Easily Create a Default Settings Package with Ubuntu Defaults Builder

If you’re rolling your own Ubuntu edition, usually a localized one, then you typically need to configure a bunch of settings. Previously this was done by creating a config package and overwriting settings files manually. This was a pain and also required knowledge of which settings to modify and where and how they were stored. Ubuntu-defaults-builder solves most of these issues for anyone rolling their own Ubuntu by abstracting the way settings are saved for you, you edit a simple text file and let the tools generate the settings you need.

Here’s How it Works

After installing ubuntu-defaults-builder, you create your config area by running ubuntu-defaults-template [package-name]. Package-name should be something like ubuntu-defaults-germany or ubuntu-defaults-mydistro. This creates a directory named [package-name]. Inside that directory are simple config files that you can modify:

drwxr-xr-x 12 1000 1000 4096 Mar 23 21:08 .
drwxrwxr-x 4 1000 1000 4096 Mar 23 21:05 ..
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 25 04:11 debian
-rw-r--r-- 1 1000 1000 799 Mar 22 21:38 depends.txt
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 23 02:34 desktop
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 23 02:44 hooks
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 22 21:38 i18n
drwxr-xr-x 4 1000 1000 4096 Mar 22 21:41 icons
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 22 21:41 multimedia
-rw-r--r-- 1 1000 1000 871 Mar 22 21:38 recommends.txt
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 23 20:53 unity
drwxr-xr-x 2 1000 1000 4096 Mar 22 21:40 webbrowser

The files are not “real” conf files, but are used by ubuntu-defaults-builder to create gconf and gsettings overrides. Most of the conf files are simple and self-documenting. Look at /unity/launchers.txt for example, in that file you specify what default launchers you want in Unity.

root@caprica:~/Projects/# cat ubuntu-defaults-fred/unity/launchers.txt
@clear
nautilus-home
firefox

Now, just modify all these files how you would like them. Finally you can build your defaults package with dpkg-buildpackage. After you do that, take a look at the .deb with dpkg -c and you’ll see that your settings have become overrides for anything that uses gconf or dconf/gsettings:

cat /usr/share/glib-2.0/schemas/ubuntu-defaults-fred.gschema.override
[com.canonical.Unity.Launcher]
favorites=['nautilus-home.desktop', 'firefox.desktop']

What Can You Configure?

ubuntu-defaults-builder, as of 0.27, lets you modify the following settings:

  • depends.txt – a list of packages to make dependencies of the defaults package, this is helpful when building the image.
  • recommends.txt – a list of packages to make recommends of the defaults package, this is helpful when building the image.
  • desktop/ directory – set the background, default MIME handlers, default user session, and adding custom desktop files.
  • hooks/chroot – extra hooks to be run during image build (advanced)
  • i18n/ directory – set default keyboard layout, language, and which language packs to include in the image
  • icons/ directory – where to place custom icons, for general use or for any custom .desktop files
  • multimedia/radiostations.txt – customize the radio stations list for rhythmbox and banshee
  • unity/launchers.txt – set the default list of launchers
  • webbrowser/ directory – append bookmarks to the bookmarks menu or toolbar, set the default search engine or startpage. Currently only Firefox is supported.

Testing

At this point you probably want to test it in a VM. However, due to the way that dconf settings work, the simplest method to ensure your changes will be seen is to test like this:

1) Copy the defaults package to the VM.
2) Install the defaults package
3) Create a new user
4) Logout
5) Login as the new user. This will ensure that all the default settings take precedence.

You could also use your VM’s snapshot model and save yourself from ending up with 50 user accounts if you do a lot of testing.

Once your defaults package is good, you can build an image with it using the command ubuntu-defaults-image. This tool allows you to specify a locale, add packages or sources, etc and will generate an install image for you to do final testing on.

Limitations

Ubuntu-defaults-builder is a great tool, but it has limitations. First and foremost is that you cannot change everything you might want to using it. Unless you’re going to write a patch for ubuntu-defaults-builder, you are limited to what the tool knows about. The tool has specialized routines for almost every setting it knows how to to. If you want to set other settings, for example, some advanced lightdm.conf settings (such as disabling guest or hiding the user list), you will have to override it using the old way of dropping in a new lightdm.conf file (or using /usr/lib/lightdm/lightdm-set-defaults if that will do what you want). For settings stored in gsettings/dconf you will have to write your own gsettings override files and use the override_dh_installgsettings rule in debian/rules.

When you are making your own overrides, be careful that you’re not interacting with the overrides that are built by ubuntu-defaults-builder. For example, in my case, I get two overrides, the one starting with 50 is from the dh_installgsettings step during the build:

-rw-r–r– 1 root root 68 Mar 23 20:18 50_ubuntu-defaults-fred.gschema.override
-rw-r–r– 1 root root 146 Mar 23 21:06 ubuntu-defaults-fred.gschema.override

I do not know the order the two files will be handled in, so I just try not to let them overlap settings. The easiest way to do this is to use ubuntu-defaults-builder’s own mechanisms whenever possible and then to double-check your output .deb file.

More Info

The spec for ubuntu-defaults-builder, which has additional details on what it does, how, and why, is available here.

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