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Jan 24 2018
Jan 24

A step change in managing your calendar, without social media

Oct 08 2017
Oct 08
Jul 11 2016
Jul 11

Many people have now heard of the EFF-backed free certificate authority Let's Encrypt. Not only is it free of charge, it has also introduced a fully automated mechanism for certificate renewals, eliminating a tedious chore that has imposed upon busy sysadmins everywhere for many years.

These two benefits - elimination of cost and elimination of annual maintenance effort - imply that server operators can now deploy certificates for far more services than they would have previously.

The TLS chapter of the RTC Quick Start Guide has been updated with details about Let's Encrypt so anybody installing SIP or XMPP can use Let's Encrypt from the outset.

For example, somebody hosting basic Drupal or Wordpress sites for family, friends and small community organizations can now offer them all full HTTPS encryption, WebRTC, SIP and XMPP without having to explain annual renewal fees or worry about losing time in their evenings and weekends renewing certificates manually.

Even people who were willing to pay for a single certificate for their main web site may have snubbed their nose at the expense and ongoing effort of having certificates for their SMTP mail server, IMAP server, VPN gateway, SIP proxy, XMPP server, WebSocket and TURN servers too. Now they can all have certificates.

Early efforts at SIP were doomed without encryption

In the early days, SIP messages would be transported across the public Internet in UDP datagrams without any encryption. SIP itself wasn't originally designed for NAT and a variety of home routers were created with "NAT helper" algorithms that would detect and modify SIP packets to try and work through NAT. Sadly, in many cases these attempts to help actually clash with each other and lead to further instability. Conversely, many rogue ISPs could easily detect and punish VoIP users by blocking their calls or even cutting their DSL line. Operating SIP over TLS, usually on the HTTPS port (TCP port 443) has been an effective way to quash all of these different issues.

While the example of SIP is one of the most extreme, it helps demonstrate the benefits of making encryption universal to ensure stability and cut out the "man-in-the-middle", regardless of whether he is trying to help or hinder the end user.

Is one certificate enough?

Modern SIP, XMPP and WebRTC require additional services, TURN servers and WebSocket servers. If they are all operated on port 443 then it is necessary to use different hostnames for each of them (e.g. turn.example.org and ws.example.org. Each different hostname requires a certificate. Let's Encrypt can provide those additional certificates too, without additional cost or effort.

The future with Let's Encrypt

The initial version of the Let's Encrypt client, certbot, fully automates the workflow for people using popular web servers such as Apache and nginx. The manual or certonly modes can be used for other services but hopefully certbot will evolve to integrate with many other popular applications too.

Currently, Let's Encrypt's certbot tool issues certificates to servers running on TCP port 443 or 80. These are considered to be a privileged ports whereas any port over 1023, including the default ports used by applications such as SIP (5061), XMPP (5222, 5269) and TURN (5349), are not privileged ports. As long as certbot maintains this policy, it is generally necessary to either run a web server for the domain associated with each certificate or run the services themselves on port 443. There are other mechanisms for domain validation and various other clients supporting different subsets of them. Running the services themselves on port 443 turns out to be a good idea anyway as it ensures that RTC services can be reached through HTTP proxy servers who fail to let the HTTP CONNECT method access any other ports.

Many configuration tasks are already scripted during the installation of packages on a GNU/Linux distribution (such as Debian or Fedora) or when setting up services using cloud images (for example, in Docker or OpenStack). Due to the heavily standardized nature of Let's Encrypt and the widespread availability of the tools, many of these package installation scripts can be easily adapted to find or create Let's Encrypt certificates on the target system, ensuring every service is running with TLS protection from the minute it goes live.

If you have questions about Let's Encrypt for RTC or want to share your experiences, please come and discuss it on the Free-RTC mailing list.

WebRTC and communications projects in GSoC 2016

Jun 20 2016
Jun 20

Working to pass GSoC

Jun 08 2016
Jun 08

GSoC 2016 opportunities for Voice, Video and Chat Communication

Mar 23 2016
Mar 23

Want to use free software to communicate with your family in Christmas 2016?

Jan 06 2016
Jan 06

Real-Time Communication in FOSDEM 2016 main track

Dec 29 2015
Dec 29

TADHack Paris - 12-13 December 2015

Dec 12 2015
Dec 12

Is WebRTC one of your goals for 2016?

Dec 09 2015
Dec 09
Nov 18 2015
Nov 18

DruCall is one of the easiest ways to get up and running with WebRTC voice and video calling on your own web site or blog. It is based on 100% open source and 100% open standards - no binary browser plugins and no lock-in to a specific service provider or vendor.

On Debian or Ubuntu, just running a command such as

# apt-get install -t jessie-backports drupal7-mod-drucall

will install Drupal, Apache, MySQL, JSCommunicator, JsSIP and all the other JavaScript library packages and module dependencies for DruCall itself.

The user interface

Most of my experience is in server-side development, including things like the powerful SIP over WebSocket implementation in the reSIProcate SIP proxy repro.

In creating DruCall, I have simply concentrated on those areas related to configuring and bringing up the WebSocket connection and creating the authentication tokens for the call.

Those things provide a firm foundation for the module, but it would be nice to improve the way it is presented and optimize the integration with other Drupal features. This is where the projects (both DruCall and JSCommunicator) would really benefit from feedback and contributions from people who know Drupal and web design in much more detail.

Benefits for collaboration

If anybody wants to collaborate on either or both of these projects, I'd be happy to offer access to a pre-configured SIP WebSocket server in my lab for more convenient testing. The DruCall source code is a Drupal.org hosted project and the JSCommunicator source code is on Github.

When you get to the stage where you want to run your own SIP WebSocket server as well then free community support can also be provided through the repro-user mailing list. The free, online RTC Quick Start Guide gives a very comprehensive overview of everything you need to do to run your own WebRTC SIP infrastructure.

Oct 29 2015
Oct 29

reSIProcate 1.10.0 was released a few weeks ago and after going through the various QA cycles has become available in packages for Debian jessie-backports, EPEL6 and EPEL7 and the latest releases of Fedora and Ubuntu.

Key features of the 1.10.x branch:

A 1.10.1 release was tagged yesterday and is not yet widely available in packages. This release is only significant for people using RADIUS authentication and keen to change from the FreeRADIUS-client library to radcli.

Oct 28 2015
Oct 28

Manchester Free Software and MadLab are hosting a workshop on Free and Federated Real-Time Communications with Free Software next Monday night, 2 November from 7pm.

Add this to your calendar (iCalendar link)

Users and developers are invited to come and discover the opportunities for truly free and secure chat, voice and video with WebRTC, mobile VoIP and the free desktop.

This is an interactive workshop with practical, hands-on opportunities to explore this topic, see what works and what doesn't and learn about troubleshooting techniques to help developers like myself improve the software. This is also a great opportunity for any Java developers who would like to get some exposure to the Android platform.

People wishing to fully participate in all the activities are encouraged to bring a laptop with the Wireshark software and Android tools (especially adb, the command line utility) or if you prefer to focus on WebRTC, have the latest version of Firefox and Chrome installed.

If you are keen to run the DruCall module for WebRTC or your own SIP or XMPP server, you can try setting it up as described in the RTC Quick Start Guide and come along to the workshop with any questions you have.

A workshop near you?

Manchester has a history of great technological innovation, including the first stored program computer and it is a real thrill for me to offer this workshop there.

FSFE Manchester ran a workshop evaluating the performance of free software softphones back in 2012.

Over the coming months, I would like to be able to hold further workshops in other locations to get feedback from people who are trying this technology, including the Lumicall app, JSCommunicator and DruCall. If you are interested in helping organize such an event or you have any other feedback about this topic, please come and discuss it on the Free RTC mailing list.

Oct 02 2015
Oct 02

I've mentored a number of students in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for Debian and Ganglia and most of the companies I've worked with have run internships and graduate programs from time to time. GSoC 2015 has just finished and with all the excitement, many students are already asking what they can do to prepare and be selected for Outreachy or GSoC in 2016.

My own observation is that the more time the organization has to get to know the student, the more confident they can be selecting that student. Furthermore, the more time that the student has spent getting to know the free software community, the more easily they can complete GSoC.

Here I present a list of things that students can do to maximize their chance of selection and career opportunities at the same time. These tips are useful for people applying for GSoC itself and related programs such as GNOME's Outreachy or graduate placements in companies.

Disclaimers

There is no guarantee that Google will run the program again in 2016 or any future year until the Google announcement.

