Sunday, May 28, 2017

Configure is now less forgiving

Just a word of warning: it was previously possibly to write ../configure --enable-bloordyblop and configure would happily run and just ignore the unknown option. This could be seen as being nicely lenient but, in fact, was much more often aggravating as it allowed typos in configure options to slip through, resulting in many "WTF are my library binaries still not optimised even though I did use --enable-optimize?". The answer is, of course, as previously mentioned, wxWidgets British roots: you were supposed to use --enable-optimise instead. But while sticking to the right spelling might be commendable, not giving any errors for the wrongalternative one is definitely not. Moreover, this was never intentional and happened only as an unfortunate side effect of how Autoconf AC_CONFIG_SUBDIRS()macro worked

And this has finally changed: since this recent commit, which will be part of upcoming 3.1.1 release, unrecognised configure options will result in an immediate error. And while the new behaviour is better, it does risk breaking a few of the existing build scripts, e.g. if you use obsolete options (such as --enable-compat24) or, indeed, if you made a typo in one of them. In this case, please just remove the options that don't exist any more (they were previously ignored anyhow) or fix the typos. And in the unlikely case when you really need to pass an unsupported option to wx configure script (why would you do this?), you can always explicitly use --disable-option-checking on the command line to continue doing so -- and you will even get an error if you make a typo in this one!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Our GSoC 2017 students and projects

After an average of one post every 6 months or so on this blog, good news just can't stop coming now, with a second post in just 3 days. This one is to announce that wxWidgets has been allocated two slots in this year Google Summer of Code program and Prashant Kumar and Jose Lorenzo will be working on adding support for multi-touch gestures and providing better integration with JavaScript in wxWebView this summer.

Congratulations to Prashant and Jose and thanks to everybody else who applied (but, unfortunately, couldn't be accepted) to work on wxWidgets and also to our mentors: Cătălin Răceanu, Mariano Reingart and Steven Lamerton. And good luck to all involved!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

3.0.3 Released

We have finally, after a long delay, released 3.0.3, please see the announcement or go directly to the release page. As with the previous 3.0.x releases, there are no important new features in this release, but there are quite a few bug fixes as well as support for the relatively recent compiler, platforms and third-party libraries versions which were not yet (widely) available at the time of 3.0.2, so upgrading to it is strongly recommended for all 3.0 users, especially because it is so simple: the new release is 100% compatible with 3.0.2 and doesn't require any changes to your applications code or, if you are using shared libraries, not even recompiling it.

As always, thanks to everyone who has contributed to this release (at least 66 people according to git commit information, but certainly more in practice) and helped with preparing it, by building the binaries, documentation and testing it!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Last call for proposals for GSoC 2017

This is just a reminder that wxWidgets is one of the mentoring organizations in this year Google Summer of Code program and we are looking for proposals from motivated students with knowledge of C++ and interest for cross-platform development.

There is less than a week remaining before the deadline for submitting GSoC applications, so, if you are a student, or know of a student, interested in participating, please hurry up!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Safer S...

I want, of course, to talk about "Safer Strings" today.

TL;DR: Add /DwxNO_UNSAFE_WXSTRING_CONV=1 to your compiler options today.

wxWidgets has had implicit conversion of wxString to const char* since the dawn of time (or about 1992, at any rate). This was always dangerous, as it allowed someone to accidentally write:

void show_and_free(const char* p) { ...; free(p); }
wxString s("...");
with catastrophic consequences, but such situations were relatively rare and it was thought that the convenience of having this implicit conversion overweighted the dangers. This is also why when we added Unicode support later, we also added implicit conversion to const wchar_t* and, when we added "STL" build mode, in which interoperability with the standard library is increased further even at the price of backwards compatibility, we added implicit conversions to std::string and std::wstring as well.

Unfortunately, with the merge of ANSI and Unicode build modes in wxWidgets 3, another, much more dangerous, problem has appeared because in the new combined mode we can now have a string containing Unicode characters not representable in the current locale encoding. And converting such strings to either char* or std::string inevitably results in a loss of data in this case, e.g.

double convert_temperature_to_celsius(const char* p) {
    const char* end;
    double t = strtod(p, &end);
    return 5.*(t - 32)/9.;

wxString s = wxGetTextFromUser("Enter temperature");
could, confusingly, result in always returning -17.77777, corresponding to 0°F, if the user decided to terminate the temperature entry with "°F" to explicitly indicate the scale used and the current encoding couldn't represent the degree symbol (which is the case of e.g. CP1250 under Microsoft Windows). In this case, conversion of wxString to char* would fail and p would be just empty.

Of course, this wouldn't happen if the code just used wxString::ToDouble() directly, or used wxChar and wxStrtod(), or used UTF-8, capable of representing any Unicode character, as encoding (which is practically always the case under Unix systems nowadays). So there are a lot of ways to write this code correctly, but, unfortunately, it was still too simple to write it wrongly accidentally lose the data entered by the user in this case. Clearly, implicit conversions potentially losing data are a bad idea, but we couldn't just turn them off in wxWidgets 3, as it would have broken almost all the existing programs which, empirically, all used these conversions in many places.

For the same reason, we still won't be able to turn this conversion off by default, even in wxWidgets 3.2. However now we at least provide a way to opt-in into safer behaviour. The arguably less interesting part of the changes is that you can now change the value of the compile-time wxUSE_UNSAFE_WXSTRING_CONV option when building the library. It is set to 1 by default, for compatibility, but if you build wxWidgets for the use in your own project, you are strongly advised to set it to 0 to permanently disable the unsafe, in the sense described above, implicit conversions.

