Title:Critical News Reporting
Author:Ciaran McCreesh <ciaranm at>
Last-Modified:2005/11/07 17:02:42
Type:Standards Track
Post-History:1-Nov-2005, 5-Nov-2005



This GLEP proposes a new way of informing users about important updates and news regarding tree-related items.


There are currently several ways of getting news out to our users, none of them particularly effective:

A more reliable way of getting news of critical updates out to users is required to avoid repeats of the various recent upgrade debacles. This GLEP proposes a solution based around pushing news items out to the user via the rsync tree.


An adequate solution must meet all of the following requirements:

Users should be told of changes before they break the user's system, not after the damage has already been done.
No user subscription required
It has already been demonstrated [4] that many users do not read the gentoo-announce mailing list or RSS feeds. A solution which requires subscription has no advantage over current methods.
No user monitoring required
It has already been demonstrated [4] that many users do not read news items posted to the Gentoo website, or do not read news items until it is too late. A solution that relies upon active monitoring of a particular source has no advantage over current methods.
System administrators who do not use a particular package should not have to read news items which affect purely that package. Some news items may be of relevance to most or all users, but those that are not should not be forced upon users unnecessarily.
It is not reasonable to expect all users to have an MTA, web browser, email client, cron daemon or text processing suite available on their system.
No privacy violations
Users of the solution should not be required to provide information about their systems (for example, IP addresses or installed packages).
Multiple delivery method support
Some users may wish to view news items via email, some via a terminal and some via a web browser. A solution should either support all of these methods or (better still) make it trivial to write clients for displaying news items in different ways.

The following characteristics would be desirable:

Being able to provide messages in multiple languages may be beneficial.
Quality control
There should be some way to ensure that badly written or irrelevant messages are not sent out, for example by inexperienced developers, those whose English language skills are below par or morons.
Simple for developers
Posting news items should be as simple as is reasonably possible.
Simple for users
Reading relevant news items should be as simple as is reasonably possible.
Compatibility with existing and future news sources
A news system would ideally be able to be integrated with existing news sources (for example, Forums, GWN, the main Gentoo website) without excessive difficulty. Similarly, easy interoperation with any future news sources should not be precluded.



News items are published and delivered to users as follows:

  1. A news item is written. The format to be used is described in News Item File Format.
  2. The news item is reviewed, following the process described in News Item Quality Control.
  3. The news item is committed to a CVS (or Subversion [8]) repository. From here, it is merged with the rsync tree. This is described in News Item Distribution.
  4. The news item is merged with the rsync tree. Implementation details of this point are beyond the scope of this GLEP; existing solutions are in place for merging GLSAs to the tree.
  5. Users fetch the news item when they sync. This ensures that the news items in question are pushed to the user before the user accidentally makes an unwanted change. No changes to the existing rsync process are required by this GLEP.
  6. Portage filters the news item and, if it is relevant, installs it in a special location to be read by a news item reader. Messages are also displayed to inform the user that news is available.
  7. The news item is handled by the user's choice of news item reader. See News Item Clients.

News Item File Format

Each news item will be represented by a single text file. This file will be encoded using UTF-8 for compatibility with and for the same reason as existing Gentoo documentation [1] and tree [6] practices.

The news item will be named in the form yyyy-mm-dd-item-name.en.txt, where item-name is a very short name (e.g. apache-updates) and en is the two letter ISO 639 [9] language code for the news item. The short name must consist only of characters a-z, A-Z, 0-9 and - (hyphen).

News items may be signed using GPG. If this is done, a detached signature should be used.

The directory and file name rules are designed specifically to allow easy sorting by date.

An English (en) version must be available for all news items. Other languages may be provided either by the original author or by other translators who have commit access. This anglocentricity is justified on the grounds that nobody objected to it with GLEP 34 [7].

A news item's content will consist of an RFC 822 [11] style header followed by the main body of the message as plain text. This GLEP defines various optional and mandatory headers. Future GLEPs may propose new headers -- tools handling these news items must ignore any unrecognised header.

News Item Headers

The following headers describe the purpose and format of the news item:

A short (maximum 44 characters) descriptive title. Mandatory.
Author's name and email address, in the form Real Name <email@address>. Mandatory, multiple author fields may be specified if appropriate.
For translated news items, the translator's name and email address.
Must be text/plain. Mandatory.
Date of posting, in dd-mmm-yyyy format (e.g. 14-Aug-2001). UTC time in hh-mm-ss +0000 format may also be included. This field is mandatory.
Initially 1. Incremented every time a non-trivial change is made. Changes which require a re-read of the news item should instead use a new news item file.
Must be 1.0. Future revisions to the format may increment the minor number for backwards-compatible changes, or the major number for major changes.

The following headers are used for filtering. If none of these headers are specified, the news item is displayed for all users. Otherwise, the news item is displayed if at least one header matches.

A dependency atom or simple package name (for example, <dev-lang/php-5_alpha or net-www/apache). If the user has the package specified installed, the news item should be displayed.
A keyword [5] name, for example mips. If the user is on the arch in question, the news item should be displayed.
A profile path, for example default-linux/sparc/sparc64/server. If the user is using the exact profile in question, the news item should be displayed. This header may be used to replace deprecated files in the future.

