Building SUSI.AI Android App with FDroid

Fdroid is an app store for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Building and hosting an app on Fdroid is not an easy process compared to when we host one on Google Play. A certain set of build checks are required to be done prior to making a merge request (which is similar to a pull request in GitHub) in the fdroid-data GitLab repository. SUSI.AI Android app has undergone through all these checks and tests and is now ready for the merge request to be made.

Setting up the fdroid-server and fdroid-data repositories is a separate thing and is fairly easy. Building the app using the tools provided by fdroid is another thing and is the one that causes the most problems. It will involve quite a few steps to get started. Fdroid requires all the apps need to be built using:

$ fdroid build -v -l ai.susi

This will output a set of logs which tell us what went wrong in the builds. The usual one in a first time app is obviously the build is not taking place at all. The reason is our metadata file needs to be changed to initiate a build.

The metadata file is used for the build process and contains all the information about the app. The metadata file for a.susi package was a .yaml file.

Builds:

 – versionName: 1.0.10

   versionCode: 11

   commit: 1ad2fd0e858b1256617e652c6c8ce1b8372473e6

   subdir: app

   gradle:

     – fdroid

This is the metadata reference file’s build section that is used for the build process using the command that was mentioned above.The versionName a nd versionCode is found in the build.gradle file in the app and commit denotes the commit-id of the latest commit that will be checked out and built, subdir shows the subdirectory of the app, here the subdirectory is the app file.

Next is the interesting stuff, since we are using flavors in the app, we have to mention in the gradle the flavor which we are using, in our case we are using the flavor by the name of “fdroid” and by mentioning this we can build only the “fdroid” flavor in the app.

Also when building the app there were many blockers that were faced, the reason for the usual build fails were :

1 actionable task: 1 executed
INFO: Scanning source for common problems…
ERROR: Found usual suspect ‘youtube.*android.*player.*api’ at app/libs/YouTubeAndroidPlayerApi.jar
WARNING: Found JAR file at app/libs/YouTubeAndroidPlayerApi.jar
WARNING: Found possible binary at app/src/main/assets/snowboy/alexa_02092017.umdl
WARNING: Found possible binary at app/src/main/assets/snowboy/common.res
ERROR: Found shared library at app/src/main/jniLibs/arm64-v8a/libsnowboy-detect-android.so
ERROR: Found shared library at app/src/main/jniLibs/armeabi-v7a/libsnowboy-detect-android.so
INFO: Removing gradle-wrapper.jar at gradle/wrapper/gradle-wrapper.jar
ERROR: Could not build app ai.susi: Can‘t build due to 3 errors while scanning
INFO: Finished
INFO: 1 build failed

The reason for these build fails were that fdroid does not allow us to use prebuilt files and any proprietary software if present, the above log indicates the two prebuilt files which should be removed and also the YouTubeAndroidPlayerApi.jar which is proprietary software and hence needs to removed. So, to remove the files that are not used in the fdroid flavor and exclude them in the build process, we have to include the following statements in the build section of the metadata reference file :

   rm:
     – app/src/main/jniLibs/arm64-v8a/libsnowboy-detect-android.so
     – app/src/main/jniLibs/armeabi-v7a/libsnowboy-detect-android.so
     – app/libs/YouTubeAndroidPlayerApi.jar

Once the metadata file is complete we are ready to run the build command once again. If you have properly set the environment in your local PC, build will end successfully assuming there were no Java or any other language syntax errors.

It is worth to mention few other facts which are common to Android software projects. Usually the source code is packed in a folder named “app” inside the repository and this is the common scenario if Android Studio builds up the project from scratch. If this “app” folder is one level below the root, that is “android/app”, the build instructions shown above will throw an error as it cannot find the project files.

The reason for this is as it is mentioned “subdir=app” in the metadata file. Change this to “subdir=android/app” and run the build again. The idea is to direct the build to find where the project files are.

Reference:

  1. Metadata : https://f-droid.org/docs/Build_Metadata_Reference/#Build
  2. Publish an app on fdroid: https://blog.fossasia.org/publish-an-open-source-app-on-fdroid/
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Setting up environment to build PSLab Android app using Fdroid Build

Fdroid is a place for open source enthusiasts and developers to host their Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for free and get more people onboard into their community. In order to host an app in their repository, one has to go through a several steps of builds and tests. This is to ensure that the software provided by them are as quality and safe as they can ever be. They are not allowing proprietary libraries or tools to integrate into any app or they will  be published outside the Fdroid main repository (fdroid-data) so that the users will know what they are downloading.