Many people, however, don't build their own library, but use the one provided by their package manager under Unix/macOS or download our MSW binaries. These official binaries will continue to provide the unsafe conversions for compatibility, but you can define wxNO_UNSAFE_WXSTRING_CONV when building your own project to disable their use in your code without rebuilding the library. This symbol can be just #define'd before including any wxWidgets headers, but it is better to define it globally, in the compiler options in your make- or project file: just add /DwxNO_UNSAFE_WXSTRING_CONV=1 to it. And the main point of this long post is to convince you that you NEED TO DO just that: please define wxNO_UNSAFE_WXSTRING_CONV for your code and fix the resulting compilation errors to ensure that you don't lose any data entered by the user.

Fixing the compilation errors will, generally speaking, involve doing one of two things:

  • Either stop using char* (or std::string in the STL build) entirely and use wxString directly.
  • Or convert it to wchar_t* (or std::wstring) or convert wxString to UTF-8 encoding which will never lose data, using methods such as utf8_str(), which is a convenient synonym for mb_str(wxConvUTF8), or ToStdString(wxConvUTF8).
Of course, if you really need to use the current locale encoding, e.g. because you call a C standard library function using it, you will still need to perform the conversion to it, using just plain mb_str() and there will still be a possibility of the conversion to it failing, but at least now it won't happen implicitly.

Thanks for reading all this and, if you jumped to the end, hoping to quickly find the conclusion instead of reading this wall of text, please see the conclusion in the very beginning!

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Keep a Secret

If your program needs to ask the user for a password, e.g. to connect to a web site or a database, chances are that it proposes a way to remember this password and not have to enter it the next time. This is convenient for the users, but is quite difficult to implement in any more or less secure way and a lot of programs end up storing the passwords in plain text, or something almost indistinguishable from it, e.g. base64-encoded string, in wxConfig.

But now wxWidgets provides a better way to do it with the new wxSecretStore class. It is still as simple to use as wxConfig but uses the OS-provided password storage facility such as Microsoft Windows credentials vault or OS X keychain, for storing the secrets you confide to it. Here is how you would normally use it:

Currently there is not much more that can be done with this class, the only functionality not illustrated by this example is deleting a previously stored secret, but in the future we could extend it, notably to provide a way to also ask the user to enter the password using the OS-provided dialog. Let us know if you use wxSecretStore and if you see possible improvements, please don't keep them secret!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Improving Inherently Important Internationalisation Issues

One of the lesser-known advantages of wxWidgets compared to many other libraries is that, using its API, you can centre a window on the screen and set its colour to grey without having to Americanise your programme. But, as natural as this behaviour is, and in spite of agreeing to wxWidgets licence (the very spelling of which should have been a sufficient hint), some users still expressed their surprise in their dialogue with us and refused our advice to accept using this flavour of the API. And so, to accommodate them, wxWidgets has traditionally provided alternatives such as Center() method, wxColor class and wxGRAY constant.

Admittedly, in practice this has been sufficient to avoid any problems for a long time while still remaining true to wxWidgets historically British roots. However, in addition to being British, wxWidgets was always mostly a European effort and, besides, knowing that it was actually born in Edinburgh, it might well end being exclusively European and not British at all in the near future (but don't worry, even if the worst happens, we plan to continue supporting British spelling for at least two more release cycles, in accordance with the general backwards compatibility policy). Considering this, it seems especially strange to have alternative American versions of the spelling, but no attention being paid to the other European languages.

And now, after releasing 3.1.0, it's finally time to do something about it as, clearly, there are few unresolved issues of comparable importance left. To begin with, I obviously had to add wxCouleur class which should undoubtedly help with wxWidgets adoption in francophone countries. But adding just the French variant would certainly be undiplomatic, so another pull request adds, in the grand European tradition of Franco-German alliance, wxFarbe, and both of them will be merged together to avoid any questions of precedence. Further, France and Germany notwithstanding, I certainly don't plan to discriminate against other countries but, in the usual spirit of Open Source, additions of wxColore, wxFarve, wxKleur etc will have to wait until the appropriate patches are submitted (luckily for them, Spanish users can, in the meanwhile, already reuse the American variant, just as they already do with many other words, e.g. burrito, for the classic American food).

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as planned and, while working on this, I quickly realized that Greek might present some practical difficulties as UTF-8 support is still, even in 2016, not perfect on some of the legacy platforms supported by wxWidgets, but it would be difficult to use wxΧρώμα without it. A compromise solution that we're currently discussing would be to introduce a wxChroma class right now and deprecate it by the time 3.2 is released as Unicode support should really be widely available everywhere by then (3.2 release is currently planned for the early 2030-ies).

I do hope you will enjoy these changes, but, let's be honest, this is just the beginning and we clearly still have a lot of work to do in this area. Fully supporting colour internationalization is important, but it's just the first step and we plan to go much further. Just imagine to be able to open a wxFenêtre and choose a wxStylo for drawing on it and then, perhaps if you live in Switzerland, create a wxKnopf as its child. The possibilities are endless! Unfortunately, the same can't be said about our resources, so we count on your help to make wxWidgets the best internationalized library of all time -- and we're looking forward to your contributions!