Search Results: "beh"

13 February 2024

Arturo Borrero Gonz lez: Back to the Wikimedia Foundation!

Wikimedia Foundation logo In October 2023, I departed from the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization behind well-known projects like Wikipedia and others, to join Spryker. However, in January 2024 Spryker conducted a round of layoffs reportedly due to budget and business reasons. I was among those affected, being let go just three months after joining the company. Fortunately, the Wikimedia Cloud Services team, where I previously worked, was still seeking to backfill my position, so I reached out to them. They graciously welcomed me back as a Senior Site Reliability Engineer, in the same team and position as before. Although this three-month career detour wasn t the outcome I initially envisioned, I found it to be a valuable experience. During this time, I gained knowledge in a new tech stack, based on AWS, and discovered new engineering methodologies. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful individuals. I believe I have emerged stronger from this experience. Returning to the Wikimedia Foundation is truly motivating. It feels privileged to be part of this mature organization, its community, and movement, with its inspiring mission and values. In addition, I m hoping that this also means I can once again dedicate a bit more attention to my FLOSS activities, such as my duties within the Debian project. My email address is back online: aborrero@wikimedia.org. You can find me again in the IRC libera.chat server, in the usual wikimedia channels, nick arturo.

Matthew Palmer: Not all TLDs are Created Equal

In light of the recent cancellation of the queer.af domain registration by the Taliban, the fragile and difficult nature of country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) has once again been comprehensively demonstrated. Since many people may not be aware of the risks, I thought I d give a solid explainer of the whole situation, and explain why you should, in general, not have anything to do with domains which are registered under ccTLDs.

Top-level What-Now? A top-level domain (TLD) is the last part of a domain name (the collection of words, separated by periods, after the https:// in your web browser s location bar). It s the com in example.com, or the af in queer.af. There are two kinds of TLDs: country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) and generic TLDs (gTLDs). Despite all being TLDs, they re very different beasts under the hood.

What s the Difference? Generic TLDs are what most organisations and individuals register their domains under: old-school technobabble like com , net , or org , historical oddities like gov , and the new-fangled world of words like tech , social , and bank . These gTLDs are all regulated under a set of rules created and administered by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ), which try to ensure that things aren t a complete wild-west, limiting things like price hikes (well, sometimes, anyway), and providing means for disputes over names1. Country-code TLDs, in contrast, are all two letters long2, and are given out to countries to do with as they please. While ICANN kinda-sorta has something to do with ccTLDs (in the sense that it makes them exist on the Internet), it has no authority to control how a ccTLD is managed. If a country decides to raise prices by 100x, or cancel all registrations that were made on the 12th of the month, there s nothing anyone can do about it. If that sounds bad, that s because it is. Also, it s not a theoretical problem the Taliban deciding to asssert its bigotry over the little corner of the Internet namespace it has taken control of is far from the first time that ccTLDs have caused grief.

Shifting Sands The queer.af cancellation is interesting because, at the time the domain was reportedly registered, 2018, Afghanistan had what one might describe as, at least, a different political climate. Since then, of course, things have changed, and the new bosses have decided to get a bit more active. Those running queer.af seem to have seen the writing on the wall, and were planning on moving to another, less fraught, domain, but hadn t completed that move when the Taliban came knocking.

The Curious Case of Brexit When the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, it fell foul of the EU s rules for the registration of domains under the eu ccTLD3. To register (and maintain) a domain name ending in .eu, you have to be a resident of the EU. When the UK ceased to be part of the EU, residents of the UK were no longer EU residents. Cue much unhappiness, wailing, and gnashing of teeth when this was pointed out to Britons. Some decided to give up their domains, and move to other parts of the Internet, while others managed to hold onto them by various legal sleight-of-hand (like having an EU company maintain the registration on their behalf). In any event, all very unpleasant for everyone involved.

Geopolitics on the Internet?!? After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Ukranian Vice Prime Minister asked ICANN to suspend ccTLDs associated with Russia. While ICANN said that it wasn t going to do that, because it wouldn t do anything useful, some domain registrars (the companies you pay to register domain names) ceased to deal in Russian ccTLDs, and some websites restricted links to domains with Russian ccTLDs. Whether or not you agree with the sort of activism implied by these actions, the fact remains that even the actions of a government that aren t directly related to the Internet can have grave consequences for your domain name if it s registered under a ccTLD. I don t think any gTLD operator will be invading a neighbouring country any time soon.

Money, Money, Money, Must Be Funny When you register a domain name, you pay a registration fee to a registrar, who does administrative gubbins and causes you to be able to control the domain name in the DNS. However, you don t own that domain name4 you re only renting it. When the registration period comes to an end, you have to renew the domain name, or you ll cease to be able to control it. Given that a domain name is typically your brand or identity online, the chances are you d prefer to keep it over time, because moving to a new domain name is a massive pain, having to tell all your customers or users that now you re somewhere else, plus having to accept the risk of someone registering the domain name you used to have and capturing your traffic it s all a gigantic hassle. For gTLDs, ICANN has various rules around price increases and bait-and-switch pricing that tries to keep a lid on the worst excesses of registries. While there are any number of reasonable criticisms of the rules, and the Internet community has to stay on their toes to keep ICANN from totally succumbing to regulatory capture, at least in the gTLD space there s some degree of control over price gouging. On the other hand, ccTLDs have no effective controls over their pricing. For example, in 2008 the Seychelles increased the price of .sc domain names from US$25 to US$75. No reason, no warning, just pay up .

Who Is Even Getting That Money? A closely related concern about ccTLDs is that some of the cool ones are assigned to countries that are not great. The poster child for this is almost certainly Libya, which has the ccTLD ly . While Libya was being run by a terrorist-supporting extremist, companies thought it was a great idea to have domain names that ended in .ly. These domain registrations weren t (and aren t) cheap, and it s hard to imagine that at least some of that money wasn t going to benefit the Gaddafi regime. Similarly, the British Indian Ocean Territory, which has the io ccTLD, was created in a colonialist piece of chicanery that expelled thousands of native Chagossians from Diego Garcia. Money from the registration of .io domains doesn t go to the (former) residents of the Chagos islands, instead it gets paid to the UK government. Again, I m not trying to suggest that all gTLD operators are wonderful people, but it s not particularly likely that the direct beneficiaries of the operation of a gTLD stole an island chain and evicted the residents.

Are ccTLDs Ever Useful? The answer to that question is an unqualified maybe . I certainly don t think it s a good idea to register a domain under a ccTLD for vanity purposes: because it makes a word, is the same as a file extension you like, or because it looks cool. Those ccTLDs that clearly represent and are associated with a particular country are more likely to be OK, because there is less impetus for the registry to try a naked cash grab. Unfortunately, ccTLD registries have a disconcerting habit of changing their minds on whether they serve their geographic locality, such as when auDA decided to declare an open season in the .au namespace some years ago. Essentially, while a ccTLD may have geographic connotations now, there s not a lot of guarantee that they won t fall victim to scope creep in the future. Finally, it might be somewhat safer to register under a ccTLD if you live in the location involved. At least then you might have a better idea of whether your domain is likely to get pulled out from underneath you. Unfortunately, as the .eu example shows, living somewhere today is no guarantee you ll still be living there tomorrow, even if you don t move house. In short, I d suggest sticking to gTLDs. They re at least lower risk than ccTLDs.

+1, Helpful If you ve found this post informative, why not buy me a refreshing beverage? My typing fingers (both of them) thank you in advance for your generosity.

Footnotes
  1. don t make the mistake of thinking that I approve of ICANN or how it operates; it s an omnishambles of poor governance and incomprehensible decision-making.
  2. corresponding roughly, though not precisely (because everything has to be complicated, because humans are complicated), to the entries in the ISO standard for Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions , ISO 3166.
  3. yes, the EU is not a country; it s part of the roughly, though not precisely caveat mentioned previously.
  4. despite what domain registrars try very hard to imply, without falling foul of deceptive advertising regulations.

12 February 2024

Andrew Cater: Lessons from (and for) colleagues - and, implicitly, how NOT to get on

I have had excellent colleagues both at my day job and, especially, in Debian over the last thirty-odd years. Several have attempted to give me good advice - others have been exemplars. People retire: sadly, people die. What impression do you want to leave behind when you leave here?Belatedly, I've come to realise that obduracy, sheer bloody mindedness, force of will and obstinacy will only get you so far. The following began very much as a tongue in cheek private memo to myself a good few years ago. I showed it to a colleague who suggested at the time that I should share it to a wider audience.

SOME ADVICE YOU MAY BENEFIT FROM

Personal conduct
  • Never argue with someone you believe to be arguing idiotically - a dispassionate bystander may have difficulty telling who's who.
  • You can't make yourself seem reasonable by behaving unreasonably
  • It does not matter how correct your point of view is if you get people's backs up
  • They may all be #####, @@@@@, %%%% and ******* - saying so out loud doesn't help improve matters and may make you seem intemperate.

Working with others
  • Be the change you want to be and behave the way you want others to behave in order to achieve the desired outcome.
  • You can demolish someone's argument constructively and add weight to good points rather than tearing down their ideas and hard work and being ultra-critical and negative - no-one likes to be told "You know - you've got a REALLY ugly baby there"
  • It's easier to work with someone than to work against them and have to apologise repeatedly.
  • Even when you're outstanding and superlative, even you had to learn it all once. Be generous to help others learn: you shouldn't have to teach too many times if you teach correctly once and take time in doing so.

Getting the message across
  • Stop: think: write: review: (peer review if necessary): publish.
  • Clarity is all: just because you understand it doesn't mean anyone else will.
  • It does not matter how correct your point of view is if you put it across badly.
  • If you're giving advice: make sure it is:
  • Considered
  • Constructive
  • Correct as far as you can (and)
  • Refers to other people who may be able to help
  • Say thank you promptly if someone helps you and be prepared to give full credit where credit's due.

Work is like that
  • You may not know all the answers or even have the whole picture - consult, take advice - LISTEN TO THE ADVICE
  • Sometimes the right answer is not the immediately correct answer
  • Corollary: Sometimes the right answer for the business is not your suggested/preferred outcome
  • Corollary: Just because you can do it like that in the real world doesn't mean that you can do it that way inside the business. [This realisation is INTENSELY frustrating but you have to learn to deal with it]
  • DON'T ALWAYS DO IT YOURSELF - Attempt to fix the system, sometimes allow the corporate monster to fail - then do it yourself and fix it. It is always easier and tempting to work round the system and Just Flaming Do It but it doesn't solve problems in the longer term and may create more problems and ill-feeling than it solves.

    [Worked out for Andy Cater for himself after many years of fighting the system as a misguided missile - though he will freely admit that he doesn't always follow them as often as he should :) ]


10 February 2024

Andrew Cater: Debian point releases - updated media for Bullseye (11.9) and Bookworm (12.5) - 2024-02-10

It's been a LONG day: two point releases in a day takes of the order of twelve or thirteen hours of fairly solid work on behalf of those doing the releases and testing.Thanks firstly to the main Debian release team for all the initial work.Thanks to Isy, RattusRattus, Sledge and egw in Cottenham, smcv and Helen closer to the centre of Cambridge, cacin and others who have dropped in and out of IRC and helped testing.

I've been at home but active on IRC - missing the team (and the food) and drinking far too much coffee/eating too many biscuits.

We've found relatively few bugs that we haven't previously noted: it's been a good day. Back again, at some point a couple of months from now to do this all over again.With luck, I can embed a picture of the Cottenham folk below: it's fun to know _exactly_ where people are because you've been there yourself.



6 February 2024

Robert McQueen: Flathub: Pros and Cons of Direct Uploads

I attended FOSDEM last weekend and had the pleasure to participate in the Flathub / Flatpak BOF on Saturday. A lot of the session was used up by an extensive discussion about the merits (or not) of allowing direct uploads versus building everything centrally on Flathub s infrastructure, and related concerns such as automated security/dependency scanning. My original motivation behind the idea was essentially two things. The first was to offer a simpler way forward for applications that use language-specific build tools that resolve and retrieve their own dependencies from the internet. Flathub doesn t allow network access during builds, and so a lot of manual work and additional tooling is currently needed (see Python and Electron Flatpak guides). And the second was to offer a maybe more familiar flow to developers from other platforms who would just build something and then run another command to upload it to the store, without having to learn the syntax of a new build tool. There were many valid concerns raised in the room, and I think on reflection that this is still worth doing, but might not be as valuable a way forward for Flathub as I had initially hoped. Of course, for a proprietary application where Flathub never sees the source or where it s built, whether that binary is uploaded to us or downloaded by us doesn t change much. But for an FLOSS application, a direct upload driven by the developer causes a regression on a number of fronts. We re not getting too hung up on the malicious developer inserts evil code in the binary case because Flathub already works on the model of verifying the developer and the user makes a decision to trust that app we don t review the source after all. But we do lose other things such as our infrastructure building on multiple architectures, and visibility on whether the build environment or upload credentials have been compromised unbeknownst to the developer. There is now a manual review process for when apps change their metadata such as name, icon, license and permissions which would apply to any direct uploads as well. It was suggested that if only heavily sandboxed apps (eg no direct filesystem access without proper use of portals) were permitted to make direct uploads, the impact of such concerns might be somewhat mitigated by the sandboxing. However, it was also pointed out that my go-to example of Electron app developers can upload to Flathub with one command was also a bit of a fiction. At present, none of them would pass that stricter sandboxing requirement. Almost all Electron apps run old versions of Chromium with less complete portal support, needing sandbox escapes to function correctly, and Electron (and Chromium s) sandboxing still needs additional tooling/downstream patching to run inside a Flatpak. Buh-boh. I think for established projects who already ship their own binaries from their own centralised/trusted infrastructure, and for developers who have understandable sensitivities about binary integrity such such as encryption, password or financial tools, it s a definite improvement that we re able to set up direct uploads with such projects with less manual work. There are already quite a few applications including verified ones where the build recipe simply fetches a binary built elsewhere and unpacks it, and if this already done centrally by the developer, repeating the exercise on Flathub s server adds little value. However for the individual developer experience, I think we need to zoom out a bit and think about how to improve this from a tools and infrastructure perspective as we grow Flathub, and as we seek to raise funds for different sources for these improvements. I took notes for everything that was mentioned as a tooling limitation during the BOF, along with a few ideas about how we could improve things, and hope to share these soon as part of an RFP/RFI (Request For Proposals/Request for Information) process. We don t have funding yet but if we have some prospective collaborators to help refine the scope and estimate the cost/effort, we can use this to go and pursue funding opportunities.