News Item Body

The header section must be followed by a blank line, then the main body of the text.

The text body should be wrapped at 72 characters. No fancy formatting or tab characters should be used -- the news item may be being displayed directly to a terminal. Paragraphs should be separated by a blank line.

Hyperlinks may be used to refer to further information (for example, an upgrade guide). However, the main body of the news item should be descriptive and not simply a "read this link" text. It is assumed that the user will have access to a web browser somewhere, but not necessarily on the box which is being administrated -- this will be the case on may servers and routers, for example.

Example News Item

The following hypothetical news item could be used for an upgrade to the YourSQL database format which breaks forward compatibility. It should be named 2005-11/2005-11-01-yoursql-upgrades.en.txt.

Title: YourSQL Upgrades from 4.0 to 4.1
Author: Ciaran McCreesh <>
Content-Type: text/plain
Posted: 01-Nov-2005
Display-If-Installed: <dev-db/yoursql-4.1_alpha

YourSQL databases created using YourSQL version 4.0 are incompatible
with YourSQL version 4.1 or later. There is no reliable way to
automate the database format conversion, so action from the system
administrator is required before an upgrade can take place.

Please see the Gentoo YourSQL Upgrade Guide for instructions:

Also see the official YourSQL documentation:

After upgrading, you should also recompile any packages which link
against YourSQL:


The revdep-rebuild tool is provided by app-portage/gentoolkit.

News Item Quality Control

There have been complaints regarding the comprehensibility of some upgrade notices and news items in the past. This is understandable -- not every Gentoo developer speaks English as a first language. However, for the sake of clarity and professionalism it is important that any language problems be corrected before inflicting a news item upon end users.

Thus, all proposed news items must be posted to the gentoo-dev or gentoo-core mailing list, and Cc:ed to at least 72 hours before being committed (exceptions may be made in exceptional circumstances). Any complaints regarding wording or clarity must be addressed before the news item goes live.

News items must only be for important changes that may cause serious upgrade or compatibility problems. Ordinary upgrade messages and non-critical news items should remain in einfo notices. The importance of the message to its intended audience should be justified with the proposal.


The filtering system means that it is appropriate to send out news items which are aimed at users of an uncommon package or architecture. Thus, the justification should be in the form "this message is important to YourSQL users because ...", not "YourSQL is important because ...".

News Item Distribution

Server Side

News items are to be made available via the Portage tree. This removes any need for polling of a remote source.

A new repository will be created for news items. The type (CVS or Subversion), location and access controls on this repository are beyond the scope of this GLEP.


A previous draft of this GLEP instead used the main gentoo-x86 tree. This was changed following advice from Infrastructure [10]. Both solutions have the same end result.

This repository will contain directories named yyyy-mm/, where yyyy is the current year and mm is the current month number (01 for January through 12 for December). This separation will help keep news items more manageable.

The contents of this repository will automatically be merged with the main rsync tree, placing the items under a top-level news/ directory. The method used for merging these items is beyond the scope of this GLEP -- a similar setup is already used for merging GLSAs into the rsync tree.


The profiles/ directory will not be used. This fits in with the Portage team's future plans for profiles/ and metadata/ separation.

Client Side

Whenever relevant unread news items are found, emerge will copy or symlink the news file into /var/lib/gentoo/news/.

Notification that new relevant news items will be displayed via the emerge tool in a similar way to the existing "configuration files need updating" messages:

* Important: 3 config files in /etc need updating.
* Type emerge --help config to learn how to update config files.

* Important: there are 5 unread news items.
* Type emerge --help news to learn how to read news files.

The unread news message will also be displayed immediately after an emerge sync.

Portage may also warn of unread news items using, for example, a red flashy before actions such as merging a package.

Portage must keep track of news items which have already been installed to avoid repeatedly reinstalling a deleted news item.

Users who really don't care about news items can use rsync_excludes to filter out the news/ directory.

News Item Clients

Once a news item is 'installed', third party tools (or a traditional Unix pager and rm) can be used to display and view the news files. An eselect [2] module shall be created as the 'suggested' display tool; other display tools (for example, a news to email forwarder, which would be ideal for users who sync on a cron) are left as options for those who desire them -- the simple file format make this relatively simple.

News Item Removal

News items can be removed (by removing the news file from the main tree) when they are no longer relevant, if they are made obsolete by a future news item or after a long period of time. This is the same as the method used for updates entries.

Integration with Existing Systems

It would be trivial to convert these news items into the format used for news items on the Gentoo website or posts for the gentoo-announce mailing list.

There is an existing automated tool [3] for posting GLSAs to the forums. A similar tool can be used for these news items.

Backwards Compatibility

Backwards compatibility is not a concern here. Existing tools will simply ignore the news/ directory.

