Pretending port zero is a normal one

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Speaking the TCP protocol, we communicate between “ports” in the local and remote ends. Each of these port fields are 16 bits in the protocol header so they can hold values between 0 – 65535. (IPv4 or IPv6 are the same here.) We usually do HTTP on port 80 and we do HTTPS on port 443 and so on. We can even play around and use them on various other custom ports when we feel like it.

But what about port 0 (zero) ? Sure, IANA lists the port as “reserved” for TCP and UDP but that’s just a rule in a list of ports, not actually a filter implemented by anyone.

In the actual TCP protocol port 0 is nothing special but just another number. Several people have told me “it is not supposed to be used” or that it is otherwise somehow considered bad to use this port over the internet. I don’t really know where this notion comes from more than that IANA listing.

Frank Gevaerts helped me perform some experiments with TCP port zero on Linux.

In the Berkeley sockets API widely used for doing TCP communications, port zero has a bit of a harder situation. Most of the functions and structs treat zero as just another number so there’s virtually no problem as a client to connect to this port using for example curl. See below for a printout from a test shot.

Running a TCP server on port 0 however, is tricky since the bind() function uses a zero in the port number to mean “pick a random one” (I can only assume this was a mistake done eons ago that can’t be changed). For this test, a little iptables trickery was run so that incoming traffic on TCP port 0 would be redirected to port 80 on the server machine, so that we didn’t have to patch any server code.

Entering a URL with port number zero to Firefox gets this message displayed:

This address uses a network port which is normally used for purposes other than Web browsing. Firefox has canceled the request for your protection.

… but Chrome accepts it and tries to use it as given.

The only little nit that remains when using curl against port 0 is that it seems glibc’s getpeername() assumes this is an illegal port number and refuses to work. I marked that line in curl’s output in red below just to highlight it for you. The actual source code with this check is here. This failure is not lethal for libcurl, it will just have slightly less info but will still continue to work. I claim this is a glibc bug.

$ curl -v http://10.0.0.1:0 -H "Host: 10.0.0.1"
* Rebuilt URL to: http://10.0.0.1:0/
* Hostname was NOT found in DNS cache
* Trying 10.0.0.1...
* getpeername() failed with errno 107: Transport endpoint is not connected
* Connected to 10.0.0.1 () port 0 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> User-Agent: curl/7.38.1-DEV
> Accept: */*
> Host: 10.0.0.1
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:08:02 GMT
< Server: Apache/2.4.10 (Debian)
< Last-Modified: Fri, 24 Oct 2014 08:48:34 GMT
< Content-Length: 22
< Content-Type: text/html

<html>testpage</html>

Why doing this experiment? Just for fun to to see if it worked.

(Discussion and comments on this post is also found at Reddit.)

HTTP/2 interop pains

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

At around 06:49 CEST on the morning of August 27 2014, Google deployed an HTTP/2 draft-14 implementation on their front-end servers that handle logins to Google accounts (and possibly others). Those at least take care of all the various login stuff you do with Google, G+, gmail, etc.

The little problem with that was just that their implementation of HTTP2 is in disagreement with all existing client implementations of that same protocol at that draft level. Someone immediately noticed this problem and filed a bug against Firefox.

The Firefox Nightly and beta versions have HTTP2 enabled by default and so users quickly started to notice this and a range of duplicate bug reports have been filed. And keeps being filed as more users run into this problem. As far as I know, Chrome does not have this enabled by default so much fewer Chrome users get this ugly surprise.

The Google implementation has a broken cookie handling (remnants from the draft-13 it looks like by how they do it). As I write this, we’re on the 7th day with this brokenness. We advice bleeding-edge users of Firefox to switch off HTTP/2 support in the mean time until Google wakes up and acts.

You can actually switch http2 support back on once you’ve logged in and it then continues to work fine. Below you can see what a lovely (wildly misleading) error message you get if you try http2 against Google right now with Firefox:

google-http2-draft14-cookies

This post is being debated on hacker news.

