Lots of people walked around the conference this year with sarcastic or otherwise amusing messages scrolling or blinking on them.
When a few people at the GitHub Social event on the Saturday evening showed up wearing those badges, this triggered Martin Woodward (VP of DevRel for GitHub) who hosted the event, and he brought out his e-ink programmable badge from GitHub Universe and with a big smile on his face he showed off how cool it was and some of the functionality it holds. Combined with the story behind how he made this happen. Good stuff!
The red led badge immediately felt boring in comparison and in particular my friend Linus expressed his desire to get one. Martin explained how they had a few of them as prizes for the lottery of the evening. You would get one chance to win for every “hash collision” you could find – we all had gotten a hash code each on a sticker when we entered the place. Linus took off and searched for collisions with a frenzy, trying to maximize his chances.
It was a fun and sufficiently nerdy social game that made us talk and mingle around a bit among the other fellow open source maintainers in the room and soon enough we found occasional collisions. I think I ended up finding three, Linus found six. Every time we wrote our names on a piece of paper and put it in a big container.
Socializing, beers, pizza and then eventually the time had come. No more collisions, time to see who had won.
GitHub handed out many different prizes apart from the badges: GitHub pro subscriptions, hats and a huge GitHub Led logo.
I got the honors of picking the first five prizes: the pro subscriptions. Out of the five folded papers one of them had my name on it! Me already being a GitHub star (which offers that, and Martin knowing this), my name was instead replaced by another ticket. Still, I had apparently managed to pull my own name out of the hundreds of lottery tickets!
When the time come to pick the winners for the five badges, someone else fished up five tickets from the box and they were handed over to Martin to who read them, one by one.
Daniel Stenberg – I had won again! What are the odds? It was most hilarious, but then Martin continued, he read another name and then when he unfolded a ticket he looked a little surprised and said a little wondering another Stenberg? Yes, my brother Björn who was also present there then also won of those fun badges. What were the odds of that?!
Linus did not win one.
Linus, Björn and me are friends since over thirty years back (we are haxx.se) and since now two of us had won badges and the person who wanted it the most did not win, we of course could not resist to tease and taunt Linus plenty about it. What are friends for after all?
I knew how much Linus wanted one of these, so while I considered giving him mine, I first did a careful check with Martin. Did he possibly have an extra spare one that I could perhaps get my hands on for Linus?
He probably did. Over at his hotel he might have an extra. He even very graciously offered me that one like the champ he is.
Knowing that this possibility was in the pipeline, we could level up the taunting even more and really rub it in on Linus. Me and Björn thought it was mightily fun. You can probably say we were badgering him.
A midnight image
The GitHub event ended, we all walked out into the Brussels night, aiming to get some sleep to endure another intense FOSDEM full day the following Sunday. At 00:55 Martin messaged me this picture:
Of course we reminded Linus already at breakfast how some of us actually have these cool badges and then maybe a few more times the following hours. We also shared the secret with other friends so the surrounding had a better understanding of what was going on.
In the meantime, I secretly coordinated a badge drop-off. My personal hero Martin delivered a box for Linus with this badge, I could pick it up and while pausing our badge-teasing, I could hand over the cardboard box to him with his GitHub handle on a sticker.
Here’s one for you
That expression. It took a few seconds for what just happened to sink in, before Linus realized exactly what had been going on since last night.
An e-ink programmable badge
The badge tech itself is a 296 x 128 pixels e-ink display powered by an FP2040 (Raspberry Pi) Dual Arm Cortex M0+ running at up to 133Mhz. Easily programmable too.
If you want one, pimoroni sells these beauties. (I have no relation with them.)
They call this the badger 2040, which is particularly fun since I use the nickname bagder since a long time, on GitHub and elsewhere. A badger badge for bagder.
And later followed up with some more details from another user in this screenshot
Customers can opt out of this “protection” and then apparently Vodafone will no longer block my site.
I was graciously given more logs (my copy) showing DNS resolves and curl command line invokes.
It shows that this filter is for this specific host name only, not for the entire haxx.se domain.
It also shows that the DNS resolves are unaffected as they returned the expected Fastly IP addresses just fine. I suspect they have equipment that inspects outgoing traffic that catches this TLS connection based on the SNI field.
As the log shows, they then make their server do a TLS handshake in which they respond with a certificate that has daniel.haxx.se in the CN field.
