Search Results: "mats"

9 September 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in August 2022

Welcome to the August 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In these reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As a quick recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries. The motivation behind the reproducible builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.

Community news As announced last month, registration is currently open for our in-person summit this year which is due to be held between November 1st November 3rd. The event will take place in Venice (Italy). Very soon we intend to pick a venue reachable via the train station and an international airport. However, the precise venue will depend on the number of attendees. Please see the announcement email for information about how to register.
The US National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have released a document called Securing the Software Supply Chain: Recommended Practices Guide for Developers (PDF) as part of their Enduring Security Framework (ESF) work. The document expressly recommends having reproducible builds as part of advanced recommended mitigations, along with hermetic builds. Page 31 (page 35 in the PDF) says:
Reproducible builds provide additional protection and validation against attempts to compromise build systems. They ensure the binary products of each build system match: i.e., they are built from the same source, regardless of variable metadata such as the order of input files, timestamps, locales, and paths. Reproducible builds are those where re-running the build steps with identical input artifacts results in bit-for-bit identical output. Builds that cannot meet this must provide a justification why the build cannot be made reproducible.
The full press release is available online.
On our mailing list this month, Marc Prud hommeaux posted a feature request for diffoscope which additionally outlines a project called The App Fair, an autonomous distribution network of free and open-source macOS and iOS applications, where validated apps are then signed and submitted for publication .
Author/blogger Cory Doctorow posted published a provocative blog post this month titled Your computer is tormented by a wicked god . Touching on Ken Thompson s famous talk, Reflections on Trusting Trust , the early goals of Secure Computing and UEFI firmware interfaces:
This is the core of a two-decade-old debate among security people, and it s one that the benevolent God faction has consistently had the upper hand in. They re the curated computing advocates who insist that preventing you from choosing an alternative app store or side-loading a program is for your own good because if it s possible for you to override the manufacturer s wishes, then malicious software may impersonate you to do so, or you might be tricked into doing so. [..] This benevolent dictatorship model only works so long as the dictator is both perfectly benevolent and perfectly competent. We know the dictators aren t always benevolent. [ ] But even if you trust a dictator s benevolence, you can t trust in their perfection. Everyone makes mistakes. Benevolent dictator computing works well, but fails badly. Designing a computer that intentionally can t be fully controlled by its owner is a nightmare, because that is a computer that, once compromised, can attack its owner with impunity.

Lastly, Chengyu HAN updated the Reproducible Builds website to correct an incorrect Git command. [ ]

Debian In Debian this month, the essential and required package sets became 100% reproducible in Debian bookworm on the amd64 and arm64 architectures. These two subsets of the full Debian archive refer to Debian package priority levels as described in the 2.5 Priorities section of the Debian Policy there is no canonical minimal installation package set in Debian due to its diverse methods of installation. As it happens, these package sets are not reproducible on the i386 architecture because the ncurses package on that architecture is not yet reproducible, and the sed package currently fails to build from source on armhf too. The full list of reproducible packages within these package sets can be viewed within our QA system, such as on the page of required packages in amd64 and the list of essential packages on arm64, both for Debian bullseye.
It recently has become very easy to install reproducible Debian Docker containers using podman on Debian bullseye:
$ sudo apt install podman
$ podman run --rm -it debian:bullseye bash
The (pre-built) image used is itself built using debuerrotype, as explained on This page also details how to build the image yourself and what checksums are expected if you do so.
Related to this, it has also become straightforward to reproducibly bootstrap Debian using mmdebstrap, a replacement for the usual debootstrap tool to create Debian root filesystems:
$ SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH=$(date --utc --date=2022-08-29 +%s) mmdebstrap unstable > unstable.tar
This works for (at least) Debian unstable, bullseye and bookworm, and is tested automatically by a number of QA jobs set up by Holger Levsen (unstable, bookworm and bullseye)
Work has also taken place to ensure that the canonical debootstrap and cdebootstrap tools are also capable of bootstrapping Debian reproducibly, although it currently requires a few extra steps:
  1. Clamping the modification time of files that are newer than $SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH to be not greater than SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH.
  2. Deleting a few files. For debootstrap, this requires the deletion of /etc/machine-id, /var/cache/ldconfig/aux-cache, /var/log/dpkg.log, /var/log/alternatives.log and /var/log/bootstrap.log, and for cdebootstrap we also need to delete the /var/log/apt/history.log and /var/log/apt/term.log files as well.
This process works at least for unstable, bullseye and bookworm and is now being tested automatically by a number of QA jobs setup by Holger Levsen [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]. As part of this work, Holger filed two bugs to request a better initialisation of the /etc/machine-id file in both debootstrap [ ] and cdebootstrap [ ].
Elsewhere in Debian, 131 reviews of Debian packages were added, 20 were updated and 27 were removed this month, adding to our extensive knowledge about identified issues. Chris Lamb added a number of issue types, including: randomness_in_browserify_output [ ], haskell_abi_hash_differences [ ], nondeterministic_ids_in_html_output_generated_by_python_sphinx_panels [ ]. Lastly, Mattia Rizzolo removed the deterministic flag from the captures_kernel_variant flag [ ].

Other distributions Vagrant Cascadian posted an update of the status of Reproducible Builds in GNU Guix, writing that:
Ignoring the pesky unknown packages, it is more like ~93% reproducible and ~7% unreproducible... that feels a bit better to me! These numbers wander around over time, mostly due to packages moving back into an "unknown" state while the build farms catch up with each other... although the above numbers seem to have been pretty consistent over the last few days.
The post itself contains a lot more details, including a brief discussion of tooling. Elsewhere in GNU Guix, however, Vagrant updated a number of packages such as itpp [ ], perl-class-methodmaker [ ], libnet [ ], directfb [ ] and mm-common [ ], as well as updated the version of reprotest to 0.7.21 [ ]. In openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann published his usual openSUSE monthly report.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 220 and 221 to Debian, as well as made the following changes:
  • Update to reflect changes to xxd and the vim-common package. [ ]
  • Depend on the dedicated xxd package now, not the vim-common package. [ ]
  • Don t crash if we can open a PDF file using the PyPDF library, but cannot subsequently parse the annotations within. [ ]
In addition, Vagrant Cascadian updated diffoscope in GNU Guix, first to to version 220 [ ] and later to 221 [ ].

Community news The Reproducible Builds project aims to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible as well as to send all of our patches upstream wherever appropriate. This month we created a number of patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, Holger Levsen made the following changes:
  • Debian-related changes:
    • Temporarily add Debian unstable deb-src lines to enable test builds a Non-maintainer Upload (NMU) campaign targeting 708 sources without .buildinfo files found in Debian unstable, including 475 in bookworm. [ ][ ]
    • Correctly deal with the Debian Edu packages not being installable. [ ]
    • Finally, stop scheduling stretch. [ ]
    • Make sure all Ubuntu nodes have the linux-image-generic kernel package installed. [ ]
  • Health checks & view:
    • Detect SSH login problems. [ ]
    • Only report the first uninstallable package set. [ ]
    • Show new bootstrap jobs. [ ] and debian-live jobs. [ ] in the job health view.
    • Fix regular expression to detect various zombie jobs. [ ]
  • New jobs:
    • Add a new job to test reproducibility of mmdebstrap bootstrapping tool. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
    • Run our new mmdebstrap job remotely [ ][ ]
    • Improve the output of the mmdebstrap job. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Adjust the mmdebstrap script to additionally support debootstrap as well. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Work around mmdebstrap and debootstrap keeping logfiles within their artifacts. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Add support for testing cdebootstrap too and add such a job for unstable. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Use a reproducible value for SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH for all our new bootstrap jobs. [ ]
  • Misc changes:
    • Send the create_meta_pkg_sets notification to #debian-reproducible-changes instead of #debian-reproducible. [ ]
In addition, Roland Clobus re-enabled the tests for live-build images [ ] and added a feature where the build would retry instead of give up when the archive was synced whilst building an ISO [ ], and Vagrant Cascadian added logging to report the current target of the /bin/sh symlink [ ].

Contact As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

30 August 2022

John Goerzen: The PC & Internet Revolution in Rural America

Inspired by several others (such as Alex Schroeder s post and Szcze uja s prompt), as well as a desire to get this down for my kids, I figure it s time to write a bit about living through the PC and Internet revolution where I did: outside a tiny town in rural Kansas. And, as I ve been back in that same area for the past 15 years, I reflect some on the challenges that continue to play out. Although the stories from the others were primarily about getting online, I want to start by setting some background. Those of you that didn t grow up in the same era as I did probably never realized that a typical business PC setup might cost $10,000 in today s dollars, for instance. So let me start with the background.

Nothing was easy This story begins in the 1980s. Somewhere around my Kindergarten year of school, around 1985, my parents bought a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (aka CoCo II). It had 64K of RAM and used a TV for display and sound. This got you the computer. It didn t get you any disk drive or anything, no joysticks (required by a number of games). So whenever the system powered down, or it hung and you had to power cycle it a frequent event you d lose whatever you were doing and would have to re-enter the program, literally by typing it in. The floppy drive for the CoCo II cost more than the computer, and it was quite common for people to buy the computer first and then the floppy drive later when they d saved up the money for that. I particularly want to mention that computers then didn t come with a modem. What would be like buying a laptop or a tablet without wifi today. A modem, which I ll talk about in a bit, was another expensive accessory. To cobble together a system in the 80s that was capable of talking to others with persistent storage (floppy, or hard drive), screen, keyboard, and modem would be quite expensive. Adjusted for inflation, if you re talking a PC-style device (a clone of the IBM PC that ran DOS), this would easily be more expensive than the Macbook Pros of today. Few people back in the 80s had a computer at home. And the portion of those that had even the capability to get online in a meaningful way was even smaller. Eventually my parents bought a PC clone with 640K RAM and dual floppy drives. This was primarily used for my mom s work, but I did my best to take it over whenever possible. It ran DOS and, despite its monochrome screen, was generally a more capable machine than the CoCo II. For instance, it supported lowercase. (I m not even kidding; the CoCo II pretty much didn t.) A while later, they purchased a 32MB hard drive for it what luxury! Just getting a machine to work wasn t easy. Say you d bought a PC, and then bought a hard drive, and a modem. You didn t just plug in the hard drive and it would work. You would have to fight it every step of the way. The BIOS and DOS partition tables of the day used a cylinder/head/sector method of addressing the drive, and various parts of that those addresses had too few bits to work with the big drives of the day above 20MB. So you would have to lie to the BIOS and fdisk in various ways, and sort of work out how to do it for each drive. For each peripheral serial port, sound card (in later years), etc., you d have to set jumpers for DMA and IRQs, hoping not to conflict with anything already in the system. Perhaps you can now start to see why USB and PCI were so welcomed.

Sharing and finding resources Despite the two computers in our home, it wasn t as if software written on one machine just ran on another. A lot of software for PC clones assumed a CGA color display. The monochrome HGC in our PC wasn t particularly compatible. You could find a TSR program to emulate the CGA on the HGC, but it wasn t particularly stable, and there s only so much you can do when a program that assumes color displays on a monitor that can only show black, dark amber, or light amber. So I d periodically get to use other computers most commonly at an office in the evening when it wasn t being used. There were some local computer clubs that my dad took me to periodically. Software was swapped back then; disks copied, shareware exchanged, and so forth. For me, at least, there was no online to download software from, and selling software over the Internet wasn t a thing at all.

Three Different Worlds There were sort of three different worlds of computing experience in the 80s:
  1. Home users. Initially using a wide variety of software from Apple, Commodore, Tandy/RadioShack, etc., but eventually coming to be mostly dominated by IBM PC clones
  2. Small and mid-sized business users. Some of them had larger minicomputers or small mainframes, but most that I had contact with by the early 90s were standardized on DOS-based PCs. More advanced ones had a network running Netware, most commonly. Networking hardware and software was generally too expensive for home users to use in the early days.
  3. Universities and large institutions. These are the places that had the mainframes, the earliest implementations of TCP/IP, the earliest users of UUCP, and so forth.
The difference between the home computing experience and the large institution experience were vast. Not only in terms of dollars the large institution hardware could easily cost anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars but also in terms of sheer resources required (large rooms, enormous power circuits, support staff, etc). Nothing was in common between them; not operating systems, not software, not experience. I was never much aware of the third category until the differences started to collapse in the mid-90s, and even then I only was exposed to it once the collapse was well underway. You might say to me, Well, Google certainly isn t running what I m running at home! And, yes of course, it s different. But fundamentally, most large datacenters are running on x86_64 hardware, with Linux as the operating system, and a TCP/IP network. It s a different scale, obviously, but at a fundamental level, the hardware and operating system stack are pretty similar to what you can readily run at home. Back in the 80s and 90s, this wasn t the case. TCP/IP wasn t even available for DOS or Windows until much later, and when it was, it was a clunky beast that was difficult. One of the things Kevin Driscoll highlights in his book called Modem World see my short post about it is that the history of the Internet we usually receive is focused on case 3: the large institutions. In reality, the Internet was and is literally a network of networks. Gateways to and from Internet existed from all three kinds of users for years, and while TCP/IP ultimately won the battle of the internetworking protocol, the other two streams of users also shaped the Internet as we now know it. Like many, I had no access to the large institution networks, but as I ve been reflecting on my experiences, I ve found a new appreciation for the way that those of us that grew up with primarily home PCs shaped the evolution of today s online world also.

An Era of Scarcity I should take a moment to comment about the cost of software back then. A newspaper article from 1985 comments that WordPerfect, then the most powerful word processing program, sold for $495 (or $219 if you could score a mail order discount). That s $1360/$600 in 2022 money. Other popular software, such as Lotus 1-2-3, was up there as well. If you were to buy a new PC clone in the mid to late 80s, it would often cost $2000 in 1980s dollars. Now add a printer a low-end dot matrix for $300 or a laser for $1500 or even more. A modem: another $300. So the basic system would be $3600, or $9900 in 2022 dollars. If you wanted a nice printer, you re now pushing well over $10,000 in 2022 dollars. You start to see one barrier here, and also why things like shareware and piracy if it was indeed even recognized as such were common in those days. So you can see, from a home computer setup (TRS-80, Commodore C64, Apple ][, etc) to a business-class PC setup was an order of magnitude increase in cost. From there to the high-end minis/mainframes was another order of magnitude (at least!) increase. Eventually there was price pressure on the higher end and things all got better, which is probably why the non-DOS PCs lasted until the early 90s.

Increasing Capabilities My first exposure to computers in school was in the 4th grade, when I would have been about 9. There was a single Apple ][ machine in that room. I primarily remember playing Oregon Trail on it. The next year, the school added a computer lab. Remember, this is a small rural area, so each graduating class might have about 25 people in it; this lab was shared by everyone in the K-8 building. It was full of some flavor of IBM PS/2 machines running DOS and Netware. There was a dedicated computer teacher too, though I think she was a regular teacher that was given somewhat minimal training on computers. We were going to learn typing that year, but I did so well on the very first typing program that we soon worked out that I could do programming instead. I started going to school early these machines were far more powerful than the XT at home and worked on programming projects there. Eventually my parents bought me a Gateway 486SX/25 with a VGA monitor and hard drive. Wow! This was a whole different world. It may have come with Windows 3.0 or 3.1 on it, but I mainly remember running OS/2 on that machine. More on that below.

Programming That CoCo II came with a BASIC interpreter in ROM. It came with a large manual, which served as a BASIC tutorial as well. The BASIC interpreter was also the shell, so literally you could not use the computer without at least a bit of BASIC. Once I had access to a DOS machine, it also had a basic interpreter: GW-BASIC. There was a fair bit of software written in BASIC at the time, but most of the more advanced software wasn t. I wondered how these .EXE and .COM programs were written. I could find vague references to DEBUG.EXE, assemblers, and such. But it wasn t until I got a copy of Turbo Pascal that I was able to do that sort of thing myself. Eventually I got Borland C++ and taught myself C as well. A few years later, I wanted to try writing GUI programs for Windows, and bought Watcom C++ much cheaper than the competition, and it could target Windows, DOS (and I think even OS/2). Notice that, aside from BASIC, none of this was free, and none of it was bundled. You couldn t just download a C compiler, or Python interpreter, or whatnot back then. You had to pay for the ability to write any kind of serious code on the computer you already owned.

The Microsoft Domination Microsoft came to dominate the PC landscape, and then even the computing landscape as a whole. IBM very quickly lost control over the hardware side of PCs as Compaq and others made clones, but Microsoft has managed in varying degrees even to this day to keep a stranglehold on the software, and especially the operating system, side. Yes, there was occasional talk of things like DR-DOS, but by and large the dominant platform came to be the PC, and if you had a PC, you ran DOS (and later Windows) from Microsoft. For awhile, it looked like IBM was going to challenge Microsoft on the operating system front; they had OS/2, and when I switched to it sometime around the version 2.1 era in 1993, it was unquestionably more advanced technically than the consumer-grade Windows from Microsoft at the time. It had Internet support baked in, could run most DOS and Windows programs, and had introduced a replacement for the by-then terrible FAT filesystem: HPFS, in 1988. Microsoft wouldn t introduce a better filesystem for its consumer operating systems until Windows XP in 2001, 13 years later. But more on that story later.

Free Software, Shareware, and Commercial Software I ve covered the high cost of software already. Obviously $500 software wasn t going to sell in the home market. So what did we have? Mainly, these things:
  1. Public domain software. It was free to use, and if implemented in BASIC, probably had source code with it too.
  2. Shareware
  3. Commercial software (some of it from small publishers was a lot cheaper than $500)
Let s talk about shareware. The idea with shareware was that a company would release a useful program, sometimes limited. You were encouraged to register , or pay for, it if you liked it and used it. And, regardless of whether you registered it or not, were told please copy! Sometimes shareware was fully functional, and registering it got you nothing more than printed manuals and an easy conscience (guilt trips for not registering weren t necessarily very subtle). Sometimes unregistered shareware would have a nag screen a delay of a few seconds while they told you to register. Sometimes they d be limited in some way; you d get more features if you registered. With games, it was popular to have a trilogy, and release the first episode inevitably ending with a cliffhanger as shareware, and the subsequent episodes would require registration. In any event, a lot of software people used in the 80s and 90s was shareware. Also pirated commercial software, though in the earlier days of computing, I think some people didn t even know the difference. Notice what s missing: Free Software / FLOSS in the Richard Stallman sense of the word. Stallman lived in the big institution world after all, he worked at MIT and what he was doing with the Free Software Foundation and GNU project beginning in 1983 never really filtered into the DOS/Windows world at the time. I had no awareness of it even existing until into the 90s, when I first started getting some hints of it as a port of gcc became available for OS/2. The Internet was what really brought this home, but I m getting ahead of myself. I want to say again: FLOSS never really entered the DOS and Windows 3.x ecosystems. You d see it make a few inroads here and there in later versions of Windows, and moreso now that Microsoft has been sort of forced to accept it, but still, reflect on its legacy. What is the software market like in Windows compared to Linux, even today? Now it is, finally, time to talk about connectivity!

Getting On-Line What does it even mean to get on line? Certainly not connecting to a wifi access point. The answer is, unsurprisingly, complex. But for everyone except the large institutional users, it begins with a telephone.

