Category Archives: Open Source

Open Source, Free Software, and similar

curl wants to QUIC

The interesting Google transfer protocol that is known as QUIC is being passed through the IETF grinding machines to hopefully end up with a proper “spec” that has been reviewed and agreed to by many peers and that will end up being a protocol that is thoroughly documented with a lot of protocol people’s consensus. Follow the IETF QUIC mailing list for all the action.

I’d like us to join the fun

Similarly to how we implemented HTTP/2 support early on for curl, I would like us to get “on the bandwagon” early for QUIC to be able to both aid the protocol development and serve as a testing tool for both the protocol and the server implementations but then also of course to get us a solid implementation for users who’d like a proper QUIC capable client for data transfers.

implementations

The current version (made entirely by Google and not the output of the work they’re now doing on it within the IETF) of the QUIC protocol is already being widely used as Chrome speaks it with Google’s services in preference to HTTP/2 and other protocol options. There exist only a few other implementations of QUIC outside of the official ones Google offers as open source. Caddy offers a separate server implementation for example.

the Google code base

For curl’s sake, it can’t use the Google code as a basis for a QUIC implementation since it is C++ and code used within the Chrome browser is really too entangled with the browser and its particular environment to become very good when converted into a library. There’s a libquic project doing exactly this.

for curl and others

The ideal way to implement QUIC for curl would be to create “nghttp2” alternative that does QUIC. An ngquic if you will! A library that handles the low level protocol fiddling, the binary framing etc. Done that way, a QUIC library could be used by more projects who’d like QUIC support and all people who’d like to see this protocol supported in those tools and libraries could join in and make it happen. Such a library would need to be written in plain C and be suitably licensed for it to be really interesting for curl use.

a needed QUIC library

I’m hoping my post here will inspire someone to get such a project going. I will not hesitate to join in and help it get somewhere! I haven’t started such a project myself because I think I already have enough projects on my plate so I fear I wouldn’t be a good leader or maintainer of a project like this. But of course, if nobody else will do it I will do it myself eventually. If I can think of a good name for it.

some wishes for such a library

  • Written in C, to offer the same level of portability as curl itself and to allow it to get used as extensions by other languages etc
  • FOSS-licensed suitably
  • It should preferably not “own” the socket but also work in-memory and to allow applications to do many parallel connections etc.
  • Non-blocking. It shouldn’t wait for things on its own but let the application do that.
  • Should probably offer both client and server functionality for maximum use.
  • What else?

curl user survey results 2016

The annual curl user poll was up 11 days from May 16 to and including May 27th, and it has taken me a while to summarize and put together everything into a single 21 page document with all the numbers and plenty of graphs.

Full 2016 survey analysis document

The conclusion I’ve drawn from it: “We’re not done yet”.

Here’s a bonus graph from the report, showing what TLS backends people are using with curl in 2016 and 2015:

curl-tlsbackends2-2016

No websockets over HTTP/2

There is no websockets for HTTP/2.

By this, I mean that there’s no way to negotiate or upgrade a connection to websockets over HTTP/2 like there is for HTTP/1.1 as expressed by RFC 6455. That spec details how a client can use Upgrade: in a HTTP/1.1 request to switch that connection into a websockets connection.

Note that websockets is not part of the HTTP/1 spec, it just uses a HTTP/1 protocol detail to switch an HTTP connection into a websockets connection. Websockets over HTTP/2 would similarly not be a part of the HTTP/2 specification but would be separate.

(As a side-note, that Upgrade: mechanism is the same mechanism a HTTP/1.1 connection can get upgraded to HTTP/2 if the server supports it – when not using HTTPS.)

chinese-socket

Draft

There’s was once a draft submitted that describes how websockets over HTTP/2 could’ve been done. It didn’t get any particular interest in the IETF HTTP working group back then and as far as I’ve seen, there has been very little general interest in any group to pick up this dropped ball and continue running. It just didn’t go any further.

This is important: the lack of websockets over HTTP/2 is because nobody has produced a spec (and implementations) to do websockets over HTTP/2. Those things don’t happen by themselves, they actually require a bunch of people and implementers to believe in the cause and work for it.

Websockets over HTTP/2 could of course have the benefit that it would only be one stream over the connection that could serve regular non-websockets traffic at the same time in many other streams, while websockets upgraded on a HTTP/1 connection uses the entire connection exclusively.

Instead

So what do users do instead of using websockets over HTTP/2? Well, there are several options. You probably either stick to HTTP/2, upgrade from HTTP/1, use Web push or go the WebRTC route!

If you really need to stick to websockets, then you simply have to upgrade to that from a HTTP/1 connection – just like before. Most people I’ve talked to that are stuck really hard on using websockets are app developers that basically only use a single connection anyway so doing that HTTP/1 or HTTP/2 makes no meaningful difference.

Sticking to HTTP/2 pretty much allows you to go back and use the long-polling tricks of the past before websockets was created. They were once rather bad since they would waste a connection and be error-prone since you’d have a connection that would sit idle most of the time. Doing this over HTTP/2 is much less of a problem since it’ll just be a single stream that won’t be used that much so it isn’t that much of a waste. Plus, the connection may very well be used by other streams so it will be less of a problem with idle connections getting killed by NATs or firewalls.

The Web Push API was brought by W3C during 2015 and is in many ways a more “webby” way of doing push than the much more manual and “raw” method that websockets is. If you use websockets mostly for push notifications, then this might be a more convenient choice.

Also introduced after websockets, is WebRTC. This is a technique introduced for communication between browsers, but it certainly provides an alternative to some of the things websockets were once used for.

Future

Websockets over HTTP/2 could still be done. The fact that it isn’t done just shows that there isn’t enough interest.

