GSoC 22 - The Closing Blog Post
In the summer of 2022, I participated in Google’s Summer of Code, contributing to the Thunar file manager at XFCE, with the help of my mentor Alexander Schwinn. It’s been about a month since my GSoC term was officially over, and after a hectic couple weeks, I’ve finally decided to sit down and write down the closing blog post.
New features in Thunar
I’ll start off by introducing the features that I worked on, and a rough idea of how the implementation for the same works. Of these, undo-redo and file counts for folders are already merged on master and have been released with Xfce 4.18. The tour probably does a much better job than I will here, so be sure to go through it as well!
This is the big one. While adding support for undo and redo, one of the most crucial things for me was doing it in an elegant way that would make it easy to have multi-level undo and redo.
How we decided to do this was to maintain a global linked list, containing information about the last performed operation, including what type of an operation it was, what files were involved in it, etc. This allowed it to be as trivial as moving a few pointers around to keep track of the state of the system once an undo or a redo is performed. The actual undo/redo operation is simply executing either the inverse of the last performed operation, or executing the exact same operation that was last undone.
I’m of course glossing over a lot of the details that made this a fair bit harder than we had initially anticipated. Nonetheless, with some help from Alex, we were able to ship this in time for the 4.18 release!
File counts for folders
Adding file counts for features was just a little addition to help better utilize the ‘size’ column for folders, which was essentially wasted space earlier.
It was essential to be asynchronous with its implementation, which turned out to be a bit trickier than I had initially expected. It mostly boiled down to a line of conversions between file abstractions that I had taken for granted would have a low overhead (spoiler alert: they did not have a low overhead).
I was less than confident when first approaching Gallery view, since I thought I’d have to create an entire view from scratch. Luckily, that really wasn’t necessary. I was able to make a new view based off the same abstract view class that the existing icon view used. This is probably better for multiple reasons, since building on existing things makes for much simpler design for the new additions, and easier code review as well.
While I initially had envisioned a masonry image gallery, like the kind you would see on sites such as Pinterest, the abstract icon view lent itself much better to a square icon based gallery, similar to what most Android phone galleries have by default these days.
The gallery view PR is not yet merged into master, needing a few minor fixes on the dialog tooltips (which I’ve sadly been a bit too busy to work on yet), before it’s completely ready.
Not all smooth sailing
While I had initially hoped to complete what I had mapped out in my GSoC proposal in my summer vacations itself, that didn’t work out as intended. Once my semester at college started, I started struggling a bit to balance my academics and my GSoC commitments, but I was steadily making progress.
GSoC being flexible with its contributor timelines this year was an absolute life-saver, since I had to extend my deadline multiple times in order to hit the milestones on my proposal.
The lowest point was when in the midst of all this, some personal family issues cropped up and I essentially went incommunicado for almost a week. This would’ve been enough to fail my proposal in some organizations, but Alex still gave me a chance to make up on lost time when I was back, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. I was able to capitalize on this opportunity and get plenty of work done, though it was really quite hard (and probably not very good for my health long term ).
Advice for others
I recently received an email from someone who was looking to contribute to XFCE in this year’s GSoC, and wanted some advice. I’ll relay part of what I wrote back over here:
I’d say the most important thing is to dive into it while still knowing that you don’t know anything :P
Try at a problem with your intuition for what might work. If you get stuck, push for another 15-20 mins and note down what you try. In this time you should be consulting documentation, StackOverflow, Github issues etc.
If you still aren’t able to figure it out, send a message on the XFCE IRC/Matrix channel, and be descriptive about what you tried, why you think it should work, and why you think it might not have worked. The mentors are incredibly helpful, and you’ll often get an answer that will deepen your understanding of the system and coding in general.
In addition, I’d also like to stress that communication is key!. Your mentors are there to help you, and they want nothing more than a successful and productive summer for the both of you. Raising issues that you’re facing as early as you can allows the both of you to think about and discuss how to tackle them.
I’m incredibly grateful to my mentor Alexander Schwinn, who is one of the most helpful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. He’s been incredibly kind and polite, more than one could reasonably expect out of anyone given the circumstances.
I’m also very thankful for all the help I’ve received from the dedicated XFCE community, including Sergios Kefalidis, Yonghwa Hong, Gaël Bonithon, and many others.
Finally, I’d like to thank Google Summer of Code for the wonderful opportunity, which has definitely been a fantastic hands-on learning experience for me.