He's not dead, he's resting

Managing Accounts with the Package Manager

Paludis is a multi-format package manager. One beneficial side effect of this is that the core code is sufficiently flexible to make handling things that aren’t really ‘packages’ in the conventional sense very easy; in the past, this has been used to deliver unavailable, unwritten and unpackaged repositories.

One of the things Exherbo inherited from Gentoo without modification was user and group management. In Gentoo, this is done by functions called enewuser and enewgroup from eutils.eclass; a package that needs a user or group ID must call these functions from pkg_setup. Although usable, this is moderately icky; Exherbo can do better than that.

Really, user and group accounts are just resources. A package that needs a particular user ID can be thought of as depending upon that ID — the only disconnect is that currently dependencies are for packages, not resources. Can we find a way of representing resources as something like packages, in a way that makes sense?

Fortunately, the obvious solution works. Having user/paludisbuild and group/paludisbuild as packages makes sense; adding the user or group is equivalent to installing the appropriate package, and if the user or group is present on the system, it shows up as installed. Then, instead of calling functions, the exheres can just do:


What about defaults? Different users need different shells, home directories, groups and so on. We could represent these a bit like options, but there’s a better way.

If two or more ebuilds need the same user, they all have to do the useradd call. This means duplicating things like home directory information and preferred uid over lots of different ebuilds, which is bad. It would be better to place the users somewhere else. For Exherbo, we’ve gone with metadata/accounts/{users,groups}/*.conf. A user’s settings look something like this (the username is taken from a filename, so this would be metadata/accounts/users/paludisbuild.conf):

shell = /bin/bash
gecos = Used by Paludis for operations that require an unprivileged user
home = /var/tmp/paludis
primary_group = paludisbuild
extra_groups =
preferred_uid =

And a group, metadata/accounts/groups/paludisbuild.conf:

preferred_gid =

We only specify ’empty’ keys for demonstration purposes; ordinarily they would be omitted.

We automatically make users depend upon the groups they use. The existing dependency abstractions are sufficient for this. There’s a bit of trickery in Paludis to allow supplemental repositories to override user defaults found in their masters; details are in the source for those who care.

One more thing to note: with accounts specified this way, we can be sure that the package manager only manages relevant accounts. There’s no danger of having the package manager accidentally start messing with your user accounts.

So what are the implications?

  • We’re no longer tied to a particular method of adding users. If a user doesn’t want to use useradd and groupadd, they can write their own handler for the package manager to update users via LDAP or whatever. Paludis supports multiple handlers here.
  • Users who would rather manage a particular account manually can add it themselves, and the package manager will treat it as being already installed and won’t try to mess with it.
  • User and group defaults are in one place, not everywhere that uses them.
  • It’s much more obvious when an account is going to be added.
  • Accounts that are no longer required can be purged using the usual uninstall-unused mechanism.

And what does it look like?

$ paludis -pi test-pkg
Building target list...
Building dependency list...   

These packages will be installed:

* group/alsogroupdemo [N 0]
    Reasons: *user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts
* group/groupdemo [N 0]
    Reasons: *user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts
* group/thirdgroupdemo [N 0]
    Reasons: *user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts
* user/accountsdemo [N 0]
    Reasons: *test-cat/test-pkg-2:2::ciaranm_exheres_test
    "A demo account"
* test-cat/test-pkg::ciaranm_exheres_test :2 [N 2] <target>
    -foo build_options: recommended_tests split strip
    "Dummy test package"

We can have a look at the accounts before they’re installed:

$ paludis -q accountsdemo groupdemo
* user/accountsdemo
    accounts:                0* {:0} 
    Username:                accountsdemo
    Description:             A demo account
    Default Group:           groupdemo
    Extra Groups:            alsogroupdemo thirdgroupdemo
    Shell:                   /sbin/nologin
    Home Directory:          /dev/null

* group/groupdemo
    accounts:                0* {:0} 
    Groupname:               groupdemo
    Preferred GID:           123

Note the dependencies:

$ paludis -qDM accountsdemo
* user/accountsdemo
    accounts:                0* {:0} 
    username:                accountsdemo
    gecos:                   A demo account
    default_group:           groupdemo
    extra_groups:            alsogroupdemo thirdgroupdemo
    shell:                   /sbin/nologin
    home:                    /dev/null
    dependencies:            group/alsogroupdemo, group/groupdemo, group/thirdgroupdemo
    location:                /var/db/paludis/repositories/ciaranm_exheres_test/metadata/accounts/users/accountsdemo.conf
    defined_by:              ciaranm_exheres_test

The install is fairly boring:

(4 of 5) Installing user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts

* Executing phase 'merge' as instructed
>>> Installing user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts using passwd handler
useradd -r accountsdemo -c 'A demo account' -G 'alsogroupdemo,thirdgroupdemo' -s '/sbin/nologin' -d '/dev/null'
>>> Finished installing user/accountsdemo-0:0::accounts

And once they’re installed:

$ paludis -q accountsdemo groupdemo
* user/accountsdemo
    installed-accounts:      0* {:0} 

* group/groupdemo
    installed-accounts:      0* {:0} 

Exherbo will be migrating to this new mechanism shortly — package manager support is already there (it was only a few hours’ work), so it’s just a case of gradually hunting down and killing those enew* function calls.


9 responses to “Managing Accounts with the Package Manager

  1. Sebastian January 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Interesting approach, thanks for reviewing this.

  2. tulcod January 26, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Interesting read, and once you think of it perfectly clean and “obvious”

  3. tulcod January 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Oh, one small question: how does this mechanism stretch to reconcilio? Can users manually be installed? Cause there’s the situation where you want to install an unpackaged package with reconcilio which depends on a user which isn’t available in a tree..

  4. Ciaran McCreesh January 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    How does reconcilio come into it?

  5. tulcod January 26, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Argh, sorry, that was an unforgivable typo. I meant to type importare.

  6. Ciaran McCreesh January 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Oh, that makes sense now. For importared packages you just manage the accounts manually, and Paludis leaves them alone. Or if it’s an account that Paludis can manage anyway, you make the imported package depend upon the relevant account.

  7. Steven Oliver January 27, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Does this qualify as feature creep?

  8. Ciaran McCreesh January 27, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Naaah. Not when it fits in so easily. It’d only be a problem if we had to make any changes to the core code to deal with it.

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