The telephone system By the 80s, there was one communication network that already reached into nearly every home in America: the phone system. Virtually every household (note I don t say every person) was uniquely identified by a 10-digit phone number. You could, at least in theory, call up virtually any other phone in the country and be connected in less than a minute. But I ve got to talk about cost. The way things worked in the USA, you paid a monthly fee for a phone line. Included in that monthly fee was unlimited local calling. What is a local call? That was an extremely complex question. Generally it meant, roughly, calling within your city. But of course, as you deal with things like suburbs and cities growing into each other (eg, the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex), things got complicated fast. But let s just say for simplicity you could call others in your city. What about calling people not in your city? That was long distance , and you paid often hugely by the minute for it. Long distance rates were difficult to figure out, but were generally most expensive during business hours and cheapest at night or on weekends. Prices eventually started to come down when competition was introduced for long distance carriers, but even then you often were stuck with a single carrier for long distance calls outside your city but within your state. Anyhow, let s just leave it at this: local calls were virtually free, and long distance calls were extremely expensive.

Getting a modem I remember getting a modem that ran at either 1200bps or 2400bps. Either way, quite slow; you could often read even plain text faster than the modem could display it. But what was a modem? A modem hooked up to a computer with a serial cable, and to the phone system. By the time I got one, modems could automatically dial and answer. You would send a command like ATDT5551212 and it would dial 555-1212. Modems had speakers, because often things wouldn t work right, and the telephone system was oriented around speech, so you could hear what was happening. You d hear it wait for dial tone, then dial, then hopefully the remote end would ring, a modem there would answer, you d hear the screeching of a handshake, and eventually your terminal would say CONNECT 2400. Now your computer was bridged to the other; anything going out your serial port was encoded as sound by your modem and decoded at the other end, and vice-versa. But what, exactly, was the other end? It might have been another person at their computer. Turn on local echo, and you can see what they did. Maybe you d send files to each other. But in my case, the answer was different: PC Magazine.

PC Magazine and CompuServe Starting around 1986 (so I would have been about 6 years old), I got to read PC Magazine. My dad would bring copies that were being discarded at his office home for me to read, and I think eventually bought me a subscription directly. This was not just a standard magazine; it ran something like 350-400 pages an issue, and came out every other week. This thing was a monster. It had reviews of hardware and software, descriptions of upcoming technologies, pages and pages of ads (that often had some degree of being informative to them). And they had sections on programming. Many issues would talk about BASIC or Pascal programming, and there d be a utility in most issues. What do I mean by a utility in most issues ? Did they include a floppy disk with software? No, of course not. There was a literal program listing printed in the magazine. If you wanted the utility, you had to type it in. And a lot of them were written in assembler, so you had to have an assembler. An assembler, of course, was not free and I didn t have one. Or maybe they wrote it in Microsoft C, and I had Borland C, and (of course) they weren t compatible. Sometimes they would list the program sort of in binary: line after line of a BASIC program, with lines like 64, 193, 253, 0, 53, 0, 87 that you would type in for hours, hopefully correctly. Running the BASIC program would, if you got it correct, emit a .COM file that you could then run. They did have a rudimentary checksum system built in, but it wasn t even a CRC, so something like swapping two numbers you d never notice except when the program would mysteriously hang. Eventually they teamed up with CompuServe to offer a limited slice of CompuServe for the purpose of downloading PC Magazine utilities. This was called PC MagNet. I am foggy on the details, but I believe that for a time you could connect to the limited PC MagNet part of CompuServe for free (after the cost of the long-distance call, that is) rather than paying for CompuServe itself (because, OF COURSE, that also charged you per the minute.) So in the early days, I would get special permission from my parents to place a long distance call, and after some nerve-wracking minutes in which we were aware every minute was racking up charges, I could navigate the menus, download what I wanted, and log off immediately. I still, incidentally, mourn what PC Magazine became. As with computing generally, it followed the mass market. It lost its deep technical chops, cut its programming columns, stopped talking about things like how SCSI worked, and so forth. By the time it stopped printing in 2009, it was no longer a square-bound 400-page beheamoth, but rather looked more like a copy of Newsweek, but with less depth.

Continuing with CompuServe CompuServe was a much larger service than just PC MagNet. Eventually, our family got a subscription. It was still an expensive and scarce resource; I d call it only after hours when the long-distance rates were cheapest. Everyone had a numerical username separated by commas; mine was 71510,1421. CompuServe had forums, and files. Eventually I would use TapCIS to queue up things I wanted to do offline, to minimize phone usage online. CompuServe eventually added a gateway to the Internet. For the sum of somewhere around $1 a message, you could send or receive an email from someone with an Internet email address! I remember the thrill of one time, as a kid of probably 11 years, sending a message to one of the editors of PC Magazine and getting a kind, if brief, reply back! But inevitably I had

The Godzilla Phone Bill Yes, one month I became lax in tracking my time online. I ran up my parents phone bill. I don t remember how high, but I remember it was hundreds of dollars, a hefty sum at the time. As I watched Jason Scott s BBS Documentary, I realized how common an experience this was. I think this was the end of CompuServe for me for awhile.

Toll-Free Numbers I lived near a town with a population of 500. Not even IN town, but near town. The calling area included another town with a population of maybe 1500, so all told, there were maybe 2000 people total I could talk to with a local call though far fewer numbers, because remember, telephones were allocated by the household. There was, as far as I know, zero modems that were a local call (aside from one that belonged to a friend I met in around 1992). So basically everything was long-distance. But there was a special feature of the telephone network: toll-free numbers. Normally when calling long-distance, you, the caller, paid the bill. But with a toll-free number, beginning with 1-800, the recipient paid the bill. These numbers almost inevitably belonged to corporations that wanted to make it easy for people to call. Sales and ordering lines, for instance. Some of these companies started to set up modems on toll-free numbers. There were few of these, but they existed, so of course I had to try them! One of them was a company called PennyWise that sold office supplies. They had a toll-free line you could call with a modem to order stuff. Yes, online ordering before the web! I loved office supplies. And, because I lived far from a big city, if the local K-Mart didn t have it, I probably couldn t get it. Of course, the interface was entirely text, but you could search for products and place orders with the modem. I had loads of fun exploring the system, and actually ordered things from them and probably actually saved money doing so. With the first order they shipped a monster full-color catalog. That thing must have been 500 pages, like the Sears catalogs of the day. Every item had a part number, which streamlined ordering through the modem.

Inbound FAXes By the 90s, a number of modems became able to send and receive FAXes as well. For those that don t know, a FAX machine was essentially a special modem. It would scan a page and digitally transmit it over the phone system, where it would at least in the early days be printed out in real time (because the machines didn t have the memory to store an entire page as an image). Eventually, PC modems integrated FAX capabilities. There still wasn t anything useful I could do locally, but there were ways I could get other companies to FAX something to me. I remember two of them. One was for US Robotics. They had an on demand FAX system. You d call up a toll-free number, which was an automated IVR system. You could navigate through it and select various documents of interest to you: spec sheets and the like. You d key in your FAX number, hang up, and US Robotics would call YOU and FAX you the documents you wanted. Yes! I was talking to a computer (of a sorts) at no cost to me! The New York Times also ran a service for awhile called TimesFax. Every day, they would FAX out a page or two of summaries of the day s top stories. This was pretty cool in an era in which I had no other way to access anything from the New York Times. I managed to sign up for TimesFax I have no idea how, anymore and for awhile I would get a daily FAX of their top stories. When my family got its first laser printer, I could them even print these FAXes complete with the gothic New York Times masthead. Wow! (OK, so technically I could print it on a dot-matrix printer also, but graphics on a 9-pin dot matrix is a kind of pain that is a whole other article.)

My own phone line Remember how I discussed that phone lines were allocated per household? This was a problem for a lot of reasons:
  1. Anybody that tried to call my family while I was using my modem would get a busy signal (unable to complete the call)
  2. If anybody in the house picked up the phone while I was using it, that would degrade the quality of the ongoing call and either mess up or disconnect the call in progress. In many cases, that could cancel a file transfer (which wasn t necessarily easy or possible to resume), prompting howls of annoyance from me.
  3. Generally we all had to work around each other
So eventually I found various small jobs and used the money I made to pay for my own phone line and my own long distance costs. Eventually I upgraded to a 28.8Kbps US Robotics Courier modem even! Yes, you heard it right: I got a job and a bank account so I could have a phone line and a faster modem. Uh, isn t that why every teenager gets a job? Now my local friend and I could call each other freely at least on my end (I can t remember if he had his own phone line too). We could exchange files using HS/Link, which had the added benefit of allowing split-screen chat even while a file transfer is in progress. I m sure we spent hours chatting to each other keyboard-to-keyboard while sharing files with each other.

Technology in Schools By this point in the story, we re in the late 80s and early 90s. I m still using PC-style OSs at home; OS/2 in the later years of this period, DOS or maybe a bit of Windows in the earlier years. I mentioned that they let me work on programming at school starting in 5th grade. It was soon apparent that I knew more about computers than anybody on staff, and I started getting pulled out of class to help teachers or administrators with vexing school problems. This continued until I graduated from high school, incidentally often to my enjoyment, and the annoyance of one particular teacher who, I must say, I was fine with annoying in this way. That s not to say that there was institutional support for what I was doing. It was, after all, a small school. Larger schools might have introduced BASIC or maybe Logo in high school. But I had already taught myself BASIC, Pascal, and C by the time I was somewhere around 12 years old. So I wouldn t have had any use for that anyhow. There were programming contests occasionally held in the area. Schools would send teams. My school didn t really send anybody, but I went as an individual. One of them was run by a local college (but for jr. high or high school students. Years later, I met one of the professors that ran it. He remembered me, and that day, better than I did. The programming contest had problems one could solve in BASIC or Logo. I knew nothing about what to expect going into it, but I had lugged my computer and screen along, and asked him, Can I write my solutions in C? He was, apparently, stunned, but said sure, go for it. I took first place that day, leading to some rather confused teams from much larger schools. The Netware network that the school had was, as these generally were, itself isolated. There was no link to the Internet or anything like it. Several schools across three local counties eventually invested in a fiber-optic network linking them together. This built a larger, but still closed, network. Its primary purpose was to allow students to be exposed to a wider variety of classes at high schools. Participating schools had an ITV room , outfitted with cameras and mics. So students at any school could take classes offered over ITV at other schools. For instance, only my school taught German classes, so people at any of those participating schools could take German. It was an early Zoom room. But alongside the TV signal, there was enough bandwidth to run some Netware frames. By about 1995 or so, this let one of the schools purchase some CD-ROM software that was made available on a file server and could be accessed by any participating school. Nice! But Netware was mainly about file and printer sharing; there wasn t even a facility like email, at least not on our deployment.

BBSs My last hop before the Internet was the BBS. A BBS was a computer program, usually ran by a hobbyist like me, on a computer with a modem connected. Callers would call it up, and they d interact with the BBS. Most BBSs had discussion groups like forums and file areas. Some also had games. I, of course, continued to have that most vexing of problems: they were all long-distance. There were some ways to help with that, chiefly QWK and BlueWave. These, somewhat like TapCIS in the CompuServe days, let me download new message posts for reading offline, and queue up my own messages to send later. QWK and BlueWave didn t help with file downloading, though.

BBSs get networked BBSs were an interesting thing. You d call up one, and inevitably somewhere in the file area would be a BBS list. Download the BBS list and you ve suddenly got a list of phone numbers to try calling. All of them were long distance, of course. You d try calling them at random and have a success rate of maybe 20%. The other 80% would be defunct; you might get the dreaded this number is no longer in service or the even more dreaded angry human answering the phone (and of course a modem can t talk to a human, so they d just get silence for probably the nth time that week). The phone company cared nothing about BBSs and recycled their numbers just as fast as any others. To talk to various people, or participate in certain discussion groups, you d have to call specific BBSs. That s annoying enough in the general case, but even more so for someone paying long distance for it all, because it takes a few minutes to establish a connection to a BBS: handshaking, logging in, menu navigation, etc. But BBSs started talking to each other. The earliest successful such effort was FidoNet, and for the duration of the BBS era, it remained by far the largest. FidoNet was analogous to the UUCP that the institutional users had, but ran on the much cheaper PC hardware. Basically, BBSs that participated in FidoNet would relay email, forum posts, and files between themselves overnight. Eventually, as with UUCP, by hopping through this network, messages could reach around the globe, and forums could have worldwide participation asynchronously, long before they could link to each other directly via the Internet. It was almost entirely volunteer-run.

Running my own BBS At age 13, I eventually chose to set up my own BBS. It ran on my single phone line, so of course when I was dialing up something else, nobody could dial up me. Not that this was a huge problem; in my town of 500, I probably had a good 1 or 2 regular callers in the beginning. In the PC era, there was a big difference between a server and a client. Server-class software was expensive and rare. Maybe in later years you had an email client, but an email server would be completely unavailable to you as a home user. But with a BBS, I could effectively run a server. I even ran serial lines in our house so that the BBS could be connected from other rooms! Since I was running OS/2, the BBS didn t tie up the computer; I could continue using it for other things. FidoNet had an Internet email gateway. This one, unlike CompuServe s, was free. Once I had a BBS on FidoNet, you could reach me from the Internet using the FidoNet address. This didn t support attachments, but then email of the day didn t really, either. Various others outside Kansas ran FidoNet distribution points. I believe one of them was mgmtsys; my memory is quite vague, but I think they offered a direct gateway and I would call them to pick up Internet mail via FidoNet protocols, but I m not at all certain of this.

Pros and Cons of the Non-Microsoft World As mentioned, Microsoft was and is the dominant operating system vendor for PCs. But I left that world in 1993, and here, nearly 30 years later, have never really returned. I got an operating system with more technical capabilities than the DOS and Windows of the day, but the tradeoff was a much smaller software ecosystem. OS/2 could run DOS programs, but it ran OS/2 programs a lot better. So if I were to run a BBS, I wanted one that had a native OS/2 version limiting me to a small fraction of available BBS server software. On the other hand, as a fully 32-bit operating system, there started to be OS/2 ports of certain software with a Unix heritage; most notably for me at the time, gcc. At some point, I eventually came across the RMS essays and started to be hooked.

Internet: The Hunt Begins I certainly was aware that the Internet was out there and interesting. But the first problem was: how the heck do I get connected to the Internet?

Computer labs There was one place that tended to have Internet access: colleges and universities. In 7th grade, I participated in a program that resulted in me being invited to visit Duke University, and in 8th grade, I participated in National History Day, resulting in a trip to visit the University of Maryland. I probably sought out computer labs at both of those. My most distinct memory was finding my way into a computer lab at one of those universities, and it was full of NeXT workstations. I had never seen or used NeXT before, and had no idea how to operate it. I had brought a box of floppy disks, unaware that the DOS disks probably weren t compatible with NeXT. Closer to home, a small college had a computer lab that I could also visit. I would go there in summer or when it wasn t used with my stack of floppies. I remember downloading disk images of FLOSS operating systems: FreeBSD, Slackware, or Debian, at the time. The hash marks from the DOS-based FTP client would creep across the screen as the 1.44MB disk images would slowly download. telnet was also available on those machines, so I could telnet to things like public-access Archie servers and libraries though not Gopher. Still, FTP and telnet access opened up a lot, and I learned quite a bit in those years.

Continuing the Journey At some point, I got a copy of the Whole Internet User s Guide and Catalog, published in 1994. I still have it. If it hadn t already figured it out by then, I certainly became aware from it that Unix was the dominant operating system on the Internet. The examples in Whole Internet covered FTP, telnet, gopher all assuming the user somehow got to a Unix prompt. The web was introduced about 300 pages in; clearly viewed as something that wasn t page 1 material. And it covered the command-line www client before introducing the graphical Mosaic. Even then, though, the book highlighted Mosaic s utility as a front-end for Gopher and FTP, and even the ability to launch telnet sessions by clicking on links. But having a copy of the book didn t equate to having any way to run Mosaic. The machines in the computer lab I mentioned above all ran DOS and were incapable of running a graphical browser. I had no SLIP or PPP (both ways to run Internet traffic over a modem) connectivity at home. In short, the Web was something for the large institutional users at the time.

CD-ROMs As CD-ROMs came out, with their huge (for the day) 650MB capacity, various companies started collecting software that could be downloaded on the Internet and selling it on CD-ROM. The two most popular ones were Walnut Creek CD-ROM and Infomagic. One could buy extensive Shareware and gaming collections, and then even entire Linux and BSD distributions. Although not exactly an Internet service per se, it was a way of bringing what may ordinarily only be accessible to institutional users into the home computer realm.

Free Software Jumps In As I mentioned, by the mid 90s, I had come across RMS s writings about free software most probably his 1992 essay Why Software Should Be Free. (Please note, this is not a commentary on the more recently-revealed issues surrounding RMS, but rather his writings and work as I encountered them in the 90s.) The notion of a Free operating system not just in cost but in openness was incredibly appealing. Not only could I tinker with it to a much greater extent due to having source for everything, but it included so much software that I d otherwise have to pay for. Compilers! Interpreters! Editors! Terminal emulators! And, especially, server software of all sorts. There d be no way I could afford or run Netware, but with a Free Unixy operating system, I could do all that. My interest was obviously piqued. Add to that the fact that I could actually participate and contribute I was about to become hooked on something that I ve stayed hooked on for decades. But then the question was: which Free operating system? Eventually I chose FreeBSD to begin with; that would have been sometime in 1995. I don t recall the exact reasons for that. I remember downloading Slackware install floppies, and probably the fact that Debian wasn t yet at 1.0 scared me off for a time. FreeBSD s fantastic Handbook far better than anything I could find for Linux at the time was no doubt also a factor.

The de Raadt Factor Why not NetBSD or OpenBSD? The short answer is Theo de Raadt. Somewhere in this time, when I was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, I asked some questions comparing NetBSD to the other two free BSDs. This was on a NetBSD mailing list, but for some reason Theo saw it and got a flame war going, which CC d me. Now keep in mind that even if NetBSD had a web presence at the time, it would have been minimal, and I would have not all that unusually for the time had no way to access it. I was certainly not aware of the, shall we say, acrimony between Theo and NetBSD. While I had certainly seen an online flamewar before, this took on a different and more disturbing tone; months later, Theo randomly emailed me under the subject SLIME saying that I was, well, SLIME . I seem to recall periodic emails from him thereafter reminding me that he hates me and that he had blocked me. (Disclaimer: I have poor email archives from this period, so the full details are lost to me, but I believe I am accurately conveying these events from over 25 years ago) This was a surprise, and an unpleasant one. I was trying to learn, and while it is possible I didn t understand some aspect or other of netiquette (or Theo s personal hatred of NetBSD) at the time, still that is not a reason to flame a 16-year-old (though he would have had no way to know my age). This didn t leave any kind of scar, but did leave a lasting impression; to this day, I am particularly concerned with how FLOSS projects handle poisonous people. Debian, for instance, has come a long way in this over the years, and even Linus Torvalds has turned over a new leaf. I don t know if Theo has. In any case, I didn t use NetBSD then. I did try it periodically in the years since, but never found it compelling enough to justify a large switch from Debian. I never tried OpenBSD for various reasons, but one of them was that I didn t want to join a community that tolerates behavior such as Theo s from its leader.

