## Pursuing the question of, whether a Linux subsystem, that runs under Android, due to the UserLAnd app, can be used for Web development.

It was a subject which I wrote about several months, or years ago, that I had installed the “UserLAnd” app on my Google Pixel C Tablet, so that I could install Debian Linux on it. And a question which one reader had asked me was, whether such an arrangement could be used, to carry out Web development. In fact, some question existed, as to whether proprietary software could be made to run, and my answer was, that it would be preferred to run only Free, Open-Source Software.

In the meantime, I’ve uninstalled Linux from the Pixel C, and installed it on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, which has 256GB of internal storage, so that this question can be examined more seriously.

The answer I’d give to this question is, that Web-development can be done in this way, as long as the developer accepts some severe restrictions.

• Successful development of any kind will depend on whether the user has a real keyboard to type on.
• The Open-Source application “Bluefish” runs out-of-the box, which is more than I can say for any sort of Python IDE.
• Because there is little possibility to run a Web-server on the tablet, the features which Bluefish would normally have, to edit PHP Scripts as well, will simply need to be ignored. The ability to preview the Web-pages written, depends on the Guest System’s Firefox browser following the ‘prooted’ Guest System’s Filename-Paths, so that, when Bluefish opens Firefox, the HTML File will essentially be opened as if from the hard drive. And the feature works…

The main reason I would say, not to invest in for-pay software on this platform, is, because its full potential will not be realized.

The HTML and CSS Files created in this way will next need to be transferred to an actual Web-server, and some of the ways in which Bluefish would be set up on a real Linux box, would make this easier.

Dirk

## Trying to turn an ARM-64 -based, Android-hosted, prooted Linux Guest System, into a software development platform.

In a preceding posting I described, how I had used an Android app that does not require or benefit from having ‘root’, to install a Linux Guest System on a tablet, that has an ARM-64 CPU, which is referred to more precisely as an ‘aarch64-linux-gnu’ architecture. The Android app sets up a basic Linux system, but the user can use apt-get to extend it – if he chose a Debian 10 / Buster -based system as I did. And then, for the most part, the user’s ability to run software depends on how well the Debian package maintainers cross-compiled their packages to ‘AARCH64′. Yet, on some occasions, even in this situation, a user might want to write and then run his own code.

To make things worse, the main alternative to a pure text interface, is a VNC Session, based on ‘TightVNC’, by the choice of the developers of this app. On a Chromebook, I chose differently, by setting up a ‘TigerVNC’ desktop instead, but on this tablet, the choice was up to the Android developers alone. What this means is, that the Linux applications are forced to render purely in software mode.

Many factors work against writing one’s own code, that include, the fact that executables will result, that have been compiled for the ‘ARM’ CPU, and linked against Linux libraries!

But one of the immediate handicaps could be, that the user might want to program in Python, but can’t get any good IDEs to run. Every free IDE I could try would segfault, and I don’t even believe that these segfaults are due to problems with my Python libraries. The IDEs were themselves written in Python, using Qt5, Gtk3 or wxWidgets modules. These types of libraries are as notorious as the Qt5 Library, for relying on GPU acceleration, which is nowhere to be found, and one reason I think this is most often the culprit, is the fact that one of the IDE’s – “Eric” – actually manages to report with a gasp, that it could not create an OpenGL rendering surface – and then Segfaults. (:3)

(Edit 9/15/2020, 13h50: )

I want to avoid any misinterpretations of what I just wrote. This does not happen out of nowhere, because an application developer decided to build his applications using ‘python3-pyqt5′ etc… When I give the command:


# apt install eric



Doing so pulls in many dependencies, including an offending package. (:1) Therefore, the application developer who wrote ‘Eric’ not only chose to use one of the Python GUI libraries, but chose to use OpenGL as well.

Of course, after I next give the command to remove ‘eric’, I also follow up with the command:


# apt autoremove



Just so that the offending dependencies are no longer installed.

(End of Edit, 9/15/2020, 13h50.)

Writing convoluted code is more agreeable, if at the very least we have an IDE in front of us, that can highlight certain syntax errors, and scan includes for code completion, etc. (:2)

Well, there is a Text Editor cut out for that exact situation, named “CudaText“. I must warn the reader though, that there is a learning curve with this text editor. But, just to prove that the AARCH64-ported Python 3.7 engine is not itself buggy, the text editor’s plug-in framework is written in Python 3, and as soon as the user has learned his first lesson in how to configure CudaText, the plug-in system comes to full life, and without any Segfaults, running the Guest System’s Python engine. I think CudaText is based on Gtk2.

This might just turn out to be the correct IDE for that tablet.

(Updated 9/19/2020, 20h10… )

## Bundling AppImages with Themes.

One of the projects which I have been undertaking in recent weeks has been, to teach myself GUI programming using the Qt5 GUI Library, of which I have version 5.7.1 installed on a good, tower computer, along with the IDE “Qt Creator”. What can be observed about this already is, that under Debian 9 / Stretch, which is a specific build of Linux, in addition to just a few packages, it’s really necessary to install many additional packages, before one is ready to develop Qt Applications, because of the way Debian breaks the facility into many smaller packages. Hypothetically, if a person was using the Windows, Qt SDK, then he or she would have many of the resources all in one package.