2 February 2024

Ian Jackson: UPS, the Useless Parcel Service; VAT and fees

I recently had the most astonishingly bad experience with UPS, the courier company. They severely damaged my parcels, and were very bad about UK import VAT, ultimately ending up harassing me on autopilot. The only thing that got their attention was my draft Particulars of Claim for intended legal action. Surprisingly, I got them to admit in writing that the disbursement fee they charge recipients alongside the actual VAT, is just something they made up with no legal basis. What happened Autumn last year I ordered some furniture from a company in Germany. This was to be shipped by them to me by courier. The supplier chose UPS. UPS misrouted one of the three parcels to Denmark. When everything arrived, it had been sat on by elephants. The supplier had to replace most of it, with considerable inconvenience and delay to me, and of course a loss to the supplier. But this post isn t mostly about that. This post is about VAT. You see, import VAT was due, because of fucking Brexit. UPS made a complete hash of collecting that VAT. Their computers can t issue coherent documents, their email helpdesk is completely useless, and their automated debt collection systems run along uninfluenced by any external input. The crazy, including legal threats and escalating late payment fees, continued even after I paid the VAT discrepancy (which I did despite them not yet having provided any coherent calculation for it). This kind of behaviour is a very small and mild version of the kind of things British Gas did to Lisa Ferguson, who eventually won substantial damages for harassment, plus 10K of costs. Having tried asking nicely, and sending stiff letters, I too threatened litigation. I would have actually started a court claim, but it would have included a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act. Those have to be filed under the Part 8 procedure , which involves sending all of the written evidence you re going to use along with the claim form. Collating all that would be a good deal of work, especially since UPS and ControlAccount didn t engage with me at all, so I had no idea which things they might actually dispute. So I decided that before issuing proceedings, I d send them a copy of my draft Particulars of Claim, along with an offer to settle if they would pay me a modest sum and stop being evil robots at me. Rather than me typing the whole tale in again, you can read the full gory details in the PDF of my draft Particulars of Claim. (I ve redacted the reference numbers). Outcome The draft Particulars finally got their attention. UPS sent me an offer: they agreed to pay me 50, in full and final settlement. That was close enough to my offer that I accepted it. I mostly wanted them to stop, and they do seem to have done so. And I ve received the 50. VAT calculation They also finally included an actual explanation of the VAT calculation. It s absurd, but it s not UPS s absurd:
The clearance was entered initially with estimated import charges of 400.03, consisting of 387.83 VAT, and 12.20 disbursement fee. This original entry regrettably did not include the freight cost for calculating the VAT, and as such when submitted for final entry the VAT value was adjusted to include this and an amended invoice was issued for an additional 39.84. HMRC calculate the amount against which VAT is raised using the value of goods, insurance and freight, however they also may apply a VAT adjustment figure. The VAT Adjustment is based on many factors (Incidental costs in regards to a shipment), which includes charge for currency conversion if the invoice does not list values in Sterling, but the main is due to the inland freight from airport of destination to the final delivery point, as this charge varies, for example, from EMA to Edinburgh would be 150, from EMA to Derby would be 1, so each year UPS must supply HMRC with all values incurred for entry build up and they give an average which UPS have to use on the entry build up as the VAT Adjustment. The correct calculation for the import charges is therefore as follows: Goods value divided by exchange rate 2,489.53 EUR / 1.1683 = 2,130.89 GBP Duty: Goods value plus freight (%) 2,130.89 GBP + 5% = 2,237.43 GBP. That total times the duty rate. X 0 % = 0 GBP VAT: Goods value plus freight (100%) 2,130.89 GBP + 0 = 2,130.89 GBP That total plus duty and VAT adjustment 2,130.89 GBP + 0 GBP + 7.49 GBP = 2,348.08 GBP. That total times 20% VAT = 427.67 GBP As detailed above we must confirm that the final VAT charges applied to the shipment were correct, and that no refund of this is therefore due.
This looks very like HMRC-originated nonsense. If only they had put it on the original bills! It s completely ridiculous that it took four months and near-litigation to obtain it. Disbursement fee One more thing. UPS billed me a 12 disbursement fee . When you import something, there s often tax to pay. The courier company pays that to the government, and the consignee pays it to the courier. Usually the courier demands it before final delivery, since otherwise they end up having to chase it as a debt. It is common for parcel companies to add a random fee of their own. As I note in my Particulars, there isn t any legal basis for this. In my own offer of settlement I proposed that UPS should:
State under what principle of English law (such as, what enactment or principle of Common Law), you levy the disbursement fee (or refund it).
To my surprise they actually responded to this in their own settlement letter. (They didn t, for example, mention the harassment at all.) They said (emphasis mine):
A disbursement fee is a fee for amounts paid or processed on behalf of a client. It is an established category of charge used by legal firms, amongst other companies, for billing of various ancillary costs which may be incurred in completion of service. Disbursement fees are not covered by a specific law, nor are they legally prohibited. Regarding UPS disbursement fee this is an administrative charge levied for the use of UPS deferment account to prepay import charges for clearance through CDS. This charge would therefore be billed to the party that is responsible for the import charges, normally the consignee or receiver of the shipment in question. The disbursement fee as applied is legitimate, and as you have stated is a commonly used and recognised charge throughout the courier industry, and I can confirm that this was charged correctly in this instance.
On UPS s analysis, they can just make up whatever fee they like. That is clearly not right (and I don t even need to refer to consumer protection law, which would also make it obviously unlawful). And, that everyone does it doesn t make it lawful. There are so many things that are ubiquitous but unlawful, especially nowadays when much of the legal system - especially consumer protection regulators - has been underfunded to beyond the point of collapse. Next time this comes up I might have a go at getting the fee back. (Obviously I ll have to pay it first, to get my parcel.) ParcelForce and Royal Mail I think this analysis doesn t apply to ParcelForce and (probably) Royal Mail. I looked into this in 2009, and I found that Parcelforce had been given the ability to write their own private laws: Schemes made under section 89 of the Postal Services Act 2000. This is obviously ridiculous but I think it was the law in 2009. I doubt the intervening governments have fixed it. Furniture Oh, yes, the actual furniture. The replacements arrived intact and are great :-).

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30 January 2024

Matthew Palmer: Why Certificate Lifecycle Automation Matters

If you ve perused the ActivityPub feed of certificates whose keys are known to be compromised, and clicked on the Show More button to see the name of the certificate issuer, you may have noticed that some issuers seem to come up again and again. This might make sense after all, if a CA is issuing a large volume of certificates, they ll be seen more often in a list of compromised certificates. In an attempt to see if there is anything that we can learn from this data, though, I did a bit of digging, and came up with some illuminating results.

The Procedure I started off by finding all the unexpired certificates logged in Certificate Transparency (CT) logs that have a key that is in the pwnedkeys database as having been publicly disclosed. From this list of certificates, I removed duplicates by matching up issuer/serial number tuples, and then reduced the set by counting the number of unique certificates by their issuer. This gave me a list of the issuers of these certificates, which looks a bit like this:
/C=BE/O=GlobalSign nv-sa/CN=AlphaSSL CA - SHA256 - G4
/C=GB/ST=Greater Manchester/L=Salford/O=Sectigo Limited/CN=Sectigo RSA Domain Validation Secure Server CA
/C=GB/ST=Greater Manchester/L=Salford/O=Sectigo Limited/CN=Sectigo RSA Organization Validation Secure Server CA
/C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=GoDaddy.com, Inc./OU=http://certs.godaddy.com/repository//CN=Go Daddy Secure Certificate Authority - G2
/C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=Starfield Technologies, Inc./OU=http://certs.starfieldtech.com/repository//CN=Starfield Secure Certificate Authority - G2
/C=AT/O=ZeroSSL/CN=ZeroSSL RSA Domain Secure Site CA
/C=BE/O=GlobalSign nv-sa/CN=GlobalSign GCC R3 DV TLS CA 2020
Rather than try to work with raw issuers (because, as Andrew Ayer says, The SSL Certificate Issuer Field is a Lie), I mapped these issuers to the organisations that manage them, and summed the counts for those grouped issuers together.

The Data
Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation Insert obligatory "not THAT data" comment here
The end result of this work is the following table, sorted by the count of certificates which have been compromised by exposing their private key:
IssuerCompromised Count
Sectigo170
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)161
GoDaddy141
DigiCert81
GlobalSign46
Entrust3
SSL.com1
If you re familiar with the CA ecosystem, you ll probably recognise that the organisations with large numbers of compromised certificates are also those who issue a lot of certificates. So far, nothing particularly surprising, then. Let s look more closely at the relationships, though, to see if we can get more useful insights.

Volume Control Using the issuance volume report from crt.sh, we can compare issuance volumes to compromise counts, to come up with a compromise rate . I m using the Unexpired Precertificates colume from the issuance volume report, as I feel that s the number that best matches the certificate population I m examining to find compromised certificates. To maintain parity with the previous table, this one is still sorted by the count of certificates that have been compromised.
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
If we now sort this table by compromise rate, we can see which organisations have the most (and least) leakiness going on from their customers:
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
By grouping by order-of-magnitude in the compromise rate, we can identify three bands :
  • The Super Leakers: Customers of Entrust and GlobalSign seem to love to lose control of their private keys. For Entrust, at least, though, the small volumes involved make the numbers somewhat untrustworthy. The three compromised certificates could very well belong to just one customer, for instance. I m not aware of anything that GlobalSign does that would make them such an outlier, either, so I m inclined to think they just got unlucky with one or two customers, but as CAs don t include customer IDs in the certificates they issue, it s not possible to say whether that s the actual cause or not.
  • The Regular Leakers: Customers of SSL.com, GoDaddy, and Sectigo all have compromise rates in the 1-in-hundreds-of-thousands range. Again, the low volumes of SSL.com make the numbers somewhat unreliable, but the other two organisations in this group have large enough numbers that we can rely on that data fairly well, I think.
  • The Low Leakers: Customers of DigiCert and Let s Encrypt are at least three times less likely than customers of the regular leakers to lose control of their private keys. Good for them!
Now we have some useful insights we can think about.

Why Is It So?
Professor Julius Sumner Miller If you don't know who Professor Julius Sumner Miller is, I highly recommend finding out
All of the organisations on the list, with the exception of Let s Encrypt, are what one might term traditional CAs. To a first approximation, it s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the customers of these traditional CAs probably manage their certificates the same way they have for the past two decades or more. That is, they generate a key and CSR, upload the CSR to the CA to get a certificate, then copy the cert and key somewhere. Since humans are handling the keys, there s a higher risk of the humans using either risky practices, or making a mistake, and exposing the private key to the world. Let s Encrypt, on the other hand, issues all of its certificates using the ACME (Automatic Certificate Management Environment) protocol, and all of the Let s Encrypt documentation encourages the use of software tools to generate keys, issue certificates, and install them for use. Given that Let s Encrypt has 161 compromised certificates currently in the wild, it s clear that the automation in use is far from perfect, but the significantly lower compromise rate suggests to me that lifecycle automation at least reduces the rate of key compromise, even though it doesn t eliminate it completely.