Moving to FreeBSD Moving from OS/2 to FreeBSD was final. That is, I didn t have enough hard drive space to keep both. I also didn t have the backup capacity to back up OS/2 completely. My BBS, which ran Virtual BBS (and at some point also AdeptXBBS) was deleted and reincarnated in a different form. My BBS was a member of both FidoNet and VirtualNet; the latter was specific to VBBS, and had to be dropped. I believe I may have also had to drop the FidoNet link for a time. This was the biggest change of computing in my life to that point. The earlier experiences hadn t literally destroyed what came before. OS/2 could still run my DOS programs. Its command shell was quite DOS-like. It ran Windows programs. I was going to throw all that away and leap into the unknown. I wish I had saved a copy of my BBS; I would love to see the messages I exchanged back then, or see its menu screens again. I have little memory of what it looked like. But other than that, I have no regrets. Pursuing Free, Unixy operating systems brought me a lot of enjoyment and a good career. That s not to say it was easy. All the problems of not being in the Microsoft ecosystem were magnified under FreeBSD and Linux. In a day before EDID, monitor timings had to be calculated manually and you risked destroying your monitor if you got them wrong. Word processing and spreadsheet software was pretty much not there for FreeBSD or Linux at the time; I was therefore forced to learn LaTeX and actually appreciated that. Software like PageMaker or CorelDraw was certainly nowhere to be found for those free operating systems either. But I got a ton of new capabilities. I mentioned the BBS didn t shut down, and indeed it didn t. I ran what was surely a supremely unique oddity: a free, dialin Unix shell server in the middle of a small town in Kansas. I m sure I provided things such as pine for email and some help text and maybe even printouts for how to use it. The set of callers slowly grew over the time period, in fact. And then I got UUCP.

Enter UUCP Even throughout all this, there was no local Internet provider and things were still long distance. I had Internet Email access via assorted strange routes, but they were all strange. And, I wanted access to Usenet. In 1995, it happened. The local ISP I mentioned offered UUCP access. Though I couldn t afford the dialup shell (or later, SLIP/PPP) that they offered due to long-distance costs, UUCP s very efficient batched processes looked doable. I believe I established that link when I was 15, so in 1995. I worked to register my domain,, as well. At the time, the process was a bit lengthy and involved downloading a text file form, filling it out in a precise way, sending it to InterNIC, and probably mailing them a check. Well I did that, and in September of 1995, became mine. I set up sendmail on my local system, as well as INN to handle the limited Usenet newsfeed I requested from the ISP. I even ran Majordomo to host some mailing lists, including some that were surprisingly high-traffic for a few-times-a-day long-distance modem UUCP link! The modem client programs for FreeBSD were somewhat less advanced than for OS/2, but I believe I wound up using Minicom or Seyon to continue to dial out to BBSs and, I believe, continue to use Learning Link. So all the while I was setting up my local BBS, I continued to have access to the text Internet, consisting of chiefly Gopher for me.

Switching to Debian I switched to Debian sometime in 1995 or 1996, and have been using Debian as my primary OS ever since. I continued to offer shell access, but added the WorldVU Atlantis menuing BBS system. This provided a return of a more BBS-like interface (by default; shell was still an uption) as well as some BBS door games such as LoRD and TradeWars 2002, running under DOS emulation. I also continued to run INN, and ran ifgate to allow FidoNet echomail to be presented into INN Usenet-like newsgroups, and netmail to be gated to Unix email. This worked pretty well. The BBS continued to grow in these days, peaking at about two dozen total user accounts, and maybe a dozen regular users.

Dial-up access availability I believe it was in 1996 that dial up PPP access finally became available in my small town. What a thrill! FINALLY! I could now FTP, use Gopher, telnet, and the web all from home. Of course, it was at modem speeds, but still. (Strangely, I have a memory of accessing the Web using WebExplorer from OS/2. I don t know exactly why; it s possible that by this time, I had upgraded to a 486 DX2/66 and was able to reinstall OS/2 on the old 25MHz 486, or maybe something was wrong with the timeline from my memories from 25 years ago above. Or perhaps I made the occasional long-distance call somewhere before I ditched OS/2.) Gopher sites still existed at this point, and I could access them using Netscape Navigator which likely became my standard Gopher client at that point. I don t recall using UMN text-mode gopher client locally at that time, though it s certainly possible I did.

The city Starting when I was 15, I took computer science classes at Wichita State University. The first one was a class in the summer of 1995 on C++. I remember being worried about being good enough for it I was, after all, just after my HS freshman year and had never taken the prerequisite C class. I loved it and got an A! By 1996, I was taking more classes. In 1996 or 1997 I stayed in Wichita during the day due to having more than one class. So, what would I do then but enjoy the computer lab? The CS dept. had two of them: one that had NCD X terminals connected to a pair of SunOS servers, and another one running Windows. I spent most of the time in the Unix lab with the NCDs; I d use Netscape or pine, write code, enjoy the University s fast Internet connection, and so forth. In 1997 I had graduated high school and that summer I moved to Wichita to attend college. As was so often the case, I shut down the BBS at that time. It would be 5 years until I again dealt with Internet at home in a rural community. By the time I moved to my apartment in Wichita, I had stopped using OS/2 entirely. I have no memory of ever having OS/2 there. Along the way, I had bought a Pentium 166, and then the most expensive piece of computing equipment I have ever owned: a DEC Alpha, which, of course, ran Linux.

ISDN I must have used dialup PPP for a time, but I eventually got a job working for the ISP I had used for UUCP, and then PPP. While there, I got a 128Kbps ISDN line installed in my apartment, and they gave me a discount on the service for it. That was around 3x the speed of a modem, and crucially was always on and gave me a public IP. No longer did I have to use UUCP; now I got to host my own things! By at least 1998, I was running a web server on, and I had an FTP server going as well.

Even Bigger Cities In 1999 I moved to Dallas, and there got my first broadband connection: an ADSL link at, I think, 1.5Mbps! Now that was something! But it had some reliability problems. I eventually put together a server and had it hosted at an acquantaince s place who had SDSL in his apartment. Within a couple of years, I had switched to various kinds of proper hosting for it, but that is a whole other article. In Indianapolis, I got a cable modem for the first time, with even tighter speeds but prohibitions on running servers on it. Yuck.

Challenges Being non-Microsoft continued to have challenges. Until the advent of Firefox, a web browser was one of the biggest. While Netscape supported Linux on i386, it didn t support Linux on Alpha. I hobbled along with various attempts at emulators, old versions of Mosaic, and so forth. And, until StarOffice was open-sourced as Open Office, reading Microsoft file formats was also a challenge, though WordPerfect was briefly available for Linux. Over the years, I have become used to the Linux ecosystem. Perhaps I use Gimp instead of Photoshop and digikam instead of well, whatever somebody would use on Windows. But I get ZFS, and containers, and so much that isn t available there. Yes, I know Apple never went away and is a thing, but for most of the time period I discuss in this article, at least after the rise of DOS, it was niche compared to the PC market.

Back to Kansas In 2002, I moved back to Kansas, to a rural home near a different small town in the county next to where I grew up. Over there, it was back to dialup at home, but I had faster access at work. I didn t much care for this, and thus began a 20+-year effort to get broadband in the country. At first, I got a wireless link, which worked well enough in the winter, but had serious problems in the summer when the trees leafed out. Eventually DSL became available locally highly unreliable, but still, it was something. Then I moved back to the community I grew up in, a few miles from where I grew up. Again I got DSL a bit better. But after some years, being at the end of the run of DSL meant I had poor speeds and reliability problems. I eventually switched to various wireless ISPs, which continues to the present day; while people in cities can get Gbps service, I can get, at best, about 50Mbps. Long-distance fees are gone, but the speed disparity remains.

Concluding Reflections I am glad I grew up where I did; the strong community has a lot of advantages I don t have room to discuss here. In a number of very real senses, having no local services made things a lot more difficult than they otherwise would have been. However, perhaps I could say that I also learned a lot through the need to come up with inventive solutions to those challenges. To this day, I think a lot about computing in remote environments: partially because I live in one, and partially because I enjoy visiting places that are remote enough that they have no Internet, phone, or cell service whatsoever. I have written articles like Tools for Communicating Offline and in Difficult Circumstances based on my own personal experience. I instinctively think about making protocols robust in the face of various kinds of connectivity failures because I experience various kinds of connectivity failures myself.

(Almost) Everything Lives On In 2002, Gopher turned 10 years old. It had probably been about 9 or 10 years since I had first used Gopher, which was the first way I got on live Internet from my house. It was hard to believe. By that point, I had an always-on Internet link at home and at work. I had my Alpha, and probably also at least PCMCIA Ethernet for a laptop (many laptops had modems by the 90s also). Despite its popularity in the early 90s, less than 10 years after it came on the scene and started to unify the Internet, it was mostly forgotten. And it was at that moment that I decided to try to resurrect it. The University of Minnesota finally released it under an Open Source license. I wrote the first new gopher server in years, pygopherd, and introduced gopher to Debian. Gopher lives on; there are now quite a few Gopher clients and servers out there, newly started post-2002. The Gemini protocol can be thought of as something akin to Gopher 2.0, and it too has a small but blossoming ecosystem. Archie, the old FTP search tool, is dead though. Same for WAIS and a number of the other pre-web search tools. But still, even FTP lives on today. And BBSs? Well, they didn t go away either. Jason Scott s fabulous BBS documentary looks back at the history of the BBS, while Back to the BBS from last year talks about the modern BBS scene. FidoNet somehow is still alive and kicking. UUCP still has its place and has inspired a whole string of successors. Some, like NNCP, are clearly direct descendents of UUCP. Filespooler lives in that ecosystem, and you can even see UUCP concepts in projects as far afield as Syncthing and Meshtastic. Usenet still exists, and you can now run Usenet over NNCP just as I ran Usenet over UUCP back in the day (which you can still do as well). Telnet, of course, has been largely supplanted by ssh, but the concept is more popular now than ever, as Linux has made ssh be available on everything from Raspberry Pi to Android. And I still run a Gopher server, looking pretty much like it did in 2002. This post also has a permanent home on my website, where it may be periodically updated.

4 August 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in July 2022

Welcome to the July 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In our reports we attempt to outline the most relevant things that have been going on in the past month. As a brief introduction, the reproducible builds effort is concerned with ensuring no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.

Reproducible Builds summit 2022 Despite several delays, we are pleased to announce that registration is open for our in-person summit this year: November 1st November 3rd
The event will happen in Venice (Italy). We intend to pick a venue reachable via the train station and an international airport. However, the precise venue will depend on the number of attendees. Please see the announcement email for information about how to register.

Is reproducibility practical? Ludovic Court s published an informative blog post this month asking the important question: Is reproducibility practical?:
Our attention was recently caught by a nice slide deck on the methods and tools for reproducible research in the R programming language. Among those, the talk mentions Guix, stating that it is for professional, sensitive applications that require ultimate reproducibility , which is probably a bit overkill for Reproducible Research . While we were flattered to see Guix suggested as good tool for reproducibility, the very notion that there s a kind of reproducibility that is ultimate and, essentially, impractical, is something that left us wondering: What kind of reproducibility do scientists need, if not the ultimate kind? Is reproducibility practical at all, or is it more of a horizon?
The post goes on to outlines the concept of reproducibility, situating examples within the context of the GNU Guix operating system.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 218, 219 and 220 to Debian, as well as made the following changes:
  • New features:
  • Bug fixes:
    • Fix a regression introduced in version 207 where diffoscope would crash if one directory contained a directory that wasn t in the other. Thanks to Alderico Gallo for the testcase. [ ]
    • Don t traceback if we encounter an invalid Unicode character in Haskell versioning headers. [ ]
  • Output improvements:
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Space out a file a little. [ ]
    • Update various copyright years. [ ]

Mailing list On our mailing list this month:
  • Roland Clobus posted his Eleventh status update about reproducible [Debian] live-build ISO images, noting amongst many other things! that all major desktops build reproducibly with bullseye, bookworm and sid.
  • Santiago Torres-Arias announced a Call for Papers (CfP) for a new SCORED conference, an academic workshop around software supply chain security . As Santiago highlights, this new conference invites reviewers from industry, open source, governement and academia to review the papers [and] I think that this is super important to tackle the supply chain security task .

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. This month, however, we submitted the following patches:

Reprotest reprotest is the Reproducible Builds project s end-user tool to build the same source code twice in widely and deliberate different environments, and checking whether the binaries produced by the builds have any differences. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Uploaded version 0.7.21 to Debian unstable as well as mark 0.7.22 development in the repository [ ].
    • Make diffoscope dependency unversioned as the required version is met even in Debian buster. [ ]
    • Revert an accidentally committed hunk. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Apply a patch from Nick Rosbrook to not force the tests to run only against Python 3.9. [ ]
    • Run the tests through pybuild in order to run them against all supported Python 3.x versions. [ ]
    • Fix a deprecation warning in the setup.cfg file. [ ]
    • Close a new Debian bug. [ ]

Reproducible builds website A number of changes were made to the Reproducible Builds website and documentation this month, including:
  • Arnout Engelen:
  • Chris Lamb:
    • Correct some grammar. [ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Add talk from FOSDEM 2015 presented by Holger and Lunar. [ ]
    • Show date of presentations if we have them. [ ][ ]
    • Add my presentation from DebConf22 [ ] and from Debian Reunion Hamburg 2022 [ ].
    • Add dhole to the speakers of the DebConf15 talk. [ ]
    • Add raboof s talk Reproducible Builds for Trustworthy Binaries from May Contain Hackers. [ ]
    • Drop some Debian-related suggested ideas which are not really relevant anymore. [ ]
    • Add a link to list of packages with patches ready to be NMUed. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Add information about our upcoming event in Venice. [ ][ ][ ][ ]

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, Holger Levsen made the following changes:
  • Debian-related changes:
    • Create graphs displaying existing .buildinfo files per each Debian suite/arch. [ ][ ]
    • Fix a typo in the Debian dashboard. [ ][ ]
    • Fix some issues in the pkg-r package set definition. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Improve the builtin-pho HTML output. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
    • Temporarily disable all live builds as our snapshot mirror is offline. [ ]
  • Automated node health checks:
    • Detect dpkg failures. [ ]
    • Detect files with bad UNIX permissions. [ ]
    • Relax a regular expression in order to detect Debian Live image build failures. [ ]
  • Misc changes:
    • Test that FreeBSD virtual machine has been updated to version 13.1. [ ]
    • Add a reminder about powercycling the armhf-architecture mst0X node. [ ]
    • Fix a number of typos. [ ][ ]
    • Update documentation. [ ][ ]
    • Fix Munin monitoring configuration for some nodes. [ ]
    • Fix the static IP address for a node. [ ]
In addition, Vagrant Cascadian updated host keys for the cbxi4pro0 and wbq0 nodes [ ] and, finally, node maintenance was also performed by Mattia Rizzolo [ ] and Holger Levsen [ ][ ][ ].

Contact As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

30 July 2022

Ian Jackson: chiark s skip-skip-cross-up-grade

Two weeks ago I upgraded chiark from Debian jessie i386 to bullseye amd64, after nearly 30 years running Debian i386. This went really quite well, in fact! Background chiark is my colo - a server I run, which lives in a data centre in London. It hosts ~200 users with shell accounts, various websites and mailing lists, moderators for a number of USENET newsgroups, and countless other services. chiark s internal setup is designed to enable my users to do a maximum number of exciting things with a minimum of intervention from me. chiark s OS install dates to 1993, when I installed Debian 0.93R5, the first version of Debian to advertise the ability to be upgraded without reinstalling. I think that makes it one of the oldest Debian installations in existence. Obviously it s had several new hardware platforms too. (There was a prior install of Linux on the initial hardware, remnants of which can maybe still be seen in some obscure corners of chiark s /usr/local.) chiark s install is also at the very high end of the installation complexity, and customisation, scale: reinstalling it completely would be an enormous amount of work. And it s unique. chiark s upgrade history chiark s last major OS upgrade was to jessie (Debian 8, released in April 2015). That was in 2016. Since then we have been relying on Debian s excellent security support posture, and the Debian LTS and more recently Freexian s Debian ELTS projects and some local updates, The use of ELTS - which supports only a subset of packages - was particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, chiark was installed with 32-bit x86 Linux (Debian i386), since that was what was supported and available at the time. But 32-bit is looking very long in the tooth. Why do a skip upgrade So, I wanted to move to the fairly recent stable release - Debian 11 (bullseye), which is just short of a year old. And I wanted to crossgrade (as its called) to 64-bit. In the past, I have found I have had greater success by doing direct upgrades, skipping intermediate releases, rather than by following the officially-supported path of going via every intermediate release. Doing a skip upgrade avoids exposure to any packaging bugs which were present only in intermediate release(s). Debian does usually fix bugs, but Debian has many cautious users, so it is not uncommon for bugs to be found after release, and then not be fixed until the next one. A skip upgrade avoids the need to try to upgrade to already-obsolete releases (which can involve messing about with multiple snapshots from It is also significantly faster and simpler, which is important not only because it reduces downtime, but also because it removes opportunities (and reduces the time available) for things to go badly. One downside is that sometimes maintainers aggressively remove compatibility measures for older releases. (And compatibililty packages are generally removed quite quickly by even cautious maintainers.) That means that the sysadmin who wants to skip-upgrade needs to do more manual fixing of things that haven t been dealt with automatically. And occasionally one finds compatibility problems that show up only when mixing very old and very new software, that no-one else has seen. Crossgrading Crossgrading is fairly complex and hazardous. It is well supported by the low level tools (eg, dpkg) but the higher-level packaging tools (eg, apt) get very badly confused. Nowadays the system is so complex that downloading things by hand and manually feeding them to dpkg is impractical, other than as a very occasional last resort. The approach, generally, has been to set the system up to want to be the new architecture, run apt in a download-only mode, and do the package installation manually, with some fixing up and retrying, until the system is coherent enough for apt to work. This is the approach I took. (In current releases, there are tools that will help but they are only in recent releases and I wanted to go direct. I also doubted that they would work properly on chiark, since it s so unusual.) Peril and planning Overall, this was a risky strategy to choose. The package dependencies wouldn t necessarily express all of the sequencing needed. But it still seemed that if I could come up with a working recipe, I could do it. I restored most of one of chiark s backups onto a scratch volume on my laptop. With the LVM snapshot tools and chroots. I was able to develop and test a set of scripts that would perform the upgrade. This was a very effective approach: my super-fast laptop, with local caches of the package repositories, was able to do many edit, test, debug cycles. My recipe made heavy use of, to make sure that it wouldn t rot between testing and implementation. When I had a working scheme, I told my users about the planned downtime. I warned everyone it might take even 2 or 3 days. I made sure that my access arrangemnts to the data centre were in place, in case I needed to visit in person. (I have remote serial console and power cycler access.) Reality - the terrible rescue install My first task on taking the service down was the check that the emergency rescue installation worked: chiark has an ancient USB stick in the back, which I can boot to from the BIOS. The idea being that many things that go wrong could be repaired from there. I found that that install was too old to understand chiark s storage arrangements. mdadm tools gave very strange output. So I needed to upgrade it. After some experiments, I rebooted back into the main install, bringing chiark s service back online. I then used the main install of chiark as a kind of meta-rescue-image for the rescue-image. The process of getting the rescue image upgraded (not even to amd64, but just to something not totally ancient) was fraught. Several times I had to rescue it by copying files in from the main install outside. And, the rescue install was on a truly ancient 2G USB stick which was terribly terribly slow, and also very small. I hadn t done any significant planning for this subtask, because it was low-risk: there was little way to break the main install. Due to all these adverse factors, sorting out the rescue image took five hours. If I had known how long it would take, at the beginning, I would have skipped it. 5 hours is more than it would have taken to go to London and fix something in person. Reality - the actual core upgrade I was able to start the actual upgrade in the mid-afternoon. I meticulously checked and executed the steps from my plan. The terrifying scripts which sequenced the critical package updates ran flawlessly. Within an hour or so I had a system which was running bullseye amd64, albeit with many important packages still missing or unconfigured. So I didn t need the rescue image after all, nor to go to the datacentre. Fixing all the things Then I had to deal with all the inevitable fallout from an upgrade. Notable incidents: exim4 has a new tainting system This is to try to help the sysadmin avoid writing unsafe string interpolations. ( Little Bobby Tables. ) This was done by Exim upstream in a great hurry as part of a security response process. The new checks meant that the mail configuration did not work at all. I had to turn off the taint check completely. I m fairly confident that this is correct, because I am hyper-aware of quoting issues and all of my configuration is written to avoid the problems that tainting is supposed to avoid. One particular annoyance is that the approach taken for sqlite lookups makes it totally impossible to use more than one sqlite database. I think the sqlite quoting operator which one uses to interpolate values produces tainted output? I need to investigate this properly. LVM now ignores PVs which are directly contained within LVs by default chiark has LVM-on-RAID-on-LVM. This generally works really well. However, there was one edge case where I ended up without the intermediate RAID layer. The result is LVM-on-LVM. But recent versions of the LVM tools do not look at PVs inside LVs, by default. This is to help you avoid corrupting the state of any VMs you have on your system. I didn t know that at the time, though. All I knew was that LVM was claiming my PV was unusable , and wouldn t explain why. I was about to start on a thorough reading of the 15,000-word essay that is the commentary in the default /etc/lvm/lvm.conf to try to see if anything was relevant, when I received a helpful tipoff on IRC pointing me to the scan_lvs option. I need to file a bug asking for the LVM tools to explain why they have declared a PV unuseable. apache2 s default config no longer read one of my config files I had to do a merge (of my changes vs the maintainers changes) for /etc/apache2/apache2.conf. When doing this merge I failed to notice that the file /etc/apache2/conf.d/httpd.conf was no longer included by default. My merge dropped that line. There were some important things in there, and until I found this the webserver was broken. dpkg --skip-same-version DTWT during a crossgrade (This is not a fix all the things - I found it when developing my upgrade process.) When doing a crossgrade, one often wants to say to dpkg install all these things, but don t reinstall things that have already been done . That s what --skip-same-version is for. However, the logic had not been updated as part of the work to support multiarch, so it was wrong. I prepared a patched version of dpkg, and inserted it in the appropriate point in my prepared crossgrade plan. The patch is now filed as bug #1014476 against dpkg upstream Mailman Mailman is no longer in bullseye. It s only available in the previous release, buster. bullseye has Mailman 3 which is a totally different system - requiring basically, a completely new install and configuration. To even preserve existing archive links (a very important requirement) is decidedly nontrivial. I decided to punt on this whole situation. Currently chiark is running buster s version of Mailman. I will have to deal with this at some point and I m not looking forward to it. Python Of course that Mailman is Python 2. The Python project s extremely badly handled transition includes a recommendation to change the meaning of #!/usr/bin/python from Python 2, to Python 3. But Python 3 is a new language, barely compatible with Python 2 even in the most recent iterations of both, and it is usual to need to coinstall them. Happily Debian have provided the python-is-python2 package to make things work sensibly, albeit with unpleasant imprecations in the package summary description. USENET news Oh my god. INN uses many non-portable data formats, which just depend on your C types. And there are complicated daemons, statically linked libraries which cache on-disk data, and much to go wrong. I had numerous problems with this, and several outages and malfunctions. I may write about that on a future occasion.
(edited 2022-07-20 11:36 +01:00 and 2022-07-30 12:28+01:00 to fix typos)

