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…
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…
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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…
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.
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.
On November 28, the HTTPbis group within the IETF published the first draft for the upcoming HTTP2 protocol. What is being posted now is a start and a foundation for further discussions and changes. It is basically an import of the SPDY version 3 protocol draft.
There’s been a lot of resistance within the HTTPbis to the mandated TLS that SPDY has been promoting so far and it seems unlikely to reach a consensus as-is. There’s also been a lot of discussion and debate over the compression SPDY uses. Not only because of the pre-populated dictionary that might already be a little out of date or the fact that gzip compression consumes a notable amount of memory per stream, but also recently the security aspect to compression thanks to the CRIME attack.
Meanwhile, the discussions on the spdy development list have brought up several changes to the version 3 that are suggested and planned to become part of the version 4 that is work in progress. Including a new compression algorithm, shorter length fields (now 16bit) and more. Recently discussions have brought up a need for better flexibility when it comes to prioritization and especially changing prio run-time. For like when browser users switch tabs or simply scroll down the page and you rather have the images you have in sight to load before the images you no longer have in view…
I started my work on Spindly a little over a year ago to build a stand-alone library, primarily intended for libcurl so that we could soon offer SPDY downloads for it. We’re still only on SPDY protocol 2 there and I’ve failed to attract any fellow developers to the project and my own lack of time has basically made the project not evolve the way I wanted it to. I haven’t given up on it though. I hope to be able to get back to it eventually, very much also depending on how the HTTPbis talk goes. I certainly am determined to have libcurl be part of the upcoming HTTP2 experiments (even if that is not happening very soon) and spindly might very well be the infrastructure that powers libcurl then.
Let me entertain you with some info and updates from the Spindly project. (Unfortunately we don’t have any logo yet so I don’t get to show it off here.)
Since I announced my intention to proceed and write the SPDY library on my own instead of waiting for libspdy to get back to life, I have worked on a number of infrastructure details.
I converted the build to use autotools and libtool to help us really make it a portable library. I made all test cases run without memory leaks and this took some amount of changes of libspdy since it was clearly not written with carefully checking memory and there were also a lot of unnecessarily small mallocs(). Anyone who does malloc() of 8 bytes should reconsider what they’re doing.
Since I’ve had to bugfix the libspdy so much, change structs and APIs and add new functions that were missing I decided that there’s no point in us trying to keep the original libspdy code or code style intact anymore so I’ve re-indented the whole code base to a style I like better than the original style.
I’ve started to write the fundamentals of a client and server demo application that is meant to use the Spindly API to implement both sides. They don’t really do much yet but the basics are in place. I’ve worked more on my idea of what the spindly API should look like. I’ve written the code for a few functions from that API and I’ve also added a few tests for them.
Most of this work has been made by me and me alone with no particular feedback or help by others. I continue to push my changes to github without delay and I occasionally announce stuff on the mailing list to keep interested people up to date. Hopefully this will lead to someone else joining in sooner or later.
The progress has not been very fast, not only because I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about how the API should ideally work to be really useful, but also because I have quite a lot of commitments in other open source projects (primarily curl and libssh2) that require their amount of time, not to mention that my day job of course needs proper attention.
We offer a daily snapshot of the code if you can’t use or don’t want to use git.
I intend to add more functions from the API document, one by one and test cases for each as I go along. In parallel I hope to get the demo client and server to run so that the API proves to actually work properly.
I want the demo client and server also to allow them to run interop tests against other implementations and I want them to be able to speak SPDY with SSL switched off – for debugging reasons. Later on, I hope to be able to use the demo server in the curl test suite so that I can test that the curl SPDY integration works correctly.
We need to either fix “check” (the unit test suite) to work C89 compatible or replace it with something else.
Want to help?
If you want to help, please subscribe to the mailing list, get familiar with the code base, study the API doc and see if it makes sense to you and then help me get that API turned into code…
Unfortunately, he was ill already then and he was ill when I communicated with him what I wanted to see happen and I also posted a patch etc to him. He mentioned to me (in a private email) a lot of work they’ve done on the code in a private branch and he invited me to get access to that code to speed up development and allow me to use their code.
I never got any response on my eager “yes, please let me in!” mail and I’ve since mailed him twice over the period of the latest months and as there have been no responses I’ve decided to slowly ramp up my activities on my side while hoping he will soon get back.
I’ve started today by setting up the spdy-library mailing list. I hope to attract fellow interested hackers to join me on this. The goal is quite simply to make a libspdy that works for us. It is to be C89 code that is portable with an API that “makes sense”. I don’t know yet if we will work on libspdy as it currently looks, if Thomas’ team will push their updated work soon or if going with my current spindly fork off github is the way. I hope to get help to decide this!
