“I will slaughter you”

You might know that I’ve posted funny emails I’ve received on my blog several times in the past. The kind of emails people send me when they experience problems with some device they own (like a car) and they contact me because my email address happens to be visible somewhere.

People sometimes say I should get a different email address or use another one in the curl license file, but I’ve truly never had a problem with these emails, as they mostly remind me about the tough challenges the modern technical life bring to people and it gives me insights about what things that run curl.

But not all of these emails are “funny”.

Category: not funny

Today I received the following email

From: Al Nocai <[redacted]@icloud.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2021 03:02:24 -0600
Subject: I will slaughter you

That subject.

As an open source maintainer since over twenty years, I know flame wars and personal attacks and I have a fairly thick skin and I don’t let words get to me easily. It took me a minute to absorb and realize it was actually meant as a direct physical threat. It found its ways through and got to me. This level of aggressiveness is not what I’m prepared for.

Attached in this email, there were seven images and no text at all. The images all look like screenshots from a phone and the first one is clearly showing source code I wrote and my copyright line:

The other images showed other source code and related build/software info of other components, but I couldn’t spot how they were associated with me in any way.

No explanation, just that subject and the seven images and I was left to draw my own conclusions.

I presume the name in the email is made up and the email account is probably a throw-away one. The time zone used in the Date: string might imply US central standard time but could of course easily be phony as well.

How I responded

Normally I don’t respond to these confused emails because the distance between me and the person writing them is usually almost interplanetary. This time though, it was so far beyond what’s acceptable to me and in any decent society I couldn’t just let it slide. After I took a little pause and walked around my house for a few minutes to cool off, I wrote a really angry reply and sent it off.

This was a totally and completely utterly unacceptable email and it hurt me deep in my soul. You should be ashamed and seriously reconsider your manners.

I have no idea what your screenshots are supposed to show, but clearly something somewhere is using code I wrote. Code I have written runs in virtually every Internet connected device on the planet and in most cases the users download and use it without even telling me, for free.

Clearly you don’t deserve my code.

I don’t expect that it will be read or make any difference.

Update below, added after my initial post.

Al Nocai’s response

Contrary to my expectations above, he responded. It’s not even worth commenting but for transparency I’ll include it here.

I do not care. Your bullshit software was an attack vector that cost me a multimillion dollar defense project.

Your bullshit software has been used to root me and multiple others. I lost over $15k in prototyping alone from bullshit rooting to the charge arbitrators.

I have now since October been sandboxed because of your bullshit software so dipshit google kids could grift me trying to get out of the sandbox because they are too piss poor to know shat they are doing.

You know what I did to deserve that? I tried to develop a trade route in tech and establish project based learning methodologies to make sure kids aren’t left behind. You know who is all over those god damn files? You are. Its sickening. I got breached in Oct 2020 through federal server hijacking, and I owe a great amount of that to you.

Ive had to sit and watch as i reported:

  1. fireeye Oct/2020
  2. Solarwinds Oct/2020
  3. Zyxel Modem Breach Oct/2020
  4. Multiple Sigover attack vectors utilizing favicon XML injection
  5. JS Stochastic templating utilizing comparison expressions to write to data registers
  6. Get strong armed by $50billion companies because i exposed bullshit malware

And i was rooted and had my important correspondence all rerouted as some sick fuck dismantled my life with the code you have your name plastered all over. I cant even leave the country because of the situation; qas you have so effectively built a code base to shit all over people, I dont give a shit how you feel about this.

You built a formula 1 race car and tossed the keys to kids with ego problems. Now i have to deal with Win10 0-days because this garbage.

I lost my family, my country my friends, my home and 6 years of work trying to build a better place for posterity. And it has beginnings in that code. That code is used to root and exploit people. That code is used to blackmail people.

So no, I don’t feel bad one bit. You knew exactly the utility of what you were building. And you thought it was all a big joke. Im not laughing. I am so far past that point now.

/- Al

Al continues

Nine hours after I first published this blog post , Al replied again with two additional emails. His third and forth emails to me.

Email 3:

https://davidkrider.com/i-will-slaughter-you-daniel-haxx-se/
Step up. You arent scaring me. What led me here? The 5th violent attempt on my life. Apple terms of service? gtfo, thanks for the platform.

Amusingly he has found a blog post about my blog post.

Email 4:

There is the project: MOUT Ops Risk Analysis through Wide Band Em Spectrum analysis through different fourier transforms.
You and whoever the fuck david dick rider is, you are a part of this.
Federal server breaches-
Accomplice to attempted murder-
Fraud-
just a few.