Updated: 20:14 CEST: There’s a fix coming, that supposedly will fix this problem on Thursday September 4th.

Update 2: In the morning of September 4th (my time), Google has reverted their servers to instead negotiate SPDY 3.1 and Firefox is fine with this.

The curl year 2012

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

2012

So what did happen in the curl project during 2012?

First some basic stats

We shipped 6 releases with 199 identified bug fixes and some 40 other changes. That makes on average 33 bug fixes shipped every 61st day or a little over one bug fix done every second day. All this done with about 1000 commits to the git repository, which is roughly the same amount of git activity as 2010 and 2011. We merged commits from 72 different authors, which is a slight increase from the 62 in 2010 and 68 in 2011.

On our main development mailing list, the curl-library list, we now have 1300 subscribers and during 2012 it got about 3500 postings from almost 500 different From addresses. To no surprise, I posted by far the largest amount of mails there (847) with the number two poster being Günter Knauf who posted 151 times. Four more members posted more than 100 times: Steve Holme (145), Dan Fandrich (131), Marc Hoersken (130) and Yang Tse (107). Last year I sent 1175 mails to the same list…

Notable events

I’ve walked through the biggest changes and fixes and here are the particular ones I found stood out during this otherwise rather calm and laid back curl year. Possibly in a rough order of importance…

  1. We started the year with two security vulnerability announcements, regarding an SSL weakness and an injection flaw. They were reported in 2011 though and we didn’t get any further security alerts during 2012 which I think is good. Or a sign that nobody has been looking close enough…
  2. We got two interesting additions in the SSL backend department almost simultaneously. We got native Windows support with the use of the schannel subsystem and we got native Mac OS X support with the use of Darwin SSL. Thanks to these, we can now offer SSL-enabled libcurls on those operating systems without relying on third party SSL libraries.
  3. The VERIFYHOST debacle took off with “security researchers” throwing accusations and insults, ending with us releasing a curl release with the bug removed. It did however unfortunately lead to some follow-up problems in for example the PHP binding.
  4. During the autumn, the brokeness of WSApoll was identified, and we now build libcurl without it and as a result libcurl now works better on Windows!
  5. In an attempt to allow libcurl-using applications to avoid select() and its problems, we introduced the new public function curl_multi_wait. It avoids the FD_SETSIZE limit and makes it harder to screw up…
  6. The overly bloated User-Agent string for the curl tool was dramatically shortened when we cut out all the subsystems/libraries and their version numbers from the string. Now there’s only curl and its version number left. Nice and clean.
  7. In July we finally introduced metalink support in the curl tool with the curl 7.27.0 release. It’s been one of those things we’ve discussed for ages that finally came through and became reality.
  8. With the brand new HTTP CONNECT support in the test suite we suddenly could get much improved test cases that does SSL or just tunnel through an HTTP proxy with the CONNECT request. It of course helps us avoid regressions and otherwise improve curl and libcurl.

What didn’t happen

  1. I made an attempt to get the spindly hacking going, but I’ve mostly failed with that effort. I have personally not had enough time and energy to work on it, and the interest from the rest of the world seems luke warm at best.
  2. HTTP pipelining. Linus Nielsen Feltzing has a patch series in the works with a much improved pipelining support for libcurl. I’ll write a separate post about it once it gets in. Obviously we failed to merge it before the end of the year.
  3. Some of my friends like to mock me about curl not being completely IPv6 friendly due to its lack of support for Happy Eyeballs, and of course they’re right. Making curl just do two connects on IPv6-enabled machines should be a fairly small change but yet I haven’t yet managed to get into actually implementing it…
  4. DANE is SSL cert verification with records from DNS thanks to DNSSEC. Firefox has some experiments going and Chrome already supports it. This is a technology that truly can improve HTTPS going forwards and allow us to avoid the annoyingly weak and broken CA model…

I won’t promise that any of these will happen during 2013 but I can promise there will be efforts…

The Future

I wrote a separate post a short while ago about the HTTP2 progress, and I expect 2013 to bring much more details and discussions in that area. Will we get SRV record support soon? Or perhaps even URI records? Will some of the recent discussions about new HTTP auth schemes develop into something that will reach the internet in the coming year?

