Tag Archives: windows

localhost hack on Windows

There's no place like 127.0.0.1Readers of my blog and friends in general know that I’m not really a Windows guy. I never use it and I never develop things explicitly for windows – but I do my best in making sure my portable code also builds and runs on windows. This blog post is about a new detail that I’ve just learned and that I think I could help shed the light on, to help my fellow hackers. The other day I was contacted by a user of libcurl because he was using it on Windows and he noticed that when wanting to transfer data from the loopback device (where he had a service of his own), and he accessed it using “localhost” in the URL passed to libcurl, he would spot a DNS request for the address of that host name while when he used regular windows tools he would not see that! After some mails back and forth, the details got clear:

Windows has a default /etc/hosts version (conveniently instead put at “c:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts”) and that default  /etc/hosts alternative used to have an entry for “localhost” in it that would point to 127.0.0.1.

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft had removed the localhost entry from the /etc/hosts file. Reading sources on the net, it might be related to them supporting IPv6 for real but it’s not at all clear what the connection between those two actions would be.

getaddrinfo() in Windows has since then, and it is unclear exactly at which point in time it started to do this, been made to know about the specific string “localhost” and is documented to always return “all loopback addresses on the local computer”.

So, a custom resolver such as c-ares that doesn’t use Windows’ functions to resolve names but does it all by itself, that has been made to look in the /etc/host file etc now suddenly no longer finds “localhost” in a local file but ends up asking the DNS server for info about it… A case that is far from ideal. Most servers won’t have an entry for it and others might simply provide the wrong address.

I think we’ll have to give in and provide this hack in c-ares as well, just the way Windows itself does.

Oh, and as a bonus there’s even an additional hack mentioned in the getaddrinfo docs: On Windows Server 2003 and later if the pNodeName parameter points to a string equal to “..localmachine”, all registered addresses on the local computer are returned.

Windows localhost slowness

A client of mine and myself ran a bunch of tests doing FTP and SFTP transfers against localhost to measure how fast our custom solution is compared to a set of existing solutions.

The specific results from this aren’t what caught my eyes, mostly because they’re currently still only used for comparisons and to measure relative improvements, but it was instead the relative speed differences between the tests run on Mac 10.5.5, on Windows XP SP3 and on Linux 2.6.26.

Some of the Windows transfers took a magnitude more time than the others. Ten times longer. Since we could see this across multiple tests each being run multiple times and it was also visible with third party tools, the only conclusion I can draw from this is that Windows for some reason has a much slower localhost.

Does any reader of this have any further knowledge or details to share on this topic? Anyone knows if more recent Windows versions do this any better?

It should be noted that on Windows the ssh server used was running in cygwin, which may account for some of the slowness as cygwin isn’t really known for being blazingly fast…

Update:

Three friends responded to this question:

The first mention that he’d got problems on windows in the past where 127.0.0.1 worked but ‘localhost’ didn’t which might indicate that localhost for some reason would be treated differently.

The second said that it has been mentioned that Windows Vista has significant TCP improvements compared to older versions for which version the TCP/IP stack was rewritten completely.

Pierre (at Microsoft) pointed out that on Vista localhost resolves first to ::1 (ipv6) only, which may explain why some people experience quirks on Vista at least. This test was however done on XP…

How to hack firmwares and get away with it

It is with interest we in the Rockbox camp checked out the recent battle in Creative land where they shot down a firmware (driver really) hack by the hacker Daniel_K as seen in this forum thread.

We’re of course interested since we do a lot of custom firmwares for all sorts of targets by all sorts of companies, and recently there are efforts in progress on the Creative series of players so could this take-down move possibly be a threat to us?

But no.

In the Rockbox community we have already since day one struggled to never ever release anything, not code nor images or anything else, that originates from a company or other property owner. We don’t distribute other’s firmwares, not even parts of them.

For several music players the install process involves patching the original firmware file and flashing that onto the target. But then we made tools that get the file from the source, or let the user himself get the file from the right place, and then our tool does the necessary magic.

I’m not the only one that think Daniel Kawakami should’ve done something similar. If he would just have released tools and documentation written entirely by himself, that would do the necessary patching and poking on the drivers that the users could’ve downloaded from Creative themselves, then big bad Creative wouldn’t have much of legal arguments to throw at Daniel. It would’ve saved Daniel from this attack and it would’ve taken away the ammunition from Creative.Lots of Rockbox Targets

I’m not really defending Creative’s actions, although I must admit it wasn’t really a surprising action seeing that Daniel did ask for money (donations) for patching and distributing derivates of Creative’s software.

So far in our 6+ years of history, the Rockbox project has been target of legal C&D letter threats multiple times, but never from one of the companies for which targets we develop firmwares for. It has been other software vendors: two game companies (Tetris Company and PopCap games) fighting to prevent us from using their trademarked names (and we could even possibly agree that our name selections were a bit too similar to the original ones) and AT&T banning us from distributing sound files generated with their speech engine software. Both PopCap and Tetris of course also waved with laywers saying that we infringed on their copyrights on “game play” and “look” and what not, but they really have nothing on us there so we just blanked-faced them on those silly demands.

