Sunday, November 5, 2017

Call it Lennarx

Lennarx Assimilation

I took the mic at a certain conference, Q&A after the speaker made his pitch, shared my concerns about the topic. There were probably 300 people in that session. The speaker was obviously pro where I was con. Most of the audience were supporters, enthusiastic just to hear. No one spoke up for my side. (i.e., to second my statement or raise their own questions or worries) Possibly not one else was on "my side".
I felt alone.

More recently, my colleague Phil said "it's good to be contrarian". That's comforting, if not effective. I'd really like to bring actual change and not merely whine about the badness.My wife would surely appreciate if I were less contrarian in general.

Linux and SystemD

Speaking of whining, there's lots of that over SystemD. Time and again I hear from people who hate it. But it's not going away. The criticisms are legimitate, even if opinion. For example, SystemD assimilating the logging function is gross overreach, but not technically insurmountable. I can say I dislike the fact that logging is rolled into SystemD but can't prove that it doesn't work. So I (and others, I know they're out there) sit here under the rule of Lennart.

Then my friend Russ sent this ...

I don't know Christopher Barry, but I agree with everything he said. (He said it better than I could have and enumerated more facts than I would have.)

Call it Lennarx

If the kernel started by Linus is Linux, then the system daemon started by Lennart is Lennarx. Why not?

The pro-SystemD crowd would just as soon see the rest of us get over it, shut up, and accept "this is Linux". I've never understood (or never cared about) the benefits. They've never understood (or never cared about) the costs of it, what the rest of us lost. And what did we lose? Simplicity, for one thing. This is not a "who moved my cheese?" story.

For me, there's also the loss of interoperability. (SysV INIT is generally compatible with other Unix systems.) And I was told that one advantage of SystemD is faster boot times.Hasn't happened. Rebooting takes just as long, sometimes longer. But think about it ... faster boot time? WHY do we want to improve something we don't really want to DO so often?

There is Hope

Though we're often accused of tilting at windmills, there is real hope. The majority will no doubt continue with SystemD but the alternatives are out there. Hearing from people like Christopher Barry prove that we're not alone. Most of us also use the BSDs. And that's kinda the point: it's more about Unix and FOSS built for that API.

FOSS runs everywhere. FOSS fans have always had to fight FUD. This latest borg battle has made major inroads. It has assimilated some of our friends. But the remnant remains.

-- R; <><

Monday, October 30, 2017

NORD Updates for 2017

NORD Updates for 2017

Here's the latest status and package updates for NORD.

NORD is in production use for both internal and external service at, and is presently reliable and stable. But it's smart to keep current.

NORD Updates - core operating system

Most of the NORD systems at use a shared operating system. For virtual machines, the OS resides on a shared virtual disk and "client" guests all boot from that disk and use it for the core system. To perform maintenance on the OS, there are swappable copies of this disk.  When applying mantenance, mount the alternate disk, 'chroot' into that filesystem, mount any required support, and run 'nord-build-csc' for each package of interest. (Tool chain is usually not part of the core OS in NORD, so would be mounted from a separate disk or filesystem.)

Packages updated lately include (listed here with versions) ...

  • bash-4.4
  • coreutils-8.27
  • curl-7.54.1
  • dash-
  • diffutils-3.6
  • file-5.31
  • findutils-4.6.0
  • gawk-4.1.4
  • gettext-0.19.8
  • grep-3.1
  • gzip-1.8
  • m4-1.4.18
  • nano-2.8.6
  • readline-7.0
  • rsync-3.1.2
  • sed-4.4
  • texinfo-6.4
  • wget-1.19
  • xz-5.2.3
  • zlib-1.2.11

For each, the stub makefile can be found from ...

The syntax of 'nord-build-csc' does not include the version. The version is in the stub makefile.

After updating core packages, simply unmount the 'chroot' environment. Swizzle the alternate disk (now with the latest core packages) into the place of the production disk when the time is right and reboot the client virtual machines.

NORD Updates - supplemental software

Supplemental packages on NORD are handled primarily via Chicory. (In fact, a major purpose of NORD is to serve as a showcase for Chicory and as a build environment.) Most of the core OS packages in NORD can also be built with Chicory. All of the above updates are reflected in the Chicory build of those packages. For each, see the "wrapper" makefile ...

Chicory packages updated recently include ...

  • bind-9.11.1
  • db-6.0.20
  • gcc-4.2.4
  • gcc-4.8.5
  • gnucobol-1.1
  • jansson-2.10
  • libevent-2.0.22
  • libevent-2.1.8
  • libressl-2.5.5
  • libressl-2.6.0
  • musl-1.1.16
  • openssl-0.9.8k
  • openvpn-2.3.15
  • python-2.5.2
  • regina-3.9.1
  • screen-4.6.1

This is not an exhaustive list.

On NORD, use 'nord-build-opt' or 'chicory-build' to build Chicory packages. 

The updated core packages have been reflected in a master spreadsheet for NORD. The supplemental packages have not, but soon will. This spreadsheet, along with other docs, resides in Google space, which is considered sub-optimal since it is proprietary. There is also a Github respository for NORD which includes a growing body of NORD build scripts. The official repository is and  ( is available both HTTP and HTTPS and does not require HSTS.)