Explaining the Outlier The difference in presumed issuance practices would seem to explain the significant difference in compromise rates between Let s Encrypt and the other organisations, if it weren t for one outlier. This is a largely traditional CA, with the manual-handling issues that implies, but with a compromise rate close to that of Let s Encrypt. We are, of course, talking about DigiCert. The thing about DigiCert, that doesn t show up in the raw numbers from crt.sh, is that DigiCert manages the issuance of certificates for several of the biggest hosted TLS providers, such as CloudFlare and AWS. When these services obtain a certificate from DigiCert on their customer s behalf, the private key is kept locked away, and no human can (we hope) get access to the private key. This is supported by the fact that no certificates identifiably issued to either CloudFlare or AWS appear in the set of certificates with compromised keys. When we ask for all certificates issued by DigiCert , we get both the certificates issued to these big providers, which are very good at keeping their keys under control, as well as the certificates issued to everyone else, whose key handling practices may not be quite so stringent. It s possible, though not trivial, to account for certificates issued to these hosted TLS providers, because the certificates they use are issued from intermediates branded to those companies. With the crt.sh psql interface we can run this query to get the total number of unexpired precertificates issued to these managed services:
SELECT SUM(sub.NUM_ISSUED[2] - sub.NUM_EXPIRED[2])
  FROM (
    SELECT ca.name, max(coalesce(coalesce(nullif(trim(cc.SUBORDINATE_CA_OWNER), ''), nullif(trim(cc.CA_OWNER), '')), cc.INCLUDED_CERTIFICATE_OWNER)) as OWNER,
           ca.NUM_ISSUED, ca.NUM_EXPIRED
      FROM ccadb_certificate cc, ca_certificate cac, ca
     WHERE cc.CERTIFICATE_ID = cac.CERTIFICATE_ID
       AND cac.CA_ID = ca.ID
  GROUP BY ca.ID
  ) sub
 WHERE sub.name ILIKE '%Amazon%' OR sub.name ILIKE '%CloudFlare%' AND sub.owner = 'DigiCert';
The number I get from running that query is 104,316,112, which should be subtracted from DigiCert s total issuance figures to get a more accurate view of what DigiCert s regular customers do with their private keys. When I do this, the compromise rates table, sorted by the compromise rate, looks like this:
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
"Regular" DigiCert40,397,363811 in 498,732
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
All DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
In short, it appears that DigiCert s regular customers are just as likely as GoDaddy or Sectigo customers to expose their private keys.

What Does It All Mean? The takeaway from all this is fairly straightforward, and not overly surprising, I believe.

The less humans have to do with certificate issuance, the less likely they are to compromise that certificate by exposing the private key. While it may not be surprising, it is nice to have some empirical evidence to back up the common wisdom. Fully-managed TLS providers, such as CloudFlare, AWS Certificate Manager, and whatever Azure s thing is called, is the platonic ideal of this principle: never give humans any opportunity to expose a private key. I m not saying you should use one of these providers, but the security approach they have adopted appears to be the optimal one, and should be emulated universally. The ACME protocol is the next best, in that there are a variety of standardised tools widely available that allow humans to take themselves out of the loop, but it s still possible for humans to handle (and mistakenly expose) key material if they try hard enough. Legacy issuance methods, which either cannot be automated, or require custom, per-provider automation to be developed, appear to be at least four times less helpful to the goal of avoiding compromise of the private key associated with a certificate.

Humans Are, Of Course, The Problem
Bender, the robot from Futurama, asking if we'd like to kill all humans No thanks, Bender, I'm busy tonight
This observation that if you don t let humans near keys, they don t get leaked is further supported by considering the biggest issuers by volume who have not issued any certificates whose keys have been compromised: Google Trust Services (fourth largest issuer overall, with 57,084,529 unexpired precertificates), and Microsoft Corporation (sixth largest issuer overall, with 22,852,468 unexpired precertificates). It appears that somewhere between most and basically all of the certificates these organisations issue are to customers of their public clouds, and my understanding is that the keys for these certificates are managed in same manner as CloudFlare and AWS the keys are locked away where humans can t get to them. It should, of course, go without saying that if a human can never have access to a private key, it makes it rather difficult for a human to expose it. More broadly, if you are building something that handles sensitive or secret data, the more you can do to keep humans out of the loop, the better everything will be.

Your Support is Appreciated If you d like to see more analysis of how key compromise happens, and the lessons we can learn from examining billions of certificates, please show your support by buying me a refreshing beverage. Trawling CT logs is thirsty work.

Appendix: Methodology Limitations In the interests of clarity, I feel it s important to describe ways in which my research might be flawed. Here are the things I know of that may have impacted the accuracy, that I couldn t feasibly account for.
  • Time Periods: Because time never stops, there is likely to be some slight mismatches in the numbers obtained from the various data sources, because they weren t collected at exactly the same moment.
  • Issuer-to-Organisation Mapping: It s possible that the way I mapped issuers to organisations doesn t match exactly with how crt.sh does it, meaning that counts might be skewed. I tried to minimise that by using the same data sources (the CCADB AllCertificates report) that I believe that crt.sh uses for its mapping, but I cannot be certain of a perfect match.
  • Unwarranted Grouping: I ve drawn some conclusions about the practices of the various organisations based on their general approach to certificate issuance. If a particular subordinate CA that I ve grouped into the parent organisation is managed in some unusual way, that might cause my conclusions to be erroneous. I was able to fairly easily separate out CloudFlare, AWS, and Azure, but there are almost certainly others that I didn t spot, because hoo boy there are a lot of intermediate CAs out there.

29 January 2024

Russ Allbery: Review: Bluebird

Review: Bluebird, by Ciel Pierlot
Publisher: Angry Robot
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 0-85766-967-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 458
Bluebird is a stand-alone far-future science fiction adventure. Ten thousand years ago, a star fell into the galaxy carrying three factions of humanity. The Ascetics, the Ossuary, and the Pyrites each believe that only their god survived and the other two factions are heretics. Between them, they have conquered the rest of the galaxy and its non-human species. The only thing the factions hate worse than each other are those who attempt to stay outside the faction system. Rig used to be a Pyrite weapon designer before she set fire to her office and escaped with her greatest invention. Now she's a Nightbird, a member of an outlaw band that tries to help refugees and protect her fellow Kashrini against Pyrite genocide. On her side, she has her girlfriend, an Ascetic librarian; her ship, Bluebird; and her guns, Panache and Pizzazz. And now, perhaps, the mysterious Ginka, a Zazra empath and remarkably capable fighter who helps Rig escape from an ambush by Pyrite soldiers. Rig wants to stay alive, help her people, and defy the factions. Pyrite wants Rig's secrets and, as leverage, has her sister. What Ginka wants is not entirely clear even to Ginka. This book is absurd, but I still had fun with it. It's dangerous for me to compare things to anime given how little anime that I've watched, but Bluebird had that vibe for me: anime, or maybe Japanese RPGs or superhero comics. The storytelling is very visual, combat-oriented, and not particularly realistic. Rig is a pistol sharpshooter and Ginka is the type of undefined deadly acrobatic fighter so often seen in that type of media. In addition to her ship, Rig has a gorgeous hand-maintained racing hoverbike with a beautiful paint job. It's that sort of book. It's also the sort of book where the characters obey cinematic logic designed to maximize dramatic physical confrontations, even if their actions make no logical sense. There is no facial recognition or screening, and it's bizarrely easy for the protagonists to end up in same physical location as high-up bad guys. One of the weapon systems that's critical to the plot makes no sense whatsoever. At critical moments, the bad guys behave more like final bosses in a video game, picking up weapons to deal with the protagonists directly instead of using their supposedly vast armies of agents. There is supposedly a whole galaxy full of civilizations with capital worlds covered in planet-spanning cities, but politics barely exist and the faction leaders get directly involved in the plot. If you are looking for a realistic projection of technology or society, I cannot stress enough that this is not the book that you're looking for. You probably figured that out when I mentioned ten thousand years of war, but that will only be the beginning of the suspension of disbelief problems. You need to turn off your brain and enjoy the action sequences and melodrama. I'm normally good at that, and I admit I still struggled because the plot logic is such a mismatch with the typical novels I read. There are several points where the characters do something that seems so monumentally dumb that I was sure Pierlot was setting them up for a fall, and then I got wrong-footed because their plan worked fine, or exploded for unrelated reasons. I think this type of story, heavy on dramatic eye-candy and emotional moments with swelling soundtracks, is a lot easier to pull off in visual media where all the pretty pictures distract your brain. In a novel, there's a lot of time to think about the strategy, technology, and government structure, which for this book is not a good idea. If you can get past that, though, Rig is entertainingly snarky and Ginka, who turns out to be the emotional heart of the book, is an enjoyable character with a real growth arc. Her background is a bit simplistic and the villains are the sort of pure evil that you might expect from this type of cinematic plot, but I cared about the outcome of her story. Some parts of the plot dragged and I think the editing could have been tighter, but there was enough competence porn and banter to pull me through. I would recommend Bluebird only cautiously, since you're going to need to turn off large portions of your brain and be in the right mood for nonsensically dramatic confrontations, but I don't regret reading it. It's mostly in primary colors and the emotional conflicts are not what anyone would call subtle, but it delivers a character arc and a somewhat satisfying ending. Content warning: There is a lot of serious physical injury in this book, including surgical maiming. If that's going to bother you, you may want to give this one a pass. Rating: 6 out of 10

26 January 2024

Bastian Venthur: Investigating popularity of Python build backends over time

Inspired by a Mastodon post by Fran oise Conil, who investigated the current popularity of build backends used in pyproject.toml files, I wanted to investigate how the popularity of build backends used in pyproject.toml files evolved over the years since the introduction of PEP-0517 in 2015. Getting the data Tom Forbes provides a huge dataset that contains information about every file within every release uploaded to PyPI. To get the current dataset, we can use:
curl -L --remote-name-all $(curl -L "https://github.com/pypi-data/data/raw/main/links/dataset.txt")
This will download approximately 30GB of parquet files, providing detailed information about each file included in a PyPI upload, including:
  1. project name, version and release date
  2. file path, size and line count
  3. hash of the file
The dataset does not contain the actual files themselves though, more on that in a moment. Querying the dataset using duckdb We can now use duckdb to query the parquet files directly. Let s look into the schema first:
describe select * from '*.parquet';
 
    column_name     column_type    null    
      varchar         varchar     varchar  
 
  project_name      VARCHAR       YES      
  project_version   VARCHAR       YES      
  project_release   VARCHAR       YES      
  uploaded_on       TIMESTAMP     YES      
  path              VARCHAR       YES      
  archive_path      VARCHAR       YES      
  size              UBIGINT       YES      
  hash              BLOB          YES      
  skip_reason       VARCHAR       YES      
  lines             UBIGINT       YES      
  repository        UINTEGER      YES      
 
  11 rows                       6 columns  
 
From all files mentioned in the dataset, we only care about pyproject.toml files that are in the project s root directory. Since we ll still have to download the actual files, we need to get the path and the repository to construct the corresponding URL to the mirror that contains all files in a bunch of huge git repositories. Some files are not available on the mirrors; to skip these, we only take files where the skip_reason is empty. We also care about the timestamp of the upload (uploaded_on) and the hash to avoid processing identical files twice:
select
    path,
    hash,
    uploaded_on,
    repository
from '*.parquet'
where
    skip_reason == '' and
    lower(string_split(path, '/')[-1]) == 'pyproject.toml' and
    len(string_split(path, '/')) == 5
order by uploaded_on desc
This query runs for a few minutes on my laptop and returns ~1.2M rows. Getting the actual files Using the repository and path, we can now construct an URL from which we can fetch the actual file for further processing:
url = f"https://raw.githubusercontent.com/pypi-data/pypi-mirror- repository /code/ path "
We can download the individual pyproject.toml files and parse them to read the build-backend into a dictionary mapping the file-hash to the build backend. Downloads on GitHub are rate-limited, so downloading 1.2M files will take a couple of days. By skipping files with a hash we ve already processed, we can avoid downloading the same file more than once, cutting the required downloads by circa 50%. Results Assuming the data is complete and my analysis is sound, these are the findings: There is a surprising amount of build backends in use, but the overall amount of uploads per build backend decreases quickly, with a long tail of single uploads:
>>> results.backend.value_counts()
backend
setuptools        701550
poetry            380830
hatchling          56917
flit               36223
pdm                11437
maturin             9796
jupyter             1707
mesonpy              625
scikit               556
                   ...
postry                 1
tree                   1
setuptoos              1
neuron                 1
avalon                 1
maturimaturinn         1
jsonpath               1
ha                     1
pyo3                   1
Name: count, Length: 73, dtype: int64
We pick only the top 4 build backends, and group the remaining ones (including PDM and Maturin) into other so they are accounted for as well. The following plot shows the relative distribution of build backends over time. Each bin represents a time span of 28 days. I chose 28 days to reduce visual clutter. Within each bin, the height of the bars corresponds to the relative proportion of uploads during that time interval: Relative distribution of build backends over time Looking at the right side of the plot, we see the current distribution. It confirms Fran oise s findings about the current popularity of build backends: Between 2018 and 2020 the graph exhibits significant fluctuations, due to the relatively low amount uploads utizing pyproject.toml files. During that early period, Flit started as the most popular build backend, but was eventually displaced by Setuptools and Poetry. Between 2020 and 2020, the overall usage of pyproject.toml files increased significantly. By the end of 2022, the share of Setuptools peaked at 70%. After 2020, other build backends experienced a gradual rise in popularity. Amongh these, Hatch emerged as a notable contender, steadily gaining traction and ultimately stabilizing at 10%. We can also look into the absolute distribution of build backends over time: Absolute distribution of build backends over time The plot shows that Setuptools has the strongest growth trajectory, surpassing all other build backends. Poetry and Hatch are growing at a comparable rate, but since Hatch started roughly 4 years after Poetry, it s lagging behind in popularity. Despite not being among the most widely used backends anymore, Flit maintains a steady and consistent growth pattern, indicating its enduring relevance in the Python packaging landscape. The script for downloading and analyzing the data can be found in my GitHub repository. It contains the results of the duckb query (so you don t have to download the full dataset) and the pickled dictionary, mapping the file hashes to the build backends, saving you days for downloading and analyzing the pyproject.toml files yourself.

