Category: Debian

Dropping SHA-1 support in APT

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Caesar’s assassination APT will see a new release, turning of support for SHA-1 checksums in Debian unstable and in Ubuntu xenial, the upcoming LTS release.  While I have no knowledge of an imminent attack on our use of SHA1, Xenial (Ubuntu 16.04 LTS) will be supported for 5 years, and the landscape may change a lot in the next 5 years. As disabling the SHA1 support requires a bit of patching in our test suite, it’s best to do that now rather than later when we’re forced to do it.

This will mean that starting tomorrow, some third party repositories may stop working, such as the one for the web browser I am writing this with. Debian Derivatives should be mostly safe for that change, if they are registered in the Consensus, as that has checks for that. This is a bit unfortunate, but we have no real choice: Technical restrictions prevent us from just showing a warning in a sensible way.

There is one caveat, however: GPG signatures may still use SHA1. While I have prepared the needed code to reject SHA1-based signatures in APT, a lot of third party repositories still ship Release files signed with signatures using SHA-1 as the digest algorithms. Some repositories even still use 1024-bit DSA keys.

I plan to enforce SHA2 for GPG signatures some time after the release of xenial, and definitely for Ubuntu 16.10, so around June-August (possibly during DebConf). For xenial, I plan to have a SRU (stable release update) in January to do the same (it’s just adding one member to an array). This should give 3rd party providers a reasonable time frame to migrate to a new digest algorithm for their GPG config and possibly a new repository key.


  • Tomorrow: Disabling SHA1 support for Release, Packages, Sources files
  • June/July/August: Disabling SHA1 support for GPG signatures (InRelease/Release.gpg) in development releases
  • January 2017: Disabling SHA1 support for GPG signatures in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS via a stable-release-update.

APT 1.1.8 to 1.1.10 – going “faster”

Not only do I keep incrementing version numbers faster than ever before, APT also keeps getting faster. But not only that, it also has some bugs fixed and the cache is now checked with a hash when opening.

Important fix for 1.1.6 regression

Since APT 1.1.6, APT uses the configured xz compression level. Unfortunately, the default was set to 9, which requires 674 MiB of RAM, compared to the 94 MiB required at level 6.

This caused the test suite to fail on the Ubuntu autopkgtest servers, but I thought it was just some temporary hickup on their part, and so did not look into it for the 1.1.7, 1.1.8, and 1.1.9 releases.  When the Ubuntu servers finally failed with 1.1.9 again (they only started building again on Monday it seems), I noticed something was wrong.

Enter git bisect. I created a script that compiles the APT source code and runs a test with ulimit for virtual and resident memory set to 512 (that worked in 1.1.5), and let it ran, and thus found out the reason mentioned above.

The solution: APT now defaults to level 6.

New Features

APT 1.1.8 introduces /usr/lib/apt/apt-helper cat-file which can be used to read files compressed by any compressor understood by APT. It is used in the recent apt-file experimental release, and serves to prepare us for a future in which files on the disk might be compressed with a different compressor (such as LZ4 for Contents files, this will improve rred speed on them by factor 7).

David added a feature that enables servers to advertise that they do not want APT to download and use some Architecture: all contents when they include all in their list of architectures. This is to allow archives to drop Architecture: all packages from the architecture-specific content files, to avoid redundant data and (thus) improve the performance of apt-file.

Buffered writes

APT 1.1.9 introduces buffered writing for rred, reducing the runtime by about 50% on a slowish SSD, and maybe more on HDDs. The 1.1.9 release is a bit buggy and might mess up things when a write syscall is interrupted, this is fixed in 1.1.10.

Cache generation improvements

APT 1.1.9 and APT 1.1.10 improve the cache generation algorithms in several ways: Switching a lookup table from std::map to std::unordered_map, providing an inline isspace_ascii() function, and inlining the tolower_ascii() function which are tiny functions that are called a lot.

APT 1.1.10 also switches the cache’s hash function to the DJB hash function and increases the default hash table sizes to the smallest prime larger than 15000, namely 15013. This reduces the average bucket size from 6.5 to 4.5. We might increase this further in the future.

