Balasankar C

Balasankar C

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FOSS contributions in 2019


I have been interested in the concept of Freedom - both in the technical and social ecosystems for almost a decade now. Even though I am not a harcore contributor or anything, I have been involved in it for few years now - as an enthusiast, a contributor, a mentor, and above all an evangelist. Since 2019 is coming to an end, I thought I will note down what all I did last year as a FOSS person.


My job at GitLab is that of a Distribution Engineer. In simple terms, I have to deal with anything that a user/customer may use to install or deploy GitLab. My team maintains the omnibus-gitlab packages for various OSs, docker image, AWS AMIs and Marketplace listings, Cloud Native docker images, Helm charts for Kubernetes, etc.

My job description is essentially dealing with the above mentioned tasks only, and as part of my day job I don’t usually have to write and backend Rails/Go code. However, I also find GitLab as a good open source project and have been contributing few features to it over the year. Few main reasons I started doing this are

  1. An opportunity to learn more Rails. GitLab is a pretty good project to do that, from an engineering perspective.
  2. Most of the features I implemented are the ones I wanted from GitLab, the product. The rest are technically simpler issues with less complexity(relates to the point above, regarding getting better at Rails).
  3. I know the never-ending dilemma our Product team goes through to always maintain the balance of CE v/s EE features in every release, and prioritizing appropriate issues from a mountain of backlog to be done on each milestone. In my mind, it is easier for both them and me if I just implemented something rather than asked them to schedule it to be done by a backend team, so that I cane enjoy the feature. To note, most of the issues I tackled already had Accepting Merge Requests label on them, which meant Product was in agreement that the feature was worthy of having, but there were issues with more priority to be tackled first.

So, here are the features/enhancements I implemented in GitLab, as an interested contributor in the selfish interest of improving my Rails understanding and to get features that I wanted without much waiting:

  1. Add number of repositories to usage ping data
  2. Provide an API endpoint to get GPG signature of a commit
  3. Add ability to set project path and name when forking a project via API
  4. Add predefined CI variable to provide GitLab FQDN
  5. Ensure changelog filenames have less than 99 characters
  6. Support notifications to be fired for protected branches also
  7. Set X-GitLab-NotificationReason header in emails that are sent due to explicit subscription to an issue/MR
  8. Truncate recommended branch name to a sane length
  9. Support passing CI variables as push options
  10. Add option to configure branches for which emails should be sent on push

Swathanthra Malayalam Computing

I have been a volunteer at Swathanthra Malayalam Computing for almost 8 years now. Most of my contributions are towards various localization efforts that SMC coordinates. Last year, my major contributions were improving our fonts build process to help various packaging efforts (well, selfish reason - I wanted my life as the maintainer of Debian packages to be easier), implementing CI based workflows for various projects and helping in evangelism.

  1. Ensuring all our fonts build with Python3
  2. Ensuring all our fonts have proper appstream metadata files
  3. Add an FAQ page to Malayalam Speech Corpus
  4. Add release workflow using CI for Magisk font module


I have been a Debian contributor for almost 8 years, became a Debian Maintainer 3 years after my first stint with Debian, and have been a Debian Developer for 2 years. My activities as a Debian contributor this year are:

  1. Continuing maintenance of fonts-smc-* and hyphen-indic packages.
  2. Packaging of gopass password manager. This has been going on very slow.
  3. Reviewing and sponsoring various Ruby and Go packages.
  4. Help GitLab packaging efforts, both as a Debian Developer and a GitLab employee.

Other FOSS projects

In addition to the main projects I am a part of, I contributed to few FOSS last year, either due to personal interest, or as part of my job. They are:

  1. Calamares - I initiated and spearheaded the localization of Calamares installer to Malayalam language. It reached 100% translated status within a month.
  2. Chef
    1. Fix openSUSE Leap and SLES detection in Chef Ohai 14
    2. Make runit service’s control commands configurable in Chef Runit cookbook
  3. Mozilla - Being one of the Managers for Malayalam Localization team of Mozilla, I helped coordinate localizations of various projects, interact with Mozilla staff for the community in clarifying their concerns, getting new projects added for localization etc.


I also gave few talks regarding various FOSS topics that I am interested/knowledgeable in during 2019. List and details can be found at the talks page.

Overall, I think 2019 was a good year for the FOSS person in me. Next year, I plan to be more active in Debian because from the above list I think that is where I didn’t contribute as much as I wanted.