Reference Implementation

Portage Code


Simple eselect News Client

A demonstration eselect news display script follows:

# Copyright 1999-2005 Gentoo Foundation
# Distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v2
# $Id: glep-0042.html,v 1.3 2005/11/07 22:26:59 ciaranm Exp $

DESCRIPTION="Read important Gentoo news items"
SVN_DATE='$Date: 2005/11/07 22:26:59 $'
VERSION=$(svn_date_to_version "${SVN_DATE}" )

get_news_item_list() {
    [[ -d "${ROOT}/var/lib/gentoo/news" ]] || return
       local news
       for news in "${ROOT}/var/lib/gentoo/news/"*.txt ; do
           echo $(basename ${news%%.*} )
    ) | sort -u

get_filename() {
    local best_lang=${LANG%%_*} lang= filename="${1}"
    [[ -e "/${filename}" ]] || for lang in "${best_lang}" "en" ; do
        [[ -e "${filename}" ]] && break
    [[ -e "${filename}" ]] && echo "${filename}" || die -q "Can't find '${1}'"

get_all_filenames() {
    if [[ -z "${1}" ]] ; then
        echo "${ROOT}/var/lib/gentoo/news/"*.??".txt"
        echo "${ROOT}/var/lib/gentoo/news/${1}."??".txt"

get_headers() {
    sed -e '/^$/Q' < $(get_filename "${1}" )

get_body() {
    sed -e '1,/^$/d' < $(get_filename "${1}" )

get_title() {
    get_headers "${1}" | sed -n -e '/^[Tt]itle: /s/^[^:]\+:[ \t]*//p'

### list action

## {{{ list stuff
describe_list() {
    echo "List available news items"

do_list() {
    write_list_start "Available news items:"
    local empty=yes n=1
    for news in $(get_news_item_list ) ; do
        write_numbered_list_entry ${n} "$(highlight $(get_title ${news} ) ) (${news})"
        n=$(( n + 1 ))
## }}}

## {{{ show stuff
    echo "Show a news item"

do_show() {
    [[ -z "${1}" ]] && die -q "You didn't tell me which news item to read"

    local target=${1} filename=
    if is_number "${target}" && [[ ${target} -ge 1 ]] ; then
        targets=( $(get_news_item_list ) )
        target=${targets[$(( ${target} - 1 ))]}

        get_headers "${target}" | grep -v '^Display-If-\|Content-Type:'
        get_body "${target}"
    ) | ${PAGER:-cat}
## }}}

# {{{ delete stuff
describe_delete() {
    echo "Delete a news item"

do_delete() {
    [[ -z "${1}" ]] && die -q "You didn't tell me which news item to delete"

    for target in $@ ; do
        if is_number "${target}" && [[ ${target} -ge 1 ]] ; then
            targets=( $(get_news_item_list ) )
            target=${targets[$(( ${target} - 1 ))]}

        rm $(get_all_filenames "${target}" ) || die -q "Couldn't delete ${target}"
# }}}

# {{{ delete-all
describe_delete-all() {
    echo "Delete all news items"

do_delete-all() {
    rm $(get_all_filenames ) || die -q "Couldn't delete news items"
# }}}

Simple News to Mail Forwarder

A demonstration shell script which delivers news items via email follows:



for news in /var/lib/gentoo/news/*.*.txt ; do
    [[ -z "${best_lang}" ]] || news="${news%%.*}.${best_lang}.txt"
    [[ -f "${news}" ]] || news="${news%%.*}.en.txt"
    [[ -f "${news}" ]] || continue
    title=$(sed -n -e '/^Title:/ { s,^[^:]\+:[ \t]\+,,p ; q }' < ${news} )
    sed -e '1,/^$/ { /^Display-If\|Content-Type/d }' < "${news}" | \
        ${mail} -s "Gentoo news: ${title}" "${to_address}" && \
        for file in ${news%%.*}.*.txt ; do rm "${file}" ; done


The idea behind notifying users of news updates via Portage comes from Stuart Herbert [12].

Thanks to Lance Albertson, Donnie Berkholz, Grant Goodyear, Brian Harring, Dan Meltzer, Paul de Vrieze and Alec Warner for input. Some of the ideas presented here are theirs, others go completely against their suggestions.


[1]Gentoo XML Guide, Daniel Robbins et al.,
[2]eselect modular framework for configuration and administration utilities,
[3]Forums user GLSA,
[4](1, 2) Forums thread "Gentoo Apache2 Config Change Idiocy",
[5]GLEP 22: "New "keyword" system to incorporate various userlands/kernels/archs", Grant Goodyear,
[6]GLEP 31: "Character Sets for Portage Tree Items", Ciaran McCreesh,
[7]GLEP 34: "Per-Category metadata.xml Files", Ciaran McCreesh,
[8]GLEP 36: "Subversion/CVS for Gentoo Hosted Projects", Aaron Walker,
[9]ISO 639 "Code for the representation of names of languages"
[10]"Re: [gentoo-dev] GLEP ??: Critical News Reporting", Lance Albertson,
[11]RFC 822 "Standard for the format of ARPA Internet text messages"
[12]"Favouring an automatic news mechanism", Stuart Herbert,