I have talked to now: FBI FBI Regional, VA, VA OIG, FCC, SEC, NSA, DOH, GSA, DOI, CIA, CFPB, HUD, MS, Convercent, as of today 22 separate local law enforcement agencies calling my ass up and wasting my time.

You and dick ridin’ dave are respinsible. I dont give a shit, call the cops. I cuss them out wheb they call and they all go silent.

I’ve kept his peculiar formatting and typos. In email 4 there was also a PDF file attached named BustyBabes 4.pdf. It is apparently a 13 page document about the “NERVEBUS NERVOUS SYSTEM” described in the first paragraph as “NerveBus Nervous System aims to be a general utility platform that provides comprehensive and complex analysis to provide the end user with cohesive, coherent and “real-time” information about the environment it monitors.”. There’s no mention of curl or my name in the document.

Since I don’t know the status of this document I will not share it publicly, but here’s a screenshot of the front page:

Related

This topic on hacker news and reddit.

I have reported the threat to the Swedish police (where I live).

Transfers vs connections spring cleanup

Warning: this post is full of libcurl internal architectural details and not much else.

Within libcurl there are two primary objects being handled; transfers and connections. The transfers objects are struct Curl_easy and the connection counterparts are struct connectdata.

This is a separation and architecture as old as libcurl, even if the internal struct names have changed a little through the years. A transfer is associated with none or one connection object and there’s a pool with potentially several previously used, live, connections stored for possible future reuse.

A simplified schematic picture could look something like this:

One transfer, one connection and three idle connections in the pool.

Transfers to connections

These objects are protocol agnostic so they work like this no matter which scheme was used for the URL you’re transferring with curl.

Before the introduction of HTTP/2 into curl, which landed for the first time in September 2013 there was also a fixed relationship that one transfer always used (none or) one connection and that connection then also was used by a single transfer. libcurl then stored the association in the objects both ways. The transfer object got a pointer to the current connection and the connection object got a pointer to the current transfer.

Multiplexing shook things up

Lots of code in libcurl passed around the connection pointer (conn) because well, it was convenient. We could find the transfer object from that (conn->data) just fine.

When multiplexing arrived with HTTP/2, we then could start doing multiple transfers that share a single connection. Since we passed around the conn pointer as input to so many functions internally, we had to make sure we updated the conn->data pointer in lots of places to make sure it pointed to the current driving transfer.

This was always awkward and the source for agony and bugs over the years. At least twice I started to work on cleaning this up from my end but it quickly become a really large work that was hard to do in a single big blow and I abandoned the work. Both times.

Third time’s the charm

This architectural “wart” kept bugging me and on January 8, 2021 I emailed the curl-library list to start a more organized effort to clean this up:

Conclusion: we should stop using ‘conn->data’ in libcurl

Status: there are 939 current uses of this pointer

Mission: reduce the use of this pointer, aiming to reach a point in the future when we can remove it from the connection struct.

Little by little

With the help of fellow curl maintainer Patrick Monnerat I started to submit pull requests that would remove the use of this pointer.

Little by little we changed functions and logic to rather be anchored on the transfer rather than the connection (as data->conn is still fine as that can only ever be NULL or a single connection). I made a wiki page to keep an updated count of the number of references. After the first ten pull requests we were down to just over a hundred from the initial 919 – yeah the mail quote says 939 but it turned out the grep pattern was slightly wrong!

We decided to hold off a bit when we got closer to the 7.75.0 release so that we wouldn’t risk doing something close to the ship date that would jeopardize it. Once the release had been pushed out the door we could continue the journey.

Gone!

As of today, February 16 2021, the internal pointer formerly known as conn->data doesn’t exist anymore in libcurl and therefore it can’t be used and this refactor is completed. It took at least 20 separate commits to get the job done.

I hope this new order will help us do less mistakes as we don’t have to update this pointer anymore.

I’m very happy we could do this revamp without it affecting the API or ABI in any way. These are all just internal artifacts that are not visible to the outside.

One of a thousand little things

This is just a tiny detail but the internals of a project like curl consists of a thousand little details and this is one way we make sure the code remains in a good shape. We identify improvements and we perform them. One by one. We never stop and we’re never done. Together we take this project into the future and help the world do Internet transfers properly.

curl –fail-with-body

That’s --fail-with-body, using two dashes in front of the name.

This is a brand new command line option added to curl, to appear in the 7.76.0 release. This function works like --fail but with one little addition and I’m hoping the name should imply it good enough: it also provides the response body. The --fail option has turned out to be a surprisingly popular option but users have often repeated the request to also make it possible to get the body stored. --fail makes curl stop immediately after having received the response headers – if the response code says so.