Beyond just teaching myself the basics of how to design GUIs with this, I’ve also explored what the best way is, to deploy the resulting applications, so that other people – technically, my users – may run them. This can be tricky because, with Qt especially, libraries tend to be incompatible, due to even minor version differences. So, an approach which can be taken is, to bundle the main libraries required into an AppImage, such that, when the developer has compiled everything, the resulting AppImage – a binary – is much more likely actually to run, on different versions of Linux specifically.

The tool which I’ve been using, to turn my compiled binaries into AppImage’s, is called ‘linuxdeployqt‘, and is not available in the Debian / Stretch repositories. However, it does run under …Stretch.

But a developer may have questions that go beyond just this basic capability, such as, what he or she can do, so that the application will have a predictable appearance – a “Style” or “Theme” – on the end-user’s Linux computer. And essentially, I can think of two ways to approach that question: The ‘official but slightly quirky way’, and ‘a dirty fix, that seems to get used often’…

The official, but slightly quirky way:

Within the AppImage, there will be a ‘plugins’ directory, within which there will be a ‘platformthemes’ as well as a ‘styles’ subdirectory. It’s important to note, that these subdirectories serve officially different purposes:

• The ‘platformthemes’ subdirectory will contain plugins, that allow the application to connect with whatever theme engine the end-user’s computer has. Its plugins need to match libraries that the eventual user has, determining his desktop theme, And
• The ‘styles’ subdirectory may contain plugins, which the end-user does not have installed, but were usually compiled by upstream developers, to make use of one specific platform-engine each.

Thus, what I had in these directories, for better or worse, was as shown:

dirk@Phosphene:~/Programs/build-Dirk_Roots_GUI_1-Desktop-Release/plugins/platformthemes$ls KDEPlasmaPlatformTheme.so libqgtk2.so libqgtk3.so dirk@Phosphene:~/Programs/build-Dirk_Roots_GUI_1-Desktop-Release/plugins/platformthemes$

dirk@Phosphene:~/Programs/build-Dirk_Roots_GUI_1-Desktop-Release/plugins/styles$ls breeze.so libqgtk2style.so dirk@Phosphene:~/Programs/build-Dirk_Roots_GUI_1-Desktop-Release/plugins/styles$



The reader may already get, that this was a somewhat amateurish way, to satisfy themes on the end-user’s machine. But in reality, what this set of contents, of the AppImage, does rather well is, to make sure that the 3 main theme engines on an end-user’s computer are recognized:

1. Gtk2,
2. Gtk3,
3. Plasma 5.

And, if the application tries to make no attempts to set its own theme or style, it will most probably run with the same theme, that the end-user has selected for his desktop. But, what the point of this posting really is, is to give a hint to the reader, as to how his AppImage could set its own theme eventually. And so, according to what I just cited above, my application could choose to select “Breeze” as the Style with which to display itself, or “Gtk2″. But, here is where the official way gets undermined, at least as the state of the art was, with v5.7.1 of Qt:

• ‘Breeze’ can only be set (by the application), if the end-user’s machine is running Plasma 5 (:1), And
• ‘Gtk2′ can only be set (by the application), if the end-user’s machine supports Gtk2 themes, which many Plasma 5 computers have the additional packages installed, to do.

What this means is that, even though I could try to create a predictable experience for the end-user, what the end-user will see can still vary, depending on what, exactly, his platform is. And beyond that, even though I could set the ‘Gtk2′ Style with better reliability in the outcome, I could also just think, that the classical, ‘Gtk2′ style is a boring style, not worthy of my application. Yet, in this situation, I can only select the “Breeze” theme from within my application successfully, if the end-user is based on Plasma 5. If the end-user is not, then my application’s attempt to set “Breeze” will actually cause Qt v5.7.1 to choose the “Fusion” theme, that Qt5 always supports, that might look okay, but that is not “Breeze”…

So, what other options does the application developer have?

(Updated 9/12/2020, 18h15… )

## It’s perfectly possible to run AppImages from within Crostini.

One of the assets which I have, is an Asus Chromebook, that has modest specifications (including mere 32GB of storage), but on which I did activate the Debian / Stretch flavour of Linux. I should also mention that this Chromebook has the Intel Celeron N3350 CPU, which runs the x86_64 instruction set. This latter detail is of some importance, as full compatibility with Linux will not be realized without it. Admittedly, the subset of Debian / Stretch packages that have been cross-compiled to ARM CPU binaries is limited, and what I’m about to describe in this posting will not work at all, on ARM CPUs (that were also the more-common CPUs for use with Android).

The virtual machine that runs Linux inside ChromeOS is also called “Crostini”.

One of the limitations which I’ve heard about Crostini is, that one cannot perform most loop-mounts in root mode. For that reason, there might be some misgivings about being able to run AppImage’s, because those require a user-space mount of a ‘SquashFS’ file system, and also require the existence of a kernel module to do so.

Therefore, I am most happy to report, that on my Linux setup, and with up-to-date Chrome 85…, I am able to run AppImage’s after all, that were meant for Linux, and for the 64-bit, Intel / AMD CPU family.

As an example, I was well-able to download the Kdenlive video editor, in the form of the Linux AppImage, and to get it to run under ChromeOS. I find that often, the video editing features available from Google Play / Android apps are way too limiting.

Thus, I am finding new ways to enjoy my Chromebook and its Linux subsystem. I would warn people though, that, before running AppImage’s, they install a somewhat complete set of Linux applications and libraries.

(Update 9/10/2020, 20h55: )