Checksum for the cache, but no more syncs

Prior to APT 1.1.10 writing the cache was a multi-part process:

  1. Write the the cache to a temporary file with the dirty bit set to true
  2. Call fsync() to sync the cache
  3. Write a new header with the dirty bit set to false
  4. Call fsync() to sync the new header
  5. (Rename the temporary file to the target name)

The last step was obviously not needed, as we could easily live with an intact cache that has its dirty field set to false, as we can just rebuild it.

But what matters more is step 2. Synchronizing the entire 40 or 50 MB takes some time. On my HDD system, it consumed 56% of the entire cache generation time, and on my SSD system, it consumed 25% of the time.

APT 1.1.10 does not sync the cache at all. It now embeds a hashsum (adler32 for performance reasons) in the cache. This helps ensure that no matter what parts of the cache are written in case of some failure somewhere, we can still detect a failure with reasonable confidence (and even more errors than before).

This means that cache generation is now much faster for a lot of people. On the bad side, commands like apt-cache show that previously took maybe 10 ms to execute can now take about 80 ms.

Please report back on your performance experience with 1.1.10 release, I’m very interested to see if that works reasonably for other people. And if you have any other idea how to solve the issue, I’d be interested to hear them (all data needs to be written before the header with dirty=0 is written, but we don’t want to sync the data).

Future work

We seem to have a lot of temporary (?) std::string objects during the cache generation, accounting for about 10% of the run time. I’m thinking of introducing a string_view class similar to the one proposed for C++17 and make use of that.

I also thought about calling posix_fadvise() before starting to parse files, but the cache generation process does not seem to spend a lot of its time in system calls (even with all caches dropped before the run), so I don’t think this will improve things.

If anyone has some other suggestions or patches for performance stuff, let me know.

Much faster incremental apt updates

APT’s performance in applying the Pdiffs files, which are the diff format used for Packages, Sources, and other files in the archive has been slow.

Improving performance for uncompressed files

The reason for this is that our I/O is unbuffered, and we were reading one byte at a time in order to read lines. This changed on December 24, by adding read buffering for reading lines, vastly improving the performance of rred.

But it was still slow, so today I profiled – using gperftools – the rred method running on a 430MB uncompressed Contents file with a 75 KB large patch. I noticed that our ReadLine() method was calling some method which took a long time (google-pprof told me it was some _nss method, but that was wrong [thank you, addr2line]).

After some further look into the code, I noticed that we set the length of the buffer using the length of the line. And whenever we moved some data out of the buffer, we called memmove() to move the remaining data to the front of the buffer.

So, I tried to use a fixed buffer size of 4096 (commit). Now memmove() would spend less time moving memory around inside the buffer. This helped a lot, bringing the run time on my example file down from 46 seconds to about 2 seconds.

Later on, I rewrote the code to not use memmove() at all – opting for start and end variables instead; and increasing the start variable when reading from the buffer (commit).

This in turn further improved things, bringing it down to about 1.6 seconds. We could now increase the buffer size again, without any negative effect.

Effects on apt-get update

I measured the run-time of apt-get update, excluding appstream and apt-file files, for the update from todays 07:52 to the 13:52 dinstall run. Configured sources are unstable and experimental with amd64 and i386 architectures. appstream and apt-file indexes are disabled for testing, so only Packages and Sources indexes are fetched.

The results are impressive:

  • For APT 1.1.6, updating with PDiffs enabled took 41 seconds.
  • For APT 1.1.7, updating with PDiffs enabled took 4 seconds.

That’s a tenfold increase in performance. By the way, running without PDiffs took 20 seconds, so there’s no reason not to use them.

Future work

Writes are still unbuffered, and account for about 75% to 80% of our runtime. That’s an obvious area for improvements.


Performance for patching compressed files

Contents files are usually compressed with gzip, and kept compressed locally because they are about 500 MB uncompressed and only 30MB compressed. I profiled this, and it turns out there is not much we can do about it: The majority of the time is spent inside zlib, mostly combining CRC checksums:


Going forward, I think a reasonable option might be to recompress Contents files using lzo – they will be a bit bigger (50MB instead of 30MB), but lzo is about 6 times as fast (compressing a 430MB Contents file took 1 second instead of 6).

python-apt now native Python 3 code

Today I made an important change to the python-apt code: It is now native Python 3 code (but also works under Python 2). The previous versions all run 2to3 during the build process to create a Python 3 version. This is no longer needed, as the code is now identical.