--fail-with-body will instead first save the body per normal conventions and then return an error if the HTTP response code was 400 or larger.

To be used like this:

curl --fail-with-body -o output https://example.com/404.html

If the page is missing on that HTTPS server, curl will return exit code 22 and save the error message response in the file named ‘output’.

Not complicated at all. But has been requested many times!

This is curl’s 238th command line option.

curl supports rustls

curl is an internet transfer engine. A rather modular one too. Parts of curl’s functionality is provided by selectable alternative implementations that we call backends. You select what backends to enable at build-time and in many cases the backends are enabled and powered by different 3rd party libraries.

Many backends

curl has a range of such alternative backends for various features:

  1. International Domain Names
  2. Name resolving
  3. TLS
  4. SSH
  5. HTTP/3
  6. HTTP content encoding
  7. HTTP

Stable API and ABI

Maintaining a stable API and ABI is key to libcurl. As long as those promises are kept, changing internals such as switching between backends is perfectly fine.

The API is the armored front door that we don’t change. The backends is the garden on the back of the house that we can dig up and replant every year if we want, without us having to change the front door.

TLS backends

Already back in 2005 we added support for using an alternative TLS library in curl when we added support for GnuTLS in addition to OpenSSL, and since then we’ve added many more. We do this by having an internal API through which we do all the TLS related things and for each third party library we support we have code that does the necessary logic to connect the internal API with the corresponding TLS library.

rustls

Today, we merged support for yet another TLS library: rustls. This is a TLS library written in rust and it has a C API provided in a separate project called crustls. Strictly speaking, curl is built to use crustls.

This is still early days for the rustls backend and it is not yet feature complete. There’s more work to do and polish to apply before we can think of it as a proper competitor to the already established and well-used TLS backends, but with this merge it makes it much easier for more people to help out and test it out. Feel free and encouraged to join in!

We count this addition as the 14th concurrently supported TLS library in curl. I’m not aware of any other project, anywhere, that supports more or even this many TLS libraries.

rustls again!

The TLS library named mesalink is actually already using rustls, but under an OpenSSL API disguise and we support that since a few years back…

Credits

The TLS backend code for rustls was written and contributed by Jacob Hoffman-Andrews.

Webinar: curl, Hyper and Rust

On February 11th, 2021 18:00 UTC (10am Pacific time, 19:00 Central Europe) we invite you to participate in a webinar we call “curl, Hyper and Rust”. To join us at the live event, please register via the link below:

https://www.wolfssl.com/isrg-partner-webinar/

What is the project about, how will this improve curl and Hyper, how was it done, what lessons can be learned, what more can we expect in the future and how can newcomers join in and help?

Participating speakers in this webinar are:

Daniel Stenberg. Founder of and lead developer of curl.

Josh Aas, Executive Director at ISRG / Let’s Encrypt.

Sean McArthur, Lead developer of Hyper.

The event went on for 60 minutes, including the Q&A session at the end.

Recording

Questions?

If you already have a question you want to ask, please let us know ahead of time. Either in a reply here on the blog, or as a reply on one of the many tweets that you will see about about this event from me and my fellow “webinarees”.

curl 7.75.0 is smaller

There’s been another 56 day release cycle and here’s another curl release to chew on!

Release presentation

Numbers

the 197th release
6 changes
56 days (total: 8,357)

113 bug fixes (total: 6,682)
268 commits (total: 26,752)
0 new public libcurl function (total: 85)
1 new curl_easy_setopt() option (total: 285)

2 new curl command line option (total: 237)
58 contributors, 30 new (total: 2,322)
31 authors, 17 new (total: 860)
0 security fixes (total: 98)
0 USD paid in Bug Bounties (total: 4,400 USD)

Security

No new security advisories this time!

Changes

We added --create-file-mode to the command line tool. To be used for the protocols where curl needs to tell the remote server what “mode” to use for the file when created. libcurl already supported this, but now we expose the functionality to the tool users as well.

The --write-out option got five new “variables” to use. Detailed in this separate blog post.

The CURLOPT_RESOLVE option got an extended format that now allows entries to be inserted to get timed-out after the standard DNS cache expiry time-out.

gophers:// – the protocol GOPHER done over TLS – is now supported by curl.

As a new experimentally supported HTTP backend, you can now build curl to use Hyper. It is not quite up to 100% parity in features just yet.

AWS HTTP v4 Signature support. This is an authentication method for HTTP used by AWS and some other services. See CURLOPT_AWS_SIGV4 for libcurl and --aws-sigv4 for the curl tool.