25 January 2024

Joachim Breitner: GHC Steering Committee Retrospective

After seven years of service as member and secretary on the GHC Steering Committee, I have resigned from that role. So this is a good time to look back and retrace the formation of the GHC proposal process and committee. In my memory, I helped define and shape the proposal process, optimizing it for effectiveness and throughput, but memory can be misleading, and judging from the paper trail in my email archives, this was indeed mostly Ben Gamari s and Richard Eisenberg s achievement: Already in Summer of 2016, Ben Gamari set up the ghc-proposals Github repository with a sketch of a process and sent out a call for nominations on the GHC user s mailing list, which I replied to. The Simons picked the first set of members, and in the fall of 2016 we discussed the committee s by-laws and procedures. As so often, Richard was an influential shaping force here.

Three ingredients For example, it was him that suggested that for each proposal we have one committee member be the Shepherd , overseeing the discussion. I believe this was one ingredient for the process effectiveness: There is always one person in charge, and thus we avoid the delays incurred when any one of a non-singleton set of volunteers have to do the next step (and everyone hopes someone else does it). The next ingredient was that we do not usually require a vote among all members (again, not easy with volunteers with limited bandwidth and occasional phases of absence). Instead, the shepherd makes a recommendation (accept/reject), and if the other committee members do not complain, this silence is taken as consent, and we come to a decision. It seems this idea can also be traced back on Richard, who suggested that once a decision is requested, the shepherd [generates] consensus. If consensus is elusive, then we vote. At the end of the year we agreed and wrote down these rules, created the mailing list for our internal, but publicly archived committee discussions, and began accepting proposals, starting with Adam Gundry s OverloadedRecordFields. At that point, there was no secretary role yet, so how I did become one? It seems that in February 2017 I started to clean-up and refine the process documentation, fixing bugs in the process (like requiring authors to set Github labels when they don t even have permissions to do that). This in particular meant that someone from the committee had to manually handle submissions and so on, and by the aforementioned principle that at every step there ought to be exactly one person in change, the role of a secretary followed naturally. In the email in which I described that role I wrote:
Simon already shoved me towards picking up the secretary hat, to reduce load on Ben.
So when I merged the updated process documentation, I already listed myself secretary . It wasn t just Simon s shoving that put my into the role, though. I dug out my original self-nomination email to Ben, and among other things I wrote:
I also hope that there is going to be clear responsibilities and a clear workflow among the committee. E.g. someone (possibly rotating), maybe called the secretary, who is in charge of having an initial look at proposals and then assigning it to a member who shepherds the proposal.
So it is hardly a surprise that I became secretary, when it was dear to my heart to have a smooth continuous process here. I am rather content with the result: These three ingredients single secretary, per-proposal shepherds, silence-is-consent helped the committee to be effective throughout its existence, even as every once in a while individual members dropped out.

Ulterior motivation I must admit, however, there was an ulterior motivation behind me grabbing the secretary role: Yes, I did want the committee to succeed, and I did want that authors receive timely, good and decisive feedback on their proposals but I did not really want to have to do that part. I am, in fact, a lousy proposal reviewer. I am too generous when reading proposals, and more likely mentally fill gaps in a specification rather than spotting them. Always optimistically assuming that the authors surely know what they are doing, rather than critically assessing the impact, the implementation cost and the interaction with other language features. And, maybe more importantly: why should I know which changes are good and which are not so good in the long run? Clearly, the authors cared enough about a proposal to put it forward, so there is some need and I do believe that Haskell should stay an evolving and innovating language but how does this help me decide about this or that particular feature. I even, during the formation of the committee, explicitly asked that we write down some guidance on Vision and Guideline ; do we want to foster change or innovation, or be selective gatekeepers? Should we accept features that are proven to be useful, or should we accept features so that they can prove to be useful? This discussion, however, did not lead to a concrete result, and the assessment of proposals relied on the sum of each member s personal preference, expertise and gut feeling. I am not saying that this was a mistake: It is hard to come up with a general guideline here, and even harder to find one that does justice to each individual proposal. So the secret motivation for me to grab the secretary post was that I could contribute without having to judge proposals. Being secretary allowed me to assign most proposals to others to shepherd, and only once in a while myself took care of a proposal, when it seemed to be very straight-forward. Sneaky, ain t it?

7 Years later For years to come I happily played secretary: When an author finished their proposal and public discussion ebbed down they would ping me on GitHub, I would pick a suitable shepherd among the committee and ask them to judge the proposal. Eventually, the committee would come to a conclusion, usually by implicit consent, sometimes by voting, and I d merge the pull request and update the metadata thereon. Every few months I d summarize the current state of affairs to the committee (what happened since the last update, which proposals are currently on our plate), and once per year gathered the data for Simon Peyton Jones annually GHC Status Report. Sometimes some members needed a nudge or two to act. Some would eventually step down, and I d sent around a call for nominations and when the nominations came in, distributed them off-list among the committee and tallied the votes. Initially, that was exciting. For a long while it was a pleasant and rewarding routine. Eventually, it became a mere chore. I noticed that I didn t quite care so much anymore about some of the discussion, and there was a decent amount of naval-gazing, meta-discussions and some wrangling about claims of authority that was probably useful and necessary, but wasn t particularly fun. I also began to notice weaknesses in the processes that I helped shape: We could really use some more automation for showing proposal statuses, notifying people when they have to act, and nudging them when they don t. The whole silence-is-assent approach is good for throughput, but not necessary great for quality, and maybe the committee members need to be pushed more firmly to engage with each proposal. Like GHC itself, the committee processes deserve continuous refinement and refactoring, and since I could not muster the motivation to change my now well-trod secretarial ways, it was time for me to step down. Luckily, Adam Gundry volunteered to take over, and that makes me feel much less bad for quitting. Thanks for that! And although I am for my day job now enjoying a language that has many of the things out of the box that for Haskell are still only language extensions or even just future proposals (dependent types, BlockArguments, do notation with ( foo) expressions and Unicode), I m still around, hosting the Haskell Interlude Podcast, writing on this blog and hanging out at ZuriHac etc.

24 January 2024

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RApiDatetime 0.0.9 on CRAN: Maintenance

A new maintenance release of our RApiDatetime package is now on CRAN RApiDatetime provides a number of entry points for C-level functions of the R API for Date and Datetime calculations. The functions asPOSIXlt and asPOSIXct convert between long and compact datetime representation, formatPOSIXlt and Rstrptime convert to and from character strings, and POSIXlt2D and D2POSIXlt convert between Date and POSIXlt datetime. Lastly, asDatePOSIXct converts to a date type. All these functions are rather useful, but were not previously exported by R for C-level use by other packages. Which this package aims to change. This release responds to a CRAN request to clean up empty macros and sections in Rd files. Moreover, because the windows portion of the corresponding R-internal code underwent some changes, our (#ifdef conditional) coverage here is a little behind and created a warning under the newer UCRT setup. So starting with this release we are back to OS_type: unix meaning there will not be any Windows builds at CRAN. If you would like that to change, and ideally can work in the Windows portion, do not hesitate to get in touch. Details of the release follow based on the NEWS file.

Changes in RApiDatetime version 0.0.9 (2024-01-23)
  • Replace auto-generated stale RApitDatetime-package.Rd with macro-filled stanza to satisfy CRAN request.

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is also a diffstat report for this release. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppAnnoy 0.0.22 on CRAN: Maintenance

annoy image A very minor maintenance release, now at version 0.0.22, of RcppAnnoy has arrived on CRAN. RcppAnnoy is the Rcpp-based R integration of the nifty Annoy library by Erik Bernhardsson. Annoy is a small and lightweight C++ template header library for very fast approximate nearest neighbours originally developed to drive the Spotify music discovery algorithm. It had all the buzzwords already a decade ago: it is one of the algorithms behind (drum roll ) vector search as it finds approximate matches very quickly and also allows to persist the data. This release responds to a CRAN request to clean up empty macros and sections in Rd files. Details of the release follow based on the NEWS file.

Changes in version 0.0.22 (2024-01-23)
  • Replace empty examples macro to satisfy CRAN request.

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is also a diffstat report for this release. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

13 January 2024

Freexian Collaborators: Debian Contributions: LXD/Incus backend bug, /usr-merge updates, gcc-for-host, and more! (by Utkarsh Gupta)

Contributing to Debian is part of Freexian s mission. This article covers the latest achievements of Freexian and their collaborators. All of this is made possible by organizations subscribing to our Long Term Support contracts and consulting services.

LXD/Incus backend bug in autopkgtest by Stefano Rivera While working on the Python 3.12 transition, Stefano repeatedly ran into a bug in autopkgtest when using LXD (or in the future Incus), that caused it to hang when running cython s multi-hour autopkgtests. After some head-banging, the bug turned out to be fairly straightforward: LXD didn t shut down on receiving a SIGTERM, so when a testsuite timed out, it would hang forever. A simple fix has been applied.

/usr-merge, by Helmut Grohne Thanks to Christian Hofstaedtler and others, the effort is moving into a community effort and the work funded by Freexian becomes more difficult to separate from non-funded work. In particular, since the community fully handled all issues around lost udev rules, dh_installudev now installs rules to /usr. The story around diversions took another detour. We learned that conflicts do not reliably prevent concurrent unpack and the reiterated mitigation for molly-guard triggered this. After a bit of back and forth and consultation with the developer mailing list, we concluded that avoiding the problematic behavior when using apt or an apt-based upgrader combined with a loss mitigation would be good enough. The involved packages bfh-container, molly-guard, progress-linux-container and systemd have since been uploaded to unstable and the matter seems finally solved except that it doesn t quite work with sysvinit yet. The same approach is now being proposed for the diversions of zutils for gzip. We thank involved maintainers for their timely cooperation.

gcc-for-host, by Helmut Grohne Since forever, it has been difficult to correctly express a toolchain build dependency. This can be seen in the Build-Depends of the linux source package for instance. While this has been solved for binutils a while back, the patches for gcc have been unfinished. With lots of constructive feedback from gcc package maintainer Matthias Klose, Helmut worked on finalizing and testing these patches. Patch stacks are now available for gcc-13 and gcc-14 and Matthias already included parts of them in test builds for Ubuntu noble. Finishing this work would enable us to resolve around 1000 cross build dependency satisfiability issues in unstable.

Miscellaneous contributions
  • Stefano continued work on the Python 3.12 transition, including uploads of cython, pycxx, numpy, python-greenlet, twisted, foolscap and dh-python.
  • Stefano reviewed and selected from a new round of DebConf 24 bids, as part of the DebConf Committee. Busan, South Korea was selected.
  • For debian-printing Thorsten uploaded hplip to unstable to fix a /usr-merge bug and cups to Bookworm to fix bugs related to printing in color.
  • Utkarsh helped newcomers in mentoring and reviewing their packaging; eg: golang-github-prometheus-community-pgbouncer-exporter.
  • Helmut sent patches for 42 cross build failures unrelated to the gcc-for-host work.
  • Helmut continues to maintain rebootstrap. In December, blt started depending on libjpeg and this poses a dependency loop. Ideally, Python would stop depending on blt. Also linux-libc-dev having become Multi-Arch: foreign poses non-trivial issues that are not fully resolved yet.
  • Enrico participated in /usr-merge discussions with Helmut.

11 January 2024

Matthias Klumpp: Wayland really breaks things Just for now?

This post is in part a response to an aspect of Nate s post Does Wayland really break everything? , but also my reflection on discussing Wayland protocol additions, a unique pleasure that I have been involved with for the past months1.

Some facts Before I start I want to make a few things clear: The Linux desktop will be moving to Wayland2 this is a fact at this point (and has been for a while), sticking to X11 makes no sense for future projects. From reading Wayland protocols and working with it at a much lower level than I ever wanted to, it is also very clear to me that Wayland is an exceptionally well-designed core protocol, and so are the additional extension protocols (xdg-shell & Co.). The modularity of Wayland is great, it gives it incredible flexibility and will for sure turn out to be good for the long-term viability of this project (and also provides a path to correct protocol issues in future, if one is found). In other words: Wayland is an amazing foundation to build on, and a lot of its design decisions make a lot of sense! The shift towards people seeing Linux more as an application developer platform, and taking PipeWire and XDG Portals into account when designing for Wayland is also an amazing development and I love to see this this holistic approach is something I always wanted! Furthermore, I think Wayland removes a lot of functionality that shouldn t exist in a modern compositor and that s a good thing too! Some of X11 s features and design decisions had clear drawbacks that we shouldn t replicate. I highly recommend to read Nate s blog post, it s very good and goes into more detail. And due to all of this, I firmly believe that any advancement in the Wayland space must come from within the project.

But! But! Of course there was a but coming  I think while developing Wayland-as-an-ecosystem we are now entrenched into narrow concepts of how a desktop should work. While discussing Wayland protocol additions, a lot of concepts clash, people from different desktops with different design philosophies debate the merits of those over and over again never reaching any conclusion (just as you will never get an answer out of humans whether sushi or pizza is the clearly superior food, or whether CSD or SSD is better). Some people want to use Wayland as a vehicle to force applications to submit to their desktop s design philosophies, others prefer the smallest and leanest protocol possible, other developers want the most elegant behavior possible. To be clear, I think those are all very valid approaches. But this also creates problems: By switching to Wayland compositors, we are already forcing a lot of porting work onto toolkit developers and application developers. This is annoying, but just work that has to be done. It becomes frustrating though if Wayland provides toolkits with absolutely no way to reach their goal in any reasonable way. For Nate s Photoshop analogy: Of course Linux does not break Photoshop, it is Adobe s responsibility to port it. But what if Linux was missing a crucial syscall that Photoshop needed for proper functionality and Adobe couldn t port it without that? In that case it becomes much less clear on who is to blame for Photoshop not being available. A lot of Wayland protocol work is focused on the environment and design, while applications and work to port them often is considered less. I think this happens because the overlap between application developers and developers of the desktop environments is not necessarily large, and the overlap with people willing to engage with Wayland upstream is even smaller. The combination of Windows developers porting apps to Linux and having involvement with toolkits or Wayland is pretty much nonexistent. So they have less of a voice.

