3. Information for developers

This document is intended to explain some of the more useful things within the tree, and provide a standard for working on the code.

3.1. General stuff - common subdirectory

String handling

Use snprintf(). It’s even provided with a compatibility module if the target system doesn’t have it natively.

If you use snprintf() to load some value into a buffer, make sure you provide the format string. Don’t use user-provided format strings, since that’s an easy way to open yourself up to an exploit.

Don’t use strcat(). We have a neat wrapper for snprintf() called snprintfcat() that allows you to append to char * with a format string and all the usual string length checking of snprintf().

Error reporting

Don’t call syslog() directly. Use upslog_with_errno() and upslogx(). They may write to the syslog, stderr, or both as appropriate. This means you don’t have to worry about whether you’re running in the background or not.

upslog_with_errno prints your message plus the string expansion of errno. upslogx just prints the message.

fatal_with_errno and fatalx work the same way, but they exit(EXIT_FAILURE) afterwards. Don’t call exit() directly.

Debugging information

upsdebug_with_errno(), upsdebugx(), upsdebug_hex() and upsdebug_ascii() use the global nut_debug_level so you don’t have to mess around with printf()s yourself. Use them.

Memory allocation

xmalloc, xcalloc, xrealloc and xstrdup all check the results of the base calls before continuing, so you don’t have to. Don’t use the raw calls directly.

Config file parsing

The configuration parser, called parseconf, is now up to its fourth major version. It has multiple entry points, and can handle many different jobs. It’s usually used for parsing files, but it can also take input a line at a time or even a character at a time.

You must initialize a context buffer with pconf_init before using any other parseconf function. pconf_encode is the only exception, since it operates on a buffer you supply and is an auxiliary function.

Escaping special characters and quoting multiple-word elements is all handled by the state machine. Using the same code for all config files avoids code duplication.


this does not apply to drivers. Driver authors should use the upsdrv_makevartable() scheme to pick up values from ups.conf. Drivers should not have their own config files.

Drivers may have their own data files, such as lists of hardware, mapping tables, or similar. The difference between a data file and a config file is that users should never be expected to edit a data file under normal circumstances. This technique might be used to add more hardware support to a driver without recompiling.

<time.h> vs. <sys/time.h>

This is already handled by autoconf, so just include "timehead.h" and you will get the right headers on every system.

3.2. Device drivers - main.c

The device drivers use main.c as their core.

To write a new driver, you create a file with a series of support functions that will be called by main. These all have names that start with upsdrv_, and they will be called at different times by main depending on what needs to happen.

See the driver documentation for information on writing drivers, and also refer to the skeletal driver in skel.c.

3.3. Portability

Avoid things that will break on other systems. All the world is not an x86 Linux box.

There are still older systems out there that don’t do C++ style comments.

/* Comments look like this. */
// Not like this.

Newer versions of gcc allow you to declare a variable inside a function somewhat like the way C++ operates, like this:

function do_stuff(void)

        int a;

        a = do_something_else();

While this will compile and run on these newer versions, it will fail miserably for anyone on an older system. That means you must not use it. gcc only warns about this with -pedantic.

3.4. Coding style

This is how we do things:

int open_subspace(char *ship, int privacy)
        if (!privacy)
                return insecure_channel(ship);

        if (!init_privacy(ship))
                fatal_with_errno("Can't open secure channel");

        return secure_channel(ship);

The basic idea is that we try to group things into functions, and then find ways to drop out of them when we can’t go any further. There’s another way to program this involving a big else chunk and a bunch of braces, and it can be hard to follow. You can read this from top to bottom and have a pretty good idea of what’s going on without having to track too much { } nesting and indenting.

We don’t really care for pretentiousVariableNamingSchemes, but you can probably get away with it in your own driver that we will never have to touch. If your function or variable names start pushing important code off the right margin of the screen, expect them to meet the byte chainsaw sooner or later.

All types defined with typedef should end in "_t", because this is easier to read, and it enables tools (such as indent and emacs) to display the source code correctly.

Indenting with tabs vs. spaces

Another thing to notice is that the indenting happens with tabs instead of spaces. This lets everyone have their personal tab-width setting without inflicting much pain on other developers. If you use a space, then you’ve fixed the spacing in stone and have really annoyed half of the people out there.