In a normal Linux computer where we are developing Android apps and have setup Android Studio will not be able to run the build command using:

$ fdroid build -v -l org.fossasia.pslab

The reason behind this is that we have not installed gradle and build tools required by the “fdroid build” because they are not useful in our day today activities for standalone activities. First thing we need to do is, install gradle separately. This will include adding gradle to $PATH as well.

Download the latest gradle version zip file or the version your project is using with the following command. In PSLab Android app, we are using 4.5.1 version and the snippet below include that version.

$ wget https://services.gradle.org/distributions/gradle-4.5.1-bin.zip

Next step is to install this in a local folder. We can select any path we want, but /opt/ folder is generally used in such scenarios.

sudo mkdir /opt/gradle
sudo unzip -d /opt/gradle gradle-4.5.1-bin.zip

Then we can add gradle to our $PATH variable using the following command:

$ export PATH=$PATH:/opt/gradle/gradle-4.5.1/bin

Now we are all set with gradle settings. Next step is to verify that the fdroid server is properly configured and up to date. When you run the build command after setting up the gradle in PC, it will throw an error similar to “failed to find any output apks”. This causes if the installed fdroid server version is old.

Fdroid server is running on python 3 and it will require some additional libraries pre-installed to properly function.

$ sudo apt-get install vagrant virtualbox git python3-certifi python3-libvirt python3-requestbuilder python3-yaml python3-clint python3-vagrant python3-paramiko python3-pyasn1 python3-pyasn1-modules

Once these libraries are installed, remove the previous instance of fdroidserver by using the following command:

$ sudo apt-get remove fdroidserver

Then we can reinstall the latest version of fdroid server from git using the following command:

$ git clone https://gitlab.com/fdroid/fdroidserver.git
export PATH="$PATH:$PWD/fdroidserver"

Now we are all set to do a brand new lint build on our PC to make our app ready to be published in Fdroid repository!

Reference:

  1. Install gradle : https://www.vultr.com/docs/how-to-install-gradle-on-ubuntu-16-10
  2. Gradle versions : https://gradle.org/releases
  3. Setting up Fdroid-server : https://f-droid.org/en/docs/Build_Server_Setup/

Installing fdroidserver : https://gitlab.com/fdroid/fdroiddata/blob/master/README.md#quickstart

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Building PSLab Android app with Fdroid

Fdroid is a place for open source enthusiasts and developers to host their Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for free and get more people onboard into their community. Hosting an app in Fdroid is not a fairly easy process just like hosting one in Google Play. We need to perform a set of build checks prior to making a merge request (which is similar to pull request in GitHub) in the fdroid-data GitLab repository. PSLab Android app by FOSSASIA has undergone through all these checks and tests and now ready to be published.

Setting up the fdroid-server and fdroid-data repositories is one thing. Building our app using the tools provided by fdroid is another thing. It will involve quite a few steps to get started. Fdroid requires all the apps need to be built using:

$ fdroid build -v -l org.fossasia.pslab

 

This will output a set of logs which tell us what went wrong in the builds. The usual one in a first time app is obviously the build is not taking place at all. The reason is our metadata file needs to be changed to initiate a build.

Build:<versioncode>,<versionname>
    commit=<commit which has the build mentioned in versioncode>
    subdir=app
    gradle=yes

 

When a metadata file is initially created, this build is disabled by default and commit is set to “?”. We need to fill in those blanks. Once completed, it will look like the snippet above. There can be many blocks of “Build” can be added to the end of metadata file as we are advancing and upgrading through the app. As an example, the latest PSLab Android app has the following metadata “Build” block:

Build:1.1.5,7
    commit=0a50834ccf9264615d275a26feaf555db42eb4eb
    subdir=app
    gradle=yes

 

In case of an update, add another “Build” block and mention the version you want to appear on the Fdroid repository as follows:

Auto Update Mode:Version v%v
Update Check Mode:Tags
Current Version:1.1.5
Current Version Code:7

 

Once it is all filled, run the build command once again. If you have properly set the environment in your local PC, build will end successfully assuming there were no Java or any other language syntax errors.