A quick detour through the neuroscience research lab I have been involved with Freedesktop, GNOME and KDE for an incredibly long time now (more than a decade), but my actual job (besides consulting for Purism) is that of a PhD candidate in a neuroscience research lab (working on the morphology of biological neurons and its relation to behavior). I am mostly involved with three research groups in our institute, which is about 35 people. Most of us do all our data analysis on powerful servers which we connect to using RDP (with KDE Plasma as desktop). Since I joined, I have been pushing the envelope a bit to extend Linux usage to data acquisition and regular clients, and to have our data acquisition hardware interface well with it. Linux brings some unique advantages for use in research, besides the obvious one of having every step of your data management platform introspectable with no black boxes left, a goal I value very highly in research (but this would be its own blogpost). In terms of operating system usage though, most systems are still Windows-based. Windows is what companies develop for, and what people use by default and are familiar with. The choice of operating system is very strongly driven by application availability, and WSL being really good makes this somewhat worse, as it removes the need for people to switch to a real Linux system entirely if there is the occasional software requiring it. Yet, we have a lot more Linux users than before, and use it in many places where it makes sense. I also developed a novel data acquisition software that even runs on Linux-only and uses the abilities of the platform to its fullest extent. All of this resulted in me asking existing software and hardware vendors for Linux support a lot more often. Vendor-customer relationship in science is usually pretty good, and vendors do usually want to help out. Same for open source projects, especially if you offer to do Linux porting work for them But overall, the ease of use and availability of required applications and their usability rules supreme. Most people are not technically knowledgeable and just want to get their research done in the best way possible, getting the best results with the least amount of friction.
KDE/Linux usage at a control station for a particle accelerator at Adlershof Technology Park, Germany, for reference (by 25years of KDE)3

Back to the point The point of that story is this: GNOME, KDE, RHEL, Debian or Ubuntu: They all do not matter if the necessary applications are not available for them. And as soon as they are, the easiest-to-use solution wins. There are many facets of easiest : In many cases this is RHEL due to Red Hat support contracts being available, in many other cases it is Ubuntu due to its mindshare and ease of use. KDE Plasma is also frequently seen, as it is perceived a bit easier to onboard Windows users with it (among other benefits). Ultimately, it comes down to applications and 3rd-party support though. Here s a dirty secret: In many cases, porting an application to Linux is not that difficult. The thing that companies (and FLOSS projects too!) struggle with and will calculate the merits of carefully in advance is whether it is worth the support cost as well as continuous QA/testing. Their staff will have to do all of that work, and they could spend that time on other tasks after all. So if they learn that porting to Linux not only means added testing and support, but also means to choose between the legacy X11 display server that allows for 1:1 porting from Windows or the new Wayland compositors that do not support the same features they need, they will quickly consider it not worth the effort at all. I have seen this happen. Of course many apps use a cross-platform toolkit like Qt, which greatly simplifies porting. But this just moves the issue one layer down, as now the toolkit needs to abstract Windows, macOS and Wayland. And Wayland does not contain features to do certain things or does them very differently from e.g. Windows, so toolkits have no way to actually implement the existing functionality in a way that works on all platforms. So in Qt s documentation you will often find texts like works everywhere except for on Wayland compositors or mobile 4. Many missing bits or altered behavior are just papercuts, but those add up. And if users will have a worse experience, this will translate to more support work, or people not wanting to use the software on the respective platform.

What s missing?

Window positioning SDI applications with multiple windows are very popular in the scientific world. For data acquisition (for example with microscopes) we often have one monitor with control elements and one larger one with the recorded image. There is also other configurations where multiple signal modalities are acquired, and the experimenter aligns windows exactly in the way they want and expects the layout to be stored and to be loaded upon reopening the application. Even in the image from Adlershof Technology Park above you can see this style of UI design, at mega-scale. Being able to pop-out elements as windows from a single-window application to move them around freely is another frequently used paradigm, and immensely useful with these complex apps. It is important to note that this is not a legacy design, but in many cases an intentional choice these kinds of apps work incredibly well on larger screens or many screens and are very flexible (you can have any window configuration you want, and switch between them using the (usually) great window management abilities of your desktop). Of course, these apps will work terribly on tablets and small form factors, but that is not the purpose they were designed for and nobody would use them that way. I assumed for sure these features would be implemented at some point, but when it became clear that that would not happen, I created the ext-placement protocol which had some good discussion but was ultimately rejected from the xdg namespace. I then tried another solution based on feedback, which turned out not to work for most apps, and now proposed xdg-placement (v2) in an attempt to maybe still get some protocol done that we can agree on, exploring more options before pushing the existing protocol for inclusion into the ext Wayland protocol namespace. Meanwhile though, we can not port any application that needs this feature, while at the same time we are switching desktops and distributions to Wayland by default.

Window position restoration Similarly, a protocol to save & restore window positions was already proposed in 2018, 6 years ago now, but it has still not been agreed upon, and may not even help multiwindow apps in its current form. The absence of this protocol means that applications can not restore their former window positions, and the user has to move them to their previous place again and again. Meanwhile, toolkits can not adopt these protocols and applications can not use them and can not be ported to Wayland without introducing papercuts.

Window icons Similarly, individual windows can not set their own icons, and not-installed applications can not have an icon at all because there is no desktop-entry file to load the icon from and no icon in the theme for them. You would think this is a niche issue, but for applications that create many windows, providing icons for them so the user can find them is fairly important. Of course it s not the end of the world if every window has the same icon, but it s one of those papercuts that make the software slightly less user-friendly. Even applications with fewer windows like LibrePCB are affected, so much so that they rather run their app through Xwayland for now. I decided to address this after I was working on data analysis of image data in a Python virtualenv, where my code and the Python libraries used created lots of windows all with the default yellow W icon, making it impossible to distinguish them at a glance. This is xdg-toplevel-icon now, but of course it is an uphill battle where the very premise of needing this is questioned. So applications can not use it yet.

Limited window abilities requiring specialized protocols Firefox has a picture-in-picture feature, allowing it to pop out media from a mediaplayer as separate floating window so the user can watch the media while doing other things. On X11 this is easily realized, but on Wayland the restrictions posed on windows necessitate a different solution. The xdg-pip protocol was proposed for this specialized usecase, but it is also not merged yet. So this feature does not work as well on Wayland.

Automated GUI testing / accessibility / automation Automation of GUI tasks is a powerful feature, so is the ability to auto-test GUIs. This is being worked on, with libei and wlheadless-run (and stuff like ydotool exists too), but we re not fully there yet.

Wayland is frustrating for (some) application authors As you see, there is valid applications and valid usecases that can not be ported yet to Wayland with the same feature range they enjoyed on X11, Windows or macOS. So, from an application author s perspective, Wayland does break things quite significantly, because things that worked before can no longer work and Wayland (the whole stack) does not provide any avenue to achieve the same result. Wayland does break screen sharing, global hotkeys, gaming latency (via no tearing ) etc, however for all of these there are solutions available that application authors can port to. And most developers will gladly do that work, especially since the newer APIs are usually a lot better and more robust. But if you give application authors no path forward except use Xwayland and be on emulation as second-class citizen forever , it just results in very frustrated application developers. For some application developers, switching to a Wayland compositor is like buying a canvas from the Linux shop that forces your brush to only draw triangles. But maybe for your avant-garde art, you need to draw a circle. You can approximate one with triangles, but it will never be as good as the artwork of your friends who got their canvases from the Windows or macOS art supply shop and have more freedom to create their art.

Triangles are proven to be the best shape! If you are drawing circles you are creating bad art! Wayland, via its protocol limitations, forces a certain way to build application UX often for the better, but also sometimes to the detriment of users and applications. The protocols are often fairly opinionated, a result of the lessons learned from X11. In any case though, it is the odd one out Windows and macOS do not pose the same limitations (for better or worse!), and the effort to port to Wayland is orders of magnitude bigger, or sometimes in case of the multiwindow UI paradigm impossible to achieve to the same level of polish. Desktop environments of course have a design philosophy that they want to push, and want applications to integrate as much as possible (same as macOS and Windows!). However, there are many applications out there, and pushing a design via protocol limitations will likely just result in fewer apps.

The porting dilemma I spent probably way too much time looking into how to get applications cross-platform and running on Linux, often talking to vendors (FLOSS and proprietary) as well. Wayland limitations aren t the biggest issue by far, but they do start to come come up now, especially in the scientific space with Ubuntu having switched to Wayland by default. For application authors there is often no way to address these issues. Many scientists do not even understand why their Python script that creates some GUIs suddenly behaves weirdly because Qt is now using the Wayland backend on Ubuntu instead of X11. They do not know the difference and also do not want to deal with these details even though they may be programmers as well, the real goal is not to fiddle with the display server, but to get to a scientific result somehow. Another issue is portability layers like Wine which need to run Windows applications as-is on Wayland. Apparently Wine s Wayland driver has some heuristics to make window positioning work (and I am amazed by the work done on this!), but that can only go so far.

A way out? So, how would we actually solve this? Fundamentally, this excessively long blog post boils down to just one essential question: Do we want to force applications to submit to a UX paradigm unconditionally, potentially loosing out on application ports or keeping apps on X11 eternally, or do we want to throw them some rope to get as many applications ported over to Wayland, even through we might sacrifice some protocol purity? I think we really have to answer that to make the discussions on wayland-protocols a lot less grueling. This question can be answered at the wayland-protocols level, but even more so it must be answered by the individual desktops and compositors. If the answer for your environment turns out to be Yes, we want the Wayland protocol to be more opinionated and will not make any compromises for application portability , then your desktop/compositor should just immediately NACK protocols that add something like this and you simply shouldn t engage in the discussion, as you reject the very premise of the new protocol: That it has any merit to exist and is needed in the first place. In this case contributors to Wayland and application authors also know where you stand, and a lot of debate is skipped. Of course, if application authors want to support your environment, you are basically asking them now to rewrite their UI, which they may or may not do. But at least they know what to expect and how to target your environment. If the answer turns out to be We do want some portability , the next question obviously becomes where the line should be drawn and which changes are acceptable and which aren t. We can t blindly copy all X11 behavior, some porting work to Wayland is simply inevitable. Some written rules for that might be nice, but probably more importantly, if you agree fundamentally that there is an issue to be fixed, please engage in the discussions for the respective MRs! We for sure do not want to repeat X11 mistakes, and I am certain that we can implement protocols which provide the required functionality in a way that is a nice compromise in allowing applications a path forward into the Wayland future, while also being as good as possible and improving upon X11. For example, the toplevel-icon proposal is already a lot better than anything X11 ever had. Relaxing ACK requirements for the ext namespace is also a good proposed administrative change, as it allows some compositors to add features they want to support to the shared repository easier, while also not mandating them for others. In my opinion, it would allow for a lot less friction between the two different ideas of how Wayland protocol development should work. Some compositors could move forward and support more protocol extensions, while more restrictive compositors could support less things. Applications can detect supported protocols at launch and change their behavior accordingly (ideally even abstracted by toolkits). You may now say that a lot of apps are ported, so surely this issue can not be that bad. And yes, what Wayland provides today may be enough for 80-90% of all apps. But what I hope the detour into the research lab has done is convince you that this smaller percentage of apps matters. A lot. And that it may be worthwhile to support them. To end on a positive note: When it came to porting concrete apps over to Wayland, the only real showstoppers so far5 were the missing window-positioning and window-position-restore features. I encountered them when porting my own software, and I got the issue as feedback from colleagues and fellow engineers. In second place was UI testing and automation support, the window-icon issue was mentioned twice, but being a cosmetic issue it likely simply hurts people less and they can ignore it easier. What this means is that the majority of apps are already fine, and many others are very, very close! A Wayland future for everyone is within our grasp!  I will also bring my two protocol MRs to their conclusion for sure, because as application developers we need clarity on what the platform (either all desktops or even just a few) supports and will or will not support in future. And the only way to get something good done is by contribution and friendly discussion.

Footnotes
  1. Apologies for the clickbait-y title it comes with the subject
  2. When I talk about Wayland I mean the combined set of display server protocols and accepted protocol extensions, unless otherwise clarified.
  3. I would have picked a picture from our lab, but that would have needed permission first
  4. Qt has awesome platform issues pages, like for macOS and Linux/X11 which help with porting efforts, but Qt doesn t even list Linux/Wayland as supported platform. There is some information though, like window geometry peculiarities, which aren t particularly helpful when porting (but still essential to know).
  5. Besides issues with Nvidia hardware CUDA for simulations and machine-learning is pretty much everywhere, so Nvidia cards are common, which causes trouble on Wayland still. It is improving though.

8 January 2024

Antoine Beaupr : Last year on this blog

So this blog is now celebrating its 21st birthday (or 20 if you count from zero, or 18 if you want to be pedantic), and I figured I would do this yearly thing of reviewing how that went.