The curl verbose output shows this:
* SSL connection using TLSv1.2 / ECDHE-ECDSA-CHACHA20-POLY1305
* ALPN, server did not agree to a protocol
* Server certificate:
* subject: CN=daniel.haxx.se
* start date: Dec 16 13:07:49 2016 GMT
* expire date: Dec 16 13:07:49 2026 GMT
* issuer: C=ES; ST=Madrid; L=Madrid; O=Allot; OU=Allot; CN=allot.com/emailAddressfirstname.lastname@example.org
* SSL certificate verify result: self signed certificate in certificate chain (19), continuing anyway.
> HEAD / HTTP/1.1
> Host: daniel.haxx.se
> User-Agent: curl/7.79.1
> Accept: */*
The allot.com clue is the technology they use for this filtering. To quote their website, you can “protect citizens” with it.
I am not unique, clearly this has also hit other website owners. I have no idea if there is any way to appeal against this classification or something, but if you are a Vodafone UK customer, I would be happy if you did and maybe linked me to a public issue about it.
I was pointed to the page where you can request to unblock specific sites so I have done that now (at 12:00 May 2).
Update on May 3
My unblock request for daniel.haxx.se is apparently “on hold” according to the web site.
I got an email from an anonymous (self-proclaimed) insider who says he works at Allot, the company doing this filtering for Vodafone. In this email, he says
Most likely, Vodafone is using their parental control a threat protection module which works based on a DNS resolving.
After the business logic decides to block the website, it tells the DNS server to reply with a custom IP to a server that always shows a block page, because how HTTPS works, there is no way to trick it, either with Self-signed certificate, or using a signed certificate for a different domain, hence the warning.
What is weird here is that this explanation does not quite match what I have seen the logs provided to me. They showed this filtering clearly not being DNS based – since the DNS resolves got the exact same IP address a non-filtered resolver does.
Someone on Vodafone UK could of course easily test this by simply using a different DNS server, like 126.96.36.199 or 188.8.131.52.
In the beginning of every year I jot down a couple of “larger things” I would like to work on during the year. Some of the ideas are more in the maybe category and meant to be tested on the audience and users to see what others think and want, others are features I believe are ripe and ready for addition.
I talk about what I personally plan and consider to work on as I cannot control or decide what volunteers and random contributors will do this year, but of course with the hope that feedback from users and customers will guide me.
If you have use cases, applications or devices with needs or interests in particular topics going forward: let me know! At this webinar or outside of it.
The curl roadmap 2022 webinar will happen on February 17th at 09:00 PST (17:00 UTC, 18:00 CET). Register to attend on this link:
The well-known log4j security vulnerability of December 2021 triggered a lot of renewed discussions around software supply chain security, and sometimes it has also been said to be an Open Source related issue.
This was not the first software component to have a serious security flaw, and it will not be the last.
What can we do about it?
This is the 10,000 dollar question that is really hard to answer. In this post I hope to help putting some light on to why it is such a hard problem. This comes from my view as an Open Source author and contributor since almost three decades now.
In this post I’m going to talk about security as in how we make our products have less bugs in the code we write and land on purpose. There is also a lot to be said about infrastructure problems such as consumers not verifying dependencies so that when malicious actors purposely destroy a component, users of that don’t notice the problem or supply chain security issues that risk letting bad actors insert malicious code into components. But those are not covered in this blog post!
The OSS Pyramid
I think we can view the world of software and open source as a pyramid, and I made this drawing to illustrate.
Inside the pyramid there is a hierarchy where things using software are build on top of others, in layers. The higher up you go, the more you stand on the shoulders of open source components below you.
At the very bottom of the pyramid are the foundational components. Operating systems and libraries. The stuff virtually everything runs or depends upon. The components you really don’t want to have serious security vulnerabilities.
In the left green arrow, I describe the trend if you look at software when climbing upwards the pyramid.
Makes more direct money
Shorter lifetimes, faster iterations
Higher level languages
Shrinking share of Open Source
More end user facing
At the top, there are a lot of things that are not Open Source. Proprietary shiny fronts with Open Source machines in the basement.
In the red arrow on the right, I describe the trend if you look at software when going downwards in the pyramid.
Maintenance is more important than new fluff
Bugs have larger impact, fixes take longer to get deployed
Lower level languages
At the bottom, almost everything is Open Source. Each component in the bottom has countless users depending on them.
It is in the bottom of the pyramid each serious bug has a risk of impacting the world in really vast and earth-shattering ways. That is where tightening things up may have the most positive outcomes. (Even if avoiding problems is mostly invisible unsexy work.)
Zoom out to see the greater picture
We can argue about specific details and placements within the pyramid, but I think largely people can agree with the greater picture.
Skyscrapers using free bricks
A little quote from my friend Stefan Eissing:
As a manufacturer of skyscrapers, we decided to use the free bricks made available and then maybe something bad happened with them. Where is the problem in this scenario?
