it up for commenting for at least a week to allow for community feedback
    • Review needs a different mindset than new code: look for compatibility and stability issues in particular, as per “selecting commits” above
  7. Tag the release. Something like:

    git tag -a -m “RPM X.Y.Z release” rpm-X.Y.Z-release

  8. Push the tag. This is the point of no return for a given release.

    git push –tags

  9. Upload the bz2 tarball
    • scp to to the appropriate per-branch directory in ~/ftp/releases/
    • run ./trigger-rpm script in the rpm home directory to start mirror process
  10. Make the release official:

    • add tarball checksum and download location to the release notes
    • add a new item to and
    • send an announcement mail to and (and why not too)