Non-TLS

Recall how browsers only speak HTTP/2 over TLS, while websockets can also be done over plain TCP. In fact, the only way to upgrade a HTTP connection to websockets is using the HTTP/1 Upgrade: header trick, and not the ALPN method for TLS that HTTP/2 uses to reduce the number of round-trips required.

If anyone would introduce websockets over HTTP/2, they would then probably only be possible to be made over TLS from within browsers.

curl on windows versions

I had to ask. Just to get a notion of which Windows versions our users are actually using, so that we could get an indication which versions we still should make an effort to keep working on. As people download and run libcurl on their own, we just have no other ways to figure this out.

As always when asking a question to our audience, we can’t really know which part of our users that responded and it is probably more safe to assume that it is not a representative distribution of our actual user base but it is simply as good as it gets. A hint.

I posted about this poll on the libcurl mailing list and over twitter. I had it open for about 48 hours. We received 86 responses. Click the image below for the full res version:

windows-versions-used-for-curlSo, Windows 10, 8 and 7 are very well used and even Vista and XP clocked in fairly high on 14% and 23%. Clearly those are Windows versions we should strive to keep supported.

For Windows versions older than XP I was sort of hoping we’d get a zero, but as you can see in the graph we have users claiming to use curl on as old versions as Windows NT 4. I even checked, and it wasn’t the same two users that checked all those three oldest versions.

The “Other” marks were for Windows 2008 and 2012, and bonus points for the user who added “Other: debian 7”. It is interesting that I specifically asked for users running curl on windows to answer this survey and yet 26% responded that they don’t use Windows at all..

On billions and “users”

At times when I’ve gone out (yes it happens), faced an audience and talked about my primary spare time project curl, I’ve said a few times in the past that we have one billion users.

Users?

many devices

OK, as this is open source I’m talking about, I can’t actually count my users and what really constitutes “a user” anyway?

If the same human runs multiple copies of curl (in different devices and applications), is that human then counted once or many times? If a single developer writes an application that uses libcurl and that application is used by millions of humans, is that one user or are they millions of curl users?

What about pure machine “users”? In the subway in one of the world’s largest cities, there’s an automated curl transfer being done for every person passing the ticket check point. Yet I don’t think we can count the passing (and unknowing) passengers as curl users…

I’ve had a few people approach me to object to my “curl has one billion users” statement. Surely not one in every seven humans on earth are writing curl command lines! We’re engineers and we’re picky with the definitions.

Because of this, I’m trying to stop talking about “number of users”. That’s not a proper metric for a project whose primary product is a library that is used by applications or within devices. I’m instead trying to assess the number of humans that are using services, tools or devices that are powered by curl. Fun challenge, right?

Who isn’t using?

a userI’ve tried to imagine of what kind of person that would not have or use any piece of hardware or applications that include curl during a typical day. I certainly can’t properly imagine all humans in this vast globe and how they all live their lives, but I quite honestly think that most internet connected humans in the world own or use something that runs my code. Especially if we include people who use online services that use curl.

curl is used in basically all modern TVs, a large percentage of all car infotainment systems, routers, printers, set top boxes, mobile phones and apps on them, tablets, video games, audio equipment, Blu-ray players, hundreds of applications, even in fridges and more. Apple alone have said they have one billion active devices, devices that use curl! Facebook uses curl extensively and they have 1.5 billion users every month. libcurl is commonly used by PHP sites and PHP empowers no less than 82% of the sites w3techs.com has figured out what they run (out of the 10 million most visited sites in the world).

There are about 3 billion internet users worldwide. I seriously believe that most of those use something that is running curl, every day. Where Internet is less used, so is of course curl.

Every human in the connected world, use something powered by curl every day

Frigging Amazing

It is an amazing feeling when I stop and really think about it. When I pause to let it sink in properly. My efforts and code have spread to almost every little corner of the connected world. What an amazing feat and of course I didn’t think it would reach even close to this level. I still have hard time fully absorbing it! What a collaborative success story, because I could never have gotten close to this without the help from others and the community we have around the project.

But it isn’t something I think about much or that make me act very different in my every day life. I still work on the bug reports we get, respond to emails and polish off rough corners here and there as we go forward and keep releasing new curl releases every 8 weeks. Like we’ve done for years. Like I expect us and me to continue doing for the foreseeable future.

It is also a bit scary at times to think of the massive impact it could have if or when a really terrible security flaw is discovered in curl. We’ve had our fair share of security vulnerabilities so far through our history, but we’ve so far been spared from the really terrible ones.

So I’m rich, right?

coins

If I ever start to describe something like this to “ordinary people” (and trust me, I only very rarely try that), questions about money is never far away. Like how come I give it away free and the inevitable “what if everyone using curl would’ve paid you just a cent, then…“.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but I’ll do it anyway: I give away curl for free as open source and that is a primary reason why it has reached to the point where it is today. It has made people want to help out and bring the features that made it attractive and it has made companies willing to use and trust it. Hadn’t it been open source, it would’ve died off already in the 90s. Forgotten and ignored. And someone else would’ve made the open source version and instead filled the void a curlless world would produce.

everybody runs this code all the time

I was invited to talk about curl at the recent FOSS North conference in Gothenburg on May 26th. It was the first time the conference ran, but I think it went smooth and the ~110 visitors seemed to have a good time. It was a single track and there was a fairly good and interesting mix of talkers and subjects I think. They’re already planning to make it return again in spring 2017, so if you’re into FOSS and you’re in the Nordic region, consider this event next year…

I took on the subject of talking about my hacker ring^W^Wcurl project insights. Here’s my slide set:

At the event I sat down and had a chat with Simon Campanello, a reporter at IDG Techworld here in Sweden who subsequently posted this article about curl (in Swedish) and how our code has ended up getting used so widely.

photo of me from the Techworld article