Category: Debian

APT 1.5 is out

APT 1.5 is out, after almost 3 months the release of 1.5 alpha 1, and almost six months since the release of 1.4 on April 1st. This release cycle was unusually short, as 1.4 was the stretch release series and the zesty release series, and we waited for the latter of these releases before we started 1.5. In related news, 1.4.8 hit stretch-proposed-updates today, and is waiting in the unapproved queue for zesty.

This release series moves https support from apt-transport-https into apt proper, bringing with it support for https:// proxies, and support for autodetectproxy scripts that return http, https, and socks5h proxies for both http and https.

Unattended updates and upgrades now work better: The dependency on network-online was removed and we introduced a meta wait-online helper with support for NetworkManager, systemd-networkd, and connman that allows us to wait for network even if we want to run updates directly after a resume (which might or might not have worked before, depending on whether update ran before or after network was back up again). This also improves a boot performance regression for systems with rc.local files:

The rc.local.service unit specified, and login stuff was After=rc.local.service, and apt-daily.timer was, causing to be pulled into the boot and the rc.local.service ordering dependency to take effect, significantly slowing down the boot.

An earlier less intrusive variant of that fix is in 1.4.8: It just moves the Want/After from apt-daily.timer to apt-daily.service so most boots are uncoupled now. I hope we get the full solution into stretch in a later point release, but we should gather some experience first before discussing this with the release time.

Balint Reczey also provided a patch to increase the time out before killing the daily upgrade service to 15 minutes, to actually give unattended-upgrades some time to finish an in-progress update. Honestly, I’d have though the machine hung up and force rebooted it after 5 seconds already. (this patch is also in 1.4.8)

We also made sure that unreadable config files no longer cause an error, but only a warning, as that was sort of a regression from previous releases; and we added documentation for /etc/apt/auth.conf, so people actually know the preferred way to place sensitive data like passwords (and can make their sources.list files world-readable again).

We also fixed apt-cdrom to support discs without MD5 hashes for Sources (the Files field), and re-enabled support for udev-based detection of cdrom devices which was accidentally broken for 4 years, as it was trying to load at runtime, but that library had an SONAME change to – we now link against it normally.

Furthermore, if certain information in Release files change, like the codename, apt will now request confirmation from the user, avoiding a scenario where a user has stable in their sources.list and accidentally upgrades to the next release when it becomes stable.

Paul Wise contributed patches to allow configuring the apt-daily intervals more easily – apt-daily is invoked twice a day by systemd but has more fine-grained internal timestamp files. You can now specify the intervals in seconds, minutes, hours, and day units, or specify “always” to always run (that is, up to twice a day on systemd, once per day on non-systemd platforms).

Development for the 1.6 series has started, and I intent to upload a first alpha to unstable in about a week, removing the apt-transport-https package and enabling compressed index files by default (save space, a lot of space, at not much performance cost thanks to lz4). There will also be some small clean ups in there, but I don’t expect any life-changing changes for now.

I think our new approach of uploading development releases directly to unstable instead of parking them in experimental is working out well. Some people are confused why alpha releases appear in unstable, but let me just say one thing: These labels basically just indicate feature-completeness, and not stability. An alpha is just very likely to get a lot more features, a beta is less likely (all the big stuff is in), and the release candidates just fix bugs.

Also, we now have 3 active stable series: The 1.2 LTS series, 1.4 medium LTS, and 1.5. 1.2 receives updates as part of Ubuntu 16.04 (xenial), 1.4 as part of Debian 9.0 (stretch) and Ubuntu 17.04 (zesty); whereas 1.5 will only be supported for 9 months (as part of Ubuntu 17.10). I think the stable release series are working well, although 1.4 is a bit tricky being shared by stretch and zesty right now (but zesty is history soon, so …).


Why TUF does not shine (for APT repositories)

In DebConf17 there was a talk about The Update Framework, short TUF. TUF claims to be a plug-in solution to software updates, but while it has the same practical level of security as apt, it also has the same shortcomings, including no way to effectively revoke keys.

TUF divides signing responsibilities into roles: A root role, a targets rule (signing stuff to download), a snapshots rule (signing meta data), and a time stamp rule (signing a time stamp file). There also is a mirror role for signing a list of mirrors, but we can ignore that for now. It strongly recommends that all keys except for timestamp and mirrors are kept offline, which is not applicable for APT repositories – Ubuntu updates the repository every 30 minutes, imagine doing that with offline keys. An insane proposal.

In APT repositories, we effectively only have a snapshots rule – the only thing we sign are Release files, and trust is then chained down by hashes (Release files hashes Packages index files, and they have hashes of individual packages). The keys used to sign repositories are online keys, after all, all the metadata files change every 30 minutes (Ubuntu) or 6 hours (Debian) – it’s impossible to sign them by hand. The timestamp role is replaced by a field in the Release file specifying until when the Release file is considered valid.

Let’s check the attacks TUF protects again:

  • Arbitrary installation attacks. – We protect against that with the outer signature and hashes
  • Endless data attacks. – Yes, we impose a limit on Release files (the sizes of other files are specified in there and this file is signed)
  • Extraneous dependencies attacks – That’s verified by the signed hashes of Packages files
  • Fast-forward attacks – same
  • Indefinite freeze attacks – APT has a Valid-Until field that can be used to specify a maximum life time of a release file
  • Malicious mirrors preventing updates. – Well, the user configures the mirror, so usually not applicable. if the user has multiple mirrors, APT deals with that fine
  • Mix-and-match attacks – Again, signed Release file and hashes of other files
  • Rollback attacks – We do not allow Date fields in Release files to go backwards
  • Slow retrieval attacks – TUF cannot protect against that either. APT has very high timeouts, and there is no reasonable answer to that.
  • Vulnerability to key compromises – For our purposes where we need all repository signing keys to be online, as we need to sign new releases and metadata fairly often, it does not make it less vulnerable to require a threshold of keys (APT allows repositories to specify concrete key ids they may be signed with though, that has the same effect)
  • Wrong software installation. – Does not happen, the .deb files are hashed in the Packages files which are signed by the release file

As we can see, APT addresses all attacks TUF addresses.

But both do not handle key revocation. So, if a key & mirror gets compromised (or just key and the mirror is MITMed), we cannot inform the user that the key has been compromised and block updates from the compromised repository.

I just wrote up a proposal to allow APT to query for revoked keys from a different host with a key revocation list (KRL) file that is signed by different keys than the repository. This would solve the problem of key revocation easily – even if the repository host is MITMed or compromised, we can still revoke the keys signing the repository from a different location.

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.

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.

Clarifications and updates on APT + SHA1

The APT 1.2.7 release is out now.

Despite of what I wrote earlier, we now print warnings for Release files signed with signatures using SHA1 as the digest algorithm. This involved extending the protocol APT uses to communicate with the methods a bit, by adding a new 104 Warning message type.

W: gpgv:/var/lib/apt/lists/apt.example.com_debian_dists_sid_InRelease: The repository is insufficiently signed by key
1234567890ABCDEF0123456789ABCDEF01234567 (weak digest)

Also note that SHA1 support is not dropped, we merely do not consider it trustworthy. This means that it feels like SHA1 support is dropped, because sources without SHA2 won’t work; but the SHA1 signatures will still be used in addition to the SHA2 ones, so there’s no point removing them (same for MD5Sum fields).

We also fixed some small bugs!