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Popularity-contest Frequently Asked Questions.
Q) What information is reported by popularity-contest ?
A) popularity-contest reports the system vendor [1], the system architecture
you use, the version of popularity-contest you use and the list of packages
installed on your system. For each package, popularity-contest looks at the
most recently used (based on atime) files, and reports the filename, its
last access time (atime) and last change time (ctime). However, some files
are not considered, because they have unreliable atime. For privacy reasons,
the times are truncated to multiple of twelve hours.
[1] i.e. the dpkg Vendor field, see dpkg-vendor(1).
Q) What is considered a 'vote' for a package ?
A) A computer 'vote's for a package if according to the data provided in the
report, a program provided or depending on the package was used less than
thirty days ago. This computation is performed by the popcon server.
Q) Can submissions be eavesdropped ?
A) Yes, however if the package gnupg is installed and ENCRYPT is set to 'maybe'
or 'yes' in /etc/popularity-contest.conf, the reports are encrypted using
public key cryptography, so the eavesdropper should not be able to decrypt
them. The default is 'maybe' with popularity-contest 1.60.
Q) What are the privacy considerations for popularity-contest ?
A) Each popularity-contest host is identified by a random 128bit uuid
(MY_HOSTID in /etc/popularity-contest.conf). This uuid is used to
track submissions issued by the same host. It should be kept secret.
The reports are sent by email or HTTP to the popcon server. The
server automatically extracts the report from the email or HTTP and
stores it in a database for a maximum of 20 days or until the host
sends a new report. This database is readable only by Debian
Developers. The emails are readable only by the server admins.
Every day, the server computes a summary and posts it on
<>. This summary
is a merge of all the submissions and does not include uuids.
Known weaknesses of the system:
1) Someone who knows that you are very likely to use a particular package
reported by only one person (e.g. you are the maintainer) might infer you
are not at home when the package is not reported anymore. However this is
only a problem if you are gone for more than two weeks if the computer is
shut-down and 23 days if it is let idle.
2) Unofficial and local packages are reported. This can be an issue
due to 2) above, especially for custom-built kernel packages.
We are evaluating how far we can alleviate this problem.
Q) /usr is mounted with 'noatime'.
A) popularity-contest relies on atime to know what packages were used during
the last month. This means you will only report the list of packages
installed without usage information.
Q) When does popularity-contest run ?
A) popularity-contest is run by the daily cron job
"/etc/cron.daily/popularity-contest", but only one day in the week,
which is specified in the configuration file. This day is chosen randomly
to spread the load on the server.
Under the default configuration of cron, this happens at 6:47 in the morning.
This can be changed by editing /etc/crontab. If your computer is not always
turned on, we really recommend you install the anacron package.
If /etc/cron.daily/popularity-contest has not run for more than a week, it will
accept to run any day.
Q) I don't want popcon email to be sent by root! How can I change that ?
A) To send as user 'myuser', edit the function 'do_sendmail' in
/etc/cron.daily/popularity-contest to
su myuser -s /bin/sh -c "/usr/sbin/sendmail -oi \"$MAILTO\""
Q) How can I pass extra options to sendmail ?
A) Add a line in /etc/popularity-contest.conf as follow
MTAOPS="-opt1 -opt2 -opt3"
Q) How can I prevent popularity-contest from sending reports via email?
A) This is not recommended. Reports are sent by email only when the HTTP
submission fails, which is generally caused by a temporary lack of internet
connectivity. By contrast, reports sent by email are stored in the mail server
queue until the internet connectivity is back.
Nevertheless, you can prevent popularity-contest from sending reports via email
by adding
to /etc/popularity-contest.conf
Q) How can I specify a HTTP proxy server for the HTTP submission ?
Popularity-contest honors the environment variable http_proxy that you can
set in /etc/environment. Alternatively you can specify a proxy server
specifically for popularity-contest by adding a line
HTTP_PROXY="http://<proxy hostname>:<port>"
to /etc/popularity-contest.conf.
Q) How can I convert the timestamps in the popcon report to human-readable
dates ?
A) The timestamps are just the number of seconds since the epoch, namely
1970-01-01 00:00:00 UTC. You can convert e.g. 1139229934 to a human-readable
date with
date -d '@1139229934'
====== FAQ For derivative distribution ======
Q) How can I set up popularity-contest to report to my own server
in addition to Debian ?
A) You need to provide a keyring file with the public key used by your server,
then you can add a file matching /etc/popularity-contest.d/*.conf with
KEYRING="$KEYRING --keyring /path/to/your/keyring"
SUBMITURLS="$SUBMITURLS http://myserver/popcon.cgi"
MAILTO="$MAILTO, survey@myserver" # Optional
Q) And if I do not want to report to Debian, but I do not want to change
/etc/popularity-contest.conf ?
A) Add a file matching /etc/popularity-contest.d/00*.conf with
MAILTO="survey@myserver" # or MAILTO=""