1. My free software activities, September 2017
  2. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
    1. Ruby
    2. Git
    3. Git-annex
  3. Other free software work
    1. New project: feed2exec
    2. More Python templates
    3. Selfspy
    4. Restic documentation security
    5. Ansible 101
    6. Pat and Ham radio
    7. Random stuff

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

This is my monthly Debian LTS report. I mostly worked on the git, git-annex and ruby packages this month but didn't have time to completely use my allocated hours because I started too late in the month.


I was hoping someone would pick up the Ruby work I submitted in August, but it seems no one wanted to touch that mess, understandably. Since then, new issues came up, and not only did I have to work on the rubygems and ruby1.9 package, but now the ruby1.8 package also had to get security updates. Yes: it's bad enough that the rubygems code is duplicated in one other package, but wheezy had the misfortune of having two Ruby versions supported.

The Ruby 1.9 also failed to build from source because of test suite issues, which I haven't found a clean and easy fix for, so I ended up making test suite failures non-fatal in 1.9, which they were already in 1.8. I did keep a close eye on changes in the test suite output to make sure tests introduced in the security fixes would pass and that I wouldn't introduce new regressions as well.

So I published the following advisories:


I also quickly issued an advisory (DLA-1120-1) for CVE-2017-14867, an odd issue affecting git in wheezy. The backport was tricky because it wouldn't apply cleanly and the git package had a custom patching system which made it tricky to work on.


I did a quick stint on git-annex as well: I was able to reproduce the issue and confirm an approach to fixing the issue in wheezy, although I didn't have time to complete the work before the end of the month.

Other free software work

New project: feed2exec

I should probably make a separate blog post about this, but ironically, I don't want to spend too much time writing those reports, so this will be quick.

I wrote a new program, called feed2exec. It's basically a combination of feed2imap, rss2email and feed2tweet: it allows you to fetch RSS feeds and send them in a mailbox, but what's special about it, compared to the other programs above, is that it is more generic: you can basically make it do whatever you want on new feed items. I have, for example, replaced my feed2tweet instance with it, using this simple configuration:

url = https://anarc.at/blog/index.rss
output = feed2exec.plugins.exec
args = tweet "%(title)0.70s %(link)0.70s"

The sample configuration file also has examples to talk with Mastodon, Pump.io and, why not, a torrent server to download torrent files available over RSS feeds. A trivial configuration can also make it work as a crude podcast client. My main motivation to work on this was that it was difficult to extend feed2imap to do what I needed (which was to talk to transmission to download torrent files) and rss2email didn't support my workflow (which is delivering to feed-specific mail folders). Because both projects also seemed abandoned, it seemed like a good idea at the time to start a new one, although the rss2email community has now restarted the project and may produce interesting results.

As an experiment, I tracked my time working on this project. It turns out it took about 45 hours to write that software. Considering feed2exec is about 1400 SLOC, that's 30 lines of code per hour. I don't know if that's slow or fast, but it's an interesting metric for future projects. It sure seems slow to me, but we need to keep in mind those 30 lines of code don't include documentation and repeated head banging on the keyboard. For example, I found two issues with the upstream feedparser package which I use to parse feeds which also seems unmaintained, unfortunately.

Feed2exec is beta software at this point, but it's working well enough for me and the design is much simpler than the other programs of the kind. The main issue people can expect from it at this point is formatting issues or parse errors on exotic feeds, and noisy error messages on network errors, all of which should be fairly easy to fix in the test suite. I hope it will be useful for the community and, as usual, I welcome contributions, help and suggestions on how to improve the software.

More Python templates

As part of the work on feed2exec, I did cleanup a few things in the ecdysis project, mostly to hook tests up in the CI, improve on the advancedConfig logger and cleanup more stuff.

While I was there, it turns out that I built a pretty decent basic CI configuration for Python on GitLab. Whereas the previous templates only had a non-working Django example, you should now be able to chose a Python template when you configure CI on GitLab 10 and above, which should hook you up with normal Python setup procedures like setup.py install and setup.py test.


I mentioned working on a monitoring tool in my last post, because it was a feature from Workrave missing in SafeEyes. It turns out there is already such a tool called selfspy. I did an extensive review of the software to make sure it wouldn't leak out confidential information out before using it, and it looks, well... kind of okay. It crashed on me at least once so far, which is too bad because then it loses track of the precious activity. I have used it at least once to figure out what the heck I worked on during the day, so it's pretty useful. I particularly used it to backtrack my work on feed2exec as I didn't originally track my time on the project.