The AT&T case is more of a proof of greedy software companies having very strict user licenses and we really thought we had a legitimate license that we could use to produce output and distribute for users – sound files that are to a large extent used by blind or visually impaired users to get the UI spelled out. We pleaded that we’re an open source, no-profit, no-money really organization and asked for permission, but were given offers to get good deals on “proper” licenses for multiple thousands of dollars per year.

Ok, so the originating people of the Rockbox project is based in Sweden which may also be a factor as we’re not as vulnerable to scary US company tactics where it seems they can sue companies/people who then will have to spend a fortune of their own money just to defend themselves and then you have to counter-sue to get any money back even if you were found not guilty in the first case. Neither is Rockbox an attempt to circumvent any copy protections, as if it were it would have violated laws in multiple countries and regions. Also, reverse engineering is perfectly legal in many regions of the world contrary to what many people seem to believe.

If this isn’t sticking your chin out, then what is? 😉

Update 4-apr-2008: Creative backpedals when their flame thrower backfired.

DOS means Text Based

I find it very amusing that Windows users all so often refer to the command line as DOS, and I’ve tried to figure out how we still today frequently get to read users refer to the ancient operating system.

It was in fact still called “MS-DOS prompt” back in windows 98, as shown in this little picture:

windows 98 MS-DOS prompt

I found that even Microsoft themselves refer to the commands you use on the command line as “MS-DOS commands“, so perhaps this is a primary reason? Even the producers of Windows confuse and mix the terms “command line” and “MS-DOS”…

When they launched Windows XP they no longer called it MS-DOS Prompt, it was then plain and simple “Command Prompt”:

Windows XP command prompt!

We’ve also seen end users in the Rockbox project refer to the interface as DOS or DOS-style, and there is really nothing what so ever in common with MS-DOS in Rockbox. It is just (by default) a basic text-style interface. It is clear that to many people, a text-based interface be it a music player or a command line window, means DOS.

People are weird.

Plenty Pointless Printer Processes

I recently got a new printer for my home network. My old Epson Photo 870 printer with a D-Link Ethernet-to-parallel port printer server thing suddenly died one day not too long ago.

HP Photosmart C6180I opted for a solution with native Ethernet support that could also work as a copier and scanner so that those (even though rather rarely needed) functions would also be dealt with nicely. (In fact fax too, but I can’t think I’ll ever use that so I haven’t bothered to connect it to the phone system.) I went with the HP C6180 thing, since seemed like a nice setup for a fairly low price. Even though I don’t necessarily plan to print to it from my Linux hosts, I did read some positive reviews about it when used from Linux with CUPS so that was another point talking for this particular model. The printer even has wifi support but I’m using wired Ethernet since it is faster and I have the printer standing next to my wifi router anyway. Also, having scanner supported would mean I can finally put away my 7 year old USB scanner that I’ve been lugging out to use on occasion.

Sometimes (or is it often?) we get to hear that the printer situation on Linux is horrible or at least far from perfect, and while I agree with that I find the situation on Windows horrible – but for entirely different reasons

I followed the printer’s user manual on how to install it on Anja‘s (my wife’s) laptop that runs Windows XP, by inserting the CD and clicking “yes – over Ethernet” etc and it went on and and installed. And wow, did it get installed!

It brought four new icons to the desktop and after the lengthy process was at the end there were at least ten new processes running in the system and for some reason they actually made an impact and the system felt slower! I had to go on a kill frenzy to clear up the worst mess. The amazing part is that even though I killed every single process starting with “HP”, everything still worked exactly like I wanted. And with “msconfig” I could also prevent some of the worst stuff to start again at next reboot… (This kind of behavior is sadly not specific for printers-only on Windows…)

I did have some initial quirks with the printer, until I set it to use a fixed IP address. I’m not sure it really had something to do with it, but I wanted fixed IP anyway and the problems seemed to vanish.

Sony Ericsson w580i on Windows

Sony Ericsson w580iI have a fairly new phone, the Sony Ericsson w580i and I think it is a neat little thing.

I’ve been using it as a usb-storage device at home under Linux without any problems, and I’ve pretty much filled my extra 4GB M2 card with music from my collection.

Today I decided to try to get a picture from my phone to my work PC (which is running… eh, Windows XP) and guess if I’m up to a shock: it doesn’t talk to the phone. It claims it can’t find any drivers for it and for some reason it doesn’t just go for usb-storage (even though we know now that it is OHCI compatible – at least).

Crap. On the Sony Ericsson site they offer the Sony Ericsson PC Suite 2.10.38 (for Windows Vista/XP) which is a whopping 44.8 megabytes! And all I want is to access my phone as UMS. Grrrr.

Once installed, I can access the phone fine but now I get that bonus popup annoyance windows that repeatedly asks me if I want to reboot the computer so that the new stuff can take effect…