Note that tabs apply only to indenting. Alignment of text after any non-tab character has appeared on the line must be done by spaces in order for it to remain at the same alignment when someone views tabs at a different widths.

If you write something that uses spaces, you may get away with it in a driver that’s relatively secluded. However, if we have to work on that code, expect it to get reformatted according to the above.

Patches to existing code that don’t conform to the coding style being used in that file will probably be dropped. If it’s something we really need, it will be grudgingly reformatted before being included.

When in doubt, have a look at Linus’s take on this topic in the Linux kernel - Documentation/CodingStyle. He’s done a far better job of explaining this.

Line breaks

It is better to have lines that are longer than 80 characters than to wrap lines in random places. This makes it easier to work with tools such as "grep", and it also lets each developer choose their own window size and tab setting without being stuck to one particular choice.

Of course, this does not mean that lines should be made unnecessarily long when there is a better alternative (see the note on pretentiousVariableNamingSchemes above). Certainly there should not be more than one statement per line. Please do not use

if (condition) break;

but use the following:

if (condition) {

3.5. Miscellaneous coding style tools

You can go a long way towards converting your source code to the NUT coding style by piping it through the following command:

indent -kr -i8 -T FILE -l1000 -nhnl

This next command does a reasonable job of converting most C++ style comments (but not URLs and DOCTYPE strings):

sed 's#\(^\|[ \t]\)//[ \t]*\(.*\)[ \t]*#/* \2 */#'

Emacs users can adjust how tabs are displayed. For example, it is possible to set a tab stop to be 3 spaces, rather than the usual 8. (Note that in the saved file, one indentation level will still correspond to one tab stop; the difference is only how the file is rendered on screen). It is even possible to set this on a per-directory basis, by putting something like this into your .emacs file:

;; NUT style

(defun nut-c-mode ()
 "C mode with adjusted defaults for use with the NUT sources."
 (c-set-style "K&R")
 (setq c-basic-offset 3)  ;; 3 spaces C-indentation
 (setq tab-width 3))      ;; 3 spaces per tab

;; apply NUT style to all C source files in all subdirectories of nut/

(setq auto-mode-alist (cons '(".*/nut/.*\\.[ch]$". nut-c-mode)

Finishing touches

We like code that uses const and static liberally. If you don’t need to expose a function or global variable to the outside world, static is your friend. If nobody should edit the contents of some buffer that’s behind a pointer, const keeps them honest.

We always compile with -Wall, so things like const and static help you find implementation flaws. Functions that attempt to modify a constant or access something outside their scope will throw a warning or even fail to compile in some cases. This is what we want.


If you use a goto, expect us to drop it when our head stops spinning. It gives us flashbacks to the very old code we wrote. We’ve tried to clean up our act, and you should make the effort as well.

We’re not making a blanket statement about gotos, since everything probably has at least one good use. There are a few cases where a goto is more efficient than any other approach, but you probably won’t encounter them very often in this software.

Legacy code

There are parts of the source tree that do not yet conform to these specs. Part of this is due to the fact that the coding style has been evolving slightly over the course of the project. Some of the code you see in these directories is 5 years old, and things have gotten cleaner since then. Don’t worry - it’ll get cleaned up the next time something in the vicinity gets a visit.

Memory leak checking

We can’t say enough good things about valgrind. If you do anything with dynamic memory in your code, you need to use this. Just compile with -g and start the program inside valgrind. Run it through the suspected area and then exit cleanly. valgrind will tell you if you’ve done anything dodgy like freeing regions twice, reading uninitialized memory, or if you’ve leaked memory anywhere.

For more information, refer to the Valgrind project.


The summary: please be kind to our eyes. There’s a lot of stuff in here, and many people have put a lot of time and energy to improve it.

3.6. Submitting patches

Small patches that arrive in unified format (diff -u) as plain text attachments with no HTML and a brief summary at the top are the easiest to handle.

If a patch is sent to the nut-upsdev mailing list, it stands a better chance of being seen immediately. However, it is likely to be dropped if any issues cannot be resolved quickly. If your code might not work for others, or if it is a large change, your best bet is to submit a pull request or create an issue on GitHub.

The issue tracker allows us to track the patches over a longer period of time, and it is less likely that a patch will fall through the cracks. Posting a reminder to the developers (via the nut-upsdev list) about a patch on GitHub is fair game.

