Author: Julian Andres Klode moved / backing up

In the past two days, I moved my main web site (and from a very old contract at STRATO over to something else: The domains are registered with INWX and the hosting is handled by Encryption is provided by Let’s Encrypt.

I requested the domain transfer from STRATO on Monday at 16:23, received the auth codes at 20:10 and the .de domain was transferred completely on 20:36 (about 20 minutes if you count my overhead). The .org domain I had to ACK, which I did at 20:46 and at 03:00 I received the notification that the transfer was successful (I think there was some registrar ACKing involved there). So the whole transfer took about 10 1/2 hours, or 7 hours since I retrieved the auth code. I think that’s quite a good time 🙂

And, for those of you who don’t know: uberspace is a shared hoster that basically just gives you an SSH shell account, directories for you to drop files in for the http server, and various tools to add subdomains, certificates, virtual users to the mailserver. You can also run your own custom build software and open ports in their firewall. That’s quite cool.

I’m considering migrating the blog away from wordpress at some point in the future – having a more integrated experience is a bit nicer than having my web presence split over two sites. I’m unsure if I shouldn’t add something like cloudflare there – I don’t want to overload the servers (but I only serve static pages, so how much load is this really going to get?).

in other news: off-site backups

I also recently started doing offsite backups via borg to a server operated by the wonderful For those of you who do not know You basically get SSH to a server where you can upload your backups via common tools like rsync, scp, or you can go crazy and use git-annex, borg, attic; or you could even just plain zfs send your stuff there.

The normal price is $0.08 per GB per month, but there is a special borg price of $0.03 (that price does not include snapshotting or support, really). You can also get a discounted normal account for $0.04 if you find the correct code on Hacker News, or other discounts for open source developers, students, etc. – you just have to send them an email.

Finally, I must say that uberspace and feel similar in spirit. Both heavily emphasise the command line, and don’t really have any fancy click stuff. I like that.

Starting the faster, more secure APT 1.4 series

We just released the first beta of APT 1.4 to Debian unstable (beta here means that we don’t know any other big stuff to add to it, but are still open to further extensions). This is the release series that will be released with Debian stretch, Ubuntu zesty, and possibly Ubuntu zesty+1 (if the Debian freeze takes a very long time, even zesty+2 is possible). It should reach the master archive in a few hours, and your mirrors shortly after that.

Security changes

APT 1.4 by default disables support for repositories signed with SHA1 keys. I announced back in January that it was my intention to do this during the summer for development releases, but I only remembered the Jan 1st deadline for stable releases supporting that (APT 1.2 and 1.3), so better late than never.

Around January 1st, the same or a similar change will occur in the APT 1.2 and 1.3 series in Ubuntu 16.04 and 16.10 (subject to approval by Ubuntu’s release team). This should mean that repository provides had about one year to fix their repositories, and more than 8 months since the release of 16.04. I believe that 8 months is a reasonable time frame to upgrade a repository signing key, and hope that providers who have not updated their repositories yet will do so as soon as possible.

Performance work

APT 1.4 provides a 10-20% performance increase in cache generation (and according to callgrind, we went from approx 6.8 billion to 5.3 billion instructions for my laptop’s configuration, a reduction of more than 21%). The major improvements are:

We switched the parsing of Deb822 files (such as Packages files) to my perfect hash function TrieHash. TrieHash – which generates C code from a set of words – is about equal or twice as fast as the previously used hash function (and two to three times faster than gperf), and we save an additional 50% of that time as we only have to hash once during parsing now, instead of during look up as well. APT 1.4 marks the first time TrieHash is used in any software. I hope that it will spread to dpkg and other software at a later point in time.vendors.

Another important change was to drop normalization of Description-MD5 values, the fields mapping a description in a Packages files to a translated description. We used to parse the hex digits into a native binary stream, and then compared it back to hex digits for comparisons, which cost us about 5% of the run time performance.

We also optimized one of our hash functions – the VersionHash that hashes the important fields of a package to recognize packages with the same version, but different content – to not normalize data to a temporary buffer anymore. This buffer has been the subject of some bugs (overflow, incompleteness) in the recent past, and also caused some slowdown due to the additional writes to the stack. Instead, we now pass the bytes we are interested in directly to our CRC code, one byte at a time.