Bug-fixes

Some of the notable things we’ve fixed this time around…

Reduced struct sizes

In my ongoing struggles to remove “dead weight” and ensure that curl can run on as small devices as possible, I’ve trimmed down the size of several key structs in curl. The memory foot-print of libcurl is now smaller than it has been for a very long time.

Reduced conn->data references

While itself not exactly a bug-fix, this is a step in a larger refactor of libcurl where we work on removing all references back from connections to the transfer. The grand idea is that transfers can point to connections, but since a connection can be owned and used by many transfers, we should remove all code that reference back to a transfer from the connection. To simplify internals. We’re not quite there yet.

Silly writeout time units bug

Many users found out that when asking the curl tool to output timing information with -w, I accidentally made it show microseconds instead of seconds in 7.74.0! This is fixed and we’re back to the way it always was now…

CURLOPT_REQUEST_TARGET works with HTTP proxy

The option that lets the user set the “request target” of a HTTP request to something custom (like for example “*” when you want to issue a request using the OPTIONS method) didn’t work over proxy!

CURLOPT_FAILONERROR fails after all headers

Often used with the tools --fail flag, this is feature that makes libcurl stop and return error if the HTTP response code is 400 or larger. Starting in this version, curl will still read and parse all the response headers before it stops and exists. This then allows curl to act on and store contents from the other headers that can be used for features in combination with --fail.

Proxy-Connection duplicated headers

In some circumstances, providing a custom “Proxy-Connection:” header for a HTTP request would still get curl’s own added header in the request as well, making the request get sent with a duplicate set!

CONNECT chunked encoding race condition

There was a bug in the code that handles proxy responses, when the body of the CONNECT responses was using chunked-encoding. curl could end up thinking the response had ended before it actually had…

proper User-Agent header setup

Back in 7.71.0 we fixed a problem with the user-agent header and made it get stored correctly in the transfer struct, from previously having been stored in the connection struct.

That cause a regression that we fixed now. The previous code had a mistake that caused the user-agent header to not get used when a connection was re-used or multiplexed, which from an outside perspective made it appear go missing in a random fashion…

add support for %if [feature] conditions in tests

Thanks to the new preprocessor we added for test cases some releases ago, we could now take the next step and offer conditionals in the test cases so that we can now better allow tests to run and behave differently depending on features and parameters. Previously, we have resorted to only make tests require a certain feature set to be able to run and otherwise skip the tests completely if the feature set could be satisfied, but with this new ability we can make tests more flexible and thus work with a wider variety of features.

if IDNA conversion fails, fallback to Transitional

A user reported that that curl failed to get the data when given a funny URL, while it worked fine in browsers (and wget):

The host name consists of a heart and a fox emoji in the .ws top-level domain. This is yet another URLs-are-weird issue and how to do International Domain Names with them is indeed a complicated matter, but starting now curl falls back and tries a more conservative approach if the first take fails and voilá, now curl too can get the heart-fox URL just fine… Regular readers of my blog might remember the smiley URLs of 2015, which were similar.

urldata: make magic first struct field

We provide types for the most commonly used handles in the libcurl API as typedef’ed void pointers. The handles are typically declared like this:

CURL *easy;
CURLM *multi;
CURLSH *shared;

… but since they’re typedefed void-pointers, the compiler cannot helpfully point out if a user passes in the wrong handle to the wrong libcurl function and havoc can ensue.

Starting now, all these three handles have a “magic” struct field in the same relative place within their structs so that libcurl can much better detect when the wrong kind of handle is passed to a function and instead of going bananas or even crash, libcurl can more properly and friendly return an error code saying the input was wrong.

Since you’d ask: using void-pointers like that was a mistake and we regret it. There are better ways to accomplish the same thing, but the train has left. When we’ve tried to correct this situation there have been cracks in the universe and complaints have been shouted through the ether.

SECURE_RENEGOTIATION support for wolfSSL

Turned out we didn’t support this before and it wasn’t hard to add…

openssl: lowercase the host name before using it for SNI

The SNI (Server Name Indication) field is data set in TLS that tells the remote server which host name we want to connect to, so that it can present the client with the correct certificate etc since the server might serve multiple host names.

The spec clearly says that this field should contain the DNS name and that it is case insensitive – like DNS names are. Turns out it wasn’t even hard to find multiple servers which misbehave and return the wrong cert if the given SNI name is not sent lowercase! The popular browsers typically always send the SNI names like that… In curl we keep the host name internally exactly as it was given to us in the URL.