There is no guarantee that any organization or mentor (including myself) will be involved until the official list of organizations is published by Google.

Do not follow the advice of web sites that invite you to send pizza or anything else of value to prospective mentors.

Following the steps in this page doesn't guarantee selection. That said, people who do follow these steps are much more likely to be considered and interviewed than somebody who hasn't done any of the things in this list.

Understand what free software really is

You may hear terms like free software and open source software used interchangeably.

They don't mean exactly the same thing and many people use the term free software for the wrong things. Not all projects declaring themselves to be "free" or "open source" meet the definition of free software. Those that don't, usually as a result of deficiencies in their licenses, are fundamentally incompatible with the majority of software that does use genuinely free licenses.

Google Summer of Code is about both writing and publishing your code and it is also about community. It is fundamental that you know the basics of licensing and how to choose a free license that empowers the community to collaborate on your code well after GSoC has finished.

Please review the definition of free software early on and come back and review it from time to time. The The GNU Project / Free Software Foundation have excellent resources to help you understand what a free software license is and how it works to maximize community collaboration.

Don't look for shortcuts

There is no shortcut to GSoC selection and there is no shortcut to GSoC completion.

The student stipend (USD $5,500 in 2014) is not paid to students unless they complete a minimum amount of valid code. This means that even if a student did find some shortcut to selection, it is unlikely they would be paid without completing meaningful work.

If you are the right candidate for GSoC, you will not need a shortcut anyway. Are you the sort of person who can't leave a coding problem until you really feel it is fixed, even if you keep going all night? Have you ever woken up in the night with a dream about writing code still in your head? Do you become irritated by tedious or repetitive tasks and often think of ways to write code to eliminate such tasks? Does your family get cross with you because you take your laptop to Christmas dinner or some other significant occasion and start coding? If some of these statements summarize the way you think or feel you are probably a natural fit for GSoC.

An opportunity money can't buy

The GSoC stipend will not make you rich. It is intended to make sure you have enough money to survive through the summer and focus on your project. Professional developers make this much money in a week in leading business centers like New York, London and Singapore. When you get to that stage in 3-5 years, you will not even be thinking about exactly how much you made during internships.

GSoC gives you an edge over other internships because it involves publicly promoting your work. Many companies still try to hide the potential of their best recruits for fear they will be poached or that they will be able to demand higher salaries. Everything you complete in GSoC is intended to be published and you get full credit for it. Imagine a young musician getting the opportunity to perform on the main stage at a rock festival. This is how the free software community works. It is a meritocracy and there is nobody to hold you back.

Having a portfolio of free software that you have created or collaborated on and a wide network of professional contacts that you develop before, during and after GSoC will continue to pay you back for years to come. While other graduates are being screened through group interviews and testing days run by employers, people with a track record in a free software project often find they go straight to the final interview round.

Register your domain name and make a permanent email address

Free software is all about community and collaboration. Register your own domain name as this will become a focal point for your work and for people to get to know you as you become part of the community.

This is sound advice for anybody working in IT, not just programmers. It gives the impression that you are confident and have a long term interest in a technology career.

Choosing the provider: as a minimum, you want a provider that offers DNS management, static web site hosting, email forwarding and XMPP services all linked to your domain. You do not need to choose the provider that is linked to your internet connection at home and that is often not the best choice anyway. The XMPP foundation maintains a list of providers known to support XMPP.

Create an email address within your domain name. The most basic domain hosting providers will let you forward the email address to a webmail or university email account of your choice. Configure your webmail to send replies using your personalized email address in the From header.

Update your ~/.gitconfig file to use your personalized email address in your Git commits.

Create a web site and blog

Start writing a blog. Host it using your domain name.

Some people blog every day, other people just blog once every two or three months.

Create links from your web site to your other profiles, such as a Github profile page. This helps reinforce the pages/profiles that are genuinely related to you and avoid confusion with the pages of other developers.

Many mentors are keen to see their students writing a weekly report on a blog during GSoC so starting a blog now gives you a head start. Mentors look at blogs during the selection process to try and gain insight into which topics a student is most suitable for.

Create a profile on Github

Github is one of the most widely used software development web sites. Github makes it quick and easy for you to publish your work and collaborate on the work of other people. Create an account today and get in the habbit of forking other projects, improving them, committing your changes and pushing the work back into your Github account.

Github will quickly build a profile of your commits and this allows mentors to see and understand your interests and your strengths.

In your Github profile, add a link to your web site/blog and make sure the email address you are using for Git commits (in the ~/.gitconfig file) is based on your personal domain.

Start using PGP

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is the industry standard in protecting your identity online. All serious free software projects use PGP to sign tags in Git, to sign official emails and to sign official release files.

The most common way to start using PGP is with the GnuPG (GNU Privacy Guard) utility. It is installed by the package manager on most Linux systems.

When you create your own PGP key, use the email address involving your domain name. This is the most permanent and stable solution.

Print your key fingerprint using the gpg-key2ps command, it is in the signing-party package on most Linux systems. Keep copies of the fingerprint slips with you.

This is what my own PGP fingerprint slip looks like. You can also print the key fingerprint on a business card for a more professional look.

Using PGP, it is recommend that you sign any important messages you send but you do not have to encrypt the messages you send, especially if some of the people you send messages to (like family and friends) do not yet have the PGP software to decrypt them.

If using the Thunderbird (Icedove) email client from Mozilla, you can easily send signed messages and validate the messages you receive using the Enigmail plugin.

Get your PGP key signed

Once you have a PGP key, you will need to find other developers to sign it. For people I mentor personally in GSoC, I'm keen to see that you try and find another Debian Developer in your area to sign your key as early as possible.

Free software events

Try and find all the free software events in your area in the months between now and the end of the next Google Summer of Code season. Aim to attend at least two of them before GSoC.

Look closely at the schedules and find out about the individual speakers, the companies and the free software projects that are participating. For events that span more than one day, find out about the dinners, pub nights and other social parts of the event.

Try and identify people who will attend the event who have been GSoC mentors or who intend to be. Contact them before the event, if you are keen to work on something in their domain they may be able to make time to discuss it with you in person.

Take your PGP fingerprint slips. Even if you don't participate in a formal key-signing party at the event, you will still find some developers to sign your PGP key individually. You must take a photo ID document (such as your passport) for the other developer to check the name on your fingerprint but you do not give them a copy of the ID document.

Events come in all shapes and sizes. FOSDEM is an example of one of the bigger events in Europe, linux.conf.au is a similarly large event in Australia. There are many, many more local events such as the Debian UK mini-DebConf in Cambridge, November 2015. Many events are either free or free for students but please check carefully if there is a requirement to register before attending.

On your blog, discuss which events you are attending and which sessions interest you. Write a blog during or after the event too, including photos.

Quantcast generously hosted the Ganglia community meeting in San Francisco, October 2013. We had a wild time in their offices with mini-scooters, burgers, beers and the Ganglia book. That's me on the pink mini-scooter and Bernard Li, one of the other Ganglia GSoC 2014 admins is on the right.

Install Linux

GSoC is fundamentally about free software. Linux is to free software what a tree is to the forest. Using Linux every day on your personal computer dramatically increases your ability to interact with the free software community and increases the number of potential GSoC projects that you can participate in.

This is not to say that people using Mac OS or Windows are unwelcome. I have worked with some great developers who were not Linux users. Linux gives you an edge though and the best time to gain that edge is now, while you are a student and well before you apply for GSoC.

If you must run Windows for some applications used in your course, it will run just fine in a virtual machine using Virtual Box, a free software solution for desktop virtualization. Use Linux as the primary operating system.

Here are links to download ISO DVD (and CD) images for some of the main Linux distributions:

If you are nervous about getting started with Linux, install it on a spare PC or in a virtual machine before you install it on your main PC or laptop. Linux is much less demanding on the hardware than Windows so you can easily run it on a machine that is 5-10 years old. Having just 4GB of RAM and 20GB of hard disk is usually more than enough for a basic graphical desktop environment although having better hardware makes it faster.

Your experiences installing and running Linux, especially if it requires some special effort to make it work with some of your hardware, make interesting topics for your blog.

Decide which technologies you know best

Personally, I have mentored students working with C, C++, Java, Python and JavaScript/HTML5.

In a GSoC program, you will typically do most of your work in just one of these languages.