Market economy drives “good enough”
As long as it is possible to earn a lot of money without paying much for the “communal foundation” you stand on, there is very little incentive to invest in or pay for maintenance of something – that also incidentally benefits your competitors. As long as you make (a lot of) money, it is fine if it is “good enough”.
Good enough software components will continue to have the occasional slip-ups (= horrible security flaws) and as long as those mistakes don’t truly hurt the moneymakers in this scenario, this world picture remains hard to change.
However, if those flaws would have a notable negative impact on the mountains of cash in the vaults, then something could change. It would of course require something extraordinary for that to happen.
What can bottom-dwellers do
Our job, as makers of bricks in the very bottom of the pyramid, is to remind the top brass of the importance of a solid foundation.
Our work is to convince a large enough share of software users higher up the stack that are relying on our functionality, that they are better off and can sleep better at night if they buy support and let us help them not fall into any hidden pitfalls going forward. Even if this also in fact indirectly helps their competitors who might rely on the very same components. Having support will at least put them in a better position than the ones who don’t have it, if something bad happens. Perhaps even make them avoid badness completely. Paying for maintenance of your dependencies help reduce the risk for future alarm calls far too early on a weekend morning.
This convincing part is often much easier said than done. It is only human to not anticipate the problem ahead of time and rather react after the fact when the problem already occurred. “We have used this free product for years without problems, why would we pay for it now?”
Software projects with sufficient funding to have engineer time spent on the code should be able to at least make serious software glitches rare. Remember that even the world’s most valuable company managed to ship the most ridiculous security flaw. Security is hard.
All producers of code should make sure dependencies of theirs are of high quality. High quality here, does not only mean that the code as of right now is working, but they should also make sure that the dependencies are run in ways that are likely to continue to produce good output.
This may require that you help out. Add resources. Provide funding. Run infrastructure. Whatever those projects may need to improve – if anything.
The smallest are better off with helping hands
I participate in a few small open source projects outside of curl. Small projects that produce libraries that are used widely. Not as widely as curl perhaps, but still millions and millions of users. Pyramid-bottom projects providing infrastructure for free for the moneymakers in the top. (I’m not naming them here because it doesn’t matter exactly which ones it is. As a reader I’m sure you know of several of this kind of projects.)
This kind of projects don’t have anyone working on the project full-time and everyone participates out of personal interest. All-volunteer projects.
Imagine that a company decides they want to help avoiding “the next log4j flaw” in such a project. How would that be done?
In the slightly larger projects there might be a company involved to pay for support or an individual working on the project that you can hire or contract to do work. (In this aspect, curl would for example count as a “slightly larger” kind.)
In these volunteers-only projects, all the main contributors work somewhere (else) and there is no established project related entity to throw money at to fix issues. In these projects, it is not necessarily easy for a contributor to take on a side project for a month or two – because they are employed to do something else during the days. Day-jobs have a habit of making it difficult to take a few weeks or months off for a side project.
Helping hands would, eh… help
Even the smallest projects tend to appreciate a good bug-fix and getting things from the TODO list worked on and landed. It also doesn’t add too much work load or requirements on the volunteers involved and it doesn’t introduce any money-problems (who would receive it, taxation, reporting, etc).
For projects without any existing way setup or available method to pay for support or contract work, providing man power is for sure a good alternative to help out. In many cases the very best way.
This of course then also moves the this is difficult part to the company that wants the improvement done (the user of it), as then they need to find that engineer with the correct skills and pay them for the allotted time for the job etc.
The entity providing such helping hands to smaller projects could of course also be an organization or something dedicated for this, that is sponsored/funded by several companies.
A general caution though: this creates the weird situation where the people running and maintaining the projects are still unpaid volunteers but people who show up contributing are getting paid to do it. It causes unbalances and might be cause for friction. Be aware. This needs to be done in close cooperating with the maintainers and existing contributors in these projects.
Not the mythical man month
Someone might object and ask what about this notion that adding manpower to a late software project makes it later? Sure, that’s often entirely correct for a project that already is staffed properly and has manpower to do its job. It is not valid for understaffed projects that most of all lack manpower.
Grants are hard for small projects
Doing grants is a popular (and easy from the giver’s perspective) way for some companies and organizations who want to help out. But for these all-volunteer projects, applying for grants and doing occasional short-term jobs is onerous and complicated. Again, the contributors work full-time somewhere, and landing and working short term on a project for a grant is then a very complicated thing to mix into your life. (And many employers actively would forbid employees to do it.)