With a silent protest that nobody cares about, we went ahead and made curl also lowercase the host name in the SNI field when using OpenSSL.

I did not research how all the other TLS libraries curl can use behaves when setting SNI. This same change is probably going to have to be done on more places, or perhaps we need to surrender and do the lowercasing once and for all at a central place… Time will tell!

Future!

We have several pull requests in the queue suggesting changes, which means the next release is likely to be named 7.76.0 and the plan is to ship that on March 31st, 2021.

Send us your bug reports and pull requests!

What if GitHub is the devil?

Some critics think the curl project shouldn’t use GitHub. The reasons for being against GitHub hosting tend to be one or more of:

  1. it is an evil proprietary platform
  2. it is run by Microsoft and they are evil
  3. GitHub is American thus evil

Some have insisted on craziness like “we let GitHub hold our source code hostage”.

Why GitHub?

The curl project switched to GitHub (from Sourceforge) almost eleven years ago and it’s been a smooth ride ever since.

We’re on GitHub not only because it provides a myriad of practical features and is a stable and snappy service for hosting and managing source code. GitHub is also a developer hub for millions of developers who already have accounts and are familiar with the GitHub style of developing, the terms and the tools. By being on GitHub, we reduce friction from the contribution process and we maximize the ability for others to join in and help. We lower the bar. This is good for us.

I like GitHub.

Self-hosting is not better

Providing even close to the same uptime and snappy response times with a self-hosted service is a challenge, and it would take someone time and energy to volunteer that work – time and energy we now instead can spend of developing the project instead. As a small independent open source project, we don’t have any “infrastructure department” that would do it for us. And trust me: we already have enough infrastructure management to deal with without having to add to that pile.

… and by running our own hosted version, we would lose the “network effect” and convenience for people that already are on and know the platform. We would also lose the easy integration with cool services like the many different CI and code analyzer jobs we run.

Proprietary is not the issue

While git is open source, GitHub is a proprietary system. But the thing is that even if we would go with a competitor and get our code hosting done elsewhere, our code would still be stored on a machine somewhere in a remote server park we cannot physically access – ever. It doesn’t matter if that hosting company uses open source or proprietary code. If they decide to switch off the servers one day, or even just selectively block our project, there’s nothing we can do to get our stuff back out from there.

We have to work so that we minimize the risk for it and the effects from it if it still happens.

A proprietary software platform holds our code just as much hostage as any free or open source software platform would, simply by the fact that we let someone else host it. They run the servers our code is stored on.

If GitHub takes the ball and goes home

No matter which service we use, there’s always a risk that they will turn off the light one day and not come back – or just change the rules or licensing terms that would prevent us from staying there. We cannot avoid that risk. But we can make sure that we’re smart about it, have a contingency plan or at least an idea of what to do when that day comes.

If GitHub shuts down immediately and we get zero warning to rescue anything at all from them, what would be the result for the curl project?

Code. We would still have the entire git repository with all code, all source history and all existing branches up until that point. We’re hundreds of developers who pull that repository frequently, and many automatically, so there’s a very distributed backup all over the world.

CI. Most of our CI setup is done with yaml config files in the source repo. If we transition to another hosting platform, we could reuse them.

Issues. Bug reports and pull requests are stored on GitHub and a sudden exit would definitely make us lose some of them. We do daily “extractions” of all issues and pull-requests so a lot of meta-data could still be saved and preserved. I don’t think this would be a terribly hard blow either: we move long-standing bugs and ideas over to documents in the repository, so the currently open ones are likely possible to get resubmitted again within the nearest future.

There’s no doubt that it would be a significant speed bump for the project, but it would not be worse than that. We could bounce back on a new platform and development would go on within days.

Low risk

It’s a rare thing, that a service just suddenly with no warning and no heads up would just go black and leave projects completely stranded. In most cases, we get alerts, notifications and get a chance to transition cleanly and orderly.

There are alternatives

Sure there are alternatives. Both pure GitHub alternatives that look similar and provide similar services, and projects that would allow us to run similar things ourselves and host locally. There are many options.

I’m not looking for alternatives. I’m not planning to switch hosting anytime soon! As mentioned above, I think GitHub is a net positive for the curl project.

Nothing lasts forever

We’ve switched services several times before and I’m expecting that we will change again in the future, for all sorts of hosting and related project offerings that we provide to the work and to the developers and participators within the project. Nothing lasts forever.

When a service we use goes down or just turns sour, we will figure out the best possible replacement and take the jump. Then we patch up all the cracks the jump may have caused and continue the race into the future. Onward and upward. The way we know and the way we’ve done for over twenty years already.

