We propose to develop a specification for syntax and semantic description files (SSDFs) in order to allow the user configure a GNU system using their prefered intuitive UI . This enables the development of unified configuration tools (similar to the old linuxconf or KDE Control panel).
Why do we need unified configuration?
One of the strengths of Free Software programs is that their configuration is specified in flat text files. This can easily be seen by examining the /etc directory of any Free UNIX or UNIX-like system (eg: GNU/Linux. The Hurd). Unfortunately the is also a usability weakness of Free Software, as each configuration file for each program may have a unique syntax. Thus the system administrator may have to learn n * i syntaxes for each i configuration files of n installed programs. This makes configuration of a Free Software system difficult and/or prone to error.
How to approach unified configuration:
To remove the advantage of flat text files would be preposterous, additionally the removal of the current distributed configuration storage methodology would introduce possible weaknesses into an currently robust system. In short we do not intend to represent system configuration files in binary format, nor do we intend to colate system configuration files into a single point of failure. We intend to devise a syntax description language. This will allow developers to use their current flat text configuration files and augment them with a sperate syntax description file. The syntax description file could be interpreted by arbitrary user interfaces in order to provide a single configuration tool for multiple applications.
A syntax description file should also allow a semantic description of entries in a configuration file. This should be either a formal semantic description of the effects a configuration change will have on the system (difficult but preferred) or simply a textual description of the effects of a configuration change.
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