Should you be able to take time off your job, applying for grants is hard and time consuming work and you might not even get the grant. Estimating time and amount of work to complete the job is super hard. How much do you apply for and how long will it take?
Some grant-givers even assume that you also will contribute so to speak, so the amount of money paid by the grant will not even cover your full-time wage. You are then, in effect, expected to improve the project by paying parts of the job yourself. I’m not saying this is always bad. If you are young, a student or early in your career that might still be perfect. If you are a family provider with a big mortgage, maybe less so.
In Nebraska since 2003
A more chaotic, more illustrative and probably more realistic way to show “the pyramid”, was done by Randall Munroe in his famous xkcd 2347 image, which, when applied onto my image looks like this:
Of course lots of projects in the bottom make money and are sufficiently staffed and conversely not all projects in the top are proprietary money printing business. This is a simplified image showing trends and the big picture. There will always be exceptions.
The half-hour presentation will include details such as:
Basic fundamentals in the libcurl API and a look on the common data types and concepts.
Setting up and understanding a first libcurl transfer.
Differences between the two primary libcurl transfer interfaces: easy and multi.
A look at the most commonly used libcurl options
Suggestions on how and where to take the next steps
The plan is to make this presentation work independently of platform, compiler and IDE choice and it will focus on C/C++ code. Still, since most libcurl bindings are very “thin” and often mimics the C API fairly closely, it should be valuable and provide good information even for you who plan to write your libcurl-using applications in other languages.
We’ll also end the session with a Q&A-part of course so queue up your questions!
The presentation will be recorded and made available after the fact.
I work a lot on my own. I mean, I plan a lot of what to do on a daily basis myself, I execute a lot of it myself and I push my code and changes to various git repositories, often solo. I work quite a lot.
In a lot of the cases, I work together with one or more persons in each individual case, but very often that’s one or a few different persons involved in each and every one.
Yet I work at a company with colleagues, friends, managers and sales people who occasionally wonder what I’ve been up to recently and what I’m working on right now.
To share information, to combat my feeling of working in complete solitude and to better sync work with colleagues, I’ve been sending out a weekly report every Friday. It briefly explains what I did this week, what I blogged about and what I’m up to the next week.
I’ve done this on and off since I joined wolfSSL, and a while ago it dawned on me that since I do most of my work on open source code and in general in the open, I could just as well just make my “reports” available to the entire world. Or rather: those who care and are interested can find them and read them!
Minor details are still hush hush
Since I do commercial curl work with and for other companies, I need to not spill the beans on things like actual secrets and most company names will be anonymized. I hope that won’t interfere too much.
I decided to make it available on GitHub like this:
I founded the curl project early 1998 but had already then been working on the code since November 1996. The source code was always open, free and available to the world. The term “open source” actually wasn’t even coined until early 1998, just weeks before curl was born.
In the beginning of course, the first few years or so, this project wasn’t seen or discovered by many and just grew slowly and silently in a dusty corner of the Internet.
Already when I shipped the first versions I wanted the code to be open and freely available. For years I had seen the cool free software put out the in the world by others and I wanted my work to help build this communal treasure trove.
When I started this journey I didn’t really know what I wanted with curl’s license and exactly what rights and freedoms I wanted to give away and it took a few years and attempts before it landed.
The early versions were GPL licensed, but as I learned about resistance from proprietary companies and thought about it further, I changed the license to be more commercially friendly and to match my conviction better. I ended up with MIT after a brief experimental time using MPL. (It was easy to change the license back then because I owned all the copyrights at that point.)
To be exact: we actually have a slightly modified MIT license with some very subtle differences. The reason for the changes have been forgotten and we didn’t get those commits logged in the “big transition” to Sourceforge that we did in late 1999… The end result is that this is now often recognized as “the curl license”, even though it is in effect the MIT license.
The license says everyone can use the code for whatever purpose and nobody is required to ship any source code to anyone, but they cannot claim they wrote it themselves and the license/use of the code should be mentioned in documentation or another relevant location.
As licenses go, this has to be one of the most frictionless ones there is.
Open source relies on a solid copyright law and the copyright owners of the code are the only ones who can license it away. For a long time I was the sole copyright owner in the project. But as I had decided to stick to the license, I saw no particular downsides with allowing code and contributors (of significant contributions) to retain their copyrights on the parts they brought. To not use that as a fence to make contributions harder.
Today, in early 2021, I count 1441 copyright strings in the curl source code git repository. 94.9% of them have my name.
I never liked how some projects require copyright assignments or license agreements etc to be able to submit code or patches. Partly because of the huge administrative burden it adds to the project, but also for the significant friction and barrier to entry they create for new contributors and the unbalance it creates; some get more rights than others. I’ve always worked on making it easy and smooth for newcomers to start contributing to curl. It doesn’t happen by accident.