Credits

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Updates

After this blog post went live, some users remarked than I’m “disingenuous” in the list of reasons at the top, that people have presented to me. This, because I don’t mention the moral issues staying on GitHub present – like for example previously reported workplace conflicts and their association with hideous American immigration authorities.

This is rather the opposite of disingenuous. This is the truth. Not a single person have ever asked me to leave GitHub for those reasons. Not me personally, and nobody has asked it out to the wider project either.

These are good reasons to discuss and consider if a service should be used. Have there been violations of “decency” significant enough that should make us leave? Have we crossed that line in the sand? I’m leaning to “no” now, but I’m always listening to what curl users and developers say. Where do you think the line is drawn?

curl your own error message

The --write-out (or -w for short) curl command line option is a gem for shell script authors looking for more information from a curl transfer. Experienced users know that this option lets you extract things such as detailed timings, the response code, transfer speeds and sizes of various kinds. A while ago we even made it possible to output JSON.

Maybe the best resource to learn more about it, is the dedication section in Everything curl. You’ll like it!

Now even more versatile

In curl 7.75.0 (released on February 3, 2021) we introduce five new variables for this option, and I’ll elaborate on some of the fun new things you can do with these!

These new variables were invented when we received a bug report that pointed out that when a user transfers many URLs in parallel and one or some of them fail – the error message isn’t identifying exactly which of the URLs that failed. We should improve the error messages to fix this!

Or wait a minute. What if we provide enough details for --write-out to let the user customize the error message completely by themselves and thus get exactly the info they want?

onerror

Using this, you can specify a message only to get written if the transfer ends in error. That is a non-zero exit code. An example could look like this:

curl -w '%{onerror}failed\n' $URL -o saved -s

…. if the transfer is OK, it says nothing. If it fails, the text on the right side of the “onerror” variable gets output. And that text can of course contain other variables!

This command line uses -s for “silent” to make it inhibit the regular built-in error message.

url

To help craft a good error message, maybe you want the URL included that was used in the transfer?

curl -w '%{onerror}%{url} failed\n' $URL

urlnum

If you get more than one URL in the command line, it might be helpful to get the index number of the used URL. This is of course especially useful if you for example work with the same URL multiple times in the same command line and just one of them fails!

curl -w '%{onerror}URL %{urlnum} failed\n' $URL $URL

exitcode

The regular built-in curl error message shows the exit code, as it helps diagnose exactly what the problem was. Include that in the error message like:

curl -w '%{onerror}%{url} got %{exitcode}\n' $URL

errormsg

This is the human readable explanation for the problem. The error message. Mimic the default curl error message like this:

curl -w '%{onerror}curl: %{exitcode} %{errormsg}\n' $URL

stderr

We already provide this “variable” from before, which allows you to make sure the output message is sent to stderr instead of stdout, which then makes it even more like a real error message:

url -w '%{onerror}%{stderr}curl: %{exitcode} %{errormsg}\n' $URL

More

These new variables work fine after %{onerror}, but they also of course work just as fine to output even when there was no error, and they work perfectly fine whether you use -Z for parallel transfers or doing them serially, one after the other.

More on less curl memory

tldr: curl uses 30K of dynamic memory for downloading a large HTTP file, plus the size of the download buffer.

Back in September 2020 I wrote about my work to trim curl allocations done for FTP transfers. Now I’m back again on the memory use in curl topic, from a different angle.

This time, I learned about the awesome tool pahole, which can (among other things) show structs and their sizes from a built library – and when embracing this fun toy, I ran some scripts on a range of historic curl releases to get a sense of how we’re doing over time – memory size and memory allocations wise.

The task I set out to myself was: figure out how the sizes of key structs in curl have changed over time, and correlate that with the number and size of allocations done at run-time. To make sure that trimming down the size of a specific struct doesn’t just get allocated by another one instead, thus nullifying the gain. I want to make sure we’re not slowly degrading – and if we do, we should at least know about it!

Also: we keep developing curl at a fairly good pace and we’re adding features in almost every release. Some growth is to be expected and should be tolerated I think. We also keep the build process very configurable so users with particular needs and requirements can switch off features and thus also gain memory.

Memory sizes in modern computing

Of course systems are growing every year and machines ship with more and more ram, which also goes for the smallest machines. But there are still a vast amount of systems out there with limited memory capabilities that want good Internet transfers as well. Also, by keeping sizes down, it allows applications and systems to scale better: a 10% decrease in size can imply a 10% increase in number of possible parallel transfers. curl, and especially libcurl, is still today in 2021 frequently used on machines with limited amounts of available memory. Sometimes in the few megabytes of ram range.