Number of posts 2022 was the official 20th anniversary in any case, and that was one of my best years on record, with 46 posts, surpassed only by the noisy 2005 (62) and matching 2006 (46). 2023, in comparison, was underwhelming: a feeble 11 posts! What happened! Well, I was busy with other things, mostly away from keyboard, that I will not bore you with here... The other thing that happened is that the one-liner I used to collect stats was broken (it counted folders and other unrelated files) and wildly overestimated 2022! Turns out I didn't write that much then:
anarc.at$ ls blog   grep '^[0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9].*.md'   se
d s/-.*//   sort   uniq -c    sort -n -k2
     57 2005
     43 2006
     20 2007
     20 2008
      7 2009
     13 2010
     16 2011
     11 2012
     13 2013
      5 2014
     13 2015
     18 2016
     29 2017
     27 2018
     17 2019
     18 2020
     14 2021
     28 2022
     10 2023
      1 2024
But even that is inaccurate because, in ikiwiki, I can tag any page as being featured on the blog. So we actually need to process the HTML itself because we don't have much better on hand without going through ikiwiki's internals:
anarcat@angela:anarc.at$ curl -sSL https://anarc.at/blog/   grep 'href="\./'   grep -o 20[0-9][0-9]   sort   uniq -c 
     56 2005
     42 2006
     19 2007
     18 2008
      6 2009
     12 2010
     15 2011
     10 2012
     11 2013
      3 2014
     15 2015
     32 2016
     50 2017
     37 2018
     19 2019
     19 2020
     15 2021
     28 2022
     13 2023
Which puts the top 10 years at:
$ curl -sSL https://anarc.at/blog/   grep 'href="\./'   grep -o 20[0-9][0-9]   sort   uniq -c    sort -nr   head -10
     56 2005
     50 2017
     42 2006
     37 2018
     32 2016
     28 2022
     19 2020
     19 2019
     19 2007
     18 2008
Anyway. 2023 is certainly not a glorious year in that regard, in any case.

Visitors In terms of visits, however, we had quite a few hits. According to Goatcounter, I had 122 300 visits in 2023! 2022, in comparison, had 89 363, so that's quite a rise.

What you read I seem to have hit the Hacker News front page at least twice. I say "seem" because it's actually pretty hard to tell what the HN frontpage actually is on any given day. I had 22k visits on 2023-03-13, in any case, and you can't see me on the front that day. We do see a post of mine on 2023-09-02, all the way down there, which seem to have generated another 10k visits. In any case, here were the most popular stories for you fine visitors:
  • Framework 12th gen laptop review: 24k visits, which is surprising for a 13k words article "without images", as some critics have complained. 15k referred by Hacker News. Good reference and time-consuming benchmarks, slowly bit-rotting. That is, by far, my most popular article ever. A popular article in 2021 or 2022 was around 6k to 9k, so that's a big one. I suspect it will keep getting traffic for a long while.
  • Calibre replacement considerations: 15k visits, most of which without a referrer. Was actually an old article, but I suspect HN brought it back to light. I keep updating that wiki page regularly when I find new things, but I'm still using Calibre to import ebooks.
  • Hacking my Kobo Clara HD: is not new but always gathering more and more hits, it had 1800 hits in the first year, 4600 hits last year and now brought 6400 visitors to the blog! Not directly related, but this iFixit battery replacement guide I wrote also seem to be quite popular
Everything else was published before 2023. Replacing Smokeping with Prometheus is still around and Looking at Wayland terminal emulators makes an entry in the top five.

Where you've been People send less and less private information when they browse the web. The number of visitors without referrers was 41% in 2021, it rose to 44% in 2023. Most of the remaining traffic comes from Google, but Hacker News is now a significant chunk, almost as big as Google. In 2021, Google represented 23% of my traffic, in 2022, it was down to 15% so 18% is actually a rise from last year, even if it seems much smaller than what I usually think of.
Ratio Referrer Visits
18% Google 22 098
13% Hacker News 16 003
2% duckduckgo.com 2 640
1% community.frame.work 1 090
1% missing.csail.mit.edu 918
Note that Facebook and Twitter do not appear at all in my referrers.

Where you are Unsurprisingly, most visits still come from the US:
Ratio Country Visits
26% United States 32 010
14% France 17 046
10% Germany 11 650
6% Canada 7 425
5% United Kingdom 6 473
3% Netherlands 3 436
Those ratios are nearly identical to last year, but quite different from 2021, where Germany and France were more or less reversed. Back in 2021, I mentioned there was a long tail of countries with at least one visit, with 160 countries listed. I expanded that and there's now 182 countries in that list, almost all of the 193 member states in the UN.

What you were Chrome's dominance continues to expand, even on readers of this blog, gaining two percentage points from Firefox compared to 2021.
Ratio Browser Visits
49% Firefox 60 126
36% Chrome 44 052
14% Safari 17 463
1% Others N/A
It seems like, unfortunately, my Lynx and Haiku users have not visited in the past year. It seems like trying to read those metrics is like figuring out tea leaves... In terms of operating systems:
Ratio OS Visits
28% Linux 34 010
23% macOS 28 728
21% Windows 26 303
17% Android 20 614
10% iOS 11 741
Again, Linux and Mac are over-represented, and Android and iOS are under-represented.

What is next I hope to write more next year. I've been thinking about a few posts I could write for work, about how things work behind the scenes at Tor, that could be informative for many people. We run a rather old setup, but things hold up pretty well for what we throw at it, and it's worth sharing that with the world... So anyway, thanks for coming, faithful reader, and see you in the coming 2024 year...

3 January 2024

John Goerzen: Live Migrating from Raspberry Pi OS bullseye to Debian bookworm

I ve been getting annoyed with Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian) for years now. It s a fork of Debian, but manages to omit some of the most useful things. So I ve decided to migrate all of my Pis to run pure Debian. These are my reasons:
  1. Raspberry Pi OS has, for years now, specified that there is no upgrade path. That is, to get to a newer major release, it s a reinstall. While I have sometimes worked around this, for a device that is frequently installed in hard-to-reach locations, this is even more important than usual. It s common for me to upgrade machines for a decade or more across Debian releases and there s no reason that it should be so much more difficult with Raspbian.
  2. As I noted in Consider Security First, the security situation for Raspberry Pi OS isn t as good as it is with Debian.
  3. Raspbian lags behind Debian often times by 6 months or more for major releases, and days or weeks for bug fixes and security patches.
  4. Raspbian has no direct backports support, though Raspberry Pi 3 and above can use Debian s backports (per my instructions as Installing Debian Backports on Raspberry Pi)
  5. Raspbian uses a custom kernel without initramfs support
It turns out it is actually possible to do an in-place migration from Raspberry Pi OS bullseye to Debian bookworm. Here I will describe how. Even if you don t have a Raspberry Pi, this might still be instructive on how Raspbian and Debian packages work.

WARNINGS Before continuing, back up your system. This process isn t for the neophyte and it is entirely possible to mess up your boot device to the point that you have to do a fresh install to get your Pi to boot. This isn t a supported process at all.

Architecture Confusion Debian has three ARM-based architectures:
  • armel, for the lowest-end 32-bit ARM devices without hardware floating point support
  • armhf, for the higher-end 32-bit ARM devices with hardware float (hence hf )
  • arm64, for 64-bit ARM devices (which all have hardware float)
Although the Raspberry Pi 0 and 1 do support hardware float, they lack support for other CPU features that Debian s armhf architecture assumes. Therefore, the Raspberry Pi 0 and 1 could only run Debian s armel architecture. Raspberry Pi 3 and above are capable of running 64-bit, and can run both armhf and arm64. Prior to the release of the Raspberry Pi 5 / Raspbian bookworm, Raspbian only shipped the armhf architecture. Well, it was an architecture they called armhf, but it was different from Debian s armhf in that everything was recompiled to work with the more limited set of features on the earlier Raspberry Pi boards. It was really somewhere between Debian s armel and armhf archs. You could run Debian armel on those, but it would run more slowly, due to doing floating point calculations without hardware support. Debian s raspi FAQ goes into this a bit. What I am going to describe here is going from Raspbian armhf to Debian armhf with a 64-bit kernel. Therefore, it will only work with Raspberry Pi 3 and above. It may theoretically be possible to take a Raspberry Pi 2 to Debian armhf with a 32-bit kernel, but I haven t tried this and it may be more difficult. I have seen conflicting information on whether armhf really works on a Pi 2. (If you do try it on a Pi 2, ignore everything about arm64 and 64-bit kernels below, and just go with the linux-image-armmp-lpae kernel per the ARMMP page) There is another wrinkle: Debian doesn t support running 32-bit ARM kernels on 64-bit ARM CPUs, though it does support running a 32-bit userland on them. So we will wind up with a system with kernel packages from arm64 and everything else from armhf. This is a perfectly valid configuration as the arm64 like x86_64 is multiarch (that is, the CPU can natively execute both the 32-bit and 64-bit instructions). (It is theoretically possible to crossgrade a system from 32-bit to 64-bit userland, but that felt like a rather heavy lift for dubious benefit on a Pi; nevertheless, if you want to make this process even more complicated, refer to the CrossGrading page.)

Prerequisites and Limitations In addition to the need for a Raspberry Pi 3 or above in order for this to work, there are a few other things to mention. If you are using the GPIO features of the Pi, I don t know if those work with Debian. I think Raspberry Pi OS modified the desktop environment more than other components. All of my Pis are headless, so I don t know if this process will work if you use a desktop environment. I am assuming you are booting from a MicroSD card as is typical in the Raspberry Pi world. The Pi s firmware looks for a FAT partition (MBR type 0x0c) and looks within it for boot information. Depending on how long ago you first installed an OS on your Pi, your /boot may be too small for Debian. Use df -h /boot to see how big it is. I recommend 200MB at minimum. If your /boot is smaller than that, stop now (or use some other system to shrink your root filesystem and rearrange your partitions; I ve done this, but it s outside the scope of this article.) You need to have stable power. Once you begin this process, your pi will mostly be left in a non-bootable state until you finish. (You did make a backup, right?)

Basic idea The basic idea here is that since bookworm has almost entirely newer packages then bullseye, we can just switch over to it and let the Debian packages replace the Raspbian ones as they are upgraded. Well, it s not quite that easy, but that s the main idea.

Preparation First, make a backup. Even an image of your MicroSD card might be nice. OK, I think I ve said that enough now. It would be a good idea to have a HDMI cable (with the appropriate size of connector for your particular Pi board) and a HDMI display handy so you can troubleshoot any bootup issues with a console.

Preparation: access The Raspberry Pi OS by default sets up a user named pi that can use sudo to gain root without a password. I think this is an insecure practice, but assuming you haven t changed it, you will need to ensure it still works once you move to Debian. Raspberry Pi OS had a patch in their sudo package to enable it, and that will be removed when Debian s sudo package is installed. So, put this in /etc/sudoers.d/010_picompat:
pi ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
Also, there may be no password set for the root account. It would be a good idea to set one; it makes it easier to log in at the console. Use the passwd command as root to do so.

Preparation: bluetooth Debian doesn t correctly identify the Bluetooth hardware address. You can save it off to a file by running hcitool dev > /root/bluetooth-from-raspbian.txt. I don t use Bluetooth, but this should let you develop a script to bring it up properly.

Preparation: Debian archive keyring You will next need to install Debian s archive keyring so that apt can authenticate packages from Debian. Go to the bookworm download page for debian-archive-keyring and copy the URL for one of the files, then download it on the pi. For instance:
wget http://http.us.debian.org/debian/pool/main/d/debian-archive-keyring/debian-archive-keyring_2023.3+deb12u1_all.deb
Use sha256sum to verify the checksum of the downloaded file, comparing it to the package page on the Debian site. Now, you ll install it with:
dpkg -i debian-archive-keyring_2023.3+deb12u1_all.deb

Package first steps From here on, we are making modifications to the system that can leave it in a non-bootable state. Examine /etc/apt/sources.list and all the files in /etc/apt/sources.list.d. Most likely you will want to delete or comment out all lines in all files there. Replace them with something like:
deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/debian-security bookworm-security main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
deb https://deb.debian.org/debian bookworm-backports main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
(you might leave off contrib and non-free depending on your needs) Now, we re going to tell it that we ll support arm64 packages:
dpkg --add-architecture arm64
And finally, download the bookworm package lists:
apt-get update
If there are any errors from that command, fix them and don t proceed until you have a clean run of apt-get update.

Moving /boot to /boot/firmware The boot FAT partition I mentioned above is mounted at /boot by Raspberry Pi OS, but Debian s scripts assume it will be at /boot/firmware. We need to fix this. First:
umount /boot
mkdir /boot/firmware
Now, edit fstab and change the reference to /boot to be to /boot/firmware. Now:
mount -v /boot/firmware
cd /boot/firmware
mv -vi * ..
This mounts the filesystem at the new location, and moves all its contents back to where apt believes it should be. Debian s packages will populate /boot/firmware later.

Installing the first packages Now we start by installing the first of the needed packages. Eventually we will wind up with roughly the same set Debian uses.
apt-get install linux-image-arm64
apt-get install firmware-brcm80211=20230210-5
apt-get install raspi-firmware
If you get errors relating to firmware-brcm80211 from any commands, run that install firmware-brcm80211 command and then proceed. There are a few packages that Raspbian marked as newer than the version in bookworm (whether or not they really are), and that s one of them.