comment count unavailable comments

13 July 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in June 2022

Welcome to the June 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project. In these reports, we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As a quick recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries.

Save the date! Despite several delays, we are pleased to announce dates for our in-person summit this year: November 1st 2022 November 3rd 2022
The event will happen in/around Venice (Italy), and we intend to pick a venue reachable via the train station and an international airport. However, the precise venue will depend on the number of attendees. Please see the announcement mail from Mattia Rizzolo, and do keep an eye on the mailing list for further announcements as it will hopefully include registration instructions.

News David Wheeler filed an issue against the Rust programming language to report that builds are not reproducible because full path to the source code is in the panic and debug strings . Luckily, as one of the responses mentions: the --remap-path-prefix solves this problem and has been used to great effect in build systems that rely on reproducibility (Bazel, Nix) to work at all and that there are efforts to teach cargo about it here .
The Python Security team announced that:
The ctx hosted project on PyPI was taken over via user account compromise and replaced with a malicious project which contained runtime code which collected the content of os.environ.items() when instantiating Ctx objects. The captured environment variables were sent as a base64 encoded query parameter to a Heroku application [ ]
As their announcement later goes onto state, version-pinning using hash-checking mode can prevent this attack, although this does depend on specific installations using this mode, rather than a prevention that can be applied systematically.
Developer vanitasvitae published an interesting and entertaining blog post detailing the blow-by-blow steps of debugging a reproducibility issue in PGPainless, a library which aims to make using OpenPGP in Java projects as simple as possible . Whilst their in-depth research into the internals of the .jar may have been unnecessary given that diffoscope would have identified the, it must be said that there is something to be said with occasionally delving into seemingly low-level details, as well describing any debugging process. Indeed, as vanitasvitae writes:
Yes, this would have spared me from 3h of debugging But I probably would also not have gone onto this little dive into the JAR/ZIP format, so in the end I m not mad.

Kees Cook published a short and practical blog post detailing how he uses reproducibility properties to aid work to replace one-element arrays in the Linux kernel. Kees approach is based on the principle that if a (small) proposed change is considered equivalent by the compiler, then the generated output will be identical but only if no other arbitrary or unrelated changes are introduced. Kees mentions the fantastic diffoscope tool, as well as various kernel-specific build options (eg. KBUILD_BUILD_TIMESTAMP) in order to prepare my build with the known to disrupt code layout options disabled .
Stefano Zacchiroli gave a presentation at GDR S curit Informatique based in part on a paper co-written with Chris Lamb titled Increasing the Integrity of Software Supply Chains. (Tweet)

Debian In Debian in this month, 28 reviews of Debian packages were added, 35 were updated and 27 were removed this month adding to our knowledge about identified issues. Two issue types were added: nondeterministic_checksum_generated_by_coq and nondetermistic_js_output_from_webpack. After Holger Levsen found hundreds of packages in the bookworm distribution that lack .buildinfo files, he uploaded 404 source packages to the archive (with no meaningful source changes). Currently bookworm now shows only 8 packages without .buildinfo files, and those 8 are fixed in unstable and should migrate shortly. By contrast, Debian unstable will always have packages without .buildinfo files, as this is how they come through the NEW queue. However, as these packages were not built on the official build servers (ie. they were uploaded by the maintainer) they will never migrate to Debian testing. In the future, therefore, testing should never have packages without .buildinfo files again. Roland Clobus posted yet another in-depth status report about his progress making the Debian Live images build reproducibly to our mailing list. In this update, Roland mentions that all major desktops build reproducibly with bullseye, bookworm and sid but also goes on to outline the progress made with automated testing of the generated images using openQA.

GNU Guix Vagrant Cascadian made a significant number of contributions to GNU Guix: Elsewhere in GNU Guix, Ludovic Court s published a paper in the journal The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming called Building a Secure Software Supply Chain with GNU Guix:
This paper focuses on one research question: how can [Guix](( and similar systems allow users to securely update their software? [ ] Our main contribution is a model and tool to authenticate new Git revisions. We further show how, building on Git semantics, we build protections against downgrade attacks and related threats. We explain implementation choices. This work has been deployed in production two years ago, giving us insight on its actual use at scale every day. The Git checkout authentication at its core is applicable beyond the specific use case of Guix, and we think it could benefit to developer teams that use Git.
A full PDF of the text is available.

openSUSE In the world of openSUSE, SUSE announced at SUSECon that they are preparing to meet SLSA level 4. (SLSA (Supply chain Levels for Software Artifacts) is a new industry-led standardisation effort that aims to protect the integrity of the software supply chain.) However, at the time of writing, timestamps within RPM archives are not normalised, so bit-for-bit identical reproducible builds are not possible. Some in-toto provenance files published for SUSE s SLE-15-SP4 as one result of the SLSA level 4 effort. Old binaries are not rebuilt, so only new builds (e.g. maintenance updates) have this metadata added. Lastly, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his usual monthly openSUSE reproducible builds status report.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 215, 216 and 217 to Debian unstable. Chris Lamb also made the following changes:
  • New features:
    • Print profile output if we were called with --profile and we were killed via a TERM signal. This should help in situations where diffoscope is terminated due to some sort of timeout. [ ]
    • Support both PyPDF 1.x and 2.x. [ ]
  • Bug fixes:
    • Also catch IndexError exceptions (in addition to ValueError) when parsing .pyc files. (#1012258)
    • Correct the logic for supporting different versions of the argcomplete module. [ ]
  • Output improvements:
    • Don t leak the (likely-temporary) pathname when comparing PDF documents. [ ]
  • Logging improvements:
    • Update test fixtures for GNU readelf 2.38 (now in Debian unstable). [ ][ ]
    • Be more specific about the minimum required version of readelf (ie. binutils), as it appears that this patch level version change resulted in a change of output, not the minor version. [ ]
    • Use our @skip_unless_tool_is_at_least decorator (NB. at_least) over @skip_if_tool_version_is (NB. is) to fix tests under Debian stable. [ ]
    • Emit a warning if/when we are handling a UNIX TERM signal. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Clarify in what situations the main finally block gets called with respect to TERM signal handling. [ ]
    • Clarify control flow in the diffoscope.profiling module. [ ]
    • Correctly package the scripts/ directory. [ ]
In addition, Edward Betts updated a broken link to the RSS on the diffoscope homepage and Vagrant Cascadian updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix [ ][ ][ ].

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Add a package set for packages that use the R programming language [ ] as well as one for Rust [ ].
    • Improve package set matching for Python [ ] and font-related [ ] packages.
    • Install the lz4, lzop and xz-utils packages on all nodes in order to detect running kernels. [ ]
    • Improve the cleanup mechanisms when testing the reproducibility of Debian Live images. [ ][ ]
    • In the automated node health checks, deprioritise the generic kernel warning . [ ]
  • Roland Clobus (Debian Live image reproducibility):
    • Add various maintenance jobs to the Jenkins view. [ ]
    • Cleanup old workspaces after 24 hours. [ ]
    • Cleanup temporary workspace and resulting directories. [ ]
    • Implement a number of fixes and improvements around publishing files. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Don t attempt to preserve the file timestamps when copying artifacts. [ ]
And finally, node maintenance was also performed by Mattia Rizzolo [ ].

Mailing list and website On our mailing list this month: Lastly, Chris Lamb updated the main Reproducible Builds website and documentation in a number of small ways, but primarily published an interview with Hans-Christoph Steiner of the F-Droid project. Chris Lamb also added a Coffeescript example for parsing and using the SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH environment variable [ ]. In addition, Sebastian Crane very-helpfully updated the screenshot of s request access button on the How to join the Salsa group. [ ]

Contact If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

6 June 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in May 2022

Welcome to the May 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project. In our reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.

Repfix paper Zhilei Ren, Shiwei Sun, Jifeng Xuan, Xiaochen Li, Zhide Zhou and He Jiang have published an academic paper titled Automated Patching for Unreproducible Builds:
[..] fixing unreproducible build issues poses a set of challenges [..], among which we consider the localization granularity and the historical knowledge utilization as the most significant ones. To tackle these challenges, we propose a novel approach [called] RepFix that combines tracing-based fine-grained localization with history-based patch generation mechanisms.
The paper (PDF, 3.5MB) uses the Debian mylvmbackup package as an example to show how RepFix can automatically generate patches to make software build reproducibly. As it happens, Reiner Herrmann submitted a patch for the mylvmbackup package which has remained unapplied by the Debian package maintainer for over seven years, thus this paper inadvertently underscores that achieving reproducible builds will require both technical and social solutions.

Python variables Johannes Schauer discovered a fascinating bug where simply naming your Python variable _m led to unreproducible .pyc files. In particular, the types module in Python 3.10 requires the following patch to make it reproducible:
--- a/Lib/
+++ b/Lib/
@@ -37,8 +37,8 @@ _ag = _ag()
 AsyncGeneratorType = type(_ag)
 class _C:
-    def _m(self): pass
-MethodType = type(_C()._m)
+    def _b(self): pass
+MethodType = type(_C()._b)
Simply renaming the dummy method from _m to _b was enough to workaround the problem. Johannes bug report first led to a number of improvements in diffoscope to aid in dissecting .pyc files, but upstream identified this as caused by an issue surrounding interned strings and is being tracked in CPython bug #78274.

New SPDX team to incorporate build metadata in Software Bill of Materials SPDX, the open standard for Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), is continuously developed by a number of teams and committees. However, SPDX has welcomed a new addition; a team dedicated to enhancing metadata about software builds, complementing reproducible builds in creating a more secure software supply chain. The SPDX Builds Team has been working throughout May to define the universal primitives shared by all build systems, including the who, what, where and how of builds:
  • Who: the identity of the person or organisation that controls the build infrastructure.
  • What: the inputs and outputs of a given build, combining metadata about the build s configuration with an SBOM describing source code and dependencies.
  • Where: the software packages making up the build system, from build orchestration tools such as Woodpecker CI and Tekton to language-specific tools.
  • How: the invocation of a build, linking metadata of a build to the identity of the person or automation tool that initiated it.
The SPDX Builds Team expects to have a usable data model by September, ready for inclusion in the SPDX 3.0 standard. The team welcomes new contributors, inviting those interested in joining to introduce themselves on the SPDX-Tech mailing list.

Talks at Debian Reunion Hamburg Some of the Reproducible Builds team (Holger Levsen, Mattia Rizzolo, Roland Clobus, Philip Rinn, etc.) met in real life at the Debian Reunion Hamburg (official homepage). There were several informal discussions amongst them, as well as two talks related to reproducible builds. First, Holger Levsen gave a talk on the status of Reproducible Builds for bullseye and bookworm and beyond (WebM, 210MB): Secondly, Roland Clobus gave a talk called Reproducible builds as applied to non-compiler output (WebM, 115MB):

Supply-chain security attacks This was another bumper month for supply-chain attacks in package repositories. Early in the month, Lance R. Vick noticed that the maintainer of the NPM foreach package let their personal email domain expire, so they bought it and now controls foreach on NPM and the 36,826 projects that depend on it . Shortly afterwards, Drew DeVault published a related blog post titled When will we learn? that offers a brief timeline of major incidents in this area and, not uncontroversially, suggests that the correct way to ship packages is with your distribution s package manager .

Bootstrapping Bootstrapping is a process for building software tools progressively from a primitive compiler tool and source language up to a full Linux development environment with GCC, etc. This is important given the amount of trust we put in existing compiler binaries. This month, a bootstrappable mini-kernel was announced. Called boot2now, it comprises a series of compilers in the form of bootable machine images.

Google s new Assured Open Source Software service Google Cloud (the division responsible for the Google Compute Engine) announced a new Assured Open Source Software service. Noting the considerable 650% year-over-year increase in cyberattacks aimed at open source suppliers, the new service claims to enable enterprise and public sector users of open source software to easily incorporate the same OSS packages that Google uses into their own developer workflows . The announcement goes on to enumerate that packages curated by the new service would be:
  • Regularly scanned, analyzed, and fuzz-tested for vulnerabilities.
  • Have corresponding enriched metadata incorporating Container/Artifact Analysis data.
  • Are built with Cloud Build including evidence of verifiable SLSA-compliance
  • Are verifiably signed by Google.
  • Are distributed from an Artifact Registry secured and protected by Google.
(Full announcement)

A retrospective on the Rust programming language Andrew bunnie Huang published a long blog post this month promising a critical retrospective on the Rust programming language. Amongst many acute observations about the evolution of the language s syntax (etc.), the post beings to critique the languages approach to supply chain security ( Rust Has A Limited View of Supply Chain Security ) and reproducibility ( You Can t Reproduce Someone Else s Rust Build ):
There s some bugs open with the Rust maintainers to address reproducible builds, but with the number of issues they have to deal with in the language, I am not optimistic that this problem will be resolved anytime soon. Assuming the only driver of the unreproducibility is the inclusion of OS paths in the binary, one fix to this would be to re-configure our build system to run in some sort of a chroot environment or a virtual machine that fixes the paths in a way that almost anyone else could reproduce. I say almost anyone else because this fix would be OS-dependent, so we d be able to get reproducible builds under, for example, Linux, but it would not help Windows users where chroot environments are not a thing.
(Full post)

Reproducible Builds IRC meeting The minutes and logs from our May 2022 IRC meeting have been published. In case you missed this one, our next IRC meeting will take place on Tuesday 28th June at 15:00 UTC on #reproducible-builds on the OFTC network.

A new tool to improve supply-chain security in Arch Linux kpcyrd published yet another interesting tool related to reproducibility. Writing about the tool in a recent blog post, kpcyrd mentions that although many PKGBUILDs provide authentication in the context of signed Git tags (i.e. the ability to verify the Git tag was signed by one of the two trusted keys ), they do not support pinning, ie. that upstream could create a new signed Git tag with an identical name, and arbitrarily change the source code without the [maintainer] noticing . Conversely, other PKGBUILDs support pinning but not authentication. The new tool, auth-tarball-from-git, fixes both problems, as nearly outlined in kpcyrd s original blog post.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 212, 213 and 214 to Debian unstable. Chris also made the following changes:
  • New features:
    • Add support for extracting vmlinuz Linux kernel images. [ ]
    • Support both python-argcomplete 1.x and 2.x. [ ]
    • Strip sticky etc. from x.deb: sticky Debian binary package [ ]. [ ]
    • Integrate test coverage with GitLab s concept of artifacts. [ ][ ][ ]
  • Bug fixes:
    • Don t mask differences in .zip or .jar central directory extra fields. [ ]
    • Don t show a binary comparison of .zip or .jar files if we have observed at least one nested difference. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Substantially update comment for our calls to zipinfo and zipinfo -v. [ ]
    • Use assert_diff in test_zip over calling get_data with a separate assert. [ ]
    • Don t call re.compile and then call .sub on the result; just call re.sub directly. [ ]
    • Clarify the comment around the difference between --usage and --help. [ ]
  • Testsuite improvements:
    • Test --help and --usage. [ ]
    • Test that --help includes the file formats. [ ]
Vagrant Cascadian added an external tool reference xb-tool for GNU Guix [ ] as well as updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix itself [ ][ ][ ].