As part of that change, python-apt now only supports Python 2.7, Python 3.3, and newer. I’m using some features only present in 3.3 like Python2 unicode literal syntax in order to keep the code simple.

Here’s how I did it:

I took the Python 2 code and ran 2to3 -f print -x future on it. This turned every print statement in a call to the print function. I then went ahead and added a “from __future__ import print_function” to the top of each module. This was the first commit.

For the second commit, I ran 2to3 -p -x future to convert the remaining stuff to Python 3, and then undid some changes (like unicode literals) and fixed the rest of the changes to work under both Python 2 and 3. Sometimes I added a top-level code like:

if sys.version_info_major >= 3:
    unicode = str

So I could use unicode in the code for the Python 2 cases.

I used various backported modules like io and stuff only available in Python 2.7, so dropped support for Python 2.6.

python-apt 0.9 released

I released python-apt 0.9. This completely removes support for the old API from the code base (it was disabled for the entirety of 0.8 in Debian, and in Ubuntu since saucy). Highlights:

  • Cleanup: Complete removal of old-api support code
  • Bug fix: Various coverty bug fixes by Michael Vogt
  • Bug fix: Correctly handles multi-arch dependencies in apt.debfile, so packagekit and gdebi can now install local multi-arch packages correctly
  • Bug fix: A segmentation fault has been fixed. When releasing the value of the policy attribute of an apt_pkg.Cache object, its destructor deleted the pkgPolicy, but that was managed by a CacheFile from APT, causing it to be deleted twice.
  • Bug fix: Tests do not depend on the contents of /tmp anymore
  • Bug fix: All examples and old tests have been updated to the current python-apt API
  • Feature: Paths can now be specified using ‘bytes’ objects instead of ‘str’ in Python 3.
  • Ubuntu-specific: Meta-data for Ubuntu 14.04 — although with a typo (‘thar’ instead of ‘tahr’), but that is fixed in git


apt-show-versions rewrite in C++ (more than 10 times faster)

The script apt-show-versions is developed by another Debian Developer called Christoph Martin in Perl. Recently, it turned out that apt-show-versions is too slow for some users; so I decided to rewrite his program using APT’s C++ API. I expect this to be part of a future APT release, rendering the original apt-show-versions obsolete.

The rewrite is sadly not 100% backwards compatible to the original version; as some option names had to be renamed due to our command-line parser not supporting option names like -nh, and some other options were dropped because they are hard to support (like –status-file and –lists-dir) with our command-line parsing. I also decided not to keep the the -p and -r options, but use the standard APT command-line conventions insteads.

For now, it also cannot show you the distribution names you have specified in your sources.list file, but will always display codenames instead; if available. I hope to fix this in Jessie by extending APT’s cache format a bit.

On the performance side, this program now takes about 0.09s compared to the 1.40 seconds needed by apt-show-versions. The times are taken with all data in caches.

The current version can be found in a git repository, a link to gitweb is:

Please also note that support for –allversions is not 100% implemented yet, but it should work for most uses.

Now, go testing and report back!

Cleaning up the system with pseudo-boolean optimization

You can use a PBO solver to clean up your system from unneeded automatically installed packages. First of all, you convert the system state to PB, and add an optimization function telling it to remove as many automatically installed packages as possible. Then you run this thing through a solver (such as clasp, which seems the fastest solver for PBO instances in the Debian archive) and convert its output to human-readable package names.

Code is provided at, under the MPL 2.0. You need to have python-apt and clasp installed to use it. There is potential minisat+ support, but it’s currently a bit broken.

To use, run python, and it will tell you which packages are no longer needed on your system. It ignores Suggests, if you want those in, you have to hack the code and replace {“Recommends”} by {“Recommends”, “Suggests”}. You can also turn of such dependencies by setting Program.hard_softdeps to False.