-- R; <><

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Identity Based Encryption

Identity Based Encryption

We were readying the house for visitors and cleaning-up. In the loft, on a bookshelf,  I found a house key. It fit the door to our house, but didn't unlock it.
Where did this key come from? What door does it open? 

It occurred to me that some kind of identifier would help. We've got several keys for other houses and they're all tagged. This key happened to not be tagged. 

This is one aspect of  Identity Based Encryption. With crypto, there are keys. What files, messages, or systems do the keys unlock? The identity is more important than the key itself. 

It's not a stretch to say that a key without an identity is worthless. Indeed, a key under your control without an identity that others would recognize may seem more  secure. The fact that others cannot know what door (file, message, system) it unlocks may be a kind of security. 
But you know what it's for. 

My employer sells "identity based encryption", both asymmetric (IBE) and symmetric (IBSE). It's good stuff. It makes sense. 

This unlabeled house key brings the story to life. Keys need identities so their purpose can be known. 

-- R; <><

Monday, April 24, 2017

NORD and stali

NORD and stali

My friend Skippy sent email suggesting I check out stali. I had seen it before. Good stuff, if perhaps a bit knee-jerk.

Can't help but think that stali springs from a Linux-centric experience, even though the developers clearly value simplicity. And I'm thrilled to see another team fighting the good fight against bloat.

How does it relate (if at all) to NORD?
I took the framework of stali goals and wrote a NORD philosophy (section of the intro doc):

  • Follow the Unix philosophy.
  • Target i386, s390, ppc, and arm hardware.
  • Separate easily-replaced core system from optional packages.
  • Follow Linux FHS where it makes sense.
  • Don’t use SystemD.
  • Make as much static as is reasonable. (minimize shared library dependencies)
  • Achieve simplicity and stability. (good rescue or embedded system)
  • Achieve runs-from-ROM.
  • Minimize security attack surfaces.
  • Include a hand selected collection of the standard tools.
  • Upgrade/install using RSYNC; no package manager needed.

In recent weeks, I needed a clean development system (again!). Had trouble building Squid Proxy on I386. (It built just fine on S390.) So I went about cycling through the core packages (again!), also updated the kernel headers, and tried a re-build of GLIBC. Got stuck. Still stuck. But most things build and re-build just fine.

I've been reviewing some Chicory-built packages to re-do them with static linkage. That will be an ongoing process. 

-- R; <><

Sunday, January 15, 2017

NORD Rationale

NORD Rationale

A few days ago (this is mid January 2017), I added a rationale section to the NORD Linux intro document. I've given a lot of thought to the "why should anyone bother?" question with respect to NORD. The project has become an obsession, but I find objective reasons to continue using it. It's not just a hobby but a tool for other work.

Two systems handling web traffic and other services for are NORD systems. Those are Buckeyes and ltroth1. There are other systems where NORD runs in 'chroot' handling some workloads within that jail. So the environment has become significant within this domain.

Showcase for Other Projects

NORD didn't start out as yet another distro. Projects like simply recompiling the Linux kernel added to a collection. The collection grew into a usable system. It reached critical mass and could sustain real work. That seems to be still its primary purpose. It is the stage where other projects perform.

CSCRATCH is the project which [re]builds the core operating system. It's unique to NORD (though it's not exclusively for Linux). Chicory is more widely effective. Both are just wrappers around the standard recipe.

NORD is my primary platform for hardening activities: reliability, auditability, servicability, as well as penetration defense. There are also growing concerns about trusting trust. (Sure, I'm paranoid. But am I paranoid enough?)

Serious about Source

I've been working with Free and Open Source software for most of my career. At this point, the pay-for and proprietary software that puts food on my table depends inseparably on FOSS. 

Ironically, the rise in use of FOSS throughout the industry has not led to a corresponding use of source code at delivery points. The Linux distributors and forward looking software vendors have done such a good job of embracing FOSS and making it drop-in usable that their customers don't need to actually use the source. But it's tech debt. 

As long as the providers do the right thing, their customers can proceed with their own business and focus on more important details of that operation. And most vendors/distributors are doing the right thing and will likely continue. But take note, be aware, and get ready. Consider source code as part of your business continuity plan. 

NORD can be acquired and used without ever worrying about source or compiling or building. (Compared to "real" distributions it's really rough and I presume the consumer knows traditional Unix.) But NORD is designed to be re-built in a pinch. NORD can assimilate an update or  patch faster than any other Linux implementation. (In recent history was Shell Shock which NORD handled no delays: as soon as patches were available, just recompile.) 

Summary in Three Ss

Rationale for NORD solidifies into simplicity, showcase, and source code. 

Now I need to get others interested. A half dozen friends have lent a hand over the course of this saga. A couple of them have been able to make use of the deliverables. We need more participants. (We at least need people to hammer on the build logic, test the results, find bugs and maybe squash them.) 
Wanna help?

-- R; <><