Distribution work In Debian, 41 reviews of Debian packages were added, 85 were updated and 13 were removed this month adding to our knowledge about identified issues. A number of issue types have been updated, including adding a new nondeterministic_ordering_in_deprecated_items_collected_by_doxygen toolchain issue [ ] as well as ones for mono_mastersummary_xml_files_inherit_filesystem_ordering [ ], extended_attributes_in_jar_file_created_without_manifest [ ] and apxs_captures_build_path [ ]. Vagrant Cascadian performed a rough check of the reproducibility of core package sets in GNU Guix, and in openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his usual monthly reproducible builds status report.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Reproducible builds website Chris Lamb updated the main Reproducible Builds website and documentation in a number of small ways, but also prepared and published an interview with Jan Nieuwenhuizen about Bootstrappable Builds, GNU Mes and GNU Guix. [ ][ ][ ][ ] In addition, Tim Jones added a link to the Talos Linux project [ ] and billchenchina fixed a dead link [ ].

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Add support for detecting running kernels that require attention. [ ]
    • Temporarily configure a host to support performing Debian builds for packages that lack .buildinfo files. [ ]
    • Update generated webpages to clarify wishes for feedback. [ ]
    • Update copyright years on various scripts. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Provide a facility so that Debian Live image generation can copy a file remotely. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
  • Roland Clobus:
    • Add initial support for testing generated images with OpenQA. [ ]
And finally, as usual, node maintenance was also performed by Holger Levsen [ ][ ].

Misc news On our mailing list this month:

Contact If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

20 May 2022

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Introducing metalfinder

After going to an incredible Arch Enemy / Behemoth / Napalm Death / Unto Others concert a few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to go to more concerts. I like music, and I really enjoy concerts. Sadly, I often miss great performances because no one told me about it, or my local newspaper didn't cover the event enough in advance for me to get tickets. Some online services lets you sync your Spotify account to notify you when a new concert is announced, but I don't use Spotify. As a music geek, I have a local music collection and if I need to stream it, I have a supysonic server. Introducing metalfinder, a cli tool to find concerts using your local music collection! At the moment, it scans your music collection, creates a list of artists and queries Bandsintown for concerts in your town. Multiple output formats are supported, but I mainly use the ATOM one, as I'm a heavy feed reader user. Screenshot of the ATOM output in my feed reader The current metalfinder version (1.1.1) is a MVP: it works well enough, but I still have a lot of work to do... If you want to give it a try, the easiest way is to download it from PyPi. metalfinder is also currently in NEW and I'm planning to have something feature complete in time for the Bookworm freeze.

5 May 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in April 2022

Welcome to the April 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In these reports, we try to summarise the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. If you are interested in contributing to the project, please take a few moments to visit our Contribute page on our website.

News Cory Doctorow published an interesting article this month about the possibility of Undetectable backdoors for machine learning models. Given that machine learning models can provide unpredictably incorrect results, Doctorow recounts that there exists another category of adversarial examples that comprise a gimmicked machine-learning input that, to the human eye, seems totally normal but which causes the ML system to misfire dramatically that permit the possibility of planting undetectable back doors into any machine learning system at training time .
Chris Lamb published two supporter spotlights on our blog: the first about Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) and the second about the Google Open Source Security Team (GOSST).
Piergiorgio Ladisa, Henrik Plate, Matias Martinez and Olivier Barais published a new academic paper titled A Taxonomy of Attacks on Open-Source Software Supply Chains (PDF):
This work proposes a general taxonomy for attacks on open-source supply chains, independent of specific programming languages or ecosystems, and covering all supply chain stages from code contributions to package distribution. Taking the form of an attack tree, it covers 107 unique vectors, linked to 94 real-world incidents, and mapped to 33 mitigating safeguards.

Elsewhere in academia, Ly Vu Duc published his PhD thesis. Titled Towards Understanding and Securing the OSS Supply Chain (PDF), Duc s abstract reads as follows:
This dissertation starts from the first link in the software supply chain, developers . Since many developers do not update their vulnerable software libraries, thus exposing the user of their code to security risks. To understand how they choose, manage and update the libraries, packages, and other Open-Source Software (OSS) that become the building blocks of companies completed products consumed by end-users, twenty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted with developers of both large and small-medium enterprises in nine countries. All interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed according to applied thematic analysis

Upstream news Filippo Valsorda published an informative blog post recently called How Go Mitigates Supply Chain Attacks outlining the high-level features of the Go ecosystem that helps prevent various supply-chain attacks.
There was new/further activity on a pull request filed against openssl by Sebastian Andrzej Siewior in order to prevent saved CFLAGS (which may contain the -fdebug-prefix-map=<PATH> flag that is used to strip an arbitrary the build path from the debug info if this information remains recorded then the binary is no longer reproducible if the build directory changes.

Events The Linux Foundation s SupplyChainSecurityCon, will take place June 21st 24th 2022, both virtually and in Austin, Texas. Long-time Reproducible Builds and openSUSE contributor Bernhard M. Wiedemann learned that he had his talk accepted, and will speak on Reproducible Builds: Unexpected Benefits and Problems on June 21st.
There will be an in-person Debian Reunion in Hamburg, Germany later this year, taking place from 23 30 May. Although this is a Debian event, there will be some folks from the broader Reproducible Builds community and, of course, everyone is welcome. Please see the event page on the Debian wiki for more information. 41 people have registered so far, and there s approx 10 on-site beds still left.
The minutes and logs from our April 2022 IRC meeting have been published. In case you missed this one, our next IRC meeting will take place on May 31st at 15:00 UTC on #reproducible-builds on the OFTC network.

Debian Roland Clobus wrote another in-depth status update about the status of live Debian images, summarising the current situation that all major desktops build reproducibly with bullseye, bookworm and sid, including the Cinnamon desktop on bookworm and sid, but at a small functionality cost: 14 words will be incorrectly abbreviated . This work incorporated:
  • Reporting an issue about unnecessarily modified timestamps in the daily Debian installer images. [ ]
  • Reporting a bug against the debian-installer: in order to use a suitable kernel version. (#1006800)
  • Reporting a bug in: texlive-binaries regarding the unreproducible content of .fmt files. (#1009196)
  • Adding hacks to make the Cinnamon desktop image reproducible in bookworm and sid. [ ]
  • Added a script to rebuild a live-build ISO image from a given timestamp. [
  • etc.
On our mailing list, Venkata Pyla started a thread on the Debian debconf cache is non-reproducible issue while creating system images and Vagrant Cascadian posted an excellent summary of the reproducibility status of core package sets in Debian and solicited for similar information from other distributions.
Lastly, 122 reviews of Debian packages were added, 44 were updated and 193 were removed this month adding to our extensive knowledge about identified issues. A number of issue types have been updated as well, including timestamps_generated_by_hevea, randomness_in_ocaml_preprocessed_files, build_path_captured_in_emacs_el_file, golang_compiler_captures_build_path_in_binary and build_path_captured_in_assembly_objects,

Other distributions Happy birthday to GNU Guix, which recently turned 10 years old! People have been sharing their stories, in which reproducible builds and bootstrappable builds are a recurring theme as a feature important to its users and developers. The experiences are available on the GNU Guix blog as well as a post on
In openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his usual monthly reproducible builds status report.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 210 and 211 to Debian unstable, as well as noticed that some Python .pyc files are reported as data, so we should support .pyc as a fallback filename extension [ ]. In addition, Mattia Rizzolo disabled the Gnumeric tests in Debian as the package is not currently available [ ] and dropped mplayer from Build-Depends too [ ]. In addition, Mattia fixed an issue to ensure that the PATH environment variable is properly modified for all actions, not just when running the comparator. [ ]

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Daniel Golle:
    • Prefer a different solution to avoid building all OpenWrt packages; skip packages from optional community feeds. [ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Detect Python deprecation warnings in the node health check. [ ]
    • Detect failure to build the Debian Installer. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Install disorderfs for building OpenWrt packages. [ ]
  • Paul Spooren (OpenWrt-related changes):
    • Don t build all packages whilst the core packages are not yet reproducible. [ ]
    • Add a missing RUN directive to node_cleanup. [ ]
    • Be less verbose during a toolchain build. [ ]
    • Use disorderfs for rebuilds and update the documentation to match. [ ][ ][ ]
  • Roland Clobus:
    • Publish the last reproducible Debian ISO image. [ ]
    • Use the script from the live-build package. [ ]
Lastly, node maintenance was also performed by Holger Levsen [ ][ ].
If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

8 April 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in March 2022

Welcome to the March 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In our monthly reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month.
The in-toto project was accepted as an incubating project within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). in-toto is a framework that protects the software supply chain by collecting and verifying relevant data. It does so by enabling libraries to collect information about software supply chain actions and then allowing software users and/or project managers to publish policies about software supply chain practices that can be verified before deploying or installing software. CNCF foundations hosts a number of critical components of the global technology infrastructure under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. (View full announcement.)
Herv Boutemy posted to our mailing list with an announcement that the Java Reproducible Central has hit the milestone of 500 fully reproduced builds of upstream projects . Indeed, at the time of writing, according to the nightly rebuild results, 530 releases were found to be fully reproducible, with 100% reproducible artifacts.
GitBOM is relatively new project to enable build tools trace every source file that is incorporated into build artifacts. As an experiment and/or proof-of-concept, the GitBOM developers are rebuilding Debian to generate side-channel build metadata for versions of Debian that have already been released. This only works because Debian is (partial) reproducible, so one can be sure that that, if the case where build artifacts are identical, any metadata generated during these instrumented builds applies to the binaries that were built and released in the past. More information on their approach is available in README file in the bomsh repository.
Ludovic Courtes has published an academic paper discussing how the performance requirements of high-performance computing are not (as usually assumed) at odds with reproducible builds. The received wisdom is that vendor-specific libraries and platform-specific CPU extensions have resulted in a culture of local recompilation to ensure the best performance, rendering the property of reproducibility unobtainable or even meaningless. In his paper, Ludovic explains how Guix has:
[ ] implemented what we call package multi-versioning for C/C++ software that lacks function multi-versioning and run-time dispatch [ ]. It is another way to ensure that users do not have to trade reproducibility for performance. (full PDF)

Kit Martin posted to the FOSSA blog a post titled The Three Pillars of Reproducible Builds. Inspired by the shock of infiltrated or intentionally broken NPM packages, supply chain attacks, long-unnoticed backdoors , the post goes on to outline the high-level steps that lead to a reproducible build:
It is one thing to talk about reproducible builds and how they strengthen software supply chain security, but it s quite another to effectively configure a reproducible build. Concrete steps for specific languages are a far larger topic than can be covered in a single blog post, but today we ll be talking about some guiding principles when designing reproducible builds. [ ]
The article was discussed on Hacker News.
Finally, Bernhard M. Wiedemann noticed that the GNU Helloworld project varies depending on whether it is being built during a full moon! (Reddit announcement, openSUSE bug report)

Events There will be an in-person Debian Reunion in Hamburg, Germany later this year, taking place from 23 30 May. Although this is a Debian event, there will be some folks from the broader Reproducible Builds community and, of course, everyone is welcome. Please see the event page on the Debian wiki for more information. Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted to our mailing list about a meetup for Reproducible Builds folks at the openSUSE conference in Nuremberg, Germany. It was also recently announced that DebConf22 will take place this year as an in-person conference in Prizren, Kosovo. The pre-conference meeting (or Debcamp ) will take place from 10 16 July, and the main talks, workshops, etc. will take place from 17 24 July.

Misc news Holger Levsen updated the Reproducible Builds website to improve the documentation for the SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH environment variable, both by expanding parts of the existing text [ ][ ] as well as clarifying meaning by removing text in other places [ ]. In addition, Chris Lamb added a Twitter Card to our website s metadata too [ ][ ][ ]. On our mailing list this month:

Distribution work In Debian this month:
  • Johannes Schauer Marin Rodrigues posted to the debian-devel list mentioning that he exploited the property of reproducibility within Debian to demonstrate that automatically converting a large number of packages to a new internal source version did not change the resulting packages. The proposed change could therefore be applied without causing breakage:
So now we have 364 source packages for which we have a patch and for which we can show that this patch does not change the build output. Do you agree that with those two properties, the advantages of the 3.0 (quilt) format are sufficient such that the change shall be implemented at least for those 364? [ ]
In openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his usual monthly reproducible builds status report.

Tooling diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 207, 208 and 209 to Debian unstable, as well as made the following changes to the code itself:
  • Update minimum version of Black to prevent test failure on Ubuntu jammy. [ ]
  • Updated the R test fixture for the 4.2.x series of the R programming language. [ ]
Brent Spillner also worked on adding graceful handling for UNIX sockets and named pipes to diffoscope. [ ][ ][ ]. Vagrant Cascadian also updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix. [ ][ ] reprotest is the Reproducible Build s project end-user tool to build the same source code twice in widely different environments and checking whether the binaries produced by the builds have any differences. This month, Santiago Ruano Rinc n added a new --append-build-command option [ ], which was subsequently uploaded to Debian unstable by Holger Levsen.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Replace a local copy of the dsa-check-running-kernel script with a packaged version. [ ]
    • Don t hide the status of offline hosts in the Jenkins shell monitor. [ ]
    • Detect undefined service problems in the node health check. [ ]
    • Update the sources.lst file for our mail server as its still running Debian buster. [ ]
    • Add our mail server to our node inventory so it is included in the Jenkins maintenance processes. [ ]
    • Remove the debsecan package everywhere; it got installed accidentally via the Recommends relation. [ ]
    • Document the usage of the osuosl174 host. [ ]
Regular node maintenance was also performed by Holger Levsen [ ], Vagrant Cascadian [ ][ ][ ] and Mattia Rizzolo.
If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

20 March 2022

Joerg Jaspert: Another shell script moved to rust

Shell? Rust! Not the first shell script I took and made a rust version of, but probably my largest yet. This time I took my little tm (tmux helper) tool which is (well, was) a bit more than 600 lines of shell, and converted it to Rust. I got most of the functionality done now, only one major part is missing.

What s tm? tm started as a tiny shell script to make handling tmux easier. The first commit in git was in July 2013, but I started writing and using it in 2011. It started out as a kind-of wrapper around ssh, opening tmux windows with an ssh session on some other hosts. It quickly gained support to open multiple ssh sessions in one window, telling tmux to synchronize input (send input to all targets at once), which is great when you have a set of machines that ought to get the same commands.

tm vs clusterssh / mussh In spirit it is similar to clusterssh or mussh, allowing to run the same command on many hosts at the same time. clusterssh sets out to open new terminals (xterm) per host and gives you an input line, that it sends everywhere. mussh appears to take your command and then send it to all the hosts. Both have disadvantages in my opinion: clusterssh opens lots of xterm windows, and you can not easily switch between multiple sessions, mussh just seems to send things over ssh and be done. tm instead just creates a tmux session, telling it to ssh to the targets, possibly setting the tmux option to send input to all panes. And leaves all the rest of the handling to tmux. So you can
  • detach a session and reattach later easily,
  • use tmux great builtin support for copy/paste,
  • see all output, modify things even for one machine only,
  • zoom in to one machine that needs just ONE bit different (cssh can do this too),
  • let colleagues also connect to your tmux session, when needed,
  • easily add more machines to the mix, if needed,
  • and all the other extra features tmux brings.

More tm tm also supports just attaching to existing sessions as well as killing sessions, mostly for lazyness (less to type than using tmux directly). At some point tm gained support for setting up sessions according to some session file . It knows two formats now, one is simple and mostly a list of hostnames to open synchronized sessions for. This may contain LIST commands, which let tm execute that command, expected output is list of hostnames (or more LIST commands) for the session. That, combined with the replacement part, lets us have one config file that opens a set of VMs based on tags our Ganeti runs, based on tags. It is simply a LIST command asking for VMs tagged with the replacement arg and up. Very handy. Or also all VMs on host X . The second format is basically free form tmux commands . Mostly commandline tmux call, just drop the tmux in front collection. Both of them supporting a crude variable replacement.

Conversion to Rust Some while ago I started playing with Rust and it somehow clicked , I do like it. My local git tells me, that I tried starting off with go in 2017, but that appearently did not work out. Fun, everywhere I can read says that Rust ought to be harder to learn. So by now I have most of the functionality implemented in the Rust version, even if I am sure that the code isn t a good Rust example. I m learning, after all, and already have adjusted big parts of it, multiple times, whenever I learn (and understand) something more - and am also sure that this will happen again

Compatibility with old tm It turns out that my goal of staying compatible with the behaviour of the old shell script does make some things rather complicated. For example, the LIST commands in session config files - in shell I just execute them commands, and shell deals with variable/parameter expansion, I just set IFS to newline only and read in what I get back. Simple. Because shell is doing a lot of things for me. Now, in Rust, it is a different thing at all:
  • Properly splitting the line into shell words, taking care of quoting (can t simply take whitespace) (there is shlex)
  • Expanding specials like ~ and $HOME (there is home_dir).
  • Supporting environment variables in general, tm has some that adjust behaviour of it. Which shell can use globally. Used lazy_static for a similar effect - they aren t going to change at runtime ever, anyways.
Properly supporting the commandline arguments also turned out to be a bit more work. Rust appearently has multiple crates supporting this, I settled on clap, but as tm supports getopts -style as well as free-form arguments (subcommands in clap), it takes a bit to get that interpreted right.

Speed Most of the time entirely unimportant in the tool that tm is (open a tmux with one to some ssh connections to some places is not exactly hard or time consuming), there are situations, where one can notice that it s calling out to tmux over and over again, for every single bit to do, and that just takes time: Configurations that open sessions to 20 and more hosts at the same time especially lag in setup time. (My largest setup goes to 443 panes in one window). The compiled Rust version is so much faster there, it s just great. Nice side effect, that is. And yes, in the end it is also only driving tmux, still, it takes less than half the time to do so.

Code, Fun parts As this is still me learning to write Rust, I am sure the code has lots to improve. Some of which I will sure find on my own, but if you have time, I love PRs (or just mails with hints).

Github Also the first time I used Github Actions to see how it goes. Letting it build, test, run clippy and also run a code coverage tool (Yay, more than 50% covered ) on it. Unsure my tests are good, I am not used to writing tests for code, but hey, coverage!

Up next I do have to implement the last missing feature, which is reading the other config file format. A little scared, as that means somehow translating those lines into correct calls within the tmux_interface I am using, not sure that is easy. I could be bad and just shell out to tmux on it all the time, but somehow I don t like the thought of doing that. Maybe (ab)using the control mode, but then, why would I use tmux_interface, so trying to handle it with that first. Afterwards I want to gain a new command, to save existing sessions and be able to recreate them easily. Shouldn t be too hard, tmux has a way to get at that info, somewhere.