There were also some other micro-optimisations: For example, the hash tables in the cache used to be ordered by standard compare (alphabetical followed by shortest). It is now ordered by size first, meaning we can avoid data comparisons for strings of different lengths. We also got rid of a std::string that cannot use short string optimisation in a hot path of the code. Finally, we also converted our case-insensitive djb hashes to not use a normal tolower_ascii(), but introduced tolower_ascii_unsafe() which just sets the “lowercase bit” (| 0x20) in the character.


  • Sandboxing now removes some environment variables like TMP from the environment.
  • Several improvements to installation ordering.
  • Support for armored GPG keys in trusted.gpg.d.
  • Various other fixes

For a more complete overview of all changes, consult the changelog.

Introducing DNS66, a host blocker for Android


I’m proud (yes, really) to announce DNS66, my host/ad blocker for Android 5.0 and newer. It’s been around since last Thursday on F-Droid, but it never really got a formal announcement.

DNS66 creates a local VPN service on your Android device, and diverts all DNS traffic to it, possibly adding new DNS servers you can configure in its UI. It can use hosts files for blocking whole sets of hosts or you can just give it a domain name to block (or multiple hosts files/hosts). You can also whitelist individual hosts or entire files by adding them to the end of the list. When a host name is looked up, the query goes to the VPN which looks at the packet and responds with NXDOMAIN (non-existing domain) for hosts that are blocked.

You can find DNS66 here:

F-Droid is the recommended source to install from. DNS66 is licensed under the GNU GPL 3, or (mostly) any later version.

Implementation Notes

DNS66’s core logic is based on another project,  dbrodie/AdBuster, which arguably has the cooler name. I translated that from Kotlin to Java, and cleaned up the implementation a bit:

All work is done in a single thread by using poll() to detect when to read/write stuff. Each DNS request is sent via a new UDP socket, and poll() polls over all UDP sockets, a Device Socket (for the VPN’s tun device) and a pipe (so we can interrupt the poll at any time by closing the pipe).

We literally redirect your DNS servers. Meaning if your DNS server is, all traffic to is routed to the VPN. The VPN only understands DNS traffic, though, so you might have trouble if your DNS server also happens to serve something else. I plan to change that at some point to emulate multiple DNS servers with fake IPs, but this was a first step to get it working with fallback: Android can now transparently fallback to other DNS servers without having to be aware that they are routed via the VPN.

We also need to deal with timing out queries that we received no answer for: DNS66 stores the query into a LinkedHashMap and overrides the removeEldestEntry() method to remove the eldest entry if it is older than 10 seconds or there are more than 1024 pending queries. This means that it only times out up to one request per new request, but it eventually cleans up fine.


Introducing TrieHash, a order-preserving minimal perfect hash function generator for C(++)


I introduce TrieHash an algorithm for constructing perfect hash functions from tries. The generated hash functions are pure C code, minimal, order-preserving and outperform existing alternatives. Together with the generated header files,they can also be used as a generic string to enumeration mapper (enums are created by the tool).


APT (and dpkg) spend a lot of time in parsing various files, especially Packages files. APT currently uses a function called AlphaHash which hashes the last 8 bytes of a word in a case-insensitive manner to hash fields in those files (dpkg just compares strings in an array of structs).

There is one obvious drawback to using a normal hash function: When we want to access the data in the hash table, we have to hash the key again, causing us to hash every accessed key at least twice. It turned out that this affects something like 5 to 10% of the cache generation performance.

Enter perfect hash functions: A perfect hash function matches a set of words to constant values without collisions. You can thus just use the index to index into your hash table directly, and do not have to hash again (if you generate the function at compile time and store key constants) or handle collision resolution.

As #debian-apt people know, I happened to play a bit around with tries this week before guillem suggested perfect hashing. Let me tell you one thing: My trie implementation was very naive, that did not really improve things a lot…

Enter TrieHash

Now, how is this related to hashing? The answer is simple: I wrote a perfect hash function generator that is based on tries. You give it a list of words, it puts them in a trie, and generates C code out of it, using recursive switch statements (see code generation below). The function achieves competitive performance with other hash functions, it even usually outperforms them.