Unfortunately, selfspy seems unmaintained. I have proposed a maintenance team and hopefully the project maintainer will respond and at least share access so we don't end up in a situation like linkchecker. I also sent a bunch of pull requests to fix some issues like being secure by default and fixing the build. Apart from the crash, the main issue I have found with the software is that it doesn't detect idle time which means certain apps are disproportionatly represented in statistics. There are also some weaknesses in the crypto that should be adressed for people that encrypt their database.

Next step is to package selfspy in Debian which should hopefully be simple enough...

Restic documentation security

As part of a documentation patch on the Restic backup software, I have improved on my previous Perl script to snoop on process commandline arguments. A common flaw in shell scripts and cron jobs is to pass secret material in the environment (usually safe) but often through commandline arguments (definitely not safe). The challenge, in this peculiar case, was the env binary, but the last time I encountered such an issue was with the Drush commandline tool, which was passing database credentials in clear to the mysql binary. Using my Perl sniffer, I could get to 60 checks per second (or 60Hz). After reimplementing it in Python, this number went up to 160Hz, which still wasn't enough to catch the elusive env command, which is much faster at hiding arguments than MySQL, in large part because it simply does an execve() once the environment is setup.

Eventually, I just went crazy and rewrote the whole thing in C which was able to get 700-900Hz and did catch the env command about 10-20% of the time. I could probably have rewritten this by simply walking /proc myself (since this is what all those libraries do in the end) to get better result, but then my point was made. I was able to prove to the restic author the security issues that warranted the warning. It's too bad I need to repeat this again and again, but then my tools are getting better at proving that issue... I suspect it's not the last time I have to deal with this issue and I am happy to think that I can come up with an even more efficient proof of concept tool the next time around.

Ansible 101

After working on documentation last month, I ended up writing my first Ansible playbook this month, converting my tasksel list to a working Ansible configuration. This was a useful exercise: it allow me to find a bunch of packages which have been removed from Debian and provides much better usability than tasksel. For example, it provides a --diff argument that shows which packages are missing from a given setup.

I am still unsure about Ansible. Manifests do seem really verbose and I still can't get used to the YAML DSL. I could probably have done the same thing with Puppet and just run puppet apply on the resulting config. But I must admit my bias towards Python is showing here: I can't help but think Puppet is going to be way less accessible with its rewrite in Clojure and C (!)... But then again, I really like Puppet's approach of having generic types like package or service rather than Ansible's clunky apt/yum/dnf/package/win_package types...

Pat and Ham radio

After responding (too late) to a request for volunteers to help in Puerto Rico, I realized that my amateur radio skills were somewhat lacking in the "packet" (data transmission in ham jargon) domain, as I wasn't used to operate a Winlink node. Such a node can receive and transmit actual emails over the airwaves, for free, without direct access to the internet, which is very useful in disaster relief efforts. Through summary research, I stumbled upon the new and very promising Pat project which provides one of the first user-friendly Linux-compatible Winlink programs. I provided improvements on the documentation and some questions regarding compatibility issues which are still pending.

But my pet issue is the establishment of pat as a normal internet citizen by using standard protocols for receiving and sending email. Not sure how that can be implemented, but we'll see. I am also hoping to upload an official Debian package and hopefully write more about this soon. Stay tuned!

Random stuff

I ended up fixing my Kodi issue by starting it as a standalone systemd service, instead of gdm3, which is now completely disabled on the media box. I simply used the following /etc/systemd/service/kodi.service file:

Description=Kodi Media Center
After=systemd-user-sessions.service network.target sound.target

ExecStart=/usr/bin/xinit /usr/bin/dbus-launch --exit-with-session /usr/bin/kodi-standalone -- :1 -nolisten tcp vt7


The downside of this is that it needs Xorg to run as root, whereas modern Xorg can now run rootless. Not sure how to fix this or where... But if I put needs_root_rights=no in Xwrapper.config, I get the following error in .local/share/xorg/Xorg.1.log:

[  2502.533] (EE) modeset(0): drmSetMaster failed: Permission denied

After fooling around with iPython, I ended up trying the xonsh shell, which is supposed to provide a bash-compatible Python shell environment. Unfortunately, I found it pretty unusable as a shell: it works fine to do Python stuff, but then all my environment and legacy bash configuration files were basically ignored so I couldn't get working quickly. This is too bad because the project looked very promising...

Finally, one of my TLS hosts using a Let's Encrypt certificate wasn't renewing properly, and I figured out why. It turns out the ProxyPass command was passing everything to the backend, including the /.well-known requests, which obviously broke ACME verification. The solution was simple enough, disable the proxy for that directory:

ProxyPass /.well-known/ !
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