9 March 2022

Jonathan Dowland: Broken webcam aspect ratio

picture of my Sony RX100-III camera Sony RX100-III, relegated to a webcam
Sometimes I have remote meetings with Google Meet. Unlike the other video-conferencing services that I use (Bluejeans, Zoom), my video was stretched out of proportion under Google Meet with Firefox. I haven't found out why this was happening, but I did figure out a work-around. Thanks to Daniel Silverstone, Rob Kendrick, Gregor Herrmann and Ben Allen for pointing me in the right direction! Hardware The lovely Sony RX-100 mk3 that I bought in 2015 has spent most of its life languishing unused. During the Pandemic, once I was working from home all the time, I decided to press-gang it into service as a better-quality webcam. Newer models of this camera the mark 4 onwards have support for a USB mode called "PC Remote", which effectively makes them into webcams. Unfortunately my mark 3 does not support this, but it does have HDMI out, so I picked up a cheap "HDMI to USB Video Capture Card" from eBay. Video modes
Before: wrong aspect ratio Before: wrong aspect ratio
This device offers a selection of different video modes over a webcam interface. I used qv4l2 to explore the different modes. It became clear that the camera was outputting a signal at 16:9, but the modes on offer from the dongle were for a range of different aspect ratios. The picture for these other ratios was not letter or pillar-boxed, but stretched to fit. I also noticed that the modes which had the correct aspect ratio were at very low framerates: 1920x1080@5fps, 1360x768@8fps, 1280x720@10fps. It felt to me that I would look unnatural at such a low framerate. The most promising mode was close to the right ratio, 720x480 and 30 fps. Software
After: corrected aspect ratio After: corrected aspect ratio
My initial solution is to use the v4l2loopback kernel module, which provides a virtual loop-back webcam interface. I can write video data to it from one process, and read it back from another. Loading it as follows:
modprobe v4l2loopback exclusive_caps=1
The option exclusive_caps configures the module into a mode where it initially presents a write-only interface, but once a process has opened a file handle, it then switches to read-only for subsequent processes. Assuming there are no other camera devices connected at the time of loading the module, it will create /dev/video0.1 I experimented briefly with OBS Studio, the very versatile and feature-full streaming tool, which confirmed that I could use filters on the source video to fix the aspect ratio, and emit the result to the virtual device. I don't otherwise use OBS, though, so I achieve the same result using ffmpeg:
fmpeg -s 720x480 -i /dev/video1 -r 30 -f v4l2 -vcodec rawvideo \
    -pix_fmt yuyv422 -s 720x405 /dev/video0
The source options are to select the source video mode I want. The codec and pixel formats are to match what is being emitted (I determined that using ffprobe on the camera device). The resizing is triggered by supplying a different size to the -s parameter. I think that is equivalent to explicitly selecting a "scale" filter, and there might be other filters that could be used instead (to add pillar boxes for example). This worked just as well. In Google Meet, I select the Virtual Camera, and Google Meet is presented with only one video mode, in the correct aspect ratio, and no configurable options for it, so it can't misbehave. Future I'm planning to automate the loading (and unloading) of the module and starting the ffmpeg process in response to the real camera device being plugged or unplugged, using systemd events and services. (I don't leave the camera plugged in all the time due to some bad USB behaviour I've experienced if I do so.) If I get that working, I will write a follow-up.

  1. you can request a specific device name/number with another module option.

5 March 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in February 2022

Welcome to the February 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project. In these reports, we try to round-up the important things we and others have been up to over the past month. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.
Jiawen Xiong, Yong Shi, Boyuan Chen, Filipe R. Cogo and Zhen Ming Jiang have published a new paper titled Towards Build Verifiability for Java-based Systems (PDF). The abstract of the paper contains the following:
Various efforts towards build verifiability have been made to C/C++-based systems, yet the techniques for Java-based systems are not systematic and are often specific to a particular build tool (eg. Maven). In this study, we present a systematic approach towards build verifiability on Java-based systems.

GitBOM is a flexible scheme to track the source code used to generate build artifacts via Git-like unique identifiers. Although the project has been active for a while, the community around GitBOM has now started running weekly community meetings.
The paper Chris Lamb and Stefano Zacchiroli is now available in the March/April 2022 issue of IEEE Software. Titled Reproducible Builds: Increasing the Integrity of Software Supply Chains (PDF), the abstract of the paper contains the following:
We first define the problem, and then provide insight into the challenges of making real-world software build in a reproducible manner-this is, when every build generates bit-for-bit identical results. Through the experience of the Reproducible Builds project making the Debian Linux distribution reproducible, we also describe the affinity between reproducibility and quality assurance (QA).

In openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his monthly reproducible builds status report.
On our mailing list this month, Thomas Schmitt started a thread around the SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH specification related to formats that cannot help embedding potentially timezone-specific timestamp. (Full thread index.)
The Yocto Project is pleased to report that it s core metadata (OpenEmbedded-Core) is now reproducible for all recipes (100% coverage) after issues with newer languages such as Golang were resolved. This was announced in their recent Year in Review publication. It is of particular interest for security updates so that systems can have specific components updated but reducing the risk of other unintended changes and making the sections of the system changing very clear for audit. The project is now also making heavy use of equivalence of build output to determine whether further items in builds need to be rebuilt or whether cached previously built items can be used. As mentioned in the article above, there are now public servers sharing this equivalence information. Reproducibility is key in making this possible and effective to reduce build times/costs/resource usage.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 203, 204, 205 and 206 to Debian unstable, as well as made the following changes to the code itself:
  • Bug fixes:
    • Fix a file(1)-related regression where Debian .changes files that contained non-ASCII text were not identified as such, therefore resulting in seemingly arbitrary packages not actually comparing the nested files themselves. The non-ASCII parts were typically in the Maintainer or in the changelog text. [ ][ ]
    • Fix a regression when comparing directories against non-directories. [ ][ ]
    • If we fail to scan using binwalk, return False from BinwalkFile.recognizes. [ ]
    • If we fail to import binwalk, don t report that we are missing the Python rpm module! [ ]
  • Testsuite improvements:
    • Add a test for recent file(1) issue regarding .changes files. [ ]
    • Use our assert_diff utility where we can within the set of tests. [ ]
    • Don t run our binwalk-related tests as root or fakeroot. The latest version of binwalk has some new security protection against this. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Drop the _PATH suffix from module-level globals that are not paths. [ ]
    • Tidy some control flow in Difference._reverse_self. [ ]
    • Don t print a warning to the console regarding NT_GNU_BUILD_ID changes. [ ]
In addition, Mattia Rizzolo updated the Debian packaging to ensure that diffoscope and diffoscope-minimal packages have the same version. [ ]

Website updates There were quite a few changes to the Reproducible Builds website and documentation this month as well, including:
  • Chris Lamb:
    • Considerably rework the Who is involved? page. [ ][ ]
    • Move the Bash/shell script into a Python script. [ ][ ][ ]
  • Daniel Shahaf:
    • Try a different Markdown footnote content syntax to work around a rendering issue. [ ][ ][ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Make a huge number of changes to the Who is involved? page, including pre-populating a large number of contributors who cannot be identified from the metadata of the website itself. [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
    • Improve linking to sponsors in sidebar navigation. [ ]
    • drop sponsors paragraph as the navigation is clearer now. [ ]
    • Add Mullvad VPN as a bronze-level sponsor . [ ][ ]
  • Vagrant Cascadian:

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. February s patches included the following:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Daniel Golle:
    • Update the OpenWrt configuration to not depend on the host LLVM, adding lines to the .config seed to build LLVM for eBPF from source. [ ]
    • Preserve more OpenWrt-related build artifacts. [ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
  • Temporary use a different Git tree when building OpenWrt as our tests had been broken since September 2020. This was reverted after the patch in question was accepted by Paul Spooren into the canonical openwrt.git repository the next day.
    • Various improvements to debugging OpenWrt reproducibility. [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
    • Ignore useradd warnings when building packages. [ ]
    • Update the script to powercycle armhf architecture nodes to add a hint to where nodes named virt-*. [ ]
    • Update the node health check to also fix failed logrotate and man-db services. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Update the website job after script was rewritten in Python. [ ]
    • Make sure to set the DIFFOSCOPE environment variable when available. [ ]
  • Vagrant Cascadian:
    • Various updates to the diffoscope timeouts. [ ][ ][ ]
Node maintenance was also performed by Holger Levsen [ ] and Vagrant Cascadian [ ].

Finally If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

3 March 2022

Joerg Jaspert: Scan for SSH private keys without passphrase

SSH private key scanner (keys without passphrase) So for policy reasons, customer wanted to ensure that every SSH private key in use by a human on their systems has a passphrase set. And asked us to make sure this is the case. There is no way in SSH to check this during connection, so client side needs to be looked at. Which means looking at actual files on the system. Turns out there are multiple formats for the private keys - and I really do not want to implement something able to deal with that on my own. OpenSSH to the rescue, it ships a little tool ssh-keygen, most commonly known for its ability to generate SSH keys. But it can do much more with keys. One action is interesting here for our case: The ability to print out the public key to a given private key. For a key that is unprotected, this will just work. A key with a passphrase instead leads to it asking you for one. So we have our way to check if a key is protected by a passphrase. Now we only need to find all possible keys (note, the requirement is not keys in .ssh/ , but all possible, so we need to scan for them. But we do not want to run ssh-keygen on just any file, we would like to do it when we are halfway sure, that it is actually a key. Well, turns out, even though SSH has multiple formats, they all appear to have the string PRIVATE KEY somewhere very early (usually first line). And they are tiny - even a 16384bit RSA key is just above 12000 bytes long. Lets find every file thats less then 13000 bytes and has the magic string in it, and throw it at ssh-keygen - if we get a public key back, flag it. Also, we supply a random (ohwell, hardcoded) passphrase, to avoid it prompting for any. Scanning the whole system, one will find quite a surprising number of unprotected SSH keys. Well, better description possibly Unprotected RSA private keys , so the output does need to be checked by a human. This, of course, can be done in shell, quite simple. So i wrote some Rust code instead, as I am still on my task to try and learn more of it. If you are interested, you can find sshprivscanner and play with it, patches/fixes/whatever welcome.

5 February 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in January 2022

Welcome to the January 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project. In our reports, we try outline the most important things that have been happening in the past month. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.
An interesting blog post was published by Paragon Initiative Enterprises about Gossamer, a proposal for securing the PHP software supply-chain. Utilising code-signing and third-party attestations, Gossamer aims to mitigate the risks within the notorious PHP world via publishing attestations to a transparency log. Their post, titled Solving Open Source Supply Chain Security for the PHP Ecosystem goes into some detail regarding the design, scope and implementation of the system.
This month, the Linux Foundation announced SupplyChainSecurityCon, a conference focused on exploring the security threats affecting the software supply chain, sharing best practices and mitigation tactics. The conference is part of the Linux Foundation s Open Source Summit North America and will take place June 21st 24th 2022, both virtually and in Austin, Texas.

Debian There was a significant progress made in the Debian Linux distribution this month, including:

Other distributions kpcyrd reported on Twitter about the release of version 0.2.0 of pacman-bintrans, an experiment with binary transparency for the Arch Linux package manager, pacman. This new version is now able to query rebuilderd to check if a package was independently reproduced.
In the world of openSUSE, however, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his monthly reproducible builds status report.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 199, 200, 201 and 202 to Debian unstable (that were later backported to Debian bullseye-backports by Mattia Rizzolo), as well as made the following changes to the code itself:
  • New features:
    • First attempt at incremental output support with a timeout. Now passing, for example, --timeout=60 will mean that diffoscope will not recurse into any sub-archives after 60 seconds total execution time has elapsed. Note that this is not a fixed/strict timeout due to implementation issues. [ ][ ]
    • Support both variants of odt2txt, including the one provided by the unoconv package. [ ]
  • Bug fixes:
    • Do not return with a UNIX exit code of 0 if we encounter with a file whose human-readable metadata matches literal file contents. [ ]
    • Don t fail if comparing a nonexistent file with a .pyc file (and add test). [ ][ ]
    • If the debian.deb822 module raises any exception on import, re-raise it as an ImportError. This should fix diffoscope on some Fedora systems. [ ]
    • Even if a Sphinx .inv inventory file is labelled The remainder of this file is compressed using zlib, it might not actually be. In this case, don t traceback and simply return the original content. [ ]
  • Documentation:
    • Improve documentation for the new --timeout option due to a few misconceptions. [ ]
    • Drop reference in the manual page claiming the ability to compare non-existent files on the command-line. (This has not been possible since version 32 which was released in September 2015). [ ]
    • Update X has been modified after NT_GNU_BUILD_ID has been applied messages to, for example, not duplicating the full filename in the diffoscope output. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Tidy some control flow. [ ]
    • Correct a recompile typo. [ ]
In addition, Alyssa Ross fixed the comparison of CBFS names that contain spaces [ ], Sergei Trofimovich fixed whitespace for compatibility with version 21.12 of the Black source code reformatter [ ] and Zbigniew J drzejewski-Szmek fixed JSON detection with a new version of file [ ].

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Fr d ric Pierret (fepitre):
    • Add Debian bookworm to package set creation. [ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Install the po4a package where appropriate, as it is needed for the Reproducible Builds website job [ ]. In addition, also run the and scripts [ ].
    • Correct some grammar in Debian live image build output. [ ]
    • Shell monitor improvements:
      • Only show the offline node section if there are offline nodes. [ ]
      • Colorise offline nodes. [ ]
      • Shrink screen usage. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Node health check improvements:
      • Detect if live package builds encounter incomplete snapshots. [ ][ ][ ]
      • Detect if a host is running with today s date (when it should be set artificially in the future). [ ]
    • Use the devscripts package from bullseye-backports on Debian nodes. [ ]
    • Use the Munin monitoring package bullseye-backports on Debian nodes too. [ ]
    • Update New Year handling, needed to be able to detect real and fake dates. [ ][ ]
    • Improve the error message of the script that powercycles the arm64 architecture nodes hosted by Codethink. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Use the new --timeout option added in diffoscope version 202. [ ]
  • Roland Clobus:
    • Update the build scripts now that the hooks for live builds are now maintained upstream in the live-build repository. [ ]
    • Show info lines in Jenkins when reproducible hooks have been active. [ ]
    • Use unique folders for the artifacts from each live Debian version. [ ]
  • Vagrant Cascadian:
    • Switch the Debian armhf architecture nodes to use new proxy. [ ]
    • Misc. node maintenance. [ ].

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. In January, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

And finally If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

5 January 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in December 2021

Welcome to the December 2021 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In these reports, we try and summarise what we have been up to over the past month, as well as what else has been occurring in the world of software supply-chain security. As a quick recap of what reproducible builds is trying to address, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries. The motivation behind the reproducible builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. As always, if you would like to contribute to the project, please get in touch with us directly or visit the Contribute page on our website.
Early in December, Julien Voisin blogged about setting up a rebuilderd instance in order to reproduce Tails images. Working on previous work from 2018, Julien has now set up a public-facing instance which is providing build attestations. As Julien dryly notes in his post, Currently, this isn t really super-useful to anyone, except maybe some Tails developers who want to check that the release manager didn t backdoor the released image. Naturally, we would contend sincerely that this is indeed useful.
The secure/anonymous Tor browser now supports reproducible source releases. According to the project s changelog, version of Tor can now build reproducible tarballs via the make dist-reprod command. This issue was tracked via Tor issue #26299.
Fabian Keil posted a question to our mailing list this month asking how they might analyse differences in images produced with the FreeBSD and ElectroBSD s mkimg and makefs commands:
After rebasing ElectroBSD from FreeBSD stable/11 to stable/12
I recently noticed that the "memstick" images are unfortunately
still not 100% reproducible.
Fabian s original post generated a short back-and-forth with Chris Lamb regarding how diffoscope might be able to support the particular format of images generated by this command set.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploading versions 195, 196, 197 and 198 to Debian, as well as made the following changes:
  • Support showing Ordering differences only within .dsc field values. [ ]
  • Add support for XMLb files. [ ]
  • Also add, for example, /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu to our local binary search path. [ ]
  • Support OCaml versions 4.11, 4.12 and 4.13. [ ]
  • Drop some unnecessary has_same_content_as logging calls. [ ]
  • Replace token variable with an anonymously-named variable instead to remove extra lines. [ ]
  • Don t use the runtime platform s native endianness when unpacking .pyc files. This fixes test failures on big-endian machines. [ ]
Mattia Rizzolo also made a number of changes to diffoscope this month as well, such as:
  • Also recognize GnuCash files as XML. [ ]
  • Support the pgpdump PGP packet visualiser version 0.34. [ ]
  • Ignore the new Lintian tag binary-with-bad-dynamic-table. [ ]
  • Fix the Enhances field in debian/control. [ ]
Finally, Brent Spillner fixed the version detection for Black uncompromising code formatter [ ], Jelle van der Waa added an external tool reference for Arch Linux [ ] and Roland Clobus added support for reporting when the GNU_BUILD_ID field has been modified [ ]. Thank you for your contributions!

Distribution work In Debian this month, 70 reviews of packages were added, 27 were updated and 41 were removed, adding to our database of knowledge about specific issues. A number of issue types were created as well, including: strip-nondeterminism version 1.13.0-1 was uploaded to Debian unstable by Holger Levsen. It included contributions already covered in previous months as well as new ones from Mattia Rizzolo, particularly that the dh_strip_nondeterminism Debian integration interface uses the new get_non_binnmu_date_epoch() utility when available: this is important to ensure that strip-nondeterminism does not break some kinds of binNMUs.
In the world of openSUSE, however, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his monthly reproducible builds status report.
In NixOS, work towards the longer-term goal of making the graphical installation image reproducible is ongoing. For example, Artturin made the gnome-desktop package reproducible.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. In December, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Run the Debian scheduler less often. [ ]
    • Fix the name of the Debian testing suite name. [ ]
    • Detect builds that are rescheduling due to problems with the diffoscope container. [ ]
    • No longer special-case particular machines having a different /boot partition size. [ ]
    • Automatically fix failed apt-daily and apt-daily-upgrade services [ ], failed e2scrub_all.service & user@ systemd units [ ][ ] as well as generic build failures [ ].
    • Simplify a script to powercycle arm64 architecture nodes hosted at/by [ ]
    • Detect if the service is down. [ ]
    • Various miscellaneous node maintenance. [ ][ ]
  • Roland Clobus (Debian live image generation):
    • If the latest snapshot is not complete yet, try to use the previous snapshot instead. [ ]
    • Minor: whitespace correction + comment correction. [ ]
    • Use unique folders and reports for each Debian version. [ ]
    • Turn off debugging. [ ]
    • Add a better error description for incorrect/missing arguments. [ ]
    • Report non-reproducible issues in Debian sid images. [ ]
Lastly, Mattia Rizzolo updated the automatic logfile parsing rules in a number of ways (eg. to ignore a warning about the Python setuptools deprecation) [ ][ ] and Vagrant Cascadian adjusted the config for the Squid caching proxy on a node. [ ]

If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

5 December 2021

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in November 2021

Welcome to the November 2021 report from the Reproducible Builds project. As a quick recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries. The motivation behind the reproducible builds effort is therefore to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. If you are interested in contributing to our project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.
On November 6th, Vagrant Cascadian presented at this year s edition of the SeaGL conference, giving a talk titled Debugging Reproducible Builds One Day at a Time:
I ll explore how I go about identifying issues to work on, learn more about the specific issues, recreate the problem locally, isolate the potential causes, dissect the problem into identifiable parts, and adapt the packaging and/or source code to fix the issues.
A video recording of the talk is available on
Fedora Magazine published a post written by Zbigniew J drzejewski-Szmek about how to Use Diffoscope in packager workflows, specifically around ensuring that new versions of a package do not introduce breaking changes:
In the role of a packager, updating packages is a recurring task. For some projects, a packager is involved in upstream maintenance, or well written release notes make it easy to figure out what changed between the releases. This isn t always the case, for instance with some small project maintained by one or two people somewhere on GitHub, and it can be useful to verify what exactly changed. Diffoscope can help determine the changes between package releases. [ ]

kpcyrd announced the release of rebuilderd version 0.16.3 on our mailing list this month, adding support for builds to generate multiple artifacts at once.
Lastly, we held another IRC meeting on November 30th. As mentioned in previous reports, due to the global events throughout 2020 etc. there will be no in-person summit event this year.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb made the following changes, including preparing and uploading versions 190, 191, 192, 193 and 194 to Debian:
  • New features:
    • Continue loading a .changes file even if the referenced files do not exist, but include a comment in the returned diff. [ ]
    • Log the reason if we cannot load a Debian .changes file. [ ]
  • Bug fixes:
    • Detect XML files as XML files if file(1) claims if they are XML files or if they are named .xml. (#999438)
    • Don t duplicate file lists at each directory level. (#989192)
    • Don t raise a traceback when comparing nested directories with non-directories. [ ]
    • Re-enable test_android_manifest. [ ]
    • Don t reject Debian .changes files if they contain non-printable characters. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Avoid aliasing variables if we aren t going to use them. [ ]
    • Use isinstance over type. [ ]
    • Drop a number of unused imports. [ ]
    • Update a bunch of %-style string interpolations into f-strings or str.format. [ ]
    • When pretty-printing JSON, mark the difference as being reformatted, additionally avoiding including the full path. [ ]
    • Import itertools top-level module directly. [ ]
Chris Lamb also made an update to the command-line client to trydiffoscope, a web-based version of the diffoscope in-depth and content-aware diff utility, specifically only waiting for 2 minutes for to respond in tests. (#998360) In addition Brandon Maier corrected an issue where parts of large diffs were missing from the output [ ], Zbigniew J drzejewski-Szmek fixed some logic in the assert_diff_startswith method [ ] and Mattia Rizzolo updated the packaging metadata to denote that we support both Python 3.9 and 3.10 [ ] as well as a number of warning-related changes[ ][ ]. Vagrant Cascadian also updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix [ ][ ].