In many ways, running a spare time open source project is easy. You just need a steady income from a “real” job and sufficient spare time, and maybe a server to host stuff on for the online presence.
The challenge is of course to keep developing it, adding things people want, to help users with problems and to address issues timely. Especially if you happen to be lucky and the user amount increases and the project grows in popularity.
I ran curl as a spare time project for decades. Over the years it became more and more common that users who submitted bug reports or asked for help about things were actually doing that during their paid work hours because they used curl in a commercial surrounding – which sometimes made the situation almost absurd. The ones who actually got paid to work with curl were asking the unpaid developers to help them out.
I changed employers several times. I started my own company and worked as my own boss for a while. I worked for Mozilla on network stuff in Firefox for five years. But curl remained a spare time project because I couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a job without risking the project or my economy.
Earning a living
For many years it was a pipe dream for me to be able to work on curl as a real job. But how do I actually take the step from a spare time project to doing it full time? I give away all the code for free, and it is a solid and reliable product.
The initial seeds were planted when I met and got to know Larry (wolfSSL CEO) and some of the other good people at wolfSSL back in the early 2010s. This, because wolfSSL is a company that write open source libraries and offer commercial support for them – proving that it can work as a business model. Larry always told me he thought there was a possibility waiting here for me with curl.
Apart from the business angle, if I would be able to work more on curl it could really benefit the curl project, and then of course indirectly everyone who uses it.
It was still a step to take. When I gave up on Mozilla in 2018, it just took a little thinking before I decided to try it. I joined wolfSSL to work on curl full time. A dream came true and finally curl was not just something I did “on the side”. It only took 21 years from first curl release to reach that point…
I’m living the open source dream, working on the project I created myself.
Food for free code
We sell commercial support for curl and libcurl. Companies and users that need a helping hand or swift assistance with their problems can get it from us – and with me here I dare to claim that there’s no company anywhere else with the same ability. We can offload engineering teams with their curl issues. Up to 24/7 level!
We also offer custom curl development, debugging help, porting to new platforms and basically any other curl related activity you need. See more on the curl product page on the wolfSSL site.
curl (mostly in the shape of libcurl) runs in ten billion installations: some five, six billion mobile phones and tablets – used by several of the most downloaded apps in existence, in virtually every website and Internet server. In a billion computer games, a billion Windows machines, half a billion TVs, half a billion game consoles and in a few hundred million cars… curl has been made to run on 82 operating systems on 22 CPU architectures. Very few software components can claim a wider use.
“Isn’t it easier to list companies that are not using curl?”
Wide use and being recognized does not bring food on the table. curl is also totally free to download, build and use. It is very solid and stable. It performs well, is documented, well tested and “battle hardened”. It “just works” for most users.
Pay for support!
How to convince companies that they should get a curl support contract with me?
Paying customers get to influence what I work on next. Not only distant road-mapping but also how to prioritize short term bug-fixes etc. We have a guaranteed response-time.
You get your issues first in line to get fixed. Customers also won’t risk getting their issues added the known bugs document and put in the attic to be forgotten. We can help customers make sure their application use libcurl correctly and in the best possible way.
I try to emphasize that by getting support from us, customers can take away some of those tasks from their own engineers and because we are faster and better on curl related issues, that is a pure net gain economically. For all of us.
This is not an easy sell.
Sure, curl is used by thousands of companies everywhere, but most of them do it because it’s free (in all meanings of the word), functional and available. There’s a real challenge in identifying those that actually use it enough and value the functionality enough that they realize they want to improve their curl foo.
Most of our curl customers purchased support first when they faced a complicated issue or problem they couldn’t fix themselves – this fact gives me this weird (to the wider curl community) incentive to not fix some problems too fast, because it then makes it work against my ability to gain new customers!
We need paying customers for this to be sustainable. When wolfSSL has a sustainable curl business, I get paid and the work I do in curl benefits all the curl users; paying as well as non-paying.
There’s clearly business in releasing open source under a strong copyleft license such as GPL, and as long as you keep the copyrights, offer customers to purchase that same code under another more proprietary- friendly license. The code is still open source and anyone doing totally open things can still use it freely and at no cost.
We’ve shipped tiny-curl to the world licensed under GPLv3. Tiny-curl is a curl branch with a strong focus on thetiny part: the idea is to provide a libcurl more suitable for smaller systems, the ones that can’t even run a full Linux but rather use an RTOS.