Join the effort by simply adding yourself the mailing list and participate in the discussions: http://cool.haxx.se/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/spdy-library.
And a wiki on github.
Update: I’ve created a hub collecting all related info and pointers over at spindly.haxx.se.
First, allow me to mention that I like FSCONS. I’ve been there several years, I’ve spoken there every year I’ve been there and I know and like a bunch of the persons in the team putting it together. Good stuff!
I wasn’t supposed to do any talk at FSCONS this year, and I did feel a little empty and lost because of it.
… then an empty slot appeared, a question was asked, a subject was suggested and suddenly I ended up having agreed to do a talk and the void has been filled again. I’m glad. I hope someone else will be too and I will try to excite the audience with a talk titled “SPDY: An experimental protocol for a faster web” or something like that. It will have to do for now. It is currently planned to take place at 17:15 on Saturday 12th of November.
My thinking is to explain SPDY in detail, explain the reasoning behind it, the problems that have lead up to its creation and I’ll try to shed the lights on the alternatives and make some guesses what I think the future will hold in terms of web transports and what we will NOT see… I might even manage to acquire further insights of this from my ventures into libspdy.
If you have any related thoughts or questions, feel free to ask me ahead of time and I might be able to adjust my talk for it.
SPDY is a neat new protocol and possible contender to replace HTTP – at least in some areas and for some use cases. SPDY has been invented and developed mostly by Google engineers.
SPDY allows better usage of fewer TCP connections (since it sends multiple logical streams over a single physical TCP connection) and it helps clients overcome problems with TCP (like how a new connection starts slowly) while at the same time reducing latency and bandwidth requirements. Very similar to how channels are handled over an SSH connection.
Chrome of course already supports SPDY and Firefox has some early experimental support being worked on.
Of course there are also legitimate criticisms against SPDY as well, including subjects like how it makes caching proxies impossible (because everything goes over SSL), how it makes debugging a lot harder by using compressed headers, how it is impossible to extract just a single header from the stream due to its compression approach and how the compression state buffers make each individual stream use more memory than plain old HTTP (plain TCP) ones.
We can expect SPDY<=>HTTP gateways to appear so that nobody gets locked into either side of these protocols.
SPDY will provide faster transfers. libcurl is currently used for speed reasons in many cases. To me, it makes perfect sense to have libcurl use and try to use SPDY instead of HTTP exactly like how the browsers are starting to do it, so that the libcurl using applications will get their contents transferred faster.
My thinking is that we introduce some new magic option(s) that makes libcurl use SPDY, and for normal easy interface transfers it will remain to use a single connection for each new SPDY transfer, but if you use the multi interface and you enable pipelining you’ll instead make libcurl do multiple transfers over the same single SPDY connection (as long as you speak with the same server and port etc). From an application’s stand-point it shouldn’t make any difference, apart from being faster than otherwise. Just like we want it!
Implementation wise, I would like to use a reliable and efficient third-party library for the actual SPDY implementation. If there doesn’t exist any, we make one and run that one independently. I found libspdy, but I found some concerns about it (no mailing list, looks like one-man project, not C89 compliant, no API docs etc). I mailed the libspdy author, I hoping we’d sort out my doubts and then I’d base my continued work on that library.
After some time Thomas Roth, primary libspdy author, responded and during our subsequent email exchange I’ve gotten a restored faith and belief in this library and its direction. Not only did he fix the C89 compliance pretty quickly, he is also promising rather big changes that are pending to get committed within a week or so.
Comforted by what I’ve learned from Thomas, I’ll wait for his upcoming changes and I’ll join the soon to be created mailing list for the libspdy project and I’ll contribute some ideas and efforts to help shape it into the fine SPDY library we all want. I can only encourage other fellow SPDY library interested persons to do the same!
Updated: Join the SPDY library development
The talk I did at FSCONS 2010 titled “Future Transports” has now been made available online and you can see the whole thing. It is split up in three separate video snippets. Click on the picture below to get started:
I originally put the videos embedded here on my blog, but it turned out to be a really certain way to kill Firefox so it turned out to be annoying. Now you’ll instead get handed over to the video on vimeo’s site.
On Sunday morning during FSCONS 2010, in the room “Torg 4 South” I did a 30 minute talk about a few future, potentially coming network protocols for transport. A quick look at the current state, some problems of today and 4 different technologies that have been and are being developed to solve the problem.
I got a fair amount of questions and several persons approached me afterwards to make sure they got a copy of my slides.
The video recording is hopefully going to be made available later on, but until then you can read the slides below and imagine my Swedish accent talking about these matters!