Fixed configuration

In my tests I did for this I used the exact same configuration and build config for all versions tested. The sizes and behavior will vary greatly depending on config, but I tried to use a fairly complete and typical build to see how code and memory use is for “most” users. I ran everything on my x86_64 Debian Linux dev machine. My focus is on curl versions from the last 3-4 years. I figured going back to ancient times won’t help here.

Key structs

struct Curl_easy – this is the “easy handle”, what is allocated by curl_easy_init() and is the anchor for every transfer done with libcurl, no matter which API you’re using. An application creates one of these for each concurrent transfer it wants to do or keep around. Some applications allocate hundreds or even thousands of these.

struct Curl_multi – this is the “multi handle”, allocated with curl_multi_init(). This handle is created by applications as a holder of many concurrent transfers so applications typically do not have a very large amount of these.

struct connectdata – this is an internal struct that isn’t visible externally to applications. It is the holder of connection related data for a connection to a specific server. The connection pool curl uses to handle persistent connections will hold a number of these structs in memory after the transfer has completed, to allow subsequent reuse. The size of the connection pool is customizable. A busy application doing lots of transfers might end up with a sizeable number of connections in the pool, so the size of this struct adds up.

Dynamic allocations

In early curl history, the download and upload buffers for transfers were part of the Curl_easy struct, which made it fairly large.

In curl 7.53.0 (February 2017) the download buffer was turned dynamically sized and is since then allocated separately. Before that transition, curl 7.52.0 had a Curl_easy struct that was 36584 bytes, which included both the download and the upload buffers. In 7.58.0 the size was down to 21264 bytes since the download buffer was then allocated separately and was then also allowed to be done much larger than the previously set 16KB fixed size.

The 16KB upload buffer was moved out of the Curl_easy handle in the 7.62.0 release (October 2018) to be done on demand – which of course especially benefits everyone who doesn’t do uploads at all… The size of this struct was then down to 6208 bytes.

In curl 7.71.0 we also made the download buffer allocated on demand, and immediately freed after the transfer completes. This makes applications that keep handles around for reuse use significantly less memory. Applications are generally encouraged to keep the handles around to better facilitate connection reuse.

Struct size development

Curl_easy

The size in bytes of struct Curl_easy the last few years:

 7.52.0 36584
 7.58.0 21264
 7.61.0 21344
 7.62.0 6208
 7.63.0 6216
 7.64.0 6312
 7.65.0 5976
 7.66.0 6024
 7.67.0 6040
 7.68.0 6040
 7.69.0 6040
 7.70.0 6080
 7.71.0 6448
 7.72.0 6472
 7.73.0 6464
 7.74.0 6512

Current git: 5272 bytes (-19% from last release). With this, the struct is smaller than it has ever been before.

How we made this extra reduction? Primarily I noticed how we had a DoH related struct in the handle by default, which was turned into on-demand allocation. DoH is still rare and that data only needs to be allocated during the name resolving phase.

Curl_multi

The size in bytes of struct Curl_multi the last few years has remained very stable and it keeps being very small. Notable is that when we removed pipelining support in 7.65.0 it took away 96 bytes from this struct.

 7.50.0 384
 7.52.0 384
 7.58.0 480
 7.59.0 488
 7.60.0 488
 7.61.0 512
 7.62.0 512
 7.63.0 512
 7.64.0 512
 7.65.0 416
 7.66.0 416
 7.67.0 424
 7.68.0 432
 7.69.0 416
 7.70.0 416
 7.71.0 416
 7.72.0 416
 7.73.0 416
 7.74.0 416

Current git: 416 bytes.

With this, we’re smaller than we were in the beginning of 2018.

connectdata

The size in bytes of struct connectdata. It’s been both up and down.

 7.50.0 1904 
 7.52.0 2104 
 7.58.0 2112 
 7.59.0 2112 
 7.60.0 2112 
 7.61.0 2128 
 7.62.0 2152 
 7.63.0 2160 
 7.64.0 2160 
 7.65.0 1944 
 7.66.0 1960 
 7.67.0 1976 
 7.68.0 1976 
 7.69.0 2600 
 7.70.0 2608 
 7.71.0 2608 
 7.72.0 2624 
 7.73.0 2640 
 7.74.0 2656

Current git: 1472 bytes (-44% from last release)

The size bump in 7.69.0 was the insertion of a new struct for state data when doing SOCKS connections non-blocking, and the corresponding decrease again for the pending release is the removal of the buffer from that struct. With this, we’re down to a size we had a very long time ago.