Configuring the bootloader We need to configure a few things in /etc/default/raspi-firmware before proceeding. Edit that file. First, uncomment (or add) a line like this:
KERNEL_ARCH="arm64"
Next, in /boot/cmdline.txt you can find your old Raspbian boot command line. It will say something like:
root=PARTUUID=...
Save off the bit starting with PARTUUID. Back in /etc/default/raspi-firmware, set a line like this:
ROOTPART=PARTUUID=abcdef00
(substituting your real value for abcdef00). This is necessary because the microSD card device name often changes from /dev/mmcblk0 to /dev/mmcblk1 when switching to Debian s kernel. raspi-firmware will encode the current device name in /boot/firmware/cmdline.txt by default, which will be wrong once you boot into Debian s kernel. The PARTUUID approach lets it work regardless of the device name.

Purging the Raspbian kernel Run:
dpkg --purge raspberrypi-kernel

Upgrading the system At this point, we are going to run the procedure beginning at section 4.4.3 of the Debian release notes. Generally, you will do:
apt-get -u upgrade
apt full-upgrade
Fix any errors at each step before proceeding to the next. Now, to remove some cruft, run:
apt-get --purge autoremove
Inspect the list to make sure nothing important isn t going to be removed.

Removing Raspbian cruft You can list some of the cruft with:
apt list '~o'
And remove it with:
apt purge '~o'
I also don t run Bluetooth, and it seemed to sometimes hang on boot becuase I didn t bother to fix it, so I did:
apt-get --purge remove bluez

Installing some packages This makes sure some basic Debian infrastructure is available:
apt-get install wpasupplicant parted dosfstools wireless-tools iw alsa-tools
apt-get --purge autoremove

Installing firmware Now run:
apt-get install firmware-linux

Resolving firmware package version issues If it gives an error about the installed version of a package, you may need to force it to the bookworm version. For me, this often happened with firmware-atheros, firmware-libertas, and firmware-realtek. Here s how to resolve it, with firmware-realtek as an example:
  1. Go to https://packages.debian.org/PACKAGENAME for instance, https://packages.debian.org/firmware-realtek. Note the version number in bookworm in this case, 20230210-5.
  2. Now, you will force the installation of that package at that version:
    apt-get install firmware-realtek=20230210-5
    
  3. Repeat with every conflicting package until done.
  4. Rerun apt-get install firmware-linux and make sure it runs cleanly.
Also, in the end you should be able to:
apt-get install firmware-atheros firmware-libertas firmware-realtek firmware-linux

Dealing with other Raspbian packages The Debian release notes discuss removing non-Debian packages. There will still be a few of those. Run:
apt list '?narrow(?installed, ?not(?origin(Debian)))'
Deal with them; mostly you will need to force the installation of a bookworm version using the procedure in the section Resolving firmware package version issues above (even if it s not for a firmware package). For non-firmware packages, you might possibly want to add --mark-auto to your apt-get install command line to allow the package to be autoremoved later if the things depending on it go away. If you aren t going to use Bluetooth, I recommend apt-get --purge remove bluez as well. Sometimes it can hang at boot if you don t fix it up as described above.

Set up networking We ll be switching to the Debian method of networking, so we ll create some files in /etc/network/interfaces.d. First, eth0 should look like this:
allow-hotplug eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp
iface eth0 inet6 auto
And wlan0 should look like this:
allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
    wpa-conf /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
Raspbian is inconsistent about using eth0/wlan0 or renamed interface. Run ifconfig or ip addr. If you see a long-named interface such as enx<something> or wlp<something>, copy the eth0 file to the one named after the enx interface, or the wlan0 file to the one named after the wlp interface, and edit the internal references to eth0/wlan0 in this new file to name the long interface name. If using wifi, verify that your SSIDs and passwords are in /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf. It should have lines like:
network= 
   ssid="NetworkName"
   psk="passwordHere"
 
(This is where Raspberry Pi OS put them).

Deal with DHCP Raspberry Pi OS used dhcpcd, whereas bookworm normally uses isc-dhcp-client. Verify the system is in the correct state:
apt-get install isc-dhcp-client
apt-get --purge remove dhcpcd dhcpcd-base dhcpcd5 dhcpcd-dbus

Set up LEDs To set up the LEDs to trigger on MicroSD activity as they did with Raspbian, follow the Debian instructions. Run apt-get install sysfsutils. Then put this in a file at /etc/sysfs.d/local-raspi-leds.conf:
class/leds/ACT/brightness = 1
class/leds/ACT/trigger = mmc1

Prepare for boot To make sure all the /boot/firmware files are updated, run update-initramfs -u. Verify that root in /boot/firmware/cmdline.txt references the PARTUUID as appropriate. Verify that /boot/firmware/config.txt contains the lines arm_64bit=1 and upstream_kernel=1. If not, go back to the section on modifying /etc/default/raspi-firmware and fix it up.

The moment arrives Cross your fingers and try rebooting into your Debian system:
reboot
For some reason, I found that the first boot into Debian seems to hang for 30-60 seconds during bootstrap. I m not sure why; don t panic if that happens. It may be necessary to power cycle the Pi for this boot.

Troubleshooting If things don t work out, hook up the Pi to a HDMI display and see what s up. If I anticipated a particular problem, I would have documented it here (a lot of the things I documented here are because I ran into them!) So I can t give specific advice other than to watch boot messages on the console. If you don t even get kernel messages going, then there is some problem with your partition table or /boot/firmware FAT partition. Otherwise, you ve at least got the kernel going and can troubleshoot like usual from there.

John Goerzen: Consider Security First

I write this in the context of my decision to ditch Raspberry Pi OS and move everything I possibly can, including my Raspberry Pi devices, to Debian. I will write about that later. But for now, I wanted to comment on something I think is often overlooked and misunderstood by people considering distributions or operating systems: the huge importance of getting security updates in an automated and easy way.

Background Let s assume that these statements are true, which I think are well-supported by available evidence:
  1. Every computer system (OS plus applications) that can do useful modern work has security vulnerabilities, some of which are unknown at any given point in time;
  2. During the lifetime of that computer system, some of these vulnerabilities will be discovered. For a (hopefully large) subset of those vulnerabilities, timely patches will become available.
Now then, it follows that applying those timely patches is a critical part of having a system that it as secure as possible. Of course, you have to do other things as well good passwords, secure practices, etc but, fundamentally, if your system lacks patches for known vulnerabilities, you ve already lost at the security ballgame.

How to stay patched There is something of a continuum of how you might patch your system. It runs roughly like this, from best to worst:
  1. All components are kept up-to-date automatically, with no intervention from the user/operator
  2. The operator is automatically alerted to necessary patches, and they can be easily installed with minimal intervention
  3. The operator is automatically alerted to necessary patches, but they require significant effort to apply
  4. The operator has no way to detect vulnerabilities or necessary patches
It should be obvious that the first situation is ideal. Every other situation relies on the timeliness of human action to keep up-to-date with security patches. This is a fallible situation; humans are busy, take trips, dismiss alerts, miss alerts, etc. That said, it is rare to find any system living truly all the way in that scenario, as you ll see.

What is your system ? A critical point here is: what is your system ? It includes:
  • Your kernel
  • Your base operating system
  • Your applications
  • All the libraries needed to run all of the above
Some OSs, such as Debian, make little or no distinction between the base OS and the applications. Others, such as many BSDs, have a distinction there. And in some cases, people will compile or install applications outside of any OS mechanism. (It must be stressed that by doing so, you are taking the responsibility of patching them on your own shoulders.)

How do common systems stack up?
  • Debian, with its support for unattended-upgrades, needrestart, debian-security-support, and such, is largely category 1. It can automatically apply security patches, in most cases can restart the necessary services for the patch to take effect, and will alert you when some processes or the system must be manually restarted for a patch to take effect (for instance, a kernel update). Those cases requiring manual intervention are category 2. The debian-security-support package will even warn you of gaps in the system. You can also use debsecan to scan for known vulnerabilities on a given installation.
  • FreeBSD has no way to automatically install security patches for things in the packages collection. As with many rolling-release systems, you can t automate the installation of these security patches with FreeBSD because it is not safe to blindly update packages. It s not safe to blindly update packages because they may bring along more than just security patches: they may represent major upgrades that introduce incompatibilities, etc. Unlike Debian s practice of backporting fixes and thus producing narrowly-tailored patches, forcing upgrades to newer versions precludes a minimal intervention install. Therefore, rolling release systems are category 3.
  • Things such as Snap, Flatpak, AppImage, Docker containers, Electron apps, and third-party binaries often contain embedded libraries and such for which you have no easy visibility into their status. For instance, if there was a bug in libpng, would you know how many of your containers had a vulnerability? These systems are category 4 you don t even know if you re vulnerable. It s for this reason that my Debian-based Docker containers apply security patches before starting processes, and also run unattended-upgrades and friends.

The pernicious library problem As mentioned in my last category above, hidden vulnerabilities can be a big problem. I ve been writing about this for years. Back in 2017, I wrote an article focused on Docker containers, but which applies to the other systems like Snap and so forth. I cited a study back then that Over 80% of the :latest versions of official images contained at least one high severity vulnerability. The situation is no better now. In December 2023, it was reported that, two years after the critical Log4Shell vulnerability, 25% of apps were still vulnerable to it. Also, only 21% of developers ever update third-party libraries after introducing them into their projects. Clearly, you can t rely on these images with embedded libraries to be secure. And since they are black box, they are difficult to audit. Debian s policy of always splitting libraries out from packages is hugely beneficial; it allows finegrained analysis of not just vulnerabilities, but also the dependency graph. If there s a vulnerability in libpng, you have one place to patch it and you also know exactly what components of your system use it. If you use snaps, or AppImages, you can t know if they contain a deeply embedded vulnerability, nor could you patch it yourself if you even knew. You are at the mercy of upstream detecting and remedying the problem a dicey situation at best.

Who makes the patches? Fundamentally, humans produce security patches. Often, but not always, patches originate with the authors of a program and then are integrated into distribution packages. It should be noted that every security team has finite resources; there will always be some CVEs that aren t patched in a given system for various reasons; perhaps they are not exploitable, or are too low-impact, or have better mitigations than patches. Debian has an excellent security team; they manage the process of integrating patches into Debian, produce Debian Security Advisories, maintain the Debian Security Tracker (which maintains cross-references with the CVE database), etc. Some distributions don t have this infrastructure. For instance, I was unable to find this kind of tracker for Devuan or Raspberry Pi OS. In contrast, Ubuntu and Arch Linux both seem to have active security teams with trackers and advisories.

Implications for Raspberry Pi OS and others As I mentioned above, I m transitioning my Pi devices off Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian). Security is one reason. Although Raspbian is a fork of Debian, and you can install packages like unattended-upgrades on it, they don t work right because they use the Debian infrastructure, and Raspbian hasn t modified them to use their own infrastructure. I don t see any Raspberry Pi OS security advisories, trackers, etc. In short, they lack the infrastructure to support those Debian tools anyhow. Not only that, but Raspbian lags behind Debian in both new releases and new security patches, sometimes by days or weeks. Live Migrating from Raspberry Pi OS bullseye to Debian bookworm contains instructions for migrating Raspberry Pis to Debian.