Consider it a sort of experiment. Are users interested in getting a smaller curl onto their products and are they interested in paying for licensing. So far, tiny-curl supports two separate RTOSes for which we haven’t ported the “normal” curl to.
Keeping things separate
Maybe you don’t realize this, but I work hard to keep separate things compartmentalized. I am not curl, curl is not wolfSSL and wolfSSL is not me. But we all overlap greatly!
I work for wolfSSL. I work on curl. wolfSSL offers commercial curl support.
One idea that we haven’t explored much yet is the ability to make and offer “reserved features” to paying customers only. This of course as another motivation for companies to become curl support customers.
Such reserved features would still have to be sensible for the curl project and most likely we would provide them as specials for paying customers for a period of time and then merge them into the “real” open source curl project. It is very important to note that this will not in any way make the “regular curl” worse or a lesser citizen in any way. It would rather be a like a separate product, a curl+ with extra stuff on top of vanilla curl.
Since we haven’t ventured into this area yet, we haven’t worked out all the details. Chances are we will wander into this territory soon.
I do occasional speaking gigs on curl and HTTP related topics but even if I charge for them this activity never brings much more than some extra pocket money. I do it because it’s fun and educational.
It has been suggested that I should create a web shop to sell curl branded merchandise in, like t-shirts, mugs, etc but I think that grossly over-estimates the user interest and how much margin I could put on mundane things just because they’d have a curl logo glued on them. Also, I would have a difficult time mentally to sell curl things and claim the profit personally. I rather keep giving away curl stash (mostly stickers) for free as a means to market the project and long term encourage users into buying support.
We receive money to the curl project through donations, most of them via our opencollective account. It is important to note that even if I’m a key figure in the project, this is not my money and it’s not my project. Donated money is spent on project related expenses, which so far primarily is our bug bounty program. We’ve avoided to spend donated money on direct curl development, and especially such that I could provide or benefit from myself, as that would totally blur the boundaries. I’m not ruling out taking that route in a future though. As long as and only if it is to the project’s benefit.
Donations via GitHub to me personally sponsors me personally and ends up in my pockets. That’s not curl money but I spend it mostly on curl development, equipment etc and it makes me able to not have to think twice when sending curl stickers to fans and friends all over the world. It contributes to food on my table and I like to think that an occasional beer I drink is sponsored by friends out there!
The future I dream of
We get a steady number of companies paying for support at a level that allows us to also pay for a few more curl engineers than myself.
Here’s the complete timeline of events. From my first denial to travel to the US until I eventually received a tourist visa. And then I can’t go anyway.
December 5-11, 2016
I spent a week on Hawaii with Mozilla – my employer at the time. This was my 12th visit to the US over a period of 19 years. I went there on ESTA, the visa waiver program Swedish citizens can use. I’ve used it many times, there was nothing special this time. The typical procedure with ESTA is that we apply online: fill in a form, pay a 14 USD fee and get a confirmation within a few days that we’re good to go.
June 26, 2017
In the early morning one day by the check-in counter at Arlanda airport in Sweden, I was refused to board my flight. Completely unexpected and out of the blue! I thought I was going to San Francisco via London with British Airways, but instead I had to turn around and go back home – slightly shocked. According to the lady behind the counter there was “something wrong with my ESTA”. I used the same ESTA and passport as I used just fine back in December 2016. They’re made to last two years and it had not expired.
People engaged by Mozilla to help us out could not figure out or get answers about what the problem was (questions and investigations were attempted both in the US and in Sweden), so we put our hopes on that it was a human mistake somewhere and decided to just try again next time.
April 3, 2018
I missed the following meeting (in December 2017) for other reasons but in the summer of 2018 another Mozilla all-hands meeting was coming up (in Texas, USA this time) so I went ahead and applied for a new ESTA in good time before the event – as I was a bit afraid there was going to be problems. I was right and I got denied ESTA very quickly. “Travel Not Authorized”.
Day 0 – April 17, 2018
Gaaah. It meant it was no mistake last year, they actually mean this. I switched approach and instead applied for a tourist visa. I paid 160 USD, filled in a ridiculous amount of information about me and my past travels over the last 15 years and I visited the US embassy for an in-person interview and fingerprinting.
This is day 0 in the visa process, 296 days after I was first stopped at Arlanda.
Day 90 – July 2018
I missed the all-hands meeting in San Francisco when I didn’t get the visa in time.
Day 240 – December 2018
I quit Mozilla, so I then had no more reasons to go to their company all-hands…
Day 365 – April 2019
A year passed. “someone is working on it” the embassy email person claimed when I asked about progress.
