How Calamares is Developed

Nov 1, 2021

Calamares is a distro- and desktop-agnostic Linux installer. It is developed in the open, over on GitHub, but much of the development “vibe” is from KDE. The contributor’s guide discusses some of the technical and social norms, but it does not (yet) describe the day-to-day working of the project. There have been some recent long-and-tedious discussions in issues recently. Aside from them being long, tedious, and off-topic, they also misunderstand how the project works and what resources are available. So! Some clarifications ..

Actions Speak Louder

A feature request is a request. It goes on the list of open issues, generally with the “feature: new” tag. I’m grateful to Anke Boersma of KaOS for watching over issues and tagging appropriately.

The list only shrinks when someone (anyone! See “time available” and “how to help”, below) works on a thing. Actions speak louder than words, so the absolute best way of moving something forward is to actually implement the feature yourself. The second-best way is to describe exactly what needs to be done (external commands, specific system calls, ..) to achieve a goal. Once you reach “here’s a link to an Arch-wiki page” or “it would be cool if ..” issues, the expected implementation rate drops dramatically.

The Arch wiki is a good learning resource, but it’s also extensive, cross-linked, contains historical information, and addresses the most general setup – it’s not a great resource for me to get one specific thing done in Calamares.

Time Available

There are 168 hours in a week.

This may sound trite, but there are a couple of people working – paid or volunteer – on Calamares, and they certainly don’t spend all the time on Calamares. The “in progress” label is used to indicate what is currently being worked on. Often there is only one issue labeled that way.

That doesn’t mean that an issue marked “in progress” is going to be the next one resolved. Sometimes there’s a hotfix. Sometimes a simple issue is reported that can be quickly resolved. Sometimes people ask nicely for something and it gets attention.

This adds up to “things are done when they’re done” and as far as I’m concerned, it’s how really-small-team development should be done. The short-cycle releases of Calamares – roughly every two weeks – are there to get fixes and new features out to distributions relatively quickly. Those same short-cycles mean that there are no blocker issues: I’ve given up on saying “this issue will be resolved for the next release”.

How To Help

I’m glad you asked!

You can help by contributing source – that is both documentation and code – or by writing good issues. You can help by not doing some things that clutter up issues.

Contributing Source

First and foremost: PRs (pull requests, merge requests – your source contribution to Calamares) are welcome. They get reviewed, generally there’s some minor changes to be made, tests to be added, and then things are merged. Don’t forget to add your name to the CHANGES document! We like to give credit where credit is due.

One possible approach to contributing source is to write an issue describing the problem, and then immediately opening a PR addressing that issue. The PR does not need to be complete! You might even want to use something like this:

git commit --allow-empty -m "FIXES #1"

That adds an empty commit which will close the issue when the PR is merged. Make a PR with it and mark it as work-in-progress. That way, it’s visible that you are working on something and comments can be added already.

Note that this is just one possible approach. If you want to work differently, that’s fine. Completed PRs out of the blue are fine. Mentioning you’re working on something in an issue and then submitting a PR is fine. Imperfect PRs are fine – they can be merged and then fixed-up if it’s cosmetics, or reviewed and improved.

There is more than one way to move things forward, but all of them involve picking something up and taking a step.

Where To Work

Calamares is a modular installer. There’s 61 modules in the “core” distribution, and another 7 in the “extensions” repository. Some Linux distributions, like Lliurex, have their own specific modules.

Fixing bugs should happen in a fork of the parent repository. New features if they apply to a module already existing, should happen in a fork of the parent repository. New modules with new functionality are a little tricky:

  • If the new functionality is useful for everyone, and is an obvious necessity for all Linux installations, add a new module to the “core” repository. Discuss this on Matrix or IRC first.
  • If the new functionality is useful for lots of people, add a new module to the “extensions” repository.
  • If the new functionality is useful for some people, not distribution-specific but is useful only for specific kinds of environments (e.g. it targets distributions that use KDE Plasma as the primary desktop) then add a new module to the “extensions” repository. Take care to check for dependencies carefully.
  • If the new functionality is distribution-specific, do it in your own repository. The extensions (and Lliurex) repositories can give you an example of how to set up such a repository so that it is easy to build and install against Calamares releases.

Contributing Translations

Translations of Calamares happen on Transifex. The translator’s guide in the Calamares wiki should tell you all you need.

The wiki is also something you can help out with. It should tell you all, but if it is unclear, incomplete, or if things change in the world and the wiki becomes inaccurate, then updates to the wiki are welcome, too. Come in and ask questions to get things sorted out, and the best thing you can do then is help others by updating the documentation with better or more extensive information.

Starting a new language translation is fairly straightforward; there are 80 langauges or so under translation, with lots of possibilities. However, please do not start geographic-variant languages (e.g. Nepali ne and Nepali-in-Nepal ne_NP) unless you can explain very well why the translation would be different, specifically for Calamares. Different scripts (e.g. Serbian in latin and cyrillic) qualify, as would very different vocabularies (e.g. French and Québécois).

Contributing Issues

There is an extensive how to file an issue guide (thank you to Anke for writing it). It is really important to help us help you. If you leave out which distribution you are using, there’s only a 20% chance we can even guess the right family of distributions.

Write down what you did, what you clicked, and what the effect was. Sometimes the hardware matters, too. It might not be possible to reproduce the problem – if it can be done in VirtualBox, that has the highest chances of being fixed.

Issues that do not have enough context will simply be closed.

If your distribution or packaging or configuration files are broken, then issues are likely to be closed unless you provide links to the relevant parts. A downloadable ISO image is preferred – so that whatever problem can be demonstrated in VirtualBox. One thing with distribution issues is that you must include a suitable log file. Run Calamares with -D6 to get full debug output in the log. Read the log before you post it: Calamares does a reasonable job of explaining what it is doing and what problems it might encounter.

Remember that many commands run in the installed chroot: just because you can pacman -S vim from the live-ISO environment, doesn’t mean that the same will work in the chroot during installation: you need to have pacman in the chroot, with DNS working, with suitable databases and mirrors, etc.

All in all: help us help you by providing a complete and reproducible description of the problem. Don’t expect things to be solved immediately – and if you are a user of a distribution, it will take some time to get the fix out to the distro anyway.

Please Don’t

The Code of Conduct applies to issues as well. Comments and whole threads may be removed if they do not abide by that code. In general: be patient, be kind.

  • Do not discuss irrelevant things in an issue. This includes topics like performance measurements in unrelated projects, quantum encryption (even in issues related to encryption), the Linux ecosystem as a whole, and muffins. An issue is a problem statement, followed by clarifications, hopefully followed by a resolution.
  • Do not post “is this done yet?” If the issue is open, it is not done. The “in-progress” issues can tell you what is being worked-on now. If you test the problem and it no longer occurs, feel free to post “this has been resolved, please close.”
  • Do not post “this is dumb”. See the code of conduct, and also remember that there are many distributions out there, and some will make very different decisions from your distribution. If someone has a feature request, that’s all it is. Feature requests may be implemented – faster if someone does their own work. Ask for clarification, describe potential problems, but “this is dumb” is not the problem.
  • If an issue starts to discuss what “the Calamares team” might, or might not, do, just stop. You can ask – on IRC or on Matrix – if you want a real-time answer, for instance whether something is feasible at all, or where some work should be done. Speculating on motives is entirely off-topic. You can be part of the Calamares team by submitting good code, good documentation, good translations and good issues.


Calamares development is collaborative, and also un-directed. There are regular releases so that fixes do not get stalled waiting for other things to get in. Things are done when they are done. You can help.

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