30 December 2023

Valhalla's Things: I've been influenced

Posted on December 30, 2023
Tags: madeof:atoms
A woman wearing a red sleeveless dress; from the waist up it is fitted, while the skirt flares out. There is a white border with red embroidery and black fringe at the hem and a belt of the same material at the waist. By the influencers on the famous proprietary video platform1. When I m crafting with no powertools I tend to watch videos, and this autumn I ve seen a few in a row that were making red wool dresses, at least one or two medieval kirtles. I don t remember which channels they were, and I ve decided not to go back and look for them, at least for a time. A woman wearing a red shirt with wide sleeves, a short yoke, a small collar band and 3 buttons in the front. Anyway, my brain suddenly decided that I needed a red wool dress, fitted enough to give some bust support. I had already made a dress that satisfied the latter requirement and I still had more than half of the red wool faille I ve used for the Garibaldi blouse (still not blogged, but I will get to it), and this time I wanted it to be ready for this winter. While the pattern I was going to use is Victorian, it was designed for underwear, and this was designed to be outerwear, so from the very start I decided not to bother too much with any kind of historical details or techniques. A few meters of wool-imitation fringe trim rolled up; the fringe is black and is attached to a white band with a line of lozenge outlines in red and brown. I knew that I didn t have enough fabric to add a flounce to the hem, as in the cotton dress, but then I remembered that some time ago I fell for a piece of fringed trim in black, white and red. I did a quick check that the red wasn t clashing (it wasn t) and I knew I had a plan for the hem decoration. Then I spent a week finishing other projects, and the more I thought about this dress, the more I was tempted to have spiral lacing at the front rather than buttons, as a nod to the kirtle inspiration. It may end up be a bit of a hassle, but if it is too much I can always add a hidden zipper on a side seam, and only have to undo a bit of the lacing around the neckhole to wear the dress. Finally, I could start working on the dress: I cut all of the main pieces, and since the seam lines were quite curved I marked them with tailor s tacks, which I don t exactly enjoy doing or removing, but are the only method that was guaranteed to survive while manipulating this fabric (and not leave traces afterwards). A shaped piece of red fabric with the long edges bound in navy blue bias tape and all the seamlines marked with basting thread. While cutting the front pieces I accidentally cut the high neck line instead of the one I had used on the cotton dress: I decided to go for it also on the back pieces and decide later whether I wanted to lower it. Since this is a modern dress, with no historical accuracy at all, and I have access to a serger, I decided to use some dark blue cotton voile I ve had in my stash for quite some time, cut into bias strip, to bind the raw edges before sewing. This works significantly better than bought bias tape, which is a bit too stiff for this. A bigger piece of fabric with tailor's tacks for the seams and darts; at the top edge there is a strip of navy blue fabric sewn to a wide seaming allowance, with two rows of cording closest to the center front line. For the front opening, I ve decided to reinforce the areas where the lacing holes will be with cotton: I ve used some other navy blue cotton, also from the stash, and added two lines of cording to stiffen the front edge. So I ve cut the front in two pieces rather than on the fold, sewn the reinforcements to the sewing allowances in such a way that the corded edge was aligned with the center front and then sewn the bottom of the front seam from just before the end of the reinforcements to the hem. The front opening being worked on: on one side there are hand sewn eyelets in red silk that matches the fabric, on the other side the position for more eyelets are still marked with pins. There is also still basting to keep the folded allowance in place. The allowances are then folded back, and then they are kept in place by the worked lacing holes. The cotton was pinked, while for the wool I used the selvedge of the fabric and there was no need for any finishing. Behind the opening I ve added a modesty placket: I ve cut a strip of red wool, a strip of cotton, folded the edge of the strip of cotton to the center, added cording to the long sides, pressed the allowances of the wool towards the wrong side, and then handstitched the cotton to the wool, wrong sides facing. This was finally handstitched to one side of the sewing allowance of the center front. I ve also decided to add real pockets, rather than just slits, and for some reason I decided to add them by hand after I had sewn the dress, so I ve left opening in the side back seams, where the slits were in the cotton dress. I ve also already worn the dress, but haven t added the pockets yet, as I m still debating about their shape. This will be fixed in the near future. Another thing that will have to be fixed is the trim situation: I like the fringe at the bottom, and I had enough to also make a belt, but this makes the top of the dress a bit empty. I can t use the same fringe tape, as it is too wide, but it would be nice to have something smaller that matches the patterned part. And I think I can make something suitable with tablet weaving, but I m not sure on which materials to use, so it will have to be on hold for a while, until I decide on the supplies and have the time for making it. Another improvement I d like to add are detached sleeves, both matching (I should still have just enough fabric) and contrasting, but first I want to learn more about real kirtle construction, and maybe start making sleeves that would be suitable also for a real kirtle. Meanwhile, I ve worn it on Christmas (over my 1700s menswear shirt with big sleeves) and may wear it again tomorrow (if I bother to dress up to spend New Year s Eve at home :D )

  1. yep, that s YouTube, of course.

27 December 2023

Bits from Debian: Statement about the EU Cyber Resilience Act

Debian Public Statement about the EU Cyber Resilience Act and the Product Liability Directive The European Union is currently preparing a regulation "on horizontal cybersecurity requirements for products with digital elements" known as the Cyber Resilience Act (CRA). It is currently in the final "trilogue" phase of the legislative process. The act includes a set of essential cybersecurity and vulnerability handling requirements for manufacturers. It will require products to be accompanied by information and instructions to the user. Manufacturers will need to perform risk assessments and produce technical documentation and, for critical components, have third-party audits conducted. Discovered security issues will have to be reported to European authorities within 25 hours (1). The CRA will be followed up by the Product Liability Directive (PLD) which will introduce compulsory liability for software. While a lot of these regulations seem reasonable, the Debian project believes that there are grave problems for Free Software projects attached to them. Therefore, the Debian project issues the following statement:
  1. Free Software has always been a gift, freely given to society, to take and to use as seen fit, for whatever purpose. Free Software has proven to be an asset in our digital age and the proposed EU Cyber Resilience Act is going to be detrimental to it. a. As the Debian Social Contract states, our goal is "make the best system we can, so that free works will be widely distributed and used." Imposing requirements such as those proposed in the act makes it legally perilous for others to redistribute our work and endangers our commitment to "provide an integrated system of high-quality materials with no legal restrictions that would prevent such uses of the system". (2) b. Knowing whether software is commercial or not isn't feasible, neither in Debian nor in most free software projects - we don't track people's employment status or history, nor do we check who finances upstream projects (the original projects that we integrate in our operating system). c. If upstream projects stop making available their code for fear of being in the scope of CRA and its financial consequences, system security will actually get worse rather than better. d. Having to get legal advice before giving a gift to society will discourage many developers, especially those without a company or other organisation supporting them.
  2. Debian is well known for its security track record through practices of responsible disclosure and coordination with upstream developers and other Free Software projects. We aim to live up to the commitment made in the Debian Social Contract: "We will not hide problems." (3) a.The Free Software community has developed a fine-tuned, tried-and-tested system of responsible disclosure in case of security issues which will be overturned by the mandatory reporting to European authorities within 24 hours (Art. 11 CRA). b. Debian spends a lot of volunteering time on security issues, provides quick security updates and works closely together with upstream projects and in coordination with other vendors. To protect its users, Debian regularly participates in limited embargos to coordinate fixes to security issues so that all other major Linux distributions can also have a complete fix when the vulnerability is disclosed. c. Security issue tracking and remediation is intentionally decentralized and distributed. The reporting of security issues to ENISA and the intended propagation to other authorities and national administrations would collect all software vulnerabilities in one place. This greatly increases the risk of leaking information about vulnerabilities to threat actors, representing a threat for all the users around the world, including European citizens. d. Activists use Debian (e.g. through derivatives such as Tails), among other reasons, to protect themselves from authoritarian governments; handing threat actors exploits they can use for oppression is against what Debian stands for. e. Developers and companies will downplay security issues because a "security" issue now comes with legal implications. Less clarity on what is truly a security issue will hurt users by leaving them vulnerable.
  3. While proprietary software is developed behind closed doors, Free Software development is done in the open, transparent for everyone. To retain parity with proprietary software the open development process needs to be entirely exempt from CRA requirements, just as the development of software in private is. A "making available on the market" can only be considered after development is finished and the software is released.
  4. Even if only "commercial activities" are in the scope of CRA, the Free Software community - and as a consequence, everybody - will lose a lot of small projects. CRA will force many small enterprises and most probably all self employed developers out of business because they simply cannot fulfill the requirements imposed by CRA. Debian and other Linux distributions depend on their work. If accepted as it is, CRA will undermine not only an established community but also a thriving market. CRA needs an exemption for small businesses and, at the very least, solo-entrepreneurs.

Information about the voting process: Debian uses the Condorcet method for voting. Simplistically, plain Condorcets method can be stated like so : "Consider all possible two-way races between candidates. The Condorcet winner, if there is one, is the one candidate who can beat each other candidate in a two-way race with that candidate." The problem is that in complex elections, there may well be a circular relationship in which A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. Most of the variations on Condorcet use various means of resolving the tie. Debian's variation is spelled out in the constitution, specifically, A.5(3) Sources: (1) CRA proposals and links & PLD proposals and links (2) Debian Social Contract No. 2, 3, and 4 (3) Debian Constitution

Russ Allbery: Review: A Study in Scarlet

Review: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Publisher: AmazonClassics
Copyright: 1887
Printing: February 2018
ISBN: 1-5039-5525-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 159
A Study in Scarlet is the short mystery novel (probably a novella, although I didn't count words) that introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes. I'm going to invoke the 100-year-rule and discuss the plot of this book rather freely on the grounds that even someone who (like me prior to a few days ago) has not yet read it is probably not that invested in avoiding all spoilers. If you do want to remain entirely unspoiled, exercise caution before reading on. I had somehow managed to avoid ever reading anything by Arthur Conan Doyle, not even a short story. I therefore couldn't be sure that some of the assertions I was making in my review of A Study in Honor were correct. Since A Study in Scarlet would be quick to read, I decided on a whim to do a bit of research and grab a free copy of the first Holmes novel. Holmes is such a part of English-speaking culture that I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. This was largely true, but cultural osmosis had somehow not prepared me for the surprise Mormons. A Study in Scarlet establishes the basic parameters of a Holmes story: Dr. James Watson as narrator, the apartment he shares with Holmes at 221B Baker Street, the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes's competition with police detectives, and his penchant for making leaps of logical deduction from subtle clues. The story opens with Watson meeting Holmes, agreeing to split the rent of a flat, and being baffled by the apparent randomness of Holmes's fields of study before Holmes reveals he's a consulting detective. The first case is a murder: a man is found dead in an abandoned house, without a mark on him although there are blood splatters on the walls and the word "RACHE" written in blood. Since my only prior exposure to Holmes was from cultural references and a few TV adaptations, there were a few things that surprised me. One is that Holmes is voluble and animated rather than aloof. Doyle is clearly going for passionate eccentric rather than calculating mastermind. Another is that he is intentionally and unabashedly ignorant on any topic not related to solving mysteries.
My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it. "You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it." "To forget it!" "You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you chose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
This is directly contrary to my expectation that the best way to make leaps of deduction is to know something about a huge range of topics so that one can draw unexpected connections, particularly given the puzzle-box construction and odd details so beloved in classic mysteries. I'm now curious if Doyle stuck with this conception, and if there were any later mysteries that involved astronomy. Speaking of classic mysteries, A Study in Scarlet isn't quite one, although one can see the shape of the genre to come. Doyle does not "play fair" by the rules that have not yet been invented. Holmes at most points knows considerably more than the reader, including bits of evidence that are not described until Holmes describes them and research that Holmes does off-camera and only reveals when he wants to be dramatic. This is not the sort of story where the reader is encouraged to try to figure out the mystery before the detective. Rather, what Doyle seems to be aiming for, and what Watson attempts (unsuccessfully) as the reader surrogate, is slightly different: once Holmes makes one of his grand assertions, the reader is encouraged to guess what Holmes might have done to arrive at that conclusion. Doyle seems to want the reader to guess technique rather than outcome, while providing only vague clues in general descriptions of Holmes's behavior at a crime scene. The structure of this story is quite odd. The first part is roughly what you would expect: first-person narration from Watson, supposedly taken from his journals but not at all in the style of a journal and explicitly written for an audience. Part one concludes with Holmes capturing and dramatically announcing the name of the killer, who the reader has never heard of before. Part two then opens with... a western?
In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert, which for many a long year served as a barrier against the advance of civilization. From the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, and from the Yellowstone River in the north to the Colorado upon the south, is a region of desolation and silence. Nor is Nature always in one mood throughout the grim district. It comprises snow-capped and lofty mountains, and dark and gloomy valleys. There are swift-flowing rivers which dash through jagged ca ons; and there are enormous plains, which in winter are white with snow, and in summer are grey with the saline alkali dust. They all preserve, however, the common characteristics of barrenness, inhospitality, and misery.
First, I have issues with the geography. That region contains some of the most beautiful areas on earth, and while a lot of that region is arid, describing it primarily as a repulsive desert is a bit much. Doyle's boundaries and distances are also confusing: the Yellowstone is a northeast-flowing river with its source in Wyoming, so the area between it and the Colorado does not extend to the Sierra Nevadas (or even to Utah), and it's not entirely clear to me that he realizes Nevada exists. This is probably what it's like for people who live anywhere else in the world when US authors write about their country. But second, there's no Holmes, no Watson, and not even the pretense of a transition from the detective novel that we were just reading. Doyle just launches into a random western with an omniscient narrator. It features a lean, grizzled man and an adorable child that he adopts and raises into a beautiful free spirit, who then falls in love with a wild gold-rush adventurer. This was written about 15 years before the first critically recognized western novel, so I can't blame Doyle for all the cliches here, but to a modern reader all of these characters are straight from central casting. Well, except for the villains, who are the Mormons. By that, I don't mean that the villains are Mormon. I mean Brigham Young is the on-page villain, plotting against the hero to force his adopted daughter into a Mormon harem (to use the word that Doyle uses repeatedly) and ruling Salt Lake City with an iron hand, border guards with passwords (?!), and secret police. This part of the book was wild. I was laughing out-loud at the sheer malevolent absurdity of the thirty-day countdown to marriage, which I doubt was the intended effect. We do eventually learn that this is the backstory of the murder, but we don't return to Watson and Holmes for multiple chapters. Which leads me to the other thing that surprised me: Doyle lays out this backstory, but then never has his characters comment directly on the morality of it, only the spectacle. Holmes cares only for the intellectual challenge (and for who gets credit), and Doyle sets things up so that the reader need not concern themselves with aftermath, punishment, or anything of that sort. I probably shouldn't have been surprised this does fit with the Holmes stereotype but I'm used to modern fiction where there is usually at least some effort to pass judgment on the events of the story. Doyle draws very clear villains, but is utterly silent on whether the murder is justified. Given its status in the history of literature, I'm not sorry to have read this book, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It is very much of its time: everyone's moral character is linked directly to their physical appearance, and Doyle uses the occasional racial stereotype without a second thought. Prevailing writing styles have changed, so the prose feels long-winded and breathless. The rivalry between Holmes and the police detectives is tedious and annoying. I also find it hard to read novels from before the general absorption of techniques of emotional realism and interiority into all genres. The characters in A Study in Scarlet felt more like cartoon characters than fully-realized human beings. I have no strong opinion about the objective merits of this book in the context of its time other than to note that the sudden inserted western felt very weird. My understanding is that this is not considered one of the better Holmes stories, and Holmes gets some deeper characterization later on. Maybe I'll try another of Doyle's works someday, but for now my curiosity has been sated. Followed by The Sign of the Four. Rating: 4 out of 10

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