Given a dictionary, it generates an enumeration (a C enum or C++ enum class) of all words in the dictionary, with the values corresponding to the order in the dictionary (the order-preserving property), and a function mapping strings to members of that enumeration.

By default, the first word is considered to be 0 and each word increases a counter by one (that is, it generates a minimal hash function). You can tweak that however:

= 0
WordLabel ~ Word
OtherWord = 9

will return 0 for an unknown value, map “Word” to the enum member WordLabel and map OtherWord to 9. That is, the input list functions like the body of a C enumeration. If no label is specified for a word, it will be generated from the word. For more details see the documentation

C code generation

switch(string[0] | 32) {
case 't':
    switch(string[1] | 32) {
    case 'a':
        switch(string[2] | 32) {
        case 'g':
            return Tag;
return Unknown;

Yes, really recursive switches – they directly represent the trie. Now, we did not really do a straightforward translation, there are some optimisations to make the whole thing faster and easier to look at:

First of all, the 32 you see is used to make the check case insensitive in case all cases of the switch body are alphabetical characters. If there are non-alphabetical characters, it will generate two cases per character, one upper case and one lowercase (with one break in it). I did not know that lowercase and uppercase characters differed by only one bit before, thanks to the clang compiler for pointing that out in its generated assembler code!

Secondly, we only insert breaks only between cases. Initially, each case ended with a return Unknown, but guillem (the dpkg developer) suggested it might be faster to let them fallthrough where possible. Turns out it was not faster on a good compiler, but it’s still more readable anywhere.

Finally, we build one trie per word length, and switch by the word length first. Like the 32 trick, his gives a huge improvement in performance.

Digging into the assembler code

The whole code translates to roughly 4 instructions per byte:

  1. A memory load,
  2. an or with 32
  3. a comparison, and
  4. a conditional jump.

(On x86, the case sensitive version actually only has a cmp-with-memory and a conditional jump).

Due to this may be one instruction more: On some architectures an unneeded zero-extend-byte instruction is inserted – this causes a 20% performance loss.

Performance evaluation

I run the hash against all 82 words understood by APT in Packages and Sources files, 1,000,000 times for each word, and summed up the average run-time:

host arch Trie TrieCase GPerfCase GPerf DJB
plummer ppc64el 540 601 1914 2000 1345
eller mipsel 4728 5255 12018 7837 4087
asachi arm64 1000 1603 4333 2401 1625
asachi armhf 1230 1350 5593 5002 1784
barriere amd64 689 950 3218 1982 1776
x230 amd64 465 504 1200 837 693

Suffice to say, GPerf does not really come close.

All hosts except the x230 are Debian porterboxes. The x230 is my laptop with a a Core i5-3320M, barriere has an Opteron 23xx. I included the DJB hash function for another reference.

Source code

The generator is written in Perl, licensed under the MIT license and available from – I initially prototyped it in Python, but guillem complained that this would add new build dependencies to dpkg, so I rewrote it in Perl.

Benchmark is available from


See the script for POD documentation.

New software: sicherboot

Fork me on GitHub

Today, I wrote sicherboot, a tool to integrate systemd-boot into a Linux distribution in an entirely new way: With secure boot support. To be precise: The use case here is to only run trusted code which then unmounts an otherwise fully encrypted disk, as in my setup:


If you want, sicherboot automatically creates db, KEK, and PK keys, and puts the public keys on your EFI System Partition (ESP) together with the KeyTool tool, so you can enroll the keys in UEFI. You can of course also use other keys, you just need to drop a db.crt and a db.key file into /etc/sicherboot/keys. It would be nice if sicherboot could enroll the keys directly in Linux, but there seems to be a bug in efitools preventing that at the moment. For some background: The Platform Key (PK) signs the Key Exchange Key (KEK) which signs the database key (db). The db key is the one signing binaries.