From the outset, decide which language you will focus on and do everything you can to improve your competence with that language. For example, if you have already used Java in most of your course, plan on using Java in GSoC and make sure you read Effective Java (2nd Edition) by Joshua Bloch.

Decide which themes appeal to you

Find a topic that has long-term appeal for you. Maybe the topic relates to your course or maybe you already know what type of company you would like to work in.

Here is a list of some topics and some of the relevant software projects:

  • System administration, servers and networking: consider projects involving monitoring, automation, packaging. Ganglia is a great community to get involved with and you will encounter the Ganglia software in many large companies and academic/research networks. Contributing to a Linux distribution like Debian or Fedora packaging is another great way to get into system administration.
  • Desktop and user interface: consider projects involving window managers and desktop tools or adding to the user interface of just about any other software.
  • Big data and data science: this can apply to just about any other theme. For example, data science techniques are frequently used now to improve system administration.
  • Business and accounting: consider accounting, CRM and ERP software.
  • Finance and trading: consider projects like R, market data software like OpenMAMA and connectivity software (Apache Camel)
  • Real-time communication (RTC), VoIP, webcam and chat: look at the JSCommunicator or the Jitsi project
  • Web (JavaScript, HTML5): look at the JSCommunicator

Before the GSoC application process begins, you should aim to learn as much as possible about the theme you prefer and also gain practical experience using the software relating to that theme. For example, if you are attracted to the business and accounting theme, install the PostBooks suite and get to know it. Maybe you know somebody who runs a small business: help them to upgrade to PostBooks and use it to prepare some reports.

Make something

Make some small project, less than two week's work, to demonstrate your skills. It is important to make something that somebody will use for a practical purpose, this will help you gain experience communicating with other users through Github.

For an example, see the servlet Juliana Louback created for fixing phone numbers in December 2013. It has since been used as part of the Lumicall web site and Juliana was selected for a GSoC 2014 project with Debian.

There is no better way to demonstrate to a prospective mentor that you are ready for GSoC than by completing and publishing some small project like this yourself. If you don't have any immediate project ideas, many developers will also be able to give you tips on small projects like this that you can attempt, just come and ask us on one of the mailing lists.

Ideally, the project will be something that you would use anyway even if you do not end up participating in GSoC. Such projects are the most motivating and rewarding and usually end up becoming an example of your best work. To continue the example of somebody with a preference for business and accounting software, a small project you might create is a plugin or extension for PostBooks.

Getting to know prospective mentors

Many web sites provide useful information about the developers who contribute to free software projects. Some of these developers may be willing to be a GSoC mentor.

For example, look through some of the following:

  • Planet / Blog aggregation sites: these sites all have links to the blogs of many developers. They are useful sources of information about events and also finding out who works on what.
  • Developer profile pages. Many projects publish a page about each developer and the packages, modules or other components he/she is responsible for. Look through these lists for areas of mutual interest.
  • Developer github profiles. Github makes it easy to see what projects a developer has contributed to. To see many of my own projects, browse through the history at my own Github profile

Getting on the mentor's shortlist

Once you have identified projects that are interesting to you and developers who work on those projects, it is important to get yourself on the developer's shortlist.

Basically, the shortlist is a list of all students who the developer believes can complete the project. If I feel that a student is unlikely to complete a project or if I don't have enough information to judge a student's probability of success, that student will not be on my shortlist.

If I don't have any student on my shortlist, then a project will not go ahead at all. If there are multiple students on the shortlist, then I will be looking more closely at each of them to try and work out who is the best match.

One way to get a developer's attention is to look at bug reports they have created. Github makes it easy to see complaints or bug reports they have made about their own projects or other projects they depend on. Another way to do this is to search through their code for strings like FIXME and TODO. Projects with standalone bug trackers like the Debian bug tracker also provide an easy way to search for bug reports that a specific person has created or commented on.

Once you find some relevant bug reports, email the developer. Ask if anybody else is working on those issues. Try and start with an issue that is particularly easy and where the solution is interesting for you. This will help you learn to compile and test the program before you try to fix any more complicated bugs. It may even be something you can work on as part of your academic program.

Find successful projects from the previous year

Contact organizations and ask them which GSoC projects were most successful. In many organizations, you can find the past students' project plans and their final reports published on the web. Read through the plans submitted by the students who were chosen. Then read through the final reports by the same students and see how they compare to the original plans.

Start building your project proposal now

Don't wait for the application period to begin. Start writing a project proposal now.

When writing a proposal, it is important to include several things:

  • Think big: what is the goal at the end of the project? Does your work help the greater good in some way, such as increasing the market share of Linux on the desktop?
  • Details: what are specific challenges? What tools will you use?
  • Time management: what will you do each week? Are there weeks where you will not work on GSoC due to vacation or other events? These things are permitted but they must be in your plan if you know them in advance. If an accident or death in the family cut a week out of your GSoC project, which work would you skip and would your project still be useful without that? Having two weeks of flexible time in your plan makes it more resilient against interruptions.
  • Communication: are you on mailing lists, IRC and XMPP chat? Will you make a weekly report on your blog?
  • Users: who will benefit from your work?
  • Testing: who will test and validate your work throughout the project? Ideally, this should involve more than just the mentor.

If your project plan is good enough, could you put it on Kickstarter or another crowdfunding site? This is a good test of whether or not a project is going to be supported by a GSoC mentor.

Learn about packaging and distributing software

Packaging is a vital part of the free software lifecycle. It is very easy to upload a project to Github but it takes more effort to have it become an official package in systems like Debian, Fedora and Ubuntu.

Packaging and the communities around Linux distributions help you reach out to users of your software and get valuable feedback and new contributors. This boosts the impact of your work.

To start with, you may want to help the maintainer of an existing package. Debian packaging teams are existing communities that work in a team and welcome new contributors. The Debian Mentors initiative is another great starting place. In the Fedora world, the place to start may be in one of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs).

Think from the mentor's perspective

After the application deadline, mentors have just 2 or 3 weeks to choose the students. This is actually not a lot of time to be certain if a particular student is capable of completing a project. If the student has a published history of free software activity, the mentor feels a lot more confident about choosing the student.

Some mentors have more than one good student while other mentors receive no applications from capable students. In this situation, it is very common for mentors to send each other details of students who may be suitable. Once again, if a student has a good Github profile and a blog, it is much easier for mentors to try and match that student with another project.

GSoC logo generic

Conclusion

Getting into the world of software engineering is much like joining any other profession or even joining a new hobby or sporting activity. If you run, you probably have various types of shoe and a running watch and you may even spend a couple of nights at the track each week. If you enjoy playing a musical instrument, you probably have a collection of sheet music, accessories for your instrument and you may even aspire to build a recording studio in your garage (or you probably know somebody else who already did that).

The things listed on this page will not just help you walk the walk and talk the talk of a software developer, they will put you on a track to being one of the leaders. If you look over the profiles of other software developers on the Internet, you will find they are doing most of the things on this page already. Even if you are not selected for GSoC at all or decide not to apply, working through the steps on this page will help you clarify your own ideas about your career and help you make new friends in the software engineering community.

Sep 21 2015
Sep 21

On Friday, the reSIProcate community released the latest beta of reSIProcate 1.10.0. One of the key features of the 1.10.x release series is support for presence (buddy/status lists) over SIP, the very thing that is currently out of action in Skype. This is just more proof that free software developers are always anticipating users' needs in advance.

reSIProcate 1.10.x also includes other cool things like support for PostgreSQL databases and Perfect Forward Secrecy on TLS.

Real free software has real answers

Unlike Skype, reSIProcate is genuine free software. You are free to run it yourself, on your own domain or corporate network, using the same service levels and support strategies that are important for you. That is real freedom.

Not sure where to start?

If you have deployed web servers and mail servers but you are not quite sure where to start deploying your own real-time communications system, please check out the RTC Quick Start Guide. You can read it online or download the PDF e-book.

Is your community SIP and XMPP enabled?

The Debian community has a federated SIP service, supporting standard SIP and WebRTC at rtc.debian.org for all Debian Developers. XMPP support was tested at DebConf15 and will be officially announced very soon now.

A similar service has been developed for the Fedora community and it is under evaluation at fedrtc.org.

Would you like to extend this concept to other free software and non-profit communities that you are involved in? If so, please feel free to contact me personally for advice about how you can replicate these successful initiatives. If your community has a Drupal web site, then you can install everything using packages and the DruCall module.

Comment and discuss

Please join the Free-RTC mailing list to discuss or comment

Jul 20 2015
Jul 20

Zoltan (Zoltanh721) recently blogged about WebRTC for the Fedora community and Fedora desktop.

https://fedrtc.org has been running for a while now and this has given many people a chance to get a taste of regular SIP and WebRTC-based SIP. As suggested in Zoltan's blog, it has convenient integration with Fedora SSO and as the source code is available, people are welcome to see how it was built and use it for other projects.

Issues with Chrome/Chromium on Linux

If you tried any of FedRTC.org, rtc.debian.org or meet.jit.si using Chrome/Chromium on Linux, you may have found that the call appears to be connected but there is no media. This is a bug and the Chromium developers are on to it. You can work around this by trying an older version of Chromium (it still works with v37 from Debian wheezy) or Firefox/Iceweasel.

WebRTC is not everything

WebRTC offers many great possibilities for people to quickly build and deploy RTC services to a large user base, especially when using components like JSCommunicator or the DruCall WebRTC plugin for Drupal.

However, it is not a silver bullet. For example, there remain concerns about how to receive incoming calls. How do you know which browser tab is ringing when you have many tabs open at once? This may require greater browser/desktop integration and that has security implications for JavaScript. Whether users on battery-powered devices can really leave JavaScript running for extended periods of time waiting for incoming calls is another issue, especially when you consider that many web sites contain some JavaScript that is less than efficient.

Native applications and mobile apps like Lumicall continue to offer the most optimized solution for each platform although WebRTC currently offers the most convenient way for people to place a Call me link on their web site or portal.

Deploy it yourself

The RTC Quick Start Guide offers step-by-step instructions and a thorough discussion of the architecture for people to start deploying RTC and WebRTC on their own servers using standard packages on many of the most popular Linux distributions, including Debian, Ubuntu, RHEL, CentOS and Fedora.

Mar 10 2015
Mar 10

I've offered to help mentor a Google Summer of Code student to work on DruCall. Here is a link to the project details.

The original DruCall was based on SIPml5 and released in 2013 as a proof-of-concept.

It was later adapted to use JSCommunicator as the webphone implementation. JSCommunicator itself was updated by another GSoC student, Juliana Louback, in 2014.

It would be great to take DruCall further in 2015, here are some of the possibilities that are achievable in GSoC:

  • Updating it for Drupal 8
  • Support for logged-in users (currently it just makes anonymous calls, like a phone box)
  • Support for relaying shopping cart or other session cookie details to the call center operative who accepts the call

Help needed: could you be a co-mentor?

My background is in real-time and server-side infrastructure and I'm providing all the WebRTC SIP infrastructure that the student may need. However, for the project to have the most impact, it would also be helpful to have some input from a second mentor who knows about UI design, the Drupal way of doing things and maybe some Drupal 8 experience. Please contact me ASAP if you would be keen to participate either as a mentor or as a student. The deadline for student applications is just hours away but there is still more time for potential co-mentors to join in.

Real-Time Communications Quick Start Guide

If you are interested in trying to get WebRTC into your web site, with or without Drupal, please see the RTC Quick Start guide.

Mar 10 2015
Mar 10

A few years ago, I was looking for a quick and easy way to run OpenID on a small web server.

A range of solutions were available but some appeared to be slightly more demanding than what I would like. For example, one solution required a servlet container such as Tomcat and another one required some manual configuration of Python with Apache.

I came across the SimpleID project. As the name implies, it is simple. It is written in PHP and works with the Apache/PHP environment on just about any Linux web server. It allows you to write your own plugin for a user/password database or just use flat files to get up and running quickly with no database at all.

This seemed like the level of simplicity I was hoping for so I created the Debian package of SimpleID. SimpleID is also available in Ubuntu.

Help needed

Thanks to a contribution from Jean-Michel Nirgal Vourgère, I've just whipped up a 0.8.1-14 package that should fix Apache 2.4 support in jessie. I also cleaned up a documentation bug and the control file URLs.

Nonetheless, it may be helpful to get feedback from other members of the community about the future of this package:

  • Is it considered secure enough?
  • Have other people found it relatively simple to install or was I just lucky when I tried it?
  • Are there other packages that now offer such a simple way to get OpenID for a vanilla Apache/PHP environment?
  • Would anybody else be interested in helping to maintain this package?
  • Would anybody like to see this packaged in other distributions such as Fedora?
  • Is anybody using it for any online community?

Works with HOTP one-time-passwords and LDAP servers

One reason I chose SimpleID is because of dynalogin, the two-factor authentication framework. I wanted a quick and easy way to use OTP with OpenID so I created the SimpleID plugin for dynalogin, also available as a package.

I also created the LDAP backend for SimpleID, that is available as a package too.

Works with Drupal

I tested SimpleID for login to a Drupal account when the OpenID support is enabled in Drupal, it worked seamlessly. I've also tested it with a few public web sites that support OpenID.

Feb 06 2015
Feb 06

Today, 6 February, is the third birthday of the Lumicall app for secure SIP on Android.

Happy birthday

Lumicall's 1.0 tag was created in the Git repository on this day in 2012. It was released to the Google Play store, known as the Android Market back then, while I was in Brussels, the day after FOSDEM.

Since then, Lumicall has also become available through the F-Droid free software marketplace for Android and this is the recommended way to download it.

An international effort

Most of the work on Lumicall itself has taken place in Switzerland. Many of the building blocks come from Switzerland's neighbours:

  • The ice4j ICE/STUN/TURN implementation comes from the amazing Jitsi softphone, which is developed in France.
  • The ZORG open source ZRTP stack comes from PrivateWave in Italy
  • Lumicall itself is based on the Sipdroid project that has a German influence, while Sipdroid is based on MjSIP which comes out of Italy.
  • The ENUM dialing logic uses code from ENUMdroid, published by Nominet in the UK. The UK is not exactly a neighbour of Switzerland but there is a tremendous connection between the two countries.
  • Google's libPhoneNumber has been developed by the Google team in Zurich and helps Lumicall format phone numbers for dialing through international VoIP gateways and ENUM.

Lumicall also uses the reSIProcate project for server-side infrastructure. The repro SIP proxy and TURN server run on secure and reliable Debian servers in a leading Swiss data center.

An interesting three years for free communications

Free communications is not just about avoiding excessive charges for phone calls. Free communications is about freedom.

In the three years Lumicall has been promoting freedom, the issue of communications privacy has grabbed more headlines than I could have ever imagined.

On 5 June 2013 I published a blog about the Gold Standard in Free Communications Technology. Just hours later a leading British newspaper, The Guardian, published damning revelations about the US Government spying on its own citizens. Within a week, Edward Snowden was a household name.

Google's Eric Schmidt had previously told us that "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.". This statement is easily debunked: as CEO of a corporation listed on a public stock exchange, Schmidt and his senior executives are under an obligation to protect commercially sensitive information that could be used for crimes such as insider trading.

There is no guarantee that Lumicall will keep the most determined NSA agent out of your phone but nonetheless using a free and open source application for communications does help to avoid the defacto leakage of your conversations to a plethora of marketing and profiling companies that occurs when using a regular phone service or messaging app.

How you can help free communications technology evolve

As I mentioned in my previous blog on Lumicall, the best way you can help Lumicall is by helping the F-Droid team. F-Droid provides a wonderful platform for distributing free software for Android and my own life really wouldn't be the same without it. It is a privilege for Lumicall to be featured in the F-Droid eco-system.

That said, if you try Lumicall and it doesn't work for you, please feel free to send details from the Android logs through the Lumicall issue tracker on Github and they will be looked at. It is impossible for Lumicall developers to test every possible phone but where errors are obvious in the logs some attempt can be made to fix them.

Beyond regular SIP

Another thing that has emerged in the three years since Lumicall was launched is WebRTC, browser based real-time communications and VoIP.

In its present form, WebRTC provides tremendous opportunities on the desktop but it does not displace the need for dedicated VoIP apps on mobile handsets. WebRTC applications using JavaScript are a demanding solution that don't integrate as seamlessly with the Android UI as a native app and they currently tend to be more intensive users of the battery.

Lumicall users can receive calls from desktop users with a WebRTC browser using the free calling from browser to mobile feature on the Lumicall web site. This service is powered by JSCommunicator and DruCall for Drupal.

Nov 21 2014
Nov 21

I recently updated the PostBooks packages in Debian and Ubuntu to version 4.7. This is the version that was released in Ubuntu 14.10 (Utopic Unicorn) and is part of the upcoming Debian 8 (jessie) release.

Better prospects for Fedora and RHEL/CentOS/EPEL packages

As well as getting the packages ready, I've been in contact with xTuple helping them generalize their build system to make packaging easier. This has eliminated the need to patch the makefiles during the build. As well as making it easier to support the Debian/Ubuntu packages, this should make it far easier for somebody to create a spec file for RPM packaging too.

Debian wins a prize

While visiting xTupleCon 2014 in Norfolk, I was delighted to receive the Community Member of the Year award which I happily accepted not just for my own efforts but for the Debian Project as a whole.

Steve Hackbarth, Director of Product Development at xTuple, myself and the impressive Community Member of the Year trophy

This is a great example of the productive relationships that exist between Debian, upstream developers and the wider free software community and it is great to be part of a team that can synthesize the work from so many other developers into ready-to-run solutions on a 100% free software platform.

Receiving this award really made me think about all the effort that has gone into making it possible to apt-get install postbooks and all the people who have collectively done far more work than myself to make this possible:

Here is a screenshot of the xTuple web / JSCommunicator integration, it was one of the highlights of xTupleCon:

and gives a preview of the wide range of commercial opportunities that WebRTC is creating for software vendors to displace traditional telecommunications providers.

xTupleCon also gave me a great opportunity to see new features (like the xTuple / Drupal web shop integration) and hear about the success of consultants and their clients deploying xTuple/PostBooks in various scenarios. The product is extremely strong in meeting the needs of manufacturing and distribution and has gained a lot of traction in these industries in the US. Many of these features are equally applicable in other markets with a strong manufacturing industry such as Germany or the UK. However, it is also flexible enough to simply disable many of the specialized features and use it as a general purpose accounting solution for consulting and services businesses. This makes it a good option for many IT freelancers and support providers looking for a way to keep their business accounts in a genuinely open source solution with a strong SQL backend and a native Linux desktop interface.

Aug 23 2014
Aug 23

I've mentored a number of students in 2013 and 2014 for Debian and Ganglia and most of the companies I've worked with have run internships and graduate programs from time to time. GSoC 2014 has just finished and with all the excitement, many students are already asking what they can do to prepare and be selected in 2015.

My own observation is that the more time the organization has to get to know the student, the more confident they can be selecting that student. Furthermore, the more time that the student has spent getting to know the free software community, the more easily they can complete GSoC.

Here I present a list of things that students can do to maximize their chance of selection and career opportunities at the same time. These tips are useful for people applying for GSoC itself and related programs such as GNOME's Outreach Program for Women or graduate placements in companies.

Disclaimers

There is no guarantee that Google will run the program again in 2015 or any future year until the Google announcement.

There is no guarantee that any organization or mentor (including myself) will be involved until the official list of organizations is published by Google.

Do not follow the advice of web sites that invite you to send pizza or anything else of value to prospective mentors.

Following the steps in this page doesn't guarantee selection. That said, people who do follow these steps are much more likely to be considered and interviewed than somebody who hasn't done any of the things in this list.

Understand what free software really is

You may hear terms like free software and open source software used interchangeably.

They don't mean exactly the same thing and many people use the term free software for the wrong things. Not all projects declaring themselves to be "free" or "open source" meet the definition of free software. Those that don't, usually as a result of deficiencies in their licenses, are fundamentally incompatible with the majority of software that does use genuinely free licenses.

Google Summer of Code is about both writing and publishing your code and it is also about community. It is fundamental that you know the basics of licensing and how to choose a free license that empowers the community to collaborate on your code well after GSoC has finished.

Please review the definition of free software early on and come back and review it from time to time. The The GNU Project / Free Software Foundation have excellent resources to help you understand what a free software license is and how it works to maximize community collaboration.

Don't look for shortcuts

There is no shortcut to GSoC selection and there is no shortcut to GSoC completion.

The student stipend (USD $5,500 in 2014) is not paid to students unless they complete a minimum amount of valid code. This means that even if a student did find some shortcut to selection, it is unlikely they would be paid without completing meaningful work.

If you are the right candidate for GSoC, you will not need a shortcut anyway. Are you the sort of person who can't leave a coding problem until you really feel it is fixed, even if you keep going all night? Have you ever woken up in the night with a dream about writing code still in your head? Do you become irritated by tedious or repetitive tasks and often think of ways to write code to eliminate such tasks? Does your family get cross with you because you take your laptop to Christmas dinner or some other significant occasion and start coding? If some of these statements summarize the way you think or feel you are probably a natural fit for GSoC.

An opportunity money can't buy

The GSoC stipend will not make you rich. It is intended to make sure you have enough money to survive through the summer and focus on your project. Professional developers make this much money in a week in leading business centers like New York, London and Singapore. When you get to that stage in 3-5 years, you will not even be thinking about exactly how much you made during internships.

GSoC gives you an edge over other internships because it involves publicly promoting your work. Many companies still try to hide the potential of their best recruits for fear they will be poached or that they will be able to demand higher salaries. Everything you complete in GSoC is intended to be published and you get full credit for it. Imagine a young musician getting the opportunity to perform on the main stage at a rock festival. This is how the free software community works. It is a meritocracy and there is nobody to hold you back.

Having a portfolio of free software that you have created or collaborated on and a wide network of professional contacts that you develop before, during and after GSoC will continue to pay you back for years to come. While other graduates are being screened through group interviews and testing days run by employers, people with a track record in a free software project often find they go straight to the final interview round.

Register your domain name and make a permanent email address

Free software is all about community and collaboration. Register your own domain name as this will become a focal point for your work and for people to get to know you as you become part of the community.

This is sound advice for anybody working in IT, not just programmers. It gives the impression that you are confident and have a long term interest in a technology career.

Choosing the provider: as a minimum, you want a provider that offers DNS management, static web site hosting, email forwarding and XMPP services all linked to your domain. You do not need to choose the provider that is linked to your internet connection at home and that is often not the best choice anyway. The XMPP foundation maintains a list of providers known to support XMPP.

Create an email address within your domain name. The most basic domain hosting providers will let you forward the email address to a webmail or university email account of your choice. Configure your webmail to send replies using your personalized email address in the From header.

Update your ~/.gitconfig file to use your personalized email address in your Git commits.

Create a web site and blog

Start writing a blog. Host it using your domain name.

Some people blog every day, other people just blog once every two or three months.

Create links from your web site to your other profiles, such as a Github profile page. This helps reinforce the pages/profiles that are genuinely related to you and avoid confusion with the pages of other developers.

Many mentors are keen to see their students writing a weekly report on a blog during GSoC so starting a blog now gives you a head start. Mentors look at blogs during the selection process to try and gain insight into which topics a student is most suitable for.

Create a profile on Github

Github is one of the most widely used software development web sites. Github makes it quick and easy for you to publish your work and collaborate on the work of other people. Create an account today and get in the habbit of forking other projects, improving them, committing your changes and pushing the work back into your Github account.

Github will quickly build a profile of your commits and this allows mentors to see and understand your interests and your strengths.

In your Github profile, add a link to your web site/blog and make sure the email address you are using for Git commits (in the ~/.gitconfig file) is based on your personal domain.

Start using PGP

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is the industry standard in protecting your identity online. All serious free software projects use PGP to sign tags in Git, to sign official emails and to sign official release files.

The most common way to start using PGP is with the GnuPG (GNU Privacy Guard) utility. It is installed by the package manager on most Linux systems.

When you create your own PGP key, use the email address involving your domain name. This is the most permanent and stable solution.

Print your key fingerprint using the gpg-key2ps command, it is in the signing-party package on most Linux systems. Keep copies of the fingerprint slips with you.

This is what my own PGP fingerprint slip looks like. You can also print the key fingerprint on a business card for a more professional look.

Using PGP, it is recommend that you sign any important messages you send but you do not have to encrypt the messages you send, especially if some of the people you send messages to (like family and friends) do not yet have the PGP software to decrypt them.

If using the Thunderbird (Icedove) email client from Mozilla, you can easily send signed messages and validate the messages you receive using the Enigmail plugin.

Get your PGP key signed

Once you have a PGP key, you will need to find other developers to sign it. For people I mentor personally in GSoC, I'm keen to see that you try and find another Debian Developer in your area to sign your key as early as possible.

Free software events

Try and find all the free software events in your area in the months between now and the end of the next Google Summer of Code season. Aim to attend at least two of them before GSoC.

Look closely at the schedules and find out about the individual speakers, the companies and the free software projects that are participating. For events that span more than one day, find out about the dinners, pub nights and other social parts of the event.

Try and identify people who will attend the event who have been GSoC mentors or who intend to be. Contact them before the event, if you are keen to work on something in their domain they may be able to make time to discuss it with you in person.

Take your PGP fingerprint slips. Even if you don't participate in a formal key-signing party at the event, you will still find some developers to sign your PGP key individually. You must take a photo ID document (such as your passport) for the other developer to check the name on your fingerprint but you do not give them a copy of the ID document.

Events come in all shapes and sizes. FOSDEM is an example of one of the bigger events in Europe, linux.conf.au is a similarly large event in Australia. There are many, many more local events such as the Debian France mini-DebConf in Lyon, 2015. Many events are either free or free for students but please check carefully if there is a requirement to register before attending.

On your blog, discuss which events you are attending and which sessions interest you. Write a blog during or after the event too, including photos.

Quantcast generously hosted the Ganglia community meeting in San Francisco, October 2013. We had a wild time in their offices with mini-scooters, burgers, beers and the Ganglia book. That's me on the pink mini-scooter and Bernard Li, one of the other Ganglia GSoC 2014 admins is on the right.

Install Linux

GSoC is fundamentally about free software. Linux is to free software what a tree is to the forest. Using Linux every day on your personal computer dramatically increases your ability to interact with the free software community and increases the number of potential GSoC projects that you can participate in.

This is not to say that people using Mac OS or Windows are unwelcome. I have worked with some great developers who were not Linux users. Linux gives you an edge though and the best time to gain that edge is now, while you are a student and well before you apply for GSoC.

If you must run Windows for some applications used in your course, it will run just fine in a virtual machine using Virtual Box, a free software solution for desktop virtualization. Use Linux as the primary operating system.

Here are links to download ISO DVD (and CD) images for some of the main Linux distributions:

If you are nervous about getting started with Linux, install it on a spare PC or in a virtual machine before you install it on your main PC or laptop. Linux is much less demanding on the hardware than Windows so you can easily run it on a machine that is 5-10 years old. Having just 4GB of RAM and 20GB of hard disk is usually more than enough for a basic graphical desktop environment although having better hardware makes it faster.

Your experiences installing and running Linux, especially if it requires some special effort to make it work with some of your hardware, make interesting topics for your blog.

Decide which technologies you know best

Personally, I have mentored students working with C, C++, Java, Python and JavaScript/HTML5.

In a GSoC program, you will typically do most of your work in just one of these languages.

From the outset, decide which language you will focus on and do everything you can to improve your competence with that language. For example, if you have already used Java in most of your course, plan on using Java in GSoC and make sure you read Effective Java (2nd Edition) by Joshua Bloch.

Decide which themes appeal to you

Find a topic that has long-term appeal for you. Maybe the topic relates to your course or maybe you already know what type of company you would like to work in.

Here is a list of some topics and some of the relevant software projects:

  • System administration, servers and networking: consider projects involving monitoring, automation, packaging. Ganglia is a great community to get involved with and you will encounter the Ganglia software in many large companies and academic/research networks. Contributing to a Linux distribution like Debian or Fedora packaging is another great way to get into system administration.
  • Desktop and user interface: consider projects involving window managers and desktop tools or adding to the user interface of just about any other software.
  • Big data and data science: this can apply to just about any other theme. For example, data science techniques are frequently used now to improve system administration.
  • Business and accounting: consider accounting, CRM and ERP software.
  • Finance and trading: consider projects like R, market data software like OpenMAMA and connectivity software (Apache Camel)
  • Real-time communication (RTC), VoIP, webcam and chat: look at the JSCommunicator or the Jitsi project
  • Web (JavaScript, HTML5): look at the JSCommunicator

Before the GSoC application process begins, you should aim to learn as much as possible about the theme you prefer and also gain practical experience using the software relating to that theme. For example, if you are attracted to the business and accounting theme, install the PostBooks suite and get to know it. Maybe you know somebody who runs a small business: help them to upgrade to PostBooks and use it to prepare some reports.

Make something

Make some small project, less than two week's work, to demonstrate your skills. It is important to make something that somebody will use for a practical purpose, this will help you gain experience communicating with other users through Github.

For an example, see the servlet Juliana Louback created for fixing phone numbers in December 2013. It has since been used as part of the Lumicall web site and Juliana was selected for a GSoC 2014 project with Debian.

There is no better way to demonstrate to a prospective mentor that you are ready for GSoC than by completing and publishing some small project like this yourself. If you don't have any immediate project ideas, many developers will also be able to give you tips on small projects like this that you can attempt, just come and ask us on one of the mailing lists.

Ideally, the project will be something that you would use anyway even if you do not end up participating in GSoC. Such projects are the most motivating and rewarding and usually end up becoming an example of your best work. To continue the example of somebody with a preference for business and accounting software, a small project you might create is a plugin or extension for PostBooks.

Getting to know prospective mentors

Many web sites provide useful information about the developers who contribute to free software projects. Some of these developers may be willing to be a GSoC mentor.

For example, look through some of the following:

  • Planet / Blog aggregation sites: these sites all have links to the blogs of many developers. They are useful sources of information about events and also finding out who works on what.
  • Developer profile pages. Many projects publish a page about each developer and the packages, modules or other components he/she is responsible for. Look through these lists for areas of mutual interest.
  • Developer github profiles. Github makes it easy to see what projects a developer has contributed to. To see many of my own projects, browse through the history at my own Github profile

Getting on the mentor's shortlist

Once you have identified projects that are interesting to you and developers who work on those projects, it is important to get yourself on the developer's shortlist.

Basically, the shortlist is a list of all students who the developer believes can complete the project. If I feel that a student is unlikely to complete a project or if I don't have enough information to judge a student's probability of success, that student will not be on my shortlist.

If I don't have any student on my shortlist, then a project will not go ahead at all. If there are multiple students on the shortlist, then I will be looking more closely at each of them to try and work out who is the best match.

One way to get a developer's attention is to look at bug reports they have created. Github makes it easy to see complaints or bug reports they have made about their own projects or other projects they depend on. Another way to do this is to search through their code for strings like FIXME and TODO. Projects with standalone bug trackers like the Debian bug tracker also provide an easy way to search for bug reports that a specific person has created or commented on.

Once you find some relevant bug reports, email the developer. Ask if anybody else is working on those issues. Try and start with an issue that is particularly easy and where the solution is interesting for you. This will help you learn to compile and test the program before you try to fix any more complicated bugs. It may even be something you can work on as part of your academic program.

Find successful projects from the previous year

Contact organizations and ask them which GSoC projects were most successful. In many organizations, you can find the past students' project plans and their final reports published on the web. Read through the plans submitted by the students who were chosen. Then read through the final reports by the same students and see how they compare to the original plans.

Start building your project proposal now

Don't wait for the application period to begin. Start writing a project proposal now.

When writing a proposal, it is important to include several things:

  • Think big: what is the goal at the end of the project? Does your work help the greater good in some way, such as increasing the market share of Linux on the desktop?
  • Details: what are specific challenges? What tools will you use?
  • Time management: what will you do each week? Are there weeks where you will not work on GSoC due to vacation or other events? These things are permitted but they must be in your plan if you know them in advance. If an accident or death in the family cut a week out of your GSoC project, which work would you skip and would your project still be useful without that? Having two weeks of flexible time in your plan makes it more resilient against interruptions.
  • Communication: are you on mailing lists, IRC and XMPP chat? Will you make a weekly report on your blog?
  • Users: who will benefit from your work?
  • Testing: who will test and validate your work throughout the project? Ideally, this should involve more than just the mentor.

If your project plan is good enough, could you put it on Kickstarter or another crowdfunding site? This is a good test of whether or not a project is going to be supported by a GSoC mentor.

Learn about packaging and distributing software

Packaging is a vital part of the free software lifecycle. It is very easy to upload a project to Github but it takes more effort to have it become an official package in systems like Debian, Fedora and Ubuntu.

Packaging and the communities around Linux distributions help you reach out to users of your software and get valuable feedback and new contributors. This boosts the impact of your work.

To start with, you may want to help the maintainer of an existing package. Debian packaging teams are existing communities that work in a team and welcome new contributors. The Debian Mentors initiative is another great starting place. In the Fedora world, the place to start may be in one of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs).

Think from the mentor's perspective

After the application deadline, mentors have just 2 or 3 weeks to choose the students. This is actually not a lot of time to be certain if a particular student is capable of completing a project. If the student has a published history of free software activity, the mentor feels a lot more confident about choosing the student.

Some mentors have more than one good student while other mentors receive no applications from capable students. In this situation, it is very common for mentors to send each other details of students who may be suitable. Once again, if a student has a good Github profile and a blog, it is much easier for mentors to try and match that student with another project.

GSoC logo generic

Conclusion

Getting into the world of software engineering is much like joining any other profession or even joining a new hobby or sporting activity. If you run, you probably have various types of shoe and a running watch and you may even spend a couple of nights at the track each week. If you enjoy playing a musical instrument, you probably have a collection of sheet music, accessories for your instrument and you may even aspire to build a recording studio in your garage (or you probably know somebody else who already did that).

The things listed on this page will not just help you walk the walk and talk the talk of a software developer, they will put you on a track to being one of the leaders. If you look over the profiles of other software developers on the Internet, you will find they are doing most of the things on this page already. Even if you are not selected for GSoC at all or decide not to apply, working through the steps on this page will help you clarify your own ideas about your career and help you make new friends in the software engineering community.

Aug 18 2014
Aug 18

With the exciting developments at rtc.debian.org, many people are starting to look more closely at browser-based real-time communications.

Some have dared to ask: does it solve the privacy problems of existing solutions?

Privacy is a relative term

Perfect privacy and its technical manifestations are hard to define. I had a go at it in a blog on the Gold Standard for free communications technology on 5 June 2013. By pure co-incidence, a few hours later, the first Snowden leaks appeared and this particular human right was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

WebRTC and ICE privacy risk

WebRTC does not give you perfect privacy.

At least one astute observer at my session at Paris mini-DebConf 2014 questioned the privacy of Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE, RFC 5245).

In its most basic form, ICE scans all the local IP addresses on your machine and NAT gateway and sends them to the person calling you so that their phone can find the optimal path to contact you. This clearly has privacy implications as a caller can work out which ISP you are connected to and some rough details of your network topology at any given moment in time.

What WebRTC does bring to the table

Some of this can be mitigated though: an ICE implementation can be tuned so that it only advertises the IP address of a dedicated relay host. If you can afford a little latency, your privacy is safe again. This privacy protecting initiative could be made by a browser vendor such as Mozilla or it can be done in JavaScript by a softphone such as JSCommunicator.

Many individuals are now using a proprietary softphone to talk to family and friends around the world. The softphone in question has properties like a virus, siphoning away your private information. This proprietary softphone is also an insidious threat to open source and free operating systems on the desktop. WebRTC is a positive step back from the brink. It gives people a choice.

WebRTC is a particularly relevant choice for business. Can you imagine going to a business and asking them to make all their email communication through hotmail? When a business starts using a particular proprietary softphone, how is it any different? WebRTC offers a solution that is actually easier for the user and can be secured back to the business network using TLS.

WebRTC is based on open standards, particularly HTML5. Leading implementations, such as the SIP over WebSocket support in reSIProcate, JSCommunicator and the DruCall module for Drupal are fully open source. Not only is it great to be free, it is possible to extend and customize any of these components.

What is missing

There are some things that are not quite there yet and require a serious effort from the browser vendors. At the top of the list for privacy:

  • ZRTP support - browsers currently support DTLS-SRTP, which is based on X.509. ZRTP is more like PGP, a democratic and distributed peer-to-peer privacy solution without needing to trust some central certificate authority.
  • TLS with PGP - the TLS protocol used to secure the WebSocket signalling channel is also based on X.509 with the risk of a central certificate authority. There is increasing chatter about the need for TLS to use PGP instead of X.509 and WebRTC would be a big winner if this were to eventuate and be combined with ZRTP.

You may think "I'll believe it when I see it". Each of these features, including WebRTC itself, is a piece of the puzzle and even solving one piece at a time brings people further out of danger from the proprietary mess the world lives with today.

To find out more about practical integration of WebRTC into free software solutions, consider coming to my talk at xTupleCon in October.

Jun 03 2014
Jun 03

If there was a trivial way to let mobile phone users call you from your web site, just by adding a single HTML element to the page, would you do it?

In fact, there is. It doesn't even require a mobile WebRTC browser. It works for virtually any smartphone and a growing number of desktops too.

Introducing the tel: URI

The tel: URI is defined in RFC 3966.

For most mobile phone users, if they click a link to a tel: URI, their browser will copy the link into their dialer for convenience.

To protect users against calls to 0900 premium rate numbers, the user still has to make one more click to confirm they want to dial.

Examples

Here is a tel: URI:

tel:+44-20-7135-7070

Here is how to create a link with it:

<a href="http://danielpocock.com/click-to-dial-for-mobile-users-of-your-web-sites/tel:+44-20-7135-7070">020 7135 7070 (from abroad: +44 20 7135 7070)</a>

and here is how it looks on the page:

Call me on 020 7135 7070 (from abroad: +44 20 7135 7070)

(Note: some planet aggregation sites block the link in the example)

and here is what appears on the mobile device after a user clicks the tel: URI link:

For desktop users too

Many desktop users can also benefit from tel: URIs. If they have a modern telephone system in their office, the system administrator may have already added a tel: URI handler to their desktop.

Anyone with a software PBX or a SIP account can also potentially use the TBDialOut extension for Thunderbird to help convert address book phone numbers into tel: or sip: URIs or even URLs for some bespoke dialer.

For those who want extra convenience, the Telify extension for Firefox will look for phone numbers in any HTML page and display them as tel: URIs so you can click them even if the web developer overlooked this.

Mar 17 2014
Mar 17

With Hangouts being offline right now, it might be a good opportunity to catch up on some of the exciting, free and open alternatives:

Mar 02 2014
Mar 02

WebRTC is one of the highlights of HTML5. The latest stable releases of Google Chrome (including the free Chromium browser) and Firefox include support for this technology and although the specifications are still being finalized, this is the time when developers can start preparing the first generation of web-apps that will define the future of this technology.

The JSCommunicator project aims to make it easy to integrate WebRTC into existing web applications.

It provides a high-level API on top of the popular JsSIP SIP stack for JavaScript. The JSCommunicator API provides basic dialing and call control features, allowing you to focus on the application level rather than the SIP level. The configuration file suggests many possible ways it can be deployed and customized without any coding at all.

The popular DruCall module for the Drupal CMS provides a practical demonstration of how JSCommunicator can be embedded in other products, multiplying the power of WebRTC for millions of other web developers, bloggers, online shops and other sites. This part of the DruCall source code provides a practical demonstration of how JSCommunicator integrates with PHP and this demonstrates how we extract the parameters from PHP in the JavaScript and convert them to the JSCommunicator configuration object.

Practical deployments of WebRTC today

The student selected for this GSoC project will focus on two practical, real-world deployments of JSCommunicator:

It is particularly important to think about ways to make this technology useful for the Debian Developer community in the pursuit of Debian's work.

Not just for Debian

A communication product is not much use if there is nobody to talk to.

The optimal outcome of this project may involve helping two or three additional free software communities to build portals similar to https://rtc.debian.org so that they can interact with Debian and each other using Federated SIP. As Metcalfe's Law explains, this outcome would be a win-win situation for everybody.

Metcalfe's Law - Network effect

Mentors needed too

The more diverse the mentoring community, the more positive outcomes we can achieve with this project.

If you would like to be part of a mentoring team for this project, please email me and subscribe to the Debian SOC co-ordination email list. There is no strict requirement for all mentors in the team to be full Debian Developers and emerging technology like this clearly needs people with strengths in a range of different areas.

Get started now

For general ideas about getting selected for Google Summer of Code, please see the comments at the bottom of my earlier blog post about Ganglia projects

For this project in WebRTC in particular, please:

  • Review the project brief on the Debian wiki
  • Discuss your ideas on the JsSIP Google group
  • Send an email to introduce yourself on the Debian SOC co-ordination email list and give a link to your post on the JsSIP list
  • You must complete a coding test. Please see the open bug list for JSCommunicator, complete one of these tasks and submit a pull request on Github. Please send an email to the JsSIP Google group to discuss your pull request.
  • Explain what features you would create during the summer
  • Explain which other tools or libraries you would like to use
  • Give examples of previous work you have done with HTML and JavaScript
  • Explain how your participation will benefit Debian, free software and the wider world. Give some practical examples.
  • If you are interested in other JavaScript and jQuery opportunities for GSoC 2014, please also read more about the web components in the Ganglia project - if you apply for both Debian and Ganglia, you only have to complete one coding test as part of your application.
Jan 24 2014
Jan 24

The latest version of DruCall is now pushed to the Drupal Git Repository. As described previously, this version uses JSCommunicator (which is based on the popular JsSIP) as the underlying phone framework. I would be very grateful if somebody from the Drupal community could kindly help my projects escape from the sandbox.

Try the new Drucall, free calls to mobiles running Lumicall

As a demo of the power of SIP and DruCall, you can make free calls to mobiles running Lumicall. It will also dial any number registered in ENUM.

Lumicall, the open alternative to Viber, FOSDEM 2014

I'll be giving a talk about the Lumicall project at FOSDEM 2014. The talk is at 13:00 on Sunday, 2 February in the Embedded and Mobile devroom. As space is usually limited in the devrooms and FOSDEM is a completely free event without any advance registration, please arrive early (maybe even 1 or 2 talks before mine) to get a seat.

Jan 19 2014
Jan 19

The tremendously successful Drupal community observes stringent requirements about many things, in particular, licensing and the prohibition of bundling third-party JavaScript.

While these policies may seem onerous at first glance, it turns out there is another project with a written guarantee to provide third-party code in a form that meets the expectations of Drupal and does so in a way that completely automates all that tedious effort into one-click oblivion. I'm talking about the Debian GNU/Linux operating system.

Drupal's libraries module

The libraries module for Drupal appeared as an initial attempt to help track third-party JavaScript.

The module has been available in Debian for almost a year and has recently been provided in the wheezy-backports distribution for people running the stable version of Debian.

The library provides a standard way for other modules to reference third-party JavaScript but it still leaves the web master with some manual work to go out and download all the necessary JavaScript and copy it into the right place. This is where Debian comes to the rescue.

Using the module in practice

I've recently uploaded JSCommunicator to Debian and wanted to provide a convenient way for people to get it in Drupal.

Therefore, in addition to providing the JSCommunicator packages, I created an extra package, drupal7-mod-jscommunicator.

JSCommunicator itself depends on other JavaScript, specifically, the JsSIP library. I repeated the same process for JsSIP. This gives us the following collection of four related packages:

Third-party library Library itself Drupal module, packaged JSCommunicator libjs-jscommunicator drupal7-mod-jscommunicator JsSIP libjs-jssip drupal7-mod-jssip

If you explore the package details in Debian's package catalog you will notice that each package depends on the other packages it requires.

Debian's package management utility, apt-get, can transitively resolve all the relationships between this set of packages. In fact, on a newly built server, you can simply run the command:

apt-get install drupal7-mod-jscommunicator

and the apt-get utility will install Apache, MySQL, Drupal itself, the libraries module, all the related JavaScript libraries and the final Drupal module of JSCommunicator itself. It really is that easy. Here is an example of the output displayed by the command on a freshly built server:

# apt-get -d install drupal7-mod-jscommunicator
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
  apache2 apache2-bin apache2-data curl dbconfig-common drupal7
  drupal7-mod-jssip drupal7-mod-libraries fontconfig-config fonts-dejavu-core
  javascript-common libaio1 libapache2-mod-php5 libapr1 libaprutil1
  libaprutil1-dbd-sqlite3 libaprutil1-ldap libarchive-extract-perl libc6
  libcurl3 libdbd-mysql-perl libdbi-perl libedit2 libfontconfig1 libgcrypt11
  libgd3 libhtml-template-perl libjbig0 libjpeg8 libjs-jssip libjson-c2
  liblocale-gettext-perl liblog-message-simple-perl liblua5.1-0
  libmodule-pluggable-perl libmysqlclient18 libonig2 libperl4-corelibs-perl
  libpng12-0 libpod-latex-perl libqdbm14 librtmp0 libssh2-1 libterm-ui-perl
  libtext-charwidth-perl libtext-iconv-perl libtext-soundex-perl libtiff5
  libuuid-perl libvpx1 libxml2 libxpm4 locales mysql-client mysql-client-5.5
  mysql-common mysql-server mysql-server-5.5 mysql-server-core-5.5 perl
  perl-base perl-modules php5 php5-cli php5-common php5-gd php5-json
  php5-mysql php5-readline ssl-cert wwwconfig-common
Suggested packages:
  apache2-doc apache2-suexec-pristine apache2-suexec-custom apache2-utils
  php-pear glibc-doc libclone-perl libmldbm-perl libnet-daemon-perl
  libplrpc-perl libsql-statement-perl rng-tools libgd-tools
  libipc-sharedcache-perl libterm-readkey-perl tinyca perl-doc
  libterm-readline-gnu-perl libterm-readline-perl-perl make libb-lint-perl
  libcpanplus-dist-build-perl libcpanplus-perl libfile-checktree-perl
  liblog-message-perl libobject-accessor-perl php5-user-cache
  openssl-blacklist postgresql-client
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  apache2 apache2-bin apache2-data curl dbconfig-common drupal7
  drupal7-mod-jscommunicator drupal7-mod-jssip drupal7-mod-libraries
  fontconfig-config fonts-dejavu-core javascript-common libaio1
  libapache2-mod-php5 libapr1 libaprutil1 libaprutil1-dbd-sqlite3
  libaprutil1-ldap libarchive-extract-perl libcurl3 libdbd-mysql-perl
  libdbi-perl libfontconfig1 libgd3 libhtml-template-perl libjbig0 libjpeg8
  libjs-jssip libjson-c2 liblog-message-simple-perl liblua5.1-0
  libmodule-pluggable-perl libmysqlclient18 libonig2 libperl4-corelibs-perl
  libpng12-0 libpod-latex-perl libqdbm14 librtmp0 libssh2-1 libterm-ui-perl
  libtext-soundex-perl libtiff5 libvpx1 libxpm4 mysql-client mysql-client-5.5
  mysql-common mysql-server mysql-server-5.5 mysql-server-core-5.5 php5
  php5-cli php5-common php5-gd php5-json php5-mysql php5-readline ssl-cert
  wwwconfig-common
The following packages will be upgraded:
  libc6 libedit2 libgcrypt11 liblocale-gettext-perl libtext-charwidth-perl
  libtext-iconv-perl libuuid-perl libxml2 locales perl perl-base perl-modules
12 upgraded, 60 newly installed, 0 to remove and 222 not upgraded.
Need to get 37.2 MB of archives.
After this operation, 152 MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? 

Libraries API in Drupal 8

Contrary to an earlier version of this blog, the libraries module is not joining the core in Drupal 8 however its use has been strongly encouraged for any new modules submitted through the Drupal community approval process. This means there will be further opportunity for Drupal users to consolidate on their use of Debian to completely automate the management of all third-party libraries and modules throughout their Drupal system(s).

Jan 14 2014
Jan 14

Blog comments have been problematic on this site for some months now. I finally had a look into the problem last night and identified the cause of the problem and implemented a workaround which other Drupal Blogspam module users are welcome to copy.

Thanks to Steve Kemp for providing the Blogspam service. Anything but thanks to those who provide the spam.

Jan 09 2014
Jan 09

JSCommunicator 1.0.0 appeared over the festive season, making it even easier for people to build WebRTC real-time voice and video capabilities into their web sites.

In fact, it is so easy to use that I was simply able to drop it over the top of the drupal-phone.tpl.php template file in DruCall, tweak the drucall.js module to call JSCommManager.init() and DruCall is now the first solid implementation of JSCommunicator.

Put it to the test

Before pushing this new version out to the community, it is undergoing some testing / baptism by fire. Lumicall recently announced free calling from desktop browser to mobile app powered by JsSIP's "tryit" demo code.

The DruCall module has now been deployed here on the Lumicall website as a parallel solution to access the same free calling service.

Browser version sensitivity

WebRTC is the next big thing: it won't work in old browsers. It depends on JavaScript. At best, we aim to give some helpful error when it can not run.

CSS styling opportunity

JSCommunicator comes from server-side developers rather than web developers. It provides a solid communications tool but it doesn't look great.

The project aims to be a HTML fragment that can drop into just about any page on any web site, so it has been designed to be as raw as possible and allow the styling of the existing web site to influence it. Nonetheless, it could still look a little bit nicer and I would be delighted to see any CSS-based skins that people may develop to enhance it.

This is a phone:

and now this is too:


and here it is in HTML

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web