In libcurl we will switch to an internal design that is purely non-blocking with a lot of if-then-that-else source code removed for checks which interface that is used. I’ll make a follow-up post with details about that as well as soon as it actually happens.

Our Responsibility

curl and libcurl are considered pillars in the internet world by now. This year I’ve heard from several places by independent sources how people consider support by curl to be an important driver for internet technology. As long as we don’t have it, it hasn’t really reached everyone and that things won’t get adopted for real in the Internet community until curl has it supported. As father of the project it makes me proud and humble, but I also feel the responsibility of making sure that we continue to do the right thing the right way.

I also realize that this position of ours is not automatically glued to us, we need to keep up the good stuff to make it stick.

cURL

s/Firefox/Chrome/g

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Google Chrome BallA few weeks ago I decided to give Chrome a good ride on my main machine, a Debian Linux unstable. I use it a lot, every day, and I of course use my browser during a large portion of my time in front of it. I’m a long time Firefox fan and when I’ve heard and read other people converting I’ve always thought it’d be hard for me due to my heavy use of certain plugins, old habits and so on.

(Of course, in Debian lingo the browsers are actually called Chromium and Iceweasel, but I’ve decided to ignore that fact in this post.)

Here’s the story on how it went, what’s good with Chrome and what’s lacking in comparison to Firefox. As compared on my Linux box here.

Obvious benefints:

  • Less wasted window/screen estate. The tabs up in the window title is brilliant.
  • Faster. It’s generally faster in almost every aspect, but what’s most noticeable is when starting it.
  • Less memory hungy. At times I’ve found my Firefox installation to spend an annoying amount of my precious RAM (I have 4GB installed) and even though I would expect Chrome’s a process-per-tab concept to be more expensive memory wise, I’ve had less such problems with it.
  • The unified address/search bar, back to how Firefox once had it, is only sensible.
  • In my Firefox I’ve had two minor quirks for a while that have annoyed me: 1) when I start to search for something, I get a few seconds “freeze” immediately after I’ve started searching. Like I enter a few letters, waaaaaaait, then I can continue. This is certainly nothing life-threatening or something I can’t live through but it is annoying. 2) I occasionally get problems with flash video playbacks that the video pause or studder, most often a few seconds into it. Chrome has not given me these quirks.
  • Mailman! I administrate more than 20 mailing lists on the same host (cool.haxx.se) using mailman. Each list has iFirefox Ballts own URL and its own password. But Firefox just cannot remember them separately!!! These are pages I visit several times each day to ack or reject posts etc. Chrome remembers the passwords excellently for all the individual lists. This makes me a much happier person.

Problems I didn’t get:

  • The adblock version for Chrome is as good. I’m not sure exactly how well they compare but I haven’t noticed anything that’s given me reason to get annoyed.
  • The resizeable text edit areas in Chrome is excellent and removes the need for some of the fancier edit plugins in Firefox.

Things still nicer in Firefox:

  • I love the plugin to force unknown content-types to still be displayed by the browser. Far too many resources are still done using the wrong one and Chrome’s only option is to save it locally and then force me to run a local tool to display the file. Sure, it works fine but when I want to do that on many files it gets tedious.
  • In general Chrome, is a bit worse at handing content it doesn’t know about. I’ve managed to fiddle with my /etc/mozpluggerrc so that at least PDFs are now saved instead of saying “missing plug-in” but so far I’ve failed to get evince to display them directly. Even if it still is possible to make it happen, it is certainly a bit quirky to have to manually edit a text file to make it happen…

Conclusion

I’ll be running Chrome here now for a while!