sicherboot also handles installing new kernels to your ESP. For this, it combines the kernel with its initramfs into one executable UEFI image, and then signs that. Combined with a fully encrypted disk setup, this assures that only you can run UEFI binaries on the system, and attackers cannot boot any other operating system or modify parts of your operating system (except for, well, any block of your encrypted data, as XTS does not authenticate the data; but then you do have to know which blocks are which which is somewhat hard).

sicherboot integrates with various parts of Debian: It can work together by dracut via an evil hack (diverting dracut’s kernel/postinst.d config file, so we can run sicherboot after running dracut), it should support initramfs-tools (untested), and it also integrates with systemd upgrades via triggers on the /usr/lib/systemd/boot/efi directory.

Currently sicherboot only supports Debian-style setups with /boot/vmlinuz-<version> and /boot/initrd.img-<version> files, it cannot automatically create combined boot images from or install boot loader entries for other naming schemes yet. Fixing that should be trivial though, with a configuration setting and some eval magic (or string substitution).

Future planned features include: (1) support for multiple ESP partitions, so you can have a fallback partition on a different drive (think RAID type situation, keep one ESP on each drive, so you can remove a failing one); and (2) a tool to create a self-contained rescue disk image from a directory (which will act as initramfs) and a kernel (falling back to a vmlinuz file )

It might also be interesting to add support for other bootloaders and setups, so you could automatically sign a grub cryptodisk image for example. Not sure how much sense that makes.

I published the source at (MIT licensed) and uploaded the package to Debian, it should enter the NEW queue soon (or be in NEW by the time you read this). Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

apt 1.3 RC4 – Tweaking apt update

Did that ever happen to you: You run apt update, it fetches a Release file, then starts fetching DEP-11 metadata, then any pdiff index stuff, and then applies them; all after another? Or this: You don’t see any update progress until very near the end? Worry no more: I tweaked things a bit in 1.3~rc4 (git commit).

Prior to 1.3~rc4, acquiring the files for an update worked like this: We create some object for the Release file, once a release file is done we queue any next object (DEP-11 icons, .diff/Index files, etc). There is no prioritizing, so usually we fetch the 5MB+ DEP-11 icons and components files first, and only then start working on other indices which might use Pdiff.

In 1.3~rc4 I changed the queues to be priority queues: Release files and .diff/Index files have the highest priority (once we have them all, we know how much to fetch). The second level of priority goes to the .pdiff files which are later on passed to the rred process to patch an existing Packages, Sources, or Contents file. The third priority level is taken by all other index targets.

Actually, I implemented the priority queues back in Jun. There was just one tiny problem: Pipelining. We might be inserting elements into our fetching queues in order of priority, but with pipelining enabled, stuff of lower priority might already have their HTTP request sent before we even get to queue the higher priority stuff.

Today I had an epiphany: We fill the pipeline up to a number of items (the depth, currently 10). So, let’s just fill the pipeline with items that have the same (or higher) priority than the maximum priority of the already-queued ones; and pretend it is full when we only have lower priority items.

And that works fine: First the Release and .diff/Index stuff is fetched, which means we can start showing accurate progress info from there one. Next, the pdiff files are fetched, meaning that we can apply them in parallel to any targets downloading later in parallel (think DEP-11 icon tarballs).

This has a great effect on performance: For the 01 Sep 2016 03:35:23 UTC -> 02 Sep 2016 09:25:37 update of Debian unstable and testing with Contents and appstream for amd64 and i386, update time reduced from 37 seconds to 24-28 seconds.


In other news

I recently cleaned up the apt packaging which renamed /usr/share/bug/apt/script to /usr/share/bug/apt. That broke on overlayfs, because dpkg could not rename the old apt directory to a backup name during unpack (only directories purely on the upper layer can be renamed). I reverted that now, so all future updates should be fine.

David re-added the Breaks against apt-utils I recently removed by accident during the cleanup, so no more errors about overriding dump solvers. He also added support for fingerprints in gpgv’s GOODSIG output, which apparently might come at some point.