Day 651- January 28, 2020
I emailed the embassy to query about the process
The reply came back quickly:
All applications are processed in the most expeditious manner possible. While we understand your frustration, we are required to follow immigration law regarding visa issuances. This process cannot be expedited or circumvented. Rest assured that we will contact you as soon as the administrative processing is concluded.
Day 730 – April 2020
Another year had passed and I had given up all hope. Now it turned into a betting game and science project. How long can they actually drag out this process without saying either yes or no?
Day 871 – September 3, 2020
A friend of mine, a US citizen, contacted his Congressman – Gerry Connolly – about my situation and asked for help. His office then subsequently sent a question to the US embassy in Stockholm asking about my case. While the response that arrived on September 17 was rather negative…
your case is currently undergoing necessary administrative processing and regrettably it is not possible to predict when this processing will be completed.
… I think the following turn of events indicates it had an effect. It unclogged something.
Day 889 – September 22, 2020
After 889 days since my interview on the embassy (only five days after the answer to the congressman), the embassy contacted me over email. For the first time since that April day in 2018.
Your visa application is still in administrative processing. However, we regret to inform you that because you have missed your travel plans, we will require updated travel plans from you.
My travel plans – that had been out of date for the last 800 days or so – suddenly needed to be updated! As I was already so long into this process and since I feared that giving up now would force me back to square one if I would stop now and re-attempt this again at a later time, I decided to arrange myself some updated travel plans. After all, I work for an American company and I have a friend or two there.
Day 900 – October 2, 2020
I replied to the call for travel plan details with an official invitation letter attached, inviting me to go visit my colleagues at wolfSSL signed by our CEO, Larry. I really want to do this at some point, as I’ve never met most of them so it wasn’t a made up reason. I could possibly even get some other friends to invite me to get the process going but I figured this invite should be enough to keep the ball rolling.
Day 910 – October 13, 2020
I got another email. Now at 910 days since the interview. The embassy asked for my passport “for further processing”.
Day 913 – October 16, 2020
I posted my passport to the US embassy in Stockholm. I also ordered and paid for “return postage” as instructed so that they would ship it back to me in a safe way.
Day 934 – November 6, 2020
At 10:30 in the morning my phone lit up and showed me a text telling me that there’s an incoming parcel being delivered to me, shipped from “the Embassy of the United State” (bonus points for the typo).
Day 937 – November 9, 2020
I received my passport. Inside, there’s a US visa that is valid for ten years, until November 2030.
As a bonus, the visa also comes with a NIE (National Interest Exception) that allows me a single entry to the US during the PP (Presidential Proclamations) – which is restricting travels to the US from the European Schengen zone. In other words: I am actually allowed to travel right away!
The timing is fascinating. The last time I was in the US, Trump hadn’t taken office yet and I get the approved visa in my hands just days after Biden has been announced as the next president of the US.
Will I travel?
Covid-19 is still over us and there’s no end in sight of the pandemic. I will of course not travel to the US or any other country until it can be deemed safe and sensible.
When the pandemic is under control and traveling becomes viable, I am sure there will be opportunities. Hopefully the situation will improve before the visa expires.
All my family and friends, in the US and elsewhere who have supported me and cheered me up through this entire process. Thanks for keeping inviting me to fun things in the US even though I’ve not been able to participate. Thanks for pushing for events to get organized outside of the US! I’m sorry I’ve missed social gatherings, a friend’s marriage and several conference speaking opportunities. Thanks for all the moral support throughout this long journey of madness.
A special thanks go to David (you know who you are) for contacting Gerry Connolly’s office. I honestly think this was the key event that finally made things move in this process.
I started learning how to program in my teens, well over thirty years ago and I’ve worked as a software engineer and developer since the early 1990s. My first employment as a developer was in 1993. I’ve since worked for and with lots of companies and I’ve worked on a huge amount of (proprietary) software products and devices over many years. Meaning: I certainly didn’t start my life open source. I had to earn it.
When I was 20 years old I did my (then mandatory) military service in Sweden. After having endured that, I applied to the university while at the same time I was offered a job at IBM. I hesitated, but took the job. I figured I could always go to university later – but life took other turns and I never did. I didn’t do a single day of university. I haven’t regretted it.
I learned to code in the mid 80s on a Commodore 64 and software development has been one of my primary hobbies ever since. One thing it taught me well, that I still carry with me, is to spend a few hours per day in front of my home computer.
And then I shipped curl
In the spring of 1998 I renamed my little pet project of the time again and I released the first ever curl release. I have told this story many times, but since then I have spent two hours or so of my spare time on that project – every day for over twenty years. While still working as a software engineer by day.