Distribution work In Debian, Roland Clobus updated the wiki page documenting Debian reproducible Live images to mention some new bug reports and also posted an in-depth status update to our mailing list. In addition, 90 reviews of Debian packages were added, 18 were updated and 23 were removed this month adding to our knowledge about identified issues. Chris Lamb identified a new toolchain issue, absolute_path_in_cmake_file_generated_by_meson.
Work has begun on classifying reproducibility issues in packages within the Arch Linux distribution. Similar to the analogous effort within Debian (outlined above), package information is listed in a human-readable packages.yml YAML file and a sibling file shows how to classify packages too. Finally, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his monthly reproducible builds status report for openSUSE and Vagrant Cascadian updated a link on our website to link to the GNU Guix reproducibility testing overview [ ].

Software development The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including: Elsewhere, in software development, Jonas Witschel updated strip-nondeterminism, our tool to remove specific non-deterministic results from a completed build so that it did not fail on JAR archives containing invalid members with a .jar extension [ ]. This change was later uploaded to Debian by Chris Lamb. reprotest is the Reproducible Build s project end-user tool to build the same source code twice in widely different environments and checking whether the binaries produced by the builds have any differences. This month, Mattia Rizzolo overhauled the Debian packaging [ ][ ][ ] and fixed a bug surrounding suffixes in the Debian package version [ ], whilst Stefano Rivera fixed an issue where the package tests were broken after the removal of diffoscope from the package s strict dependencies [ ].

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Document the progress in setting up [ ]
    • Add the packages required for debian-snapshot. [ ]
    • Make the dstat package available on all Debian based systems. [ ]
    • Mark virt32b-armhf and virt64b-armhf as down. [ ]
  • Jochen Sprickerhof:
    • Add SSH authentication key and enable access to the osuosl168-amd64 node. [ ][ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Revert reproducible Debian: mark virt(32 64)b-armhf as down - restored. [ ]
  • Roland Clobus (Debian live image generation):
    • Rename sid internally to unstable until an issue in the snapshot system is resolved. [ ]
    • Extend testing to include Debian bookworm too.. [ ]
    • Automatically create the Jenkins view to display jobs related to building the Live images. [ ]
  • Vagrant Cascadian:
    • Add a Debian package set group for the packages and tools maintained by the Reproducible Builds maintainers themselves. [ ]

If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

3 December 2021

Paul Tagliamonte: Transmitting BPSK symbols (Part 2/5)

This post is part of a series called "PACKRAT". If this is the first post you've found, it'd be worth reading the intro post first and then looking over all posts in the series.
In the last post, we worked through what IQ is, and different formats that it may be sent or received in. Let s take that and move on to Transmitting BPSK using IQ data! When we transmit and receive information through RF using an SDR, data is traditionally encoded into a stream of symbols which are then used by a program to modulate the IQ stream, and sent over the airwaves. PACKRAT uses BPSK to encode Symbols through RF. BPSK is the act of modulating the phase of a sine wave to carry information. The transmitted wave swaps between two states in order to convey a 0 or a 1. Our symbols modulate the transmitted sine wave s phase, so that it moves between in-phase with the SDR s transmitter and 180 degrees (or radians) out of phase with the SDR s transmitter. The difference between a Bit and a Symbol in PACKRAT is not incredibly meaningful, and I ll often find myself slipping up when talking about them. I ve done my best to try and use the right word at the right stage, but it s not as obvious where the line between bit and symbol is at least not as obvious as it would be with QPSK or QAM. The biggest difference is that there are three meaningful states for PACKRAT over BPSK - a 1 (for In phase ), -1 (for 180 degrees out of phase ) and 0 (for no carrier ). For my implementation, a stream of all zeros will not transmit data over the airwaves, a stream of all 1s will transmit all 1 bits over the airwaves, and a stream of all -1s will transmit all 0 bits over the airwaves. We re not going to cover turning a byte (or bit) into a symbol yet I m going to write more about that in a later section. So for now, let s just worry about symbols in, and symbols out.

Transmitting a Sine wave at 0Hz If we go back to thinking about IQ data as a precisely timed measurements of energy over time at some particular specific frequency, we can consider what a sine wave will look like in IQ. Before we dive into antennas and RF, let s go to something a bit more visual. For the first example, you can see an example of a camera who s frame rate (or Sampling Rate!) matches the exact number of rotations per second (or Frequency!) of the propeller and it appears to stand exactly still. Every time the Camera takes a frame, it s catching the propeller in the exact same place in space, even though it s made a complete rotation. The second example is very similar, it s a light strobing (in this case, our sampling rate, since the darkness is ignored by our brains) at the same rate (frequency) as water dropping from a faucet and the video creator is even nice enough to change the sampling frequency to have the droplets move both forward and backward (positive and negative frequency) in comparison to the faucet. IQ works the same way. If we catch something in perfect frequency alignment with our radio, we ll wind up with readings that are the same for the entire stream of data. This means we can transmit a sine wave by setting all of the IQ samples in our buffer to 1+0i, which will transmit a pure sine wave at exactly the center frequency of the radio.
 var sine []complex 
for i := range sine  
sine[i] = complex(1.0, 0.0)
Alternatively, we can transmit a Sine wave (but with the opposite phase) by flipping the real value from 1 to -1. The same Sine wave is transmitted on the same Frequency, except when the wave goes high in the example above, the wave will go low in the example below.
 var sine []complex 
for i := range sine  
sine[i] = complex(-1.0, 0.0)
In fact, we can make a carrier wave at any phase angle and amplitude by using a bit of trig.
 // angle is in radians - here we have
 // 1.5 Pi (3 Tau) or 270 degrees.
 var angle = pi * 1.5
// amplitude controls the transmitted
 // strength of the carrier wave.
 var amplitude = 1.0
// output buffer as above
 var sine []complex 
for i := range sine  
sine[i] = complex(
The amplitude of the transmitted wave is the absolute value of the IQ sample (sometimes called magnitude), and the phase can be computed as the angle (or argument). The amplitude remains constant (at 1) in both cases. Remember back to the airplane propeller or water droplets we re controlling where we re observing the sine wave. It looks like a consistent value to us, but in reality it s being transmitted as a pure carrier wave at the provided frequency. Changing the angle of the number we re transmitting will control where in the sine wave cycle we re observing it at.

Generating BPSK modulated IQ data Modulating our carrier wave with our symbols is fairly straightforward to do we can multiply the symbol by 1 to get the real value to be used in the IQ stream. Or, more simply - we can just use the symbol directly in the constructed IQ data.
 var sampleRate = 2,621,440
var baudRate = 1024
// This represents the number of IQ samples
 // required to send a single symbol at the
 // provided baud and sample rate. I picked
 // two numbers in order to avoid half samples.
 // We will transmit each symbol in blocks of
 // this size.
 var samplesPerSymbol = sampleRate / baudRate
var samples = make([]complex, samplesPerSymbol)
// symbol is one of 1, -1 or 0.
 for each symbol in symbols  
for i := range samples  
samples[i] = complex(symbol, 0)
// write the samples out to an output file
 // or radio.
If you want to check against a baseline capture, here s 10 example packets at 204800 samples per second.

Next Steps Now that we can transmit data, we ll start working on a receive path in Part 3, in order to check our work when transmitting the packets, as well as being able to hear packets we transmit from afar, coming up next in Part 3!!

2 December 2021

Paul Tagliamonte: Processing IQ data formats (Part 1/5)

This post is part of a series called "PACKRAT". If this is the first post you've found, it'd be worth reading the intro post first and then looking over all posts in the series.
When working with SDRs, information about the signals your radio is receiving are communicated by streams of IQ data. IQ is short for In-phase and Quadrature , which means 90 degrees out of phase. Values in the IQ stream are complex numbers, so converting them to a native complex type in your language helps greatly when processing the IQ data for meaning. I won t get too deep into what IQ is or why complex numbers (mostly since I don t think I fully understand it well enough to explain it yet), but here s some basics in case this is your first interaction with IQ data before going off and reading more.
Before we get started at any point, if you feel lost in this post, it's OK to take a break to do a bit of learning elsewhere in the internet. I'm still new to this, so I'm sure my overview in one paragraph here won't help clarify things too much. This took me months to sort out on my own. It's not you, really! I particularly enjoyed reading when it came to learning about how IQ represents signals, and Software-Defined Radio for Engineers for a more general reference.
Each value in the stream is taken at a precisely spaced sampling interval (called the sampling rate of the radio). Jitter in that sampling interval, or a drift in the requested and actual sampling rate (usually represented in PPM, or parts per million how many samples out of one million are missing) can cause errors in frequency. In the case of a PPM error, one radio may think it s 100.1MHz and the other may think it s 100.2MHz, and jitter will result in added noise in the resulting stream. A single IQ sample is both the real and imaginary values, together. The complex number (both parts) is the sample. The number of samples per second is the number of real and imaginary value pairs per second. Each sample is reading the electrical energy coming off the antenna at that exact time instant. We re looking to see how that goes up and down over time to determine what frequencies we re observing around us. If the IQ stream is only real-valued measures (e.g., float values rather than complex values reading voltage from a wire), you can still send and receive signals, but those signals will be mirrored across your 0Hz boundary. That means if you re tuned to 100MHz, and you have a nearby transmitter at 99.9MHz, you d see it at 100.1MHz. If you want to get an intuitive understanding of this concept before getting into the heavy math, a good place to start is looking at how Quadrature encoders work. Using complex numbers means we can see up in frequency as well as down in frequency, and understand that those are different signals. The reason why we need negative frequencies is that our 0Hz is the center of our SDR s tuned frequency, not actually at 0Hz in nature. Generally speaking, it s doing loads in hardware (and firmware!) to mix the raw RF signals with a local oscillator to a frequency that can be sampled at the requested rate (fundamentally the same concept as a superheterodyne receiver), so a frequency of -10MHz means that signal is 10 MHz below the center of our SDR s tuned frequency. The sampling rate dictates the amount of frequency representable in the data stream. You ll sometimes see this called the Nyquist frequency. The Nyquist Frequency is one half of the sampling rate. Intuitively, if you think about the amount of bandwidth observable as being 1:1 with the sampling rate of the stream, and the middle of your bandwidth is 0 Hz, you would only have enough space to go up in frequency for half of your bandwidth or half of your sampling rate. Same for going down in frequency.

Float 32 / Complex 64 IQ samples that are being processed by software are commonly processed as an interleaved pair of 32 bit floating point numbers, or a 64 bit complex number. The first float32 is the real value, and the second is the imaginary value.
The complex number 1+1i is represented as 1.0 1.0 and the complex number -1-1i is represented as -1.0 -1.0. Unless otherwise specified, all the IQ samples and pseudocode to follow assumes interleaved float32 IQ data streams. Example interleaved float32 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

RTL-SDR IQ samples from the RTL-SDR are encoded as a stream of interleaved unsigned 8 bit integers (uint8 or u8). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant.
The complex number 1+1i is represented as 0xFF 0xFF and the complex number -1-1i is represented as 0x00 0x00. The complex number 0+0i is not easily representable since half of 0xFF is 127.5.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []uint8 0xFF, 0xFF
-1+1i []uint8 0x00, 0xFF
-1-1i []uint8 0x00, 0x00
0+0i []uint8 0x80, 0x80 or []uint8 0x7F, 0x7F
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert an rtl-sdr style IQ sample to a floating point complex number:
in = []uint8 0x7F, 0x7F 
real = (float(iq[0])-127.5)/127.5
imag = (float(iq[1])-127.5)/127.5
out = complex(real, imag)
Example interleaved uint8 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

HackRF IQ samples from the HackRF are encoded as a stream of interleaved signed 8 bit integers (int8 or i8). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant.
Formats that use signed integers do have one quirk due to two s complement, which is that the smallest negative number representable s absolute value is one more than the largest positive number. int8 values can range between -128 to 127, which means there s bit of ambiguity in how +1, 0 and -1 are represented. Either you can create perfectly symmetric ranges of values between +1 and -1, but 0 is not representable, have more possible values in the negative range, or allow values above (or just below) the maximum in the range to be allowed. Within my implementation, my approach has been to scale based on the max integer value of the type, so the lowest possible signed value is actually slightly smaller than -1. Generally, if your code is seeing values that low the difference in step between -1 and slightly less than -1 isn t very significant, even with only 8 bits. Just a curiosity to be aware of.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []int8 127, 127
-1+1i []int8 -128, 127
-1-1i []int8 -128, -128
0+0i []int8 0, 0
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert a hackrf style IQ sample to a floating point complex number:
in = []int8 -5, 112 
real = (float(in[0]))/127
imag = (float(in[1]))/127
out = complex(real, imag)
Example interleaved int8 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

PlutoSDR IQ samples from the PlutoSDR are encoded as a stream of interleaved signed 16 bit integers (int16 or i16). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant. Almost no SDRs capture at a 16 bit depth natively, often you ll see 12 bit integers (as is the case with the PlutoSDR) being sent around as 16 bit integers. This leads to the next possible question, which is are values LSB or MSB aligned? The PlutoSDR sends data LSB aligned (which is to say, the largest real or imaginary value in the stream will not exceed 4095), but expects data being transmitted to be MSB aligned (which is to say the lowest set bit possible is the 5th bit in the number, or values can only be set in increments of 16). As a result, the quirk observed with the HackRF (that the range of values between 0 and -1 is different than the range of values between 0 and +1) does not impact us so long as we do not use the whole 16 bit range.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []int16 32767, 32767
-1+1i []int16 -32768, 32767
-1-1i []int16 -32768, -32768
0+0i []int16 0, 0
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert a PlutoSDR style IQ sample to a floating point complex number, including moving the sample from LSB to MSB aligned:
in = []int16 -15072, 496 
// shift left 4 bits (16 bits - 12 bits = 4 bits)
 // to move from LSB aligned to MSB aligned.
 in[0] = in[0] << 4
in[1] = in[1] << 4
real = (float(in[0]))/32767
imag = (float(in[1]))/32767
out = complex(real, imag)
Example interleaved i16 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

Next Steps Now that we can read (and write!) IQ data, we can get started first on the transmitter, which we can (in turn) use to test receiving our own BPSK signal, coming next in Part 2!

21 November 2021

Antoine Beaupr : The last syncmaildir crash

My syncmaildir (SMD) setup failed me one too many times (previously, previously). In an attempt to migrate to an alternative mail synchronization tool, I looked into using my IMAP server again, and found out my mail spool was in a pretty bad shape. I'm comparing mbsync and offlineimap in the next post but this post talks about how I recovered the mail spool so that tools like those could correctly synchronise the mail spool again.

The latest crash On Monday, SMD just started failing with this error:
nov 15 16:12:19 angela systemd[2305]: Starting pull emails with syncmaildir...
nov 15 16:12:22 angela systemd[2305]: smd-pull.service: Succeeded.
nov 15 16:12:22 angela systemd[2305]: Finished pull emails with syncmaildir.
nov 15 16:14:08 angela systemd[2305]: Starting pull emails with syncmaildir...
nov 15 16:14:11 angela systemd[2305]: smd-pull.service: Main process exited, code=exited, status=1/FAILURE
nov 15 16:14:11 angela systemd[2305]: smd-pull.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'.
nov 15 16:14:11 angela systemd[2305]: Failed to start pull emails with syncmaildir.
nov 15 16:16:14 angela systemd[2305]: Starting pull emails with syncmaildir...
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: Network error.
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: Unable to get any data from the other endpoint.
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: This problem may be transient, please retry.
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: Hint: did you correctly setup the SERVERNAME variable
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: on your client? Did you add an entry for it in your ssh
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: configuration file?
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27178]: smd-client: ERROR: Network error
nov 15 16:16:17 angela smd-pull[27188]: register: smd-client@localhost: TAGS: error::context(handshake) probable-cause(network) human-intervention(avoidable) suggested-actions(retry)
nov 15 16:16:17 angela systemd[2305]: smd-pull.service: Main process exited, code=exited, status=1/FAILURE
nov 15 16:16:17 angela systemd[2305]: smd-pull.service: Failed with result 'exit-code'.
nov 15 16:16:17 angela systemd[2305]: Failed to start pull emails with syncmaildir.
What is frustrating is that there's actually no network error here. Running the command by hand I did see a different message, but now I have lost it in my backlog. It had something to do with a filename being too long, and I gave up debugging after a while. This happened suddenly too, which added to the confusion. In a fit of rage I started this blog post and experimenting with alternatives, which led me down a lot of rabbit holes. Reviewing my previous mail crash documentation, it seems most solutions involve talking to an IMAP server, so I figured I would just do that. Wanting to try something new, i gave isync (AKA mbsync) a try. Oh dear, I did not expect how much trouble just talking to my IMAP server would be, which wasn't not isync's fault, for what that's worth. It was the primary tool I used to debug things, and served me well in that regard.

Mailbox corruption The first thing I found out is that certain messages in the IMAP spool were corrupted. mbsync would stop on a FETCH command and Dovecot would give me those errors on the server side.

