GSoC Introductory Post

My journey as a GNOME user started in 2020 when I first set up Ubuntu on my computer, dual-booting it with Windows. Although I wasn't aware of GNOME back then, what I found fascinating was that despite Ubuntu being open source, it's performance and UI was comparable to Windows. I switched to become a regular user of Ubuntu and loved the way the GNOME Desktop Environment seamlessly performed different tasks. I could run multiple instances of various applications at the same time without it lagging or crashing down, which was often a problem in Windows.

A beginning in open source

The first time I came across the term "open source" was while installing the MingW GCC Compiler for C++ from SourceForge. I had a rough idea of what the term meant but being a complete noob at the time, I didn't make a decision of whether to start contributing. When I felt I had enough skills to contribute, I was introduced to p5.js, which is a JavaScript library for creative coding. With my familiarity in JavaScript, the codebase of p5.js was easy to understand, and thus began my journey as an open source contributor. Opening my first PR in p5.js gave me a feeling of accomplishment that reminded me of the time I compiled my first C++ program. I started contributing more and began to learn about the GNOME environment and wanted to contribute to the desktop environment I had been a user of.

Contributing to GNOME

I learnt about the libraries GLib and GTK that empower programmers to build apps using modern programming techniques. I scrambled through documentation and watched some introductory videos about GLib, GObject, and GObject Introspection, and diving deeper into this repository of knowledge I found myself wanting to learn more about how GNOME apps are built. The GNOME Preparatory Bootcamp for GSoC & Outreachy conducted by GNOME Africa prepared me to become a better contributor. Thanks to Pedro Sader Azevedo and Olosunde Ayooluwa for teaching us about setting up the development environment and getting started with the contribution process. It was around this time that I found out about the programming language Vala and a prospective GSoC project that peaked my interest. I was always fascinated by the low-level implementation details of compilers and how compilers work, and this project was related to the Vala compiler.

Learning the Vala language

Vala is an object-oriented programming language built on top of the GObject type system. It contains many high-level abstractions which the native C ABI does not provide, thus making it an ideal language to build GNOME applications. Vala is not widely used, so there are few online resources to learn it, however the Vala tutorial provides a robust documentation and is a good starting point for beginners. The best way to learn something is learning by doing so I decided to learn Vala by building apps using GTK and Libadwaita. However, being completely new to the GNOME environment, this approach got me limited success. I haven't yet learnt GTK or Libadwaita but I did manage to understand Vala language constructs by reading through the source code of some Vala applications. I worked on some issues in the Vala repository and this gave me a sneak peek into the working of the Vala compiler. I got to learn about how it builds the Vala AST and compiles the Vala code into GObject C, although I still have a lot to learn to understand how it is put together.

My GSoC Project

As part of my GSoC project we have to add support for the latest GIR attributes to the Vala compiler and the Vala API generator. We can do this by including these attributes in the parsing and generation of GIR files, and linking them with Vala language constructs if needed. This also involves adding test cases for these attributes in the test suite to make sure that the .gir and .vapi files are generated correctly. Once this is done we need to work on Valadoc. Valadoc parses documentation in the Gtkdoc format, but this project involves making it parse documentation in the GI-Docgen format too. Adding this support will require creation of some new files and modifying the documentation parser in Valadoc. After implementing this support the plan is to modernise the appearance of The website was clearly built a while ago and needs redesign to make it more interactive and user friendly. This will require changing some CSS styles and JavaScript code of the website. With the completion of this project, the look of the website will be changed to be at par with the online documentation of any other programming language.

Thanks to my mentor Lorenz Wildberg, I now have a coherent idea about what needs to be done in the project and we have a workable plan to achieve it. I'm very optimistic about the project, and I'm sure that we will be able to meet all the project goals within the stipulated timeline. In the coming few days I plan to read the Vala documentation and understand the codebase so that I can get started with achieving project objectives in the coding period.


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