3.7. Patch cohesion

Patches should have some kind of unifying element. One patch set is one message, and it should all touch similar things. If you have to edit 6 files to add support for neutrino detection in UPS hardware, that’s fine.

However, sending one huge patch that does massive separate changes all over the tree is not recommended. That kind of patch has to be split up and evaluated separately, assuming the core developers care enough to do that instead of just dropping it.

If you have to make big changes in lots of places, send multiple patches - one per item.

3.8. The finishing touches: manual pages and device entry in HCL

If you change something that involves an argument to a program or configuration file parsing, the man page is probably now out of date. If you don’t update it, we have to, and we have enough to do as it is.

If you write a new driver, send in the man page when you send us the source code for your driver. Otherwise, we will be forced to write a skeletal man page that will probably miss many of the finer points of the driver and hardware.

The same remark goes for device entries: if you add support for new models, remember to also complete the hardware compatibility list, present in data/driver.list.in. This will be used to generate both textual, static HTML and dynamic searchable HTML for the website.

3.9. Source code management

We currently use a Git repository hosted at GitHub (with a mirror at Alioth) to track changes to the NUT source code. This allows you to clone the repository (or fork, in GitHub parlance), make changes, and post them online for review prior to integration.

To obtain permission to commit directly to the master NUT repository, you must be prepared to spend a fair amount of time contributing to the NUT codebase. Most developers will be well served by committing to their own Git repository, and having the NUT team merge their changes.

Git offers a little more flexibility than the svn update command. You may fetch other developers' changes into your repository, but hold off on actually combining them with your branch until you have compared the two branches (for instance, with gitk --all). Git also allows you to accumulate more than one commit worth of changes before pushing to another repository. This allows development to continue without a constant network connection.

For a quick change to a file in the Git working copy, you can use git diff to generate a patch to send to the nut-upsdev mailing list. If you have more extensive changes, you can use git format-patch on a complete commit or branch, and send the resulting series of patches to the list.

If you use GitHub’s web-based editor to make changes, it tends to create lots of small commits, one per change per file. Unless there is reason to keep the intermediate history, we will probably collapse the entire branch into one commit with git rebase -i before merging.

The GitSvnCrashCourse wiki page has some useful information for long-time users of Subversion.

Git access

Anonymous Git checkouts are possible:

git clone git://github.com/networkupstools/nut.git


git clone https://github.com/networkupstools/nut.git

if it is necessary to get around a pesky firewall that blocks the native Git protocol.

For a quicker checkout (when you don’t need the entire repository history), you can limit the depth of the clone:

git clone --depth 1 git://github.com/networkupstools/nut.git

In case the GitHub repository is temporarily unavailable for any reason, we also plan to push to Alioth’s Git server as well. You can add a remote reference to your local repository:

cd path/to/nut
git remote add -f alioth git://anonscm.debian.org/nut/nut.git

Mercurial (hg) access

There are those who prefer the simplicity and self-consistency of the Mercurial SCM client over the hodgepodge of unique commands which make up Git. Rather than debate the merits of each system, we will gently guide you towards the hg-git project which would theoretically be a transparent bridge between the central Git repository, and your local Mercurial working copy.

Other tools for hg/git interoperability are sure to exist. We would welcome any feedback about this process on the nut-upsdev mailing list.

Subversion (SVN) access

If you prefer to check out the NUT source code using an SVN client, GitHub has a SVN interface to Git repositories hosted on their servers. You can fork a copy of the NUT repository and commit to your fork with SVN.

Be aware that the examples in the GitHub blog post might result in a checkout that includes all of the current branches, as well as the trunk. You are most likely interested in a command line similar to the following:

svn co https://github.com/networkupstools/nut/trunk nut-trunk-svn

3.10. Ignoring generated files

The NUT repository generally only holds files which are not generated from other files. This prevents spurious differences from being recorded in the repository history.

If you add a driver, it is recommended that you add the driver executable name to the .gitignore file in that directory. Similarly, files generated from *.in and *.am sources should be ignored as well. We try to include a number of generated files in the tarball releases with make dist hooks in order to minimize the number of dependencies for end users, but the assumption is that a developer can install the packages needed to regenerate those files.