Run-time memory use

To make sure that we don’t just move memory to other on-demand buffers that we need to allocate anyway, I ran a script with a lot of curl versions and counted the number of allocations needed and the peak amount of memory allocated. For a plain 512MB download over HTTP from localhost. The counted allocations were only the ones done by curl code (malloc, calloc, realloc, strdup etc).

Number of allocations

There are many reasons to allocate memory and while we want to keep the number down, lots of factors of course needs to be taken into account.

In the list below you’ll see that clearly we had some mistake in 7.52.0 and perhaps some more versions, as it did over 32,000 allocations. The situation was fixed in or before 7.58.0 and I haven’t bothered to go back to check exactly what it was.

 7.52.0 32883 
 7.58.0 82 
 7.59.0 82 
 7.60.0 82 
 7.61.0 82 
 7.62.0 86 
 7.63.0 87 
 7.64.0 87 
 7.65.0 82
 7.66.0 101 
 7.67.0 107 
 7.68.0 111 
 7.69.0 113 
 7.70.0 113 
 7.71.0 99 
 7.72.0 99 
 7.73.0 96 
 7.74.0 96

Current git: 96 allocations.

We do more allocations than some years back, but I think it is still within a reasonable growth.

Peak memory allocations

Here’s some developments to look closer at!

If we start out looking at the oldest versions in my test, we can see that they’re sub 100KB allocated – but we need to take into account the fact that back then we used a fixed 16KB download buffer. In curl 7.54.1 we bumped the default buffer size the curl tool uses to 100K which in the table below is visible in the 7.58.0 allocation.

 7.50.0 84473 
 7.52.0 85329 
 7.58.0 174243 
 7.59.0 174315 
 7.60.0 174339 
 7.61.0 174531 
 7.62.0 143886 
 7.63.0 143928 
 7.64.0 144128 
 7.65.0 143152 
 7.66.0 168188 
 7.67.0 173365 
 7.68.0 168575
 7.69.0 169167
 7.70.0 169303 
 7.71.0 136573
 7.72.0 136765 
 7.73.0 136875 
 7.74.0 137043

Current git: 131680 bytes.

The gain in 7.62.0 was mostly the removal of the default allocation of the upload buffer, which isn’t used in this test…

The current size tells me several things. We’re at a memory consumption level that is probably at its lowest point in the last decade – while at the same time having more features and being better than ever before. If we deduct the download buffer we have 29280 additional bytes allocated. Compare this to 7.50.0 which allocated 68089 bytes on top of the download buffer!

If I change my curl to use the smallest download buffer size allowed by libcurl (1KB) instead of the default 100KB, it ends up peaking at: 30304 bytes. That’s 44% of the memory needed by 7.50.0.

In my opinion, this is very good.

It might also be worth to reiterate that this is with a full featured libcurl build. We can shrink even further if we switch off undesired features or just go tiny-curl.

I hope this goes without saying, but of course all of this work has been done with the API and ABI still intact.

Graphs?

You know I like graphs, but for now I decided this blog post and analysis was enough. I’m going to think about how we can perhaps get this info somehow floated on a more regular and automated way in the future. Not sure it is worth spending a lot of effort on though.

Reproduce

  1. build curl with the --enable-debug option to configure. Don’t use the threaded resolver – I use the c-ares one, because it otherwise breaks the memdebug system.
  2. Run your command line with tracing enabled and then run memanalyze on the log:
#!/bin/sh
export CURL_MEMDEBUG=/tmp/curlmem.log
./src/curl -v localhost/512M -o /dev/null
./tests/memanalyze.pl -v /tmp/curlmem.log

To get the struct sizes, just run pahole on the static libcurl lib after the build:

pahole -s lib/.libs/libcurl.a > sizes.txt

Credits

The photo was taken by me, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. “A smaller transport”

Updates

After the initial posting of this article I optimized the structs even further so the numbers have been updated since then to reflect the state of what’s in git a week later.

everything.curl.dev

The online version of the curl book “everything curl” has been moved to the address shown in the title:

everything.curl.dev

This, after I did a very unscientific and highly self-selective poll on twitter on January 18 2020

The old name (which you can see what the least selected in the poll) will now redirect to the new host name and so will everything.curl.se .

curl.dev

I am the owner of this domain since a little while back but we haven’t yet figured out what to do with the domain – this is the first use of curl.dev for real content.

If you have ideas of how we can improve curl’s web presence with this domain, please let me know! I do not want to move the official curl web site again from its new home at curl.se, that’s not what I would call a productive idea.

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