It is worth to mention few other facts which are common to Android software projects. Usually the source code is packed in a folder named “app” inside the repository and this is the common scenario if Android Studio builds up the project from scratch. If this “app” folder is one level below the root, that is “android/app”, the build instructions shown above will throw an error as it cannot find the project files.

The reason behind this is we have mentioned “subdir=app” in the metadata file. Change this to “subdir=android/app” and run the build again. The idea is to direct the build to find where the project files are.

Apart from that, the commit can be represented by a tag instead of a long commit hash. As an example, if we had merge commits in PSLab labeled as “v.<versioncode>”, we can simply use “commit=v.1.1.5” instead of the hash code. It is just a matter of readability.

Happy Coding!

Reference:

  1. Metadata : https://f-droid.org/docs/Build_Metadata_Reference/#Build
  2. PSLab Android app Fdroid : https://gitlab.com/fdroid/fdroiddata/merge_requests/3271/diffs
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Publish an Open Source app on Fdroid

Fdroid is a famous software repository hosted with numerous free and open source Android apps. They have a main repository where they allow developers hosting free and ad free software after a thorough check up on the app. This blog will tell you how to get your project hosted in their repository using steps I followed to publish the PSLab Android app.

Before you get started, make sure you have the consent from your developer community to publish their app on Fdroid. Fdroid requires your app to use all kind of open resources to implement features. If there is any closed source libraries in your app and you still want to publish it on Fdroid, you may have to reimplement that feature by any other mean without using closed source resources. They will also not allow to have Google’s proprietary “play-services” in your app along with proprietary ad services. You can find the complete inclusion policy document from their official page.

When your app is fully ready, you can get started with the inclusion procedure. Unlike how we are publishing apps on Google Play, publishing an app on Fdroid is as simple as sending a pull request to their main repository. That’s exactly what we have to do. In simple terms all we have to do is:

  1. Fork the Fdroid main data repository
  2. Make changes to their files to include our app
  3. Do a pull request

First of all you need a GitLab account as the Fdroid repository is hosted in GitLab. Once you are ready with a GitLab account, fork and clone the f-droid-data repository. The next step is to install the fdroid-server. This can be simply done using apt:

$ sudo apt install fdroidserver

 
Once that is done, go into the directory where you cloned the repository and run the following command to check if the initiation is complete.

$ fdroid init

 
Then run the following command to read current meta data where it saves all the information related to existing apps on Fdroid;

$ fdroid readmeta

 
This will list out various details about the current meta files. Next step is to add our app details into this meta file. This can be done easily using following command or you can manually create folders and files. But the following is safer;

$ fdroid import --url https://github.com/fossasia/pslab-android --subdir app

 
Replace the link to repository from the –url tag in the above command. For instance the following will be the link for fossasia-phimpme android;

$ fdroid import --url https://github.com/fossasia/phimpme-android --subdir app

 
This will create a file named as “org.fossasia.pslab” in the metadata directory. Open up this text file and we have to fill in our details.

  1. Categories
  2. License
  3. Web Site
  4. Summary
  5. Description

Description needs to be terminated with a newline and a dot to avoid build failures.

Once the file is filled up, run the following command to make sure that the metadata file is complete.

$ fdroid readmeta

 
Then run the following command to clean up the file

$ fdroid rewritemeta org.fossasia.pslab

 
We can automatically add version details using the following command:

$ fdroid checkupdates org.fossasia.pslab

 
Now run the lint test to see if the app is building correctly.

$ fdroid lint org.fossasia.pslab

 
If there are any errors thrown, fix them to get to the next step where we actually build the app:

$ fdroid build -v -l org.fossasia.pslab

 
Now you are ready to make the pull request which will then get reviewed by developers in Fdroid community to get it merged into their main branch. Make a commit and then push to your fork. From there it is pretty straightforward to make a pull request to the main repository. Once that is done, they will test the app for any insecurities. If all of them are passed, the app will be available in Fdroid!

Reference:

  1. Quick Start: https://gitlab.com/fdroid/fdroiddata/blob/master/README.md#quickstart
  2. Making merge requests: https://gitlab.com/fdroid/fdroiddata/blob/master/CONTRIBUTING.md#merge-requests
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