3.11. Commit message formatting

From the git commit man page:

Though not required, it’s a good idea to begin the commit message with a single short (less than 50 character) line summarizing the change, followed by a blank line and then a more thorough description. The text up to the first blank line in a commit message is treated as the commit title, and that title is used throughout git.

If your commit is just a change to one component, such as the HCL, upsd or a specific driver, prefix your commit message in a way that matches similar commits. This helps when searching the repository or tracking down a regression.

Referring to previous commits can be tricky. If you are referring to the immediate parent of a given commit, it suffices to say "the previous commit". (Are you correcting a typo in the previous commit? If you haven’t pushed yet, consider using the git commit --amend command instead of creating a new commit.) For other commits, even though tools like gitk and GitHub’s repository viewers recognize Git hashes and create links automatically, it is best to add some context such as the commit title or a date.

You may notice that some older commits have [[SVN:####]] tags and Fossil-ID footers. These were lifted from the old SVN commit messages using reposurgeon, and should not be used as a guide for future commits.

3.12. Repository etiquette and quality assurance

Please keep the Git master branch in working condition at all times. The master branch may be used to generate daily tarballs, and should not contain broken code. If you need to commit incremental changes that leave the system in a broken state, please do so in a separate branch and merge the changes back into master once they are complete.

You are encouraged to use git rebase -i on your private Git branches to separate your changes into logical changes.

From there, you can generate patches for the issue tracker, or the nut-upsdev list.

Note that once you rebase a branch, anyone else who has a copy of this branch will need to rebase on top of your rebased branch. Obviously, this hinders collaboration. In this case, we recommend that you rebase only in your private repository, and push when things are ready for discussion. Merging instead of rebasing will help with collaboration, but please do not turn the repository history into a pile of spaghetti by merging unnecessarily. (Test merges can be done on integration branches, which can be discarded if the merge is trivial.) Be sure that your commit messages are descriptive when merging.

If you haven’t created a commit out of your local changes yet, and you want to fetch the latest code, you can also use git stash before pulling, then git stash pop to apply your saved changes.

Here is an example workflow:

        git clone -o central git://github.com/networkupstools/nut.git

        cd nut
        git remote add -f username git://github.com/username/nut.git

        git checkout master
        git branch my-new-feature
        git checkout my-new-feature

        # Hack away

        git add changed-file.c
        git commit

        # Fix a typo in a file or commit message:

        git commit -a --amend

        # Someone committed something to the central repository. Fetch it.

        git fetch central
        git rebase central/master

        # Publish your branch to your GitHub repository:

        git push username my-new-feature

If you are new to Git, but are familiar with SVN, the following link may be of use.

3.13. Building the Code

For a developer, the NUT build process starts with ./autogen.sh. This script generates the ./configure script that end users typically invoke to build NUT. If you are making a number of changes to the NUT source tree, configuring with the --enable-maintainer-mode flag will ensure that after you change Makefile.am, the Makefile.in and Makefile get regenerated. At a minimum, you will need:

  • autoconf
  • automake
  • libtool
  • Python
  • Perl

After running ./autogen.sh, you can pass your local configuration options to ./configure and run make from the top-level directory. To avoid the need for root privileges when testing new NUT code, you may wish to use --prefix=$HOME/local/nut --with-statepath=/tmp. You can also keep compilation times down by only building the driver you are currently working on: --with-drivers=driver1,dummy-ups.

Before pushing your commits upstream, please run make distcheck-light. This checks that the Makefiles are not broken, that all the relevant files are distributed, and that there are no compilation or installation errors. Note that this requires all of the dependencies necessary to build the documentation, including asciidoc, a2x, xsltproc, dblatex and any additional XSL stylesheets.

Running make distcheck-light is especially important if you have added or removed files, or updated configure.in or some Makefile.am. Remember: simply adding a file to Git does not mean it will be distributed. To distribute a file, you must update the corresponding Makefile.am.

There is also make distcheck, which runs an even stricter set of tests than make distcheck-light, but will not work unless you have all the optional libraries and features installed.

Even if you do not use your distribution’s packages of NUT, installing the distribution’s list of build dependencies for NUT can reduce the amount of trial-and-error when installing dependencies. For instance, in Debian, you can run apt-get build-dep nut to install all of the auto* tools as well as any development libraries and headers.