Over time, curl gradually grew popular and attracted more users. There was no sudden moment in time where I struck gold and everything took off. It was just slowly gaining ground while me and my fellow project members kept improving and polishing curl. At some point in time I happened to notice that curl and libcurl would appear in more and more acknowledgements and in open source license collections in products and devices.
It was still just a spare time project.
Proprietary Software for years
I’d like to emphasize that I worked as a contract and consultant developer for many years (over 20!), primarily on proprietary software and custom solutions, before I managed to land myself a position where I could primarily write open source as part of my job.
In 2014 I joined Mozilla and got the opportunity to work on the open source project Firefox for a living – and doing it entirely from my home. This was the first time in my career I actually spent most of my days on code that was made public and available to the world. They even allowed me to spend a part of my work hours on curl, even if that didn’t really help them and curl was not a fundamental part of any Mozilla work or products. It was still great.
I landed that job for Mozilla a lot thanks to my many years and long experience with portable network coding and running a successful open source project at this level.
My work setup with Mozilla made it possible for me to spend even more time on curl, apart from the (still going) two daily spare time hours. Nobody at Mozilla cared much about (my work with) curl and no one there even asked me about it. I worked on Firefox for a living.
For anyone wanting to do open source as part of their work, getting a job at a company that already does a lot of open source is probably the best path forward. Even if that might not be easy either, and it might also mean that you would have to accept working on some open source projects that you might not yourself be completely sold on.
In late 2018 I quit Mozilla, in part because I wanted to try to work with curl “for real” (and part other reasons that I’ll leave out here). curl was then already over twenty years old and was used more than ever before.
I now work for wolfSSL. We sell curl support and related services to companies. Companies pay wolfSSL, wolfSSL pays me a salary and I get food on the table. This works as long as we can convince enough companies that this is a good idea.
The vast majority of curl users out there of course don’t pay anything and will never pay anything. We just need a small number of companies to do it – and it seems to be working. We help customers use curl better, we make curl better for them and we make them ship better products this way. It’s a win win. And I can work on open source all day long thanks to this.
My open source life-style
A normal day in the work week, I get up before 7 in the morning and I have breakfast with my family members: my wife and my two kids. Then I grab my first cup of coffee for the day and take the thirteen steps up the stairs to my “office”.
I sit down in front of my main development (Linux) machine with two 27″ screens and get to work.
What work and in what order?
I lead the curl project. It means many questions and decisions fall down to me to have an opinion about or say on, and it’s a priority for me to make sure that I unblock such situations as soon as possible so that developers wanting to do things with curl can continue doing that.
Thus, I read and respond to email about curl all hours I’m awake and have network access. Of course incoming messages actually rarely require immediate responses and then I can queue them up and instead do them later. I also try to read and assess all new incoming curl issues as soon as possible to see if there’s something urgent I should deal with immediately, or otherwise figure out how to deal with them going forward.
I usually have a set of bugs or features to work on so when there’s no alarming email or GitHub issue left, I context-switch over to the curl source code tree and the particular branch in which I work on right now. I typically have 20-30 different branches of development of various stages and maturity going on. If I get stuck on something, or if I create a pull-request for one of them that needs time to get all the CI jobs done, I switch over to one of the others.
Customers and their needs of course have priority when I decide what to work on. The exception would perhaps be security vulnerabilities or other really serious bugs being reported, but thankfully they are rare. But after that, I go by ear and work on what I think is fun and what I think users might appreciate.
If I want to go forward with something, for my own sake or for a customer’s, and that entails touching or improving other software in other projects, then I don’t shy away from submitting pull requests for them – or at least filing an issue.
Spare time open source
Yes, I still spend my spare time hours on open source, mostly curl. This means I often end up spending 50-55 hours per week on curl and curl related activities. But I don’t count or measure work hours and I rarely have to report any to anyone. This is a work of love.
Lots of people will say that they don’t have time because of life, family, kids etc. I have of course been very fortunate over the years to have had the opportunity and ability to spend all this time on what I want to do, but let’s not forget that people in general spend lots of time on their hobbies; on watching TV, on playing computer games and on socializing with friends and why not: to sleep. If you cut down on all of those things (yes, including the sleeping) there could very well be opportunities. It’s often a question of priorities. I’ve made spare time development a priority in my life.
Any company that uses curl or libcurl – and they are plenty – could benefit from buying support from us instead of wasting their own time and resources. We at wolfSSL are probably much better at curl already and we can find and fix the issues much faster, which ends up cheaper and better long-term.
The top photo is taken by Anja Stenberg, my wife. It’s me in a local forest, summer 2020.