I Also fixed a few CMake issues, fixed the test suite for gpgv 2.1.15, allow building with a system-wide gtest library (we really ought to add back a pre-built one in Debian), and modified debian/rules to pass -O to make. I wish debhelper would do the latter automatically (there’s a bug for that).

Finally, we fixed some uninitialized variables in the base256 code, out-of-bound reads in the Sources file parser, off-by-one errors in the tagfile comment stripping code[1], and some memcpy() with length 0. Most of these will be cherry-picked into the 1.2 (xenial) and (jessie) branches (releases 1.2.15 and If you forked off your version of apt at another point, you might want to do the same.

[1] those were actually causing the failures and segfaults in the unit tests on hurd-i386 buildds. I always thought it was a hurd-specific issue…

PS. Building for Fedora on OBS has a weird socket fd #3 that does not get closed during the test suite despite us setting CLOEXEC on it. Join us in #debian-apt on oftc if you have ideas.

Porting APT to CMake

Ever since it’s creation back in the dark ages, APT shipped with it’s own build system consisting of autoconf and a bunch of makefiles. In 2009, I felt like replacing that with something more standard, and because nobody really liked autotools, decided to go with CMake. Well, the bazaar branch was never really merged back in 2009.

Fast forward 7 years to 2016. A few months ago, we noticed that our build system had trouble with correct dependencies in parallel building. So, in search for a way out, I picked up my CMake branch from 2009 last Thursday and spent the whole weekend working on it, and today I am happy to announce that I merged it into master:

123 files changed, 1674 insertions(+), 3205 deletions(-)

More than 1500 lines less build system code. Quite impressive, eh? This also includes about 200 lines of less code in debian/, as that switched from prehistoric debhelper stuff to modern dh (compat level 9, almost ready for 10).

The annoying Tale of Targets vs Files

Talking about CMake: I don’t really love it. As you might know, CMake differentiates between targets and files. Targets can in some cases depend on files (generated by a command in the same directory), but overall files are not really targets. You also cannot have a target with the same name as a file you are generating in a custom command, you have to rename your target (make is OK with the generated stuff, but ninja complains about cycles because your custom target and your custom command have the same name).

Byproducts for the (time) win

One interesting thing about CMake and Ninja are byproducts. In our tree, we are building C++ files. We also have .pot templates depending on them, and .mo files depending on the templates (we have multiple domains, and merge the per-domain .pot with the all-domain .po file during the build to get a per-domain .mo). Now, if we just let them depend naively, changing a C++ file causes the .pot file to be regenerated which in turns causes us to build .mo files for every freaking language in the package. Even if nothing changed.

Byproducts solve this problem. Instead of just building the .pot file, we also create a stamp file (AKA the witness) and write the .pot file (without a header) into a temporary name and only copy it to its final name if the content changed. The .pot file is declared as a byproduct of the command.

The command doing the .pot->.mo step still depends on the .pot file (the byproduct), but as that only changes now if strings change, the .mo files only get rebuild if I change a translatable string. We still need to ensure that that the .pot file is actually built before we try to use it – the solution here is to specify a custom target depending on the witness and then have the target containing the .mo build commands depend on that target.

Now if you use  make, you might now this trick already. In make, the byproducts remain undeclared, though, while in CMake we can now actually express them, and they are used by the Ninja generator and the Ninja build tool if you chose that over make (try it out, it’s fast).

Further Work

Some command names are hardcoded, I should find_program() them. Also cross-building the package does not yet work successfully, but it only requires a tiny amount of patches in debhelper and/or cmake.

I also tried building the package on a Fedora docker image (with dpkg installed, it’s available in the Fedora sources). While I could eventually get the programs build and most of the integration test suite to pass, there are some minor issues to fix, mostly in the documentation building and GTest department: Fedora ships its docbook stylesheets in a different location, and ships GTest as a pre-compiled library, and not a source tree.

I have not yet tested building on exotic platforms like macOS, or even a BSD. Please do and report back. In Debian, CMake is not enough on the non-Linux platforms to build APT due to test suite failures, I hope those can be fixed/disabled soon (it appears to be a timing issue AFAICT).

I hope that we eventually get some non-Debian backends for APT. I’d love that.