"wrong W value"
nov 16 15:31:27 marcos dovecot[3621800]: imap(anarcat)<3630489><wAmSzO3QZtfAqAB1>: Error: Mailbox junk: Maildir filename has wrong W value, renamed the file from /home/anarcat/Maildir/.junk/cur/1454623938.M101164P22216.marcos,S=2495,W=2578:2,S to /home/anarcat/Maildir/.junk/cur/1454623938.M101164P22216.marcos,S=2495:2,S
nov 16 15:31:27 marcos dovecot[3621800]: imap(anarcat)<3630489><wAmSzO3QZtfAqAB1>: Error: Mailbox junk: Deleting corrupted cache record uid=1582: UID 1582: Broken virtual size in mailbox junk: read(/home/anarcat/Maildir/.junk/cur/1454623938.M101164P22216.marcos,S=2495,W=2578:2,S): FETCH BODY[] got too little data: 2540 vs 2578
At least this first error was automatically healed by Dovecot (by renaming the file without the W= flag). The problem is that the FETCH command fails and mbsync exits noisily. So you need to constantly restart mbsync with a silly command like:
while ! mbsync -a; do sleep 1; done

"cached message size larger than expected"
nov 16 13:53:08 marcos dovecot[3520770]: imap(anarcat)<3594402><M5JHb+zQ3NLAqAB1>: Error: Mailbox Sent: UID=19288: read(/home/anarcat/Maildir/.Sent/cur/1224790447.M898726P9811V000000000000FE06I00794FB1_0.marvin,S=2588:2,S) failed: Cached message size larger than expected (2588 > 2482, box=Sent, UID=19288) (read reason=mail stream)
nov 16 13:53:08 marcos dovecot[3520770]: imap(anarcat)<3594402><M5JHb+zQ3NLAqAB1>: Error: Mailbox Sent: Deleting corrupted cache record uid=19288: UID 19288: Broken physical size in mailbox Sent: read(/home/anarcat/Maildir/.Sent/cur/1224790447.M898726P9811V000000000000FE06I00794FB1_0.marvin,S=2588:2,S) failed: Cached message size larger than expected (2588 > 2482, box=Sent, UID=19288)
nov 16 13:53:08 marcos dovecot[3520770]: imap(anarcat)<3594402><M5JHb+zQ3NLAqAB1>: Error: Mailbox Sent: UID=19288: read(/home/anarcat/Maildir/.Sent/cur/1224790447.M898726P9811V000000000000FE06I00794FB1_0.marvin,S=2588:2,S) failed: Cached message size larger than expected (2588 > 2482, box=Sent, UID=19288) (read reason=)
nov 16 13:53:08 marcos dovecot[3520770]: imap-login: Panic: epoll_ctl(del, 7) failed: Bad file descriptor
This second problem is much harder to fix, because dovecot does not recover automatically. This is Dovecot complaining that the cached size (the S= field, but also present in Dovecot's metadata files) doesn't match the file size. I wonder if at least some of those messages were corrupted in the OfflineIMAP to syncmaildir migration because part of that procedure is to run the strip_header script to remove content from the emails. That could easily have broken things since the files do not also get renamed.

Workaround So I read a lot of the Dovecot documentation on the maildir format, and wrote an extensive fix script for those two errors. The script worked and mbsync was able to sync the entire mail spool. And no, rebuilding the index files didn't work. Also tried doveadm force-resync -u anarcat which didn't do anything. In the end I also had to do this, because the wrong cache values were also stored elsewhere.
service dovecot stop ; find -name 'dovecot*' -delete; service dovecot start
This would have totally broken any existing clients, but thankfully I'm starting from scratch (except maybe webmail, but I'm hoping it will self-heal as well, assuming it only has a cache and not a full replica of the mail spool).

Incoherence between Maildir and IMAP Unfortunately, the first mbsync was incomplete as it was missing about 15,000 mails:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir -type f -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync/ -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
As it turns out, mbsync was not at fault here either: this was yet more mail spool corruption. It's actually 26 folders (out of 205) with inconsistent sizes, which can be found with:
for folder in * .[^.]* ; do 
  printf "%s\t%d\n" $folder $(find "$folder" -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l );
The special \! -name '.*' bit is to ignore the mbsync metadata, which creates .uidvalidity and .mbsyncstate in every folder. That ignores about 200 files but since they are spread around all folders, which was making it impossible to review where the problem was. Here is what the diff looks like:
--- Maildir-list    2021-11-17 20:42:36.504246752 -0500
+++ Maildir-mbsync-list 2021-11-17 20:18:07.731806601 -0500
@@ -6,16 +6,15 @@
 .Archives  1
 .Archives.2010 3553
-.Archives.2011 3583
-.Archives.2012 12593
+.Archives.2011 3582
+.Archives.2012 620
 .Archives.2013 8576
 .Archives.2014 11057
-.Archives.2015 8173
+.Archives.2015 8165
 .Archives.2016 54
 .band  34
 .bitbuck   1
@@ -38,13 +37,12 @@
 .couchsurfers  2
-cur    11285
+cur    11280
 .current   130
 .cv    2
 .debbug    262
-.debian    37544
-drafts 1
-.Drafts    4
+.debian    37533
+.Drafts    2
 .drone 241
 .drupal    188
 .drupal-devel  303

Misfiled messages It's a bit all over the place, but we can already notice some huge differences between mailboxes, for example in the Archives folders. As it turns out, at least 12,000 of those missing mails were actually misfiled: instead of being in the Maildir/.Archives.2012/cur/ folder, they were directly in Maildir/.Archives.2012/. This is something that doesn't matter for SMD (and possibly for notmuch? it does matter, notmuch suddenly found 12,000 new mails) but that definitely matters to Dovecot and therefore mbsync... After moving those files around, we still have 4,000 message missing:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
The problem is that those 4,000 missing mails are harder to track. Take, for example, .Archives.2011, which has a single message missing, out of 3,582. And the files are not identical: the checksums don't match after going through the IMAP transport, so we can't use a tool like hashdeep to compare the trees and find why any single file is missing.

"register" folder One big chunk of the 4,000, however, is a special folder called register in my spool, which I am syncing separately (see Securing registration email for details on that setup). That actually covers 3,700 of those messages, so I actually have a more modest 300 messages to figure out, after (easily!) configuring mbsync to sync that folder separately:
 @@ -30,9 +33,29 @@ Slave :anarcat-local:
  # Exclude everything under the internal [Gmail] folder, except the interesting folders
  #Patterns * ![Gmail]* "[Gmail]/Sent Mail" "[Gmail]/Starred" "[Gmail]/All Mail"
  # Or include everything
 -Patterns *
 +#Patterns *
 +Patterns * !register  !.register
  # Automatically create missing mailboxes, both locally and on the server
  #Create Both
  Create slave
  # Sync the movement of messages between folders and deletions, add after making sure the sync works
  #Expunge Both
 +IMAPAccount anarcat-register
 +User register
 +PassCmd "pass"
 +CertificateFile /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt
 +IMAPStore anarcat-register-remote
 +Account anarcat-register
 +MaildirStore anarcat-register-local
 +SubFolders Maildir++
 +Inbox ~/Maildir-mbsync/.register/
 +Channel anarcat-register
 +Master :anarcat-register-remote:
 +Slave :anarcat-register-local:
 +Create slave

"tmp" folders and empty messages After syncing the "register" messages, I end up with the measly little 160 emails out of sync:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
Argh. After more digging, I have found 131 mails in the tmp/ directories of the client's mail spool. Mysterious! On the server side, it's even more files, and not the same ones. Possible that those were mails that were left there during a failed delivery of some sort, during a power failure or some sort of crash? Who knows. It could be another race condition in SMD if it runs while mail is being delivered in tmp/... The first thing to do with those is to cleanup a bunch of empty files (21 on angela):
find .[^.]*/tmp -type f -empty -delete
As it turns out, they are all duplicates, in the sense that notmuch can easily find a copy of files with the same message ID in its database. In other words, this hairy command returns nothing
find .[^.]*/tmp -type f   while read path; do
  msgid=$(grep -m 1  -i ^message-id "$path"   sed 's/Message-ID: //i;s/[<>]//g');
  if notmuch count --exclude=false  "id:$msgid"   grep -q 0; then
    echo "$path <$msgid> not in notmuch" ;
... which is good. Or, to put it another way, this is safe:
find .[^.]*/tmp -type f -delete
Poof! 314 mails cleaned on the server side. Interestingly, SMD doesn't pick up on those changes at all and still sees files in tmp/ directories on the client side, so we need to operate the same twisted logic there.

notmuch to the rescue again After cleaning that on the client, we get:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync/  -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
Ha! 27 mails difference. Those are the really sticky, unclear ones. I was hoping a full sync might clear that up, but after deleting the entire directory and starting from scratch, I end up with:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir -type f -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync -type f -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
That is: even more messages missing (now 37). Sigh. Thankfully, this is something notmuch can help with: it can index all files by Message-ID (which I learned is case-insensitive, yay) and tell us which messages don't make it through. Considering the corruption I found in the mail spool, I wouldn't be the least surprised those messages are just skipped by the IMAP server. Unfortunately, there's nothing on the Dovecot server logs that would explain the discrepancy. Here again, notmuch comes to the rescue. We can list all message IDs to figure out that discrepancy:
notmuch search --exclude=false --output=messages '*'   pv -s 18M   sort > Maildir-msgids
notmuch --config=.notmuch-config-mbsync search --exclude=false --output=messages '*'   pv -s 18M   sort > Maildir-mbsync-msgids
And then we can see how many messages notmuch thinks are missing:
$ wc -l *msgids
372723 Maildir-mbsync-msgids
372752 Maildir-msgids
That's 29 messages. Oddly, it doesn't exactly match the find output:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir-mbsync -type f -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ find Maildir -type f -type f -a \! -name '.*'   wc -l 
That is 10 more messages. Ugh. But actually, I know what those are: more misfiled messages (in a .folder/draft/ directory, bizarrely, so the totals actually match. In the notmuch output, there's a lot of stuff like this:
Those are messages without a valid Message-ID. Notmuch (presumably) constructs one based on the file's checksum. Because the files differ between the IMAP server and the local mail spool (which is unfortunate, but possibly inevitable), those do not match. There are exactly the same number of those on both sides, so I'll go ahead and assume those are all accounted for. What remains is:
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ diff -u Maildir-mbsync-msgids Maildir-msgids    grep '^\-[^-]'   grep -v sha1   wc -l 
anarcat@angela:~(main)$ diff -u Maildir-mbsync-msgids Maildir-msgids    grep '^\+[^+]'   grep -v sha1   wc -l 
ie. 21 missing from mbsync, and, surprisingly, 2 missing from the original mail spool. Further inspection also showed they were all messages with some sort of "corruption": no body and only headers. I am not sure that is a legal email format in the first place. Since they were mostly spam or administrative emails ("You have been unsubscribed from mailing list..."), it seems fairly harmless to ignore those.

Conclusion As we'll see in the next article, SMD has stellar performance. But that comes at a huge cost: it accesses the mail storage directly. This can (and has) created significant problems on the mail server. It's unclear exactly why those things happen, but Dovecot expects a particular storage format on its file, and it seems unwise to bypass that. In the future, I'll try to remember to avoid that, especially since mechanisms like SMD require special server access (SSH) which, in the long term, I am not sure I want to maintain or expect. In other words, just talking with an IMAP server opens up a lot more possibilities of hosting than setting up a custom synchronisation protocol over SSH. It's also safer and more reliable, as we have seen. Thankfully, I've been able to recover from all the errors I could find, but it could have gone differently and it would have been possible for SMD to permanently corrupt significant part of my mail archives. In the end, however, the last drop was just another weird bug which, ironically, SMD mysteriously recovered from on its own while I was writing this documentation and migrating away from it. In any case, I recommend SMD users start looking for alternatives. The project has been archived upstream, and the Debian package has been orphaned. I have seen significant mail box corruption, including entire mail spool destruction, mostly due to incorrect locking code. I have filed a release-critical bug in Debian to make sure it doesn't ship with Debian bookworm. Alternatives like mbsync provide fast and reliable transport, including over SSH. See the next article for further discussion of the alternatives.

6 November 2021

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in October 2021

Welcome to the October 2021 report from the Reproducible Builds project!
This month Samanta Navarro posted to the oss-security security mailing on a novel category of exploit in the .tar archive format, where a single .tar file contains different contents depending on the tar utility being used. Naturally, this has consequences for reproducible builds as Samanta goes onto reply:

Arch Linux uses libarchive (bsdtar) in its build environment. The default tar program installed is GNU tar. It is possible to create a source distribution which leads to different files seen by the build environment than compared to a careful reviewer and other Linux distributions.
Samanta notes that addressing the tar utilities themselves will not be a sufficient fix:
I have submitted bug reports and patches to some projects but eventually I had to conclude that the problem itself cannot be fixed by these implementations alone. The best choice for these tools would be to only allow archives which are fully compatible to standards but this in turn would render a lot of archives broken.
Reproducible builds, with its twin ideas of reaching consensus on the build outputs as well as precisely recording and describing the build environment, would help address this problem at a higher level.
Codethink announced that they had achieved ISO-26262 ASIL D Tool Certification, a way of determining specific safety standards for software. Codethink used open source tooling to achieve this, but they also leverage:
Reproducibility, repeatability and traceability of builds, drawing heavily on best-practices championed by the Reproducible Builds project.

Elsewhere on the internet, according to a comment on Hacker News, Microsoft are now comparing NPM Javascript packages with their original source repositories:
I got a PR in my repository a few days ago leading back to a team trying to make it easier for packages to be reproducible from source.

Lastly, Martin Monperrus started an interesting thread on our mailing list about Github, specifically that their autogenerated release tarballs are not deterministic . The thread generated a significant number of replies that are worth reading.

Events and presentations

Community news On our mailing list this month:
There were quite a few changes to the Reproducible Builds website and documentation this month as well, including Feng Chai updating some links on our publications page [ ] and marco updated our project metadata around the Bitcoin Core building guide [ ].
Lastly, we ran another productive meeting on IRC during October. A full set of notes from the meeting is available to view.

Distribution work Qubes was heavily featured in the latest edition of Linux Weekly News, and a significant section was dedicated to discussing reproducibility. For example, it was mentioned that the Qubes project has been working on incorporating reproducible builds into its continuous integration (CI) infrastructure . But the LWN article goes on to describe that:
The current goal is to be able to build the Qubes OS Debian templates solely from packages that can be built reproducibly. Templates in Qubes OS are VM images that can be used to start an application qube quickly based on the template. The qube will have read-only access to the root filesystem of the template, so that the same root filesystem can be shared with multiple application qubes. There are official templates for several variants of both Fedora and Debian, as well as community maintained templates for several other distributions.
You can view the whole article on LWN, and Fr d ric also published a lengthy summary about their work on reproducible builds in Qubes as well for those wishing to learn more.
In Debian this month, 133 reviews of Debian packages were added, 81 were updated and 24 were removed this month, adding to Debian s ever-growing knowledge about identified issues. A number of issues were categorised and added by Chris Lamb and Vagrant Cascadian too [ ][ ][ ]. In addition, work on alternative snapshot service has made progress by Fr d ric Pierret and Holger Levsen this month, including moving from the existing host ( to (more info) thanks to OSUOSL for the machine and hosting and Debian for the disks.
Finally, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his monthly reproducible builds status report.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb made the following changes, including preparing and uploading versions 186, 187, 188 and 189 to Debian
  • New features:
    • Add support for Python Sphinx inventory files (usually named objects.inv on-disk). [ ]
    • Add support for comparing .pyc files. Thanks to Sergei Trofimovich for the inspiration. [ ]
    • Try some alternative suffixes (e.g. .py) to support distributions that strip or retain them. [ ][ ]
  • Bug fixes:
    • Fix Python decompilation tests under Python 3.10+ [ ] and for Python 3.7 [ ].
    • Don t raise a traceback if we cannot unmarshal Python bytecode. This is in order to support Python 3.7 failing to load .pyc files generated with newer versions of Python. [ ]
    • Skip Python bytecode testing where we do not have an expected diff. [ ]
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Use our file_version_is_lt utility instead of accepting both versions of uImage expected diff. [ ]
    • Split out a custom call to assert_diff for a .startswith equivalent. [ ]
    • Use skipif instead of manual conditionals in some tests. [ ]
In addition, Jelle van der Waa added external tool references for Arch Linux for ocamlobjinfo, openssl and ffmpeg [ ][ ][ ] and added Arch Linux as a Continuous Integration (CI) test target. [ ] and Vagrant Cascadian updated the testsuite to skip Python bytecode comparisons when file(1) is older than 5.39. [ ] as well as added external tool references for the Guix distribution for dumppdf and ppudump. [ ][ ]. Vagrant Cascadian also updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix [ ][ ]. Lastly, Guangyuan Yang updated the FreeBSD package name on the website [ ], Mattia Rizzolo made a change to override a new Lintian warning due to the new test files [ ], Roland Clobus added support to detect and log if the GNU_BUILD_ID field in an ELF binary been modified [ ], Sandro J ckel updated a number of helpful links on the website [ ] and Sergei Trofimovich made the uImage test output support file() version 5.41 [ ].

reprotest reprotest is the Reproducible Build s project end-user tool to build same source code twice in widely differing environments, checking the binaries produced by the builds for any differences. This month, reprotest version 0.7.18 was uploaded to Debian unstable by Holger Levsen, which also included a change by Holger to clarify that Python 3.9 is used nowadays [ ], but it also included two changes by Vasyl Gello to implement realistic CPU architecture shuffling [ ] and to log the selected variations when the verbosity is configured at a sufficiently high level [ ]. Finally, Vagrant Cascadian updated reprotest to version 0.7.18 in GNU Guix.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix unreproducible packages. We try to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. We authored a large number of such patches this month, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Debian-related changes:
      • Incorporate a fix from bremner into builtin-pho related to binary-NMUs. [ ]
      • Keep bullseye environments around longer, in an attempt to fix a Jenkins issue. [ ]
      • Improve the documentation of [ ]
      • Improve documentation for the builtin-pho setup. [ ][ ]
    • OpenWrt-related changes:
      • Also use -j1 for better debugging. [ ]
      • Document that that Python 3.x is now used. [ ]
      • Enable further debugging for the toolchain build. [ ]
    • New service:
      • Actually add new node. [ ][ ]
      • Install xfsprogs on [ ]
      • Create account for fpierret on new node. [ ]
      • Run node_health_check job on new node too. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Debian-related changes:
      • Handle schroot errors when invoking diffoscope instead of masking them. [ ][ ]
      • Declare and define some variables separately to avoid masking the subshell return code. [ ]
      • Fix variable name. [ ]
      • Improve log reporting. [ ]
      • Execute apt-get update with the -q argument to get more decent logs. [ ]
      • Set the Debian HTTP mirror and proxy for [ ]
      • Install the libarchive-tools package (instead of bsdtar) when updating Jenkins nodes. [ ]
    • Be stricter about errors when starting the node agent [ ] and don t overwrite NODE_NAME so that we can expect Jenkins to properly set for us [ ].
    • Explicitly warn if the NODE_NAME is not a fully-qualified domain name (FQDN). [ ]
    • Document whether a node runs in the future. [ ]
    • Disable postgresql_autodoc as it not available in bullseye. [ ]
    • Don t be so eager when deleting schroot internals, call to schroot -e to terminate the schroots instead. [ ]
    • Only consider schroot underlays for deletion that are over a month old. [ ][ ]
    • Only try to unmount /proc if it s actually mounted. [ ]
    • Move the db_backup task to its own Jenkins job. [ ]
Lastly, Vasyl Gello added usage information to the script [ ].

Contributing If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via: