Lilblue Linux: release 20140925. Adventures beyond the land of POSIX.

It has been four months since my last major build and release of Lilblue Linux, a pet project of mine [1].  The name is a bit pretentious, I admit, since Lilblue is not some other Linux distro.  It is Gentoo, but Gentoo with a twist.  It’s a fully featured amd64, hardened, XFCE4 desktop that uses uClibc instead of glibc as its standard C library.  I use it on some of my workstations at the College and at home, like any other desktop, and I know other people that use it too, but the main reason for its existence is that I wanted to push uClibc to its limits and see where things break.  Back in 2011, I got bored of working with the usual set of embedded packages.  So, while my students where writing their exams in Modern OS, I entertained myself just adding more and more packages to a stage3-amd64-hardened system [2] until I had a decent desktop.  After playing with it on and off, I finally polished it where I thought others might enjoy it too and started pushing out releases.  Recently, I found out that the folks behind uselessd [3] used Lilblue as their testing ground. uselessd is another response to systemd [4], something like eudev [5], which I maintain, so the irony here is too much not to mention!  But that’s another story …

There was only one interesting issue about this release.  Generally I try to keep all releases about the same.  I’m not constantly updating the list of packages in @world.  I did remove pulseaudio this time around because it never did work right and I don’t use it.  I’ll fix it in the future, but not yet!  Instead, I concentrated on a much more interesting problem with a new release of e2fsprogs [6].   The problem started when upstream’s commit 58229aaf removed a broken fallback syscall for fallocate64() on systems where the latter is unavailable [7].  There was nothing wrong with this commit, in fact, it was the correct thing to do.  e4defrag.c used to have the following code:

#warning Using locally defined fallocate syscall interface.

#ifndef __NR_fallocate
#error Your kernel headers dont define __NR_fallocate

 * fallocate64() - Manipulate file space.
 * @fd: defrag target file's descriptor.
 * @mode: process flag.
 * @offset: file offset.
 * @len: file size.
static int fallocate64(int fd, int mode, loff_t offset, loff_t len)
    return syscall(__NR_fallocate, fd, mode, offset, len);
#endif /* ! HAVE_FALLOCATE */

The idea was that, if a configure test for fallocate64() failed because it isn’t available in your libc, but there is a system call for it in the kernel, then e4defrag would just make the syscall via your libc’s indirect syscall() function.  Seems simple enough, except that how system calls are dispatched is architecture and ABI dependant and the above is broken on 32-bit systems [8].  Of course, uClibc didn’t have fallocate() so e4defrag failed to build after that commit.  To my surprise, musl does have fallocate() so this wasn’t a problem there, even though it is a Linux specific function and not in any standard.

My first approach was to patch e2fsprogs to use posix_fallocate() which is supposed to be equivalent to fallocate() when invoked with mode = 0.  e4defrag calls fallocate() in mode = 0, so this seemed like a simple fix.  However, this was not acceptable to Ts’o since he was worried that some libc might implement posix_fallocate() by brute force writing 0′s.  That could be horribly slow for large allocations!  This wasn’t the case for uClibc’s implementation but that didn’t seem to make much difference upstream.  Meh.

Rather than fight e2fsprogs, I sat down and hacked fallocate() into uClibc.  Since both fallocate() and posix_fallocate(), and their LFS counterparts fallocate64() and posix_fallocate64(), make the same syscall, it was sufficient to isolate that in an internal function which both could make use of.  That, plus a test suite, and Bernhard was kind enough to commit it to master [10].  Then a couple of backports, and uClibc’s 0.9.33 branch now has the fix as well.  Because there hasn’t been a release of  uClibc in about two years, I’m using the 0.9.33 branch HEAD for Lilblue, so the problem there was solved — I know its a little problematic, but it was either that or try to juggle dozens of patches.

The only thing that remains is to backport those fixes to vapier’s patchset that he maintains for the uClibc ebuilds.  Since my uClibc stage3′s don’t use the 0.9.33 branch head, but the stable tree ebuilds which use the vanilla release plus Mike’s patchset, upgrading e2fsprogs is blocked for those stages.

This whole process may seem like a real pita, but this is exactly the sort of issues I like uncovering and cleaning up.  So far, the feedback on the latest release is good.  If you want to play with Lilblue and you don’t have a free box, fire up VirtualBox or your emulator of choice and give it a try.  You can download it from the experimental/amd64/uclibc off any mirror [11].

sthttpd: a very tiny and very fast http server with a mature codebase!

Two years ago, I took on the maintenance of thttpd, a web server written by Jef Poskanzer at ACME Labs [1].  The code hadn’t been update in about 10 years and there were dozens of accumulated patches on the Gentoo tree, many of which addressed serious security issues.  I emailed upstream and was told the project was “done” whatever that meant, so I was going to tree clean it.  I expressed my intentions on the upstream mailing list when I got a bunch of “please don’t!” from users.  So rather than maintain a ton of patches, I forked the code, rewrote the build system to use autotools, and applied all the patch.  I dubbed the fork sthttpd.  There was no particular meaning to the “s”.  Maybe “still kicking”?

I put a git repo up on my server [2], got a mail list going [3], and set up bugzilla [4].  There hasn’t been much activity but there was enough because it got noticed by someone who pushed it out in OpenBSD ports [5].

Today, I finally pushed out 2.27.0 after two years.  This release takes care of a couple of new security issues: I fixed the world readable log problem, CVE-2013-0348 [6], and Vitezslav Cizek <>  from OpenSUSE fixed a possible DOS triggered by specially crafted .htpasswd. Bob Tennent added some code to correct headers for .svgz content, and Jean-Philippe Ouellet did some code cleanup.  So it was time.

Web servers are not my style, but its tiny size and speed makes it perfect for embedded systems which are near and dear to my heart.  I also make sure it compiles on *BSD and Linux with glibc, uClibc or musl.  Not bad for a codebase which is over 10 years old!  Kudos to Jef.

Tor-ramdisk 20140925 released

I’ve been blogging about my non-Gentoo work using my drupal site at  but since I may be loosing that server sometime in the future, I’m going to start duplicating those posts here.  This work should be of interest to readers of Planet Gentoo because it draws a lot from Gentoo, but it doesn’t exactly fall under the category of a “Gentoo Project.”

Anyhow, today I’m releasing tor-ramdisk 20140925.  As you may recall from a previous post, tor-ramdisk is a uClibc-based micro Linux distribution I maintain whose only purpose is to host a Tor server in an environment that maximizes security and privacy.  Security is enhanced using Gentoo’s hardened toolchain and kernel, while privacy is enhanced by forcing logging to be off at all levels.  Also, tor-ramdisk runs in RAM, so no information survives a reboot, except for the configuration file and the private RSA key, which may be exported/imported by FTP or SCP.

A few days ago, the Tor team released with one major bug fix according to their ChangeLog. Clients were apparently sending the wrong address for their chosen rendezvous points for hidden services, which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it did because they also sent the identity digest. This fix should improve surfing of hidden services. The other minor changes involved updating geoip information and the address of a v3 directory authority, gabelmoo.

I took this opportunity to also update busybox to version 1.22.1, openssl to 1.0.1i, and the kernel to 3.16.3 + Gentoo’s hardened-patches-3.16.3-1.extras. Both the x86 and x86_64 images were tested using node “simba” and showed no issues.

You can get tor-ramdisk from the following urls (at least for now!)




Constructing a “Directed Linkage Graph” for an entire system: The usefulness of exporting /var/db/pkg (VDB) information for utilities other than the Package Management System (PMS).

When portage installs a package onto your system, it caches information about that package in a directory at /var/db/pkg/<cat>/<pkg>/, where <cat> is the category (ie ${CATEGORY}) and <pkg> is the package name, version number and revision number (ie. ${P}). This information can then be used at a later time to tell portage information about what’s installed on a system: what packages were installed, what USE flags are set on each package, what CFLAGS were used, etc. Even the ebuild itself is cached so that if it is removed from the tree, and consequently from your system upon `emerge –sync`, you have a local copy in VDB to uninstall or otherwise continue working with the package. If you take look under /var/db/pkg, you’ll find some interesting and some not so interesting files for each <cat>/<pkg>. Among the less interesting are files like DEPEND, RDPENED, FEATURES, IUSE, USE, which just contain the same values as the ebuild variables by the same name. This is redundant because that information is in the ebuild itself which is also cached but it is more readily available since one doesn’t have to re-parse the ebuild to obtain them. More interesting is information gathered about the package as it is installed, like CONTENTS, which contains a list of all the regular files, directories, and sym link which belong to the package, along with their MD5SUM. This list is used to remove files from the system when uninstalling the package. Environment information is also cached, like CBUILD, CHOST, CFLAGS, CXXFLAGS and LDFLAGS which affects the build of compiled packages, and environment.bz2 which contains the entire shell environment that portage ran in, including all shell variables and functions from inherited eclasses. But perhaps the most interesting information, and the most expensive to recalculate is, cached in NEEDED and NEEDED.ELF.2. The later supersedes the former which is only kept for backward compatibility, so let’s just concentrate on NEEDED.ELF.2. Its a list of every ELF object that is installed for a package, along with its ARCH/ABI information, its SONAME if it is a shared object (readelf -d <obj> | grep SONAME, or scanelf -S), any RPATH used to search for its needed shared objects (readelf -d <obj> | grep RPATH, or scanelf -r), and any NEEDED shared objects (the SONAMES of libraries) that it links against (readelf -d <obj> | grep NEEDED or scanelf -n). [1] Unless you’re working with some exotic systems, like an embedded image where everything is statically linked, your user land utilities and applications depend on dynamic linking, meaning that when a process is loaded from the executable on your hard drive, the linker has to make sure that its needed libraries are also loaded and then do some relocation magic to make sure that unresolved symbols in your executable get mapped to appropriate memory locations in the libraries.

The subtleties of linking are beyond the scope of this blog posting [2], but I think its clear from the previous paragraph that one can construct a “directed linkage graph” [3] of dependencies between all the ELF objects on a system. An executable can link to a library which in turn links to another, and so on, usually back to your libc [4]. `readelf -d <obj> | grep NEEDED` only give you the immediate dependencies, but if you follow these through recursively, you’ll get all the needed libraries that an executable needs to run. `ldd <obj>` is a shell script which provides this information, as does from the pax-utils package, which also does some pretty indentation to show the depth of the dependency. If this is sounding vaguely familiar, its because portage’s dependency rules “mimic” the underlying linking which is needed at both compile time and at run time. Let’s take an example, curl compiled with polarssl as its SSL backend:

# ldd /usr/bin/curl | grep ssl => /usr/lib64/ (0x000003a3d06cd000)
# ldd /usr/lib64/ (0x0000029c1ae12000) => /lib64/ (0x0000029c1a929000) => /lib64/ (0x0000029c1a56a000)
        /lib64/ (0x0000029c1ae13000)

Now let’s see this dependency reflected in the ebuild:

# cat net-misc/curl/curl-7.36.0.ebuild
        ssl? (
                curl_ssl_polarssl? ( net-libs/polarssl:= app-misc/ca-certificates )

Nothing surprising. However, there is one subtlety. What happens if you update polarssl to a version which is not exactly backwards compatible. Then curl which properly linked against the old version of polarssl doesn’t quite work with the new version. This can happen when the library changes its public interface by either adding new functions, removing older ones and/or changing the behavior of existing functions. Usually upstream indicates this change in the library itself by bumping the SONAME:

# readelf -d /usr/lib64/ | grep SONAME
0x000000000000000e (SONAME) Library soname: []

But how does curl know about the change when emerging an updated version of polarssl? That’s where subslotting comes in. To communicate the reverse dependency, the DEPEND string in curl’s ebuild has := as the slot indicator for polarssl. This means that upgrading polarssl to a new subslot will trigger a recompile of curl:

# emerge =net-libs/polarssl-1.3.8 -vp

These are the packages that would be merged, in order:

Calculating dependencies... done!
[ebuild r U ] net-libs/polarssl-1.3.8:0/7 [1.3.7:0/6] USE="doc sse2 static-libs threads%* zlib -havege -programs {-test}" ABI_X86="(64) (-32) (-x32)" 1,686 kB
[ebuild rR ] net-misc/curl-7.36.0 USE="ipv6 ldap rtmp ssl static-libs threads -adns -idn -kerberos -metalink -ssh {-test}" CURL_SSL="polarssl -axtls -gnutls -nss -openssl" 0 kB

Here the onus is on the downstream maintainer to know when the API breaks backwards compatibility and subslot accordingly. Going through with this build and then checking the new SONAME we find:

# readelf -d /usr/lib/ | grep SONAME
0x000000000000000e (SONAME) Library soname: []

Aha! Notice the SONAME jumped from .6 for polarssl-1.3.7 to .7 for 1.3.8. Also notice the SONAME version number also follows the subslotting value. I’m sure this was a conscious effort by hasufell and tommyd, the ebuild maintainers, to make life easy.

So I hope my example has shown the importance of tracing forward and reverse linkage between the ELF objects in on a system [5]. Subslotting is relatively new but the need to trace linking has always been there. There was, and still is, revdep-rebuild (from gentoolkit) which uses output from ldd to construct a “directed linkage graph” [6] but is is relatively slow. Unfortunately, it recalculates all the NEEDED.ELF.2 information on the system in order to reconstruct and invert the directed linkage graph. Subslotting has partially obsoleted revdep-rebuild because portage can now track the reverse dependencies, but it has not completely obsoleted it. revdep-rebuild falls back on the SONAMEs in the shared objects themselves — an error here is an upstream error in which the maintainers of the library overlooked updating the value of CURRENT in the build system, usually in a line of some that looks like

LDFLAGS += -version-info $(CURRENT):$(REVISION):$(AGE)

But an error in subslotting is an downstream error where the maintainers didn’t properly subslot their package and any dependencies to reflect upstream’s changing API. So in some ways, these tools complement each other.

Now we come to the real point of the blog: there is no reason for revdep-rebuild to run ldd on every ELF object on the system when it can obtain that information from VDB. This doesn’t save time on inverting the directed graph, but it does save time on running ldd (effectively /lib64/ –list) on every ELF object in the system. So guess what the python version does, You guessed it, it uses VDB information which is exported by portage via something like

import portage
vardb = portage.db[portage.root]["vartree"].dbapi

So what’s the difference in time? On my system right now, we’re looking at a difference between approximately 5 minutes for revdep-rebuild versus about 20 seconds for [7] Since this information is gathered at build time, there is no reason for any Package Management System (PMS) to not export it via some standarized API. portage does so in an awkward fashion but it does export it. paludis does not export NEEDED.ELF.2 although it does export other VDB stuff. I can’t speak to future PMS’s but I don’t see why they should not be held to a standard.

Above I argued that exporting VDB is useful for utilities that maintain consistency between executibles and the shared objects that they consume. I suspect one could counter-argue that it doesn’t need to be exported because “revdep-rebuild” can be made part of portage or whatever your PMS, but I hope my next point will show that exporting NEEDED.ELF.2 information has other uses besides “consistant linking”. So a stronger point is that, not only should PMS export this information, but that it should provide some well documented API for use by other tools. It would be nice for every PMS to have the same API, preferably via python bindings, but as long as it is well documented, it will be useful. (Eg. webapp-config supports both portage and paludis. WebappConfig/ has a simple little switch between “import portage; ... portage.settings['CONFIG_PROTECT'] ... ” and “cave print-id-environment-variable -b --format '%%v\n' --variable-name CONFIG_PROTECT %s/%s ...“.)

So besides consistent linking, what else could make use of NEEDED.ELF.2? In the world of Hardened Gentoo, to increase security, a PaX-patched kernel holds processes to much higher standards with respect to their use of memory. [8] Unfortunately, this breaks some packages which want to implement insecure methods, like RWX mmap-ings. Code is compiled “on-the-fly” by JIT compilers which typically create such mappings as an area to which they first write and then execute. However, this is dangerous because it can open up pathways by which arbitrary code can be injected into a running process. So, PaX does not allow RWX mmap-ings — it doesn’t allow it unless that kernel is told otherwise. This is where the PaX flags come in. In the JIT example, marking the executables with `paxctl-ng -m` will turn off PaX’s MPROTECT and allow the RWX mmap-ing. The issue of consistent PaX markings between executable and their libraries arises when it is the library that needs the markings. But when loaded, it is the markings of the executable, not the library, which set the PaX restrictions on the running process. [9]  So if its the library needs the markings, you have to migrate the markings from the library to the executable. Aha! Here we go again: we need to answer the question “what are all the consumers of a particular library so we can migrate its flags to them?” We can, as revdep-rebuild does, re-read all the ELF objects on the system, reconstruct the directed linkage graph, then invert it; or we can just start from the already gathered VDB information and save some time. Like revdep-rebuild and, I wrote two utilities. The original, revdep-pax, did forward and reverse migration of PaX flags by gathering information with ldd. It was horribly slow, 5 to 10 minutes depending on the number of objects in $PATH and shared object reported by `ldconfig -p`. I then rewrote it to use VDB information and it accomplished the same task in a fraction of the time [10]. Since constructing and inverting the directed linkage graph is such a useful operation, I figured I’d abstract the bare essential code into a python class which you can get at [11]. The data structure containing the entire graph is a compound python dictionary of the form

        abi1 : { path_to_elf1 : [ soname1, soname2, ... ], ... },
        abi2 : { path_to_elf2 : [ soname3, soname4, ... ], ... },

whereas the inverted graph has form

        abi1 : { soname1 : [ path_to_elf1, path_to_elf2, ... ], ... },
        abi2 : { soname2 : [ path_to_elf3, path_to_elf4, ... ], ... },


Okay, up to now I concentrated on exporting NEEDED.ELF.2 information. So what about rest of the VDB information? Is it useful? A lot of questions regarding Gentoo packages can be answered by “grepping the tree.” If you use portage as your PMS, then the same sort of grep-sed-awk foo magic can be performed on /var/db/pkg to answer similar questions. However, this assumes that the PMS’s cached information is in plain ASCII format. If a PMS decides to use something like Berkeley DB or sqlite, then we’re going to need a tool to read the db format which the PMS itself should provide. Because I do a lot of release engineering of uclibc and musl stages, one need that often comes up is the need to compare of what’s installed in the stage3 tarballs for the various arches and alternative libc’s. So, I run some variation of the following script

#!/usr/bin/env python

import portage, re

portdb = portage.db[portage.root]["vartree"].dbapi

arm_stable = open('arm-stable.txt', 'w')
arm_testing = open('arm-testing.txt', 'w')

for pkg in portdb.cpv_all():
keywords = portdb.aux_get(pkg, ["KEYWORDS"])[0]

arches = re.split('\s+', keywords)
        for a in arches:
                if re.match('^arm$', a):
                        arm_stable.write("%s\n" % pkg)
                if re.match('^~arm$', a):
                        arm_testing.write("%s\n" % pkg)


in a stage3-amd64-uclibc-hardened chroot to see what stable packages in the amd64 tarball are ~arm. [12]  I run similar scripts in other chroots to do pairwise comparisons. This gives me some clue as to what may be falling behind in which arches — to keep some consistency between my various stage3 tarballs. Of course there are other utilities to do the same, like eix, gentoolkit etc, but then one still has to resort to parsing the output of those utilities to get the answers you want. An API for VDB information allows you to write your own custom utility to answer the precise questions you need answers. I’m sure you can multiply these examples.

Let me close with a confession. The above is propaganda for the upcoming GLEP 64 which I just wrote [13]. The purpose of the GLEP is to delineate what information should be exported by all PMS’s with particular emphasis on NEEDED.ELF.2 for the reasons stated above.  Currently portage does provide NEEDED.ELF.2 but paludis does not.  I’m not sure what future PMS’s might or might not provide, so let’s set a standard now for an important feature.



[1] You can see where NEEDED.ELF.2 is generated for details. Take a look at line ~520 of /usr/lib/portage/bin/, or search for the comment “Create NEEDED.ELF.2 regardless of RESTRICT=binchecks”.

[2] A simple hands on tutorial can be found at It also includes dynamic linking via dlopen() which complicates the nice neat graph that can be constructed from NEEDED.ELF.2.

[3] I’m using the term “directed graph” as defined in graph theory. See The nodes of the graph are each ELF object and the directed edges are from the consumer of the shared object to the shared object.

[4] Well, not quite. If you run readelf -d on readelf -d /lib/ you’ll see that it links back to /lib/ which doesn’t NEED anything else. The former is stricly your standard C library (man 7 libc) while the later is the dynamic linker/loader (man 8

[5] I should mention parenthatically that there are other executable/library file formats such as Mach-O used on MacOS X. The above arguments translate over to any executable formats which permit shared libraries and dynamic linking. My prejudice for ELF is because it is the primary executable format used on Linux and BSD systems.

[6] I’m coining this term here. If you read the revdep-rebuild code, you won’t see reference to any graph there. Bash doesn’t readily lend itself to the neat data structures that python does.

[7] Just a word of caution, is still in development and does warn when you run it “This is a development version, so it may not work correctly. The original revdep-rebuild script is installed as”.

[8] See for an explanation of what PaX does as well as how it works.

[9] grep the contents of fs/binfmt_elf.c for PT_PAX_FLAGS and CONFIG_PAX_XATTR_PAX_FLAGS to see how these markings are used when the process is loaded from the ELF object. You can see the PaX protection on a running process by using `cat /proc/<pid>/maps | grep ^PaX` or `pspax` form the pax-utils package.

[10] The latest version off the git repo is at;a=blob;f=scripts/revdep-pax.


[12] These stages are distributed at and


Continued support for the Lemote Yeeloong: Gentoo Mips is alive and well!

A few years back the Lemote Yeeloong made a splash in the open source community as the world’s first completely “open” system requiring no proprietary software.  Even its BIOS is open source.  It wasn’t long before pictures of Richard Stallman hugging his Yeeloong started popping up throughout the Internet, further boosting its popularity.  I became interested because the Yeeloong involves everything that’s near and dear to my heart: 1) Its loongson2f processor is a mips64el system and I love the slick nature of RISC architectures.  I can actually make sense of its ISA and the assembly.  2) As a 64-bit mips, it supports multiple ABIs, and I love playing with different ABIs.  The images I push come with o32, n32 and n64.  3) While other distros, like Debian, have ported their wares to the Yeeloong, these don’t have the hardening goodness that Gentoo does and so this was an added challenge.  Thanks to Magnus Granberg (zorry) for getting his hardened gcc patches work in mips.  4) Finally, it is “free” as in “libre”.  It is manufactured by Lemote in China, and I like to fantisize that hackers at the NSA curse everytime they encounter one in the wild, although the reality is more likely that I’m owned by the Chinese government :/

So here was the possibility of creating a free and secure system on my favorite architecture!  A couple of summers back, I took on the challenge.  I updated some older stages3 that Matt Turner (mattst88) had prepared and went through the process of seeing what desktop packages would build, which needed patching and which were hopelessly broken on mips, usually because of dependance on x86/amd64 assembly.  The end result was a minimal XFCE4 desktop with full userland hardening.  Unfortunatley, I still don’t have a PaX kernel working, but the issues do not appear to be insurmountable.

Building the initial images was more fun than maintaining them, but I’ve been good about it and I recently prepared release 20140630.  I even started to feel out the community more, so I announced this work as a project on, just before the site closed down :(   If you get  a new Lemote Yeeloong, give these images a try.  It’ll save you about 4 days of compiling if you want to bootstrap from a stage3 to a full desktop, not counting all the broken packages you’ll probably hit along the way.  If you’re already running one of my images then you can try to update on your own but expect a lot of conflicts/blockings etc since mips is not a stable arch.  Perhaps the next step to making this more user-friendly is for me to provide the binpkgs on some host.


Lilblue Linux: release 20140520

A couple of days ago, I pushed out a new build of Lilblue Linux [1] which is my attempt to turn embedded Linux on its head and use uClibc [2] instead of glibc as the standard C library for a fully featured XFCE4 desktop for amd64. Its userland is built with Gentoo’s hardened toolchain, and the image ships with a kernel built using hardened-sources which include the Grsec/PaX patches for added security, but its main distinguishing feature from mainstream Gentoo is uClibc. Even though Lilblue is something of an experimental project which grew out of my attempt to get more and more packages to build against uClibc, the system works better than I’d originally expected and there are very few glitches which are uClibc specific. You get pretty much everything you’d expect in a desktop, including all your multimedia goodies, office software, games and browsers. mplayer2 works flawlessly!

But all is not well in the land of uClibc these days. It has been over two years since the last release, on May 15, 2012, and there are about 80 commits sitting in the 0.9.33 branch, many of which address critical issues since This causes problems for people building around uClibc, such as buildroot, and there has even been talk on the email lists of dropping uClibc as its main libc in favor of either glibc or musl [3]. Buildroot is maintaining about 50 backported patches, while Mike’s (aka vapier’s) latest patchset has 20. I seem to always have to insert a backported patch of my own here or there, or ask Mike to include it in his patchset.

For this release, I did something that I have mixed feelings about. Instead of + backported patches, I used the latest HEAD of the 0.9.33 git branch. This saved me the trouble of getting more patches backported into a new revision of our ebuild, or by “cheating” and putting the patches into /etc/portage/patches/sys-libs/uclibc, but it did expose a well known problem in uClibc, namely the problem of how its header files stack. A libc’s header files typically include one another to form a stack [4]. For example, on glibc, sched.h stacks as follows


Here sched.h includes features.h, bits/types.h, stddef.h, time.h and bits/sched.h. In turn, features.h includes sys/cdefs.h and gnu/stubs.h, and so on. Each indentation indicates another level of inclusion. Circular inclusions are avoided by using #ifdef shields.

At least one reason for this structure is to abstract away differences in architectures and ABIs in an effort to present a hopefully POSIX compliant interface to the rest of userland. So, for example, glibc’s sys/syscall.h looks the same on amd64 as on mipsel, but it includes asm/unistd.h which is different on the two architectures. Each architecture’s asm/unistd.h have their own internal #ifdefs for the different ABIs proper to the architecture, and each #ifdef section in turn defines the values of the various syscalls appropriately for their ABI [5]. Another reason for this stacked inclusion is to make sure that certain definitions, macros or prototypes defined in one header are made available in another header in the same way as they are made available in a c file. This is the reason given, for instance, in the uClibc commit 2e2dc998 which I examine below.

Let’s see where uClibc’s header problems begin. Take a look at Gentoo’s bug #486782, where cdrtools-3.01_alpha17 fails to build against uClibc because its readcd/readcd.c defines “BOOL clone;” which collides with the definition of clone() in bits/sched.h [6]. Nowhere is sched.h included in readcd.c, instead bits/sched.h gets pulled in indirectly because stdio.h is included! Comment 7 reveals the stacking problem. stdio.h’s stacking is complex, but following just the bad chain, we see that stdio.h includes bits/uClibc_stdio.h which includes bits/uClibc_mutex.h which includes pthread.h which includes sched.h which includes bits/sched.h — wheh! If you’re wondering what stdio.h should have to do with sched.h, then you see the problem: too much information is being exposed here. Joerg’s comment on the bug pretty much sums it up: “The related include files (starting from what stdio.h includes) most likely expose the problem because they seem to expose implementation details that do not belong to the scope of visibility of the using code.”

Back to my bump from to the HEAD of the 0.9.33 branch. This bump unexpectedly exposed bugs #510766 and #510770. Here we find that =media-libs/nas-1.9.4 and =app-text/texlive-core-2012-r1, both of which build just fine against, fail against HEAD 0.9.33 because of a name collision with abs(). Unlike the case with cdrtools, where the blame is squarely on uClibc, I think this is a case of enough blame to go around. Both of those packages define abs() as a macro even though it is supposed to be a function prototyped in stdlib.h, as per POSIX.1-2001 [7]. At least nas tries to check if abs() has been already defined as a macro, but its still not enough of a check to avoid the name collision. Unfortunately, given its archaic imake system, its not as easy as just adding AC_CHECK_FUNCS([abs]) to texlive-core at least uses GNU autotools, but its collection of utilities define abs() in several different places making a fix messy. On the other hand, why do we suddenly have stdlib.h being pulled in after those macros with HEAD 0.9.33 whereas we didn’t with release It turns out to be uClibc’s tiny commit 2e2dc998 which I quote here:

	sched.h: include stdlib.h for malloc/free
	Signed-off-by: Bernhard Reutner-Fischer <>

	diff --git a/libc/sysdeps/linux/common/bits/sched.h b/libc/sysdeps/linux/common/bits/sched.h
	index 7d6273f..878550d 100644
	--- a/libc/sysdeps/linux/common/bits/sched.h
	+++ b/libc/sysdeps/linux/common/bits/sched.h
	@@ -109,6 +109,7 @@ struct __sched_param
	 /* Size definition for CPU sets.  */
	 # define __CPU_SETSIZE	1024
	 # define __NCPUBITS	(8 * sizeof (__cpu_mask))
	+# include <stdlib.h>
	 /* Type for array elements in 'cpu_set_t'.  */
	 typedef unsigned long int __cpu_mask;

Both packages pull in stdio.h after their macro definition of abs(). But now stdio.h, which pulls in bits/sched.h, further pulls in stdlib.h with the function prototype of abs() and … BOOM! … we get

/usr/include/stdlib.h:713:12: error: expected identifier or '(' before 'int'
/usr/include/stdlib.h:713:12: error: expected ')' before '>' token

Untangling the implementation details is a going to be a thorny problem. And, given uClibc’s faltering release schedule schedule, things are probably not going to get better soon. I have looked at the issue a bit, but not enough to start unraveling it. Its easier just to apply hacky patches to the odd package here and there than to rethink uClibc’s internal implementations. If we are going to start rethinking implementation, the musl [8] is much more exciting. uClibc is used in lots of embedded systems and the header issue is not going to be a show stopper for it or for Liblue, but it does make alternatives look like musl more attractive.




[3] See Petazzoni’s email to the uClibc community.

[4] I wrote a little python script to generate these stacks since creating them manually . You can download it from my dev space: Note that the stacking is influenced by #ifdef’s throughout, eg #ifdef __USE_GNU, which the script ignores, but it does give a good starting place for how the stacking goes.

[5] As of glibc 2.17, on mips, asm/unistd.h defines the various __NR_* values in a flat file with three #ifdefs sections for _MIPS_SIM_ABI32, _MIPS_SIM_ABI64 and _MIPS_SIM_NABI32, respectively ABI=o32, n64 and n32. Using my script from [4], the stacking looks as follows:


In contrast, on amd64, each ABI is broken out further into their own file, with asm/unistd_32.h, asm/unistd_x32.h or asm/unistd_64.h included into asm/unistd.h for __i386__, __ILP32__, or __ILP64__ respectively. Here the stacking is


Remember, on both architectures, sys/syscall.h are identical, and that is the file you should include in your c programs, not any of the asm/* which often carry warnings not to include them directly.

[6] man 2 clone

[7] man 3 abs


Tor-ramdisk: a tiny embedded image to host a tor relay

I hate being watched as much as the next person. Even the NSA loves its privacy otherwise it would be a transparent organization. What’s frightening and exciting about the technology we’re building today is that we are poised on a pivot point between extremes: deep invasion of our privacy and wide scale efforts to protect it. For those of you who don’t know the Tor Project [1] you really should look into it. Encrypted communication hides what you are saying from third party eavesdropping, but it does not hide who’s doing the talking, ie. it cannot hide the identity of one of the parties and so does not preserve your anonymity. If you decide to aim your browser at then you can remain fairly certain that no one else is watching what you are googling for: you know, and google knows. But unfortunately, so does anyone google decides to tell! Given some of the exceptionally coercive methods governments use to make their demands [3], you might as well just announce your browsing habits publicly and be done with it.

Here’s where tor steps in. It doesn’t just encrypt your traffic, but also bounces it around the world via tor relays in such a way that even the nodes themselves can’t expose the origin of the traffic. Thus, tor provides its users with pretty good anonymity [4]. Now when google looks at its logs, it won’t see your ip address, but the ip address of one of the tor exit nodes. These are themselves publicly known [5], but the original ip from where the traffic is coming remains hidden. I’ve been using tor since about 2005. In July 2007, a tor operator in Germany [6] was arrested. Luckily his computers were not confiscated, but they could have been. The police wouldn’t have gotten much off of them, but there would have been the private keys and some other “evidence.” Running tor or any system of anonymity is not illegal, and it should never be illegal as it is in some countries, but today the line between what is legal and what powers governments will abuse has been blurred if not erased entirely. 2007 was also about the time the cloud computing was catching on, so I got the idea of creating a micro Linux distribution whose only purpose was to house a tor relay in an environment that maximizes security and privacy. The image boots from an ISO into ram, any keys or configs are scp-ed in, and upon power down … poof! … nothing to see here, move along. This was also about the time that I was getting involved with hardened Gentoo development and I met up with Magnus Granberg (zorry) who was working on migrating toolchain hardening from gcc-3 to gcc-4. I was teaching a course on embedded Linux, primarily building systems with uClibc and buildroot, and so tor-ramdisk was born [7]. I originally targeted only i686, but later added amd64 and mips32r2 for router boards like the Mikrotik RB450G.

So what goes into tor-ramdisk? You can read the build scripts [8] for details, but basically the kernel is Gentoo’s hardened-sources kernel with PaX and Grsec turned on full force. A minimal userland is provided by a crippled busybox with most of its applets turned off. You need openssl for tor itself as well as openssh which provides for scp-ing keys and config files in and out of the image. Tor critically depends on the time being right, so I used openntpd for synchronization. You also need a good source of entropy for key generation and encryption, which is always a problem on embedded systems [9], so haveged is used shore up the kernel’s /dev/random. Finally we need uClibc and libevent. I cheat a little and build on uClibc virtual machines, so I can just copy over the needed libraries rather than cross compiling them. Everything is built using Gentoo’s hardened toolchains and so all the ELFs binaries have SSP, PIE + ASLR, relro, bind_now and other security goodies [10]. For i686 and amd64, kernel and userland are bundled up in a bootable ISO image, while for mips I embed the initramfs in the bootlable Linux image which can be delivered via tftp. When the system boots, the user is presented with a menu driven system on tty1 to configure and start tor. The menu is a shell script spawned by init as “tty1::respawn:/bin/setup”. On tty2, tty3 amd tty3 we have, respectively, the output of nmeter (ascii based system usage meter provided by busybox), ntpd and haveged.

I don’t know why I haven’t blogged about tor-ramdisk before on Planet Gentoo, but it is a Gentoo “derivative.” It is also popular project, at least according to The i686 image is the most popular, followed by the amd64, with several hundred downloads per release. I’ve stopped producing the mips32r2 image because no one was using it, even though it was the most fun to build! There have been suggestions for new features but I’ve tended to resist because I like the ~6 MB image. If you can think of something I can add without growing that image much, send patches my way!




[1] The Gentoo package is net-misc/tor.

[2] “fairly certain” but not 100% certain as we recently learned from CVE-2014-0160, aka the “heartbleed” bug. See

[3] You can read the story of lavabit’s owner as told by him at

[4] There are attacks against tor so it isn’t perfect, but it is by far the best anonymity software out there. See the wiki page on tor for its weaknesses:

[5] There are various lists of exit and relay nodes. For a live list, check out


[7] The main development site is I announce releases at


[9] See Josh Ayers’ email to the tor-ramdisk list

[10] You can read a little bit about these hardening techniques from the “Project Description” of a related project, Lilblue Linux:


Lilblue Linux: release 20140218

I just pushed out a new release of Lilblue Linux 20140218 [1] which you can download from any Gentoo mirror [2].  For those of you who don’t know, Lilblue Linux is a security-enhanced fully featured XFCE4 desktop system for amd64.  It is built with Gentoo’s hardened toolchain [3] and uses Gentoo’s hardened-sources for the kernel which include the Grsec/PaX patches [4] for added security.  Lilblue Linux really is Gentoo, so the name is a bit pretentious, but there is one important and interesting twist: it is built using uClibc [5] as its standard C library rather than glibc, giving it some advantages of an embedded system, such as speed.

Release 20140218 is primarily a maintenance release in which I updated all the packages so as to sync up with maintream Gentoo’s stable amd64 set.  I didn’t touch the toolchain since there was no pressing need, but I did update the kernel to hardened-sources-3.12.6.  There were no known major security issue nor major bugs in the previous release.  But, there was a lot of package flux, with lots of fixes that resolved some annoying issues which plagued the earlier release.  One such annoyance was SMPlayer that used to open up a second window to play a video rather than rendering it in the main window.

If you are already running Lilblue, you can probably just do a `emerge –sync; layman -S; emerge -uvND world` and get caught up [6], but if you are starting a fresh system, the newer image cleans out those annoyances, so you want to start there.  One of the reasons I push out new images every few months is that there are always glitches when updating.  This is true of any Gentoo system but all the moreso of Lilblue because most software is developed under the assumption that we are building against glibc.  These assumptions (GNU-isms) manifest themselves in varioius ways: 1) assumptions about the availability of functions which are GNU extensions, such as secure_getenv() in systemd’s code base which eudev removes [7],  2) assumptions about header stacking, eg. using variadic functions without including stdarg.h (You can sometimes get away with this on a glibc system because it sneaks in via some other included header, but not in uClibc), [8] and 3) missing LDFLAGS like, -liconv -lintl or -largp, which are needed to find these breakout libraries [9].  There are, however, some very deep issue which require serious investigation, such as the removal of poll_waiting in glib (versions above 2.30.3) which lead to a dead lock for all applications linking against it.  It turned out that the issue there was in uClibc’s implementation of eventfd() [10].  Another interesting bug in uClibc- was the non-atomic implementation of pread() and pwrite() in terms of open() and lseek() [11].  This caused a race in git-1.8.x which does a multithreaded unpacking of the deltas and requires atomic pread/pwrite.  Mike Frysinger (vapier) had already worked out the implementation in terms of SYS_pread64/pwrite64 but these had not yet been backported.  The latest adventure was on arm architecture (yes I’m thinking of porting Lilblue to arm) where the syscall for pread/pwrite was being done using _syscall5() rather than _syscall6() and not properly aligning the 64-bit value on even register pairs.  This again broke pread/pwrite and git, but only on arm arch! [12]  Mike again had the fix and backported it.

Lilblue is built form a stage3-amd64-uclibc-hardened tarball that can be found on any gentoo mirror under /experimental/uclibc along side the Lilblue image itself [2].  I keep the build scripts on Gentoo’s releng (release engineering) git repo [13] and I run them occassionally to see if any major issues are creeping in as mainstream Gentoo evolves.  If everything goes well, then I don’t push out another release to avoid taxing the mirrors.  But when things get complicated, or a large number of packages need updating, I get the feeling I’d better push out another release.  I hope one day to have a binpkg system going where you can donwload a ~200MB seed image and then install from a binhost but this is more involved than I first suspected.

So give it a try in a virtual machine if you like.  It runs out-of-the-box on VirtualBox.  Installation instructions are on the home page [1].  Or run it as you main desktop as I do on one of my boxes at home!



[2] The image is named desktop-amd64-uclibc-hardened-[release].tar.bz2 and can be found at




[6] While I’ve tried to get most of the fixes either into the main Gentoo tree, or upstream, some patches still remain and so I maintain a repository for them:;a=shortlog;h=refs/heads/uclibc

[7] See man 3 getenv.  While getenv conforms to SVr4, POSIX.1-2001, 4.3BSD, C89 and C99, secure_getenv() is a GNU extension.

[8] The header stacking problem works both ways.  In, sys-apps/kbd failed to build on uClibc because of a missing stdarg.h when trying to prototype functions with variadic parameters.  Contrast this to, where app-cdr/cdrtools fails to build because including stdio.h indirectly includes bits/sched.h which defines clone() (as in man 2 clone).  But this clashes with a definition of clone() in cdrtools’ readcd.c.  Upstream felt that this was a poor implementation on the part of uClibc and the stacking problem there should be fixed.  I can’t disagree, but it is a thorny issue!

BTW, for those interested, you can get a little python script I wrote to analyse header stacking from my dev space:

[9] In this way Lilblue is similar to Gentoo on FreeBSD.  Rather than using uClibc’s iconv which has issues, Lilblue pulls in dev-libs/libiconv. The additional LDFLAGS are added on a per package basis using /etc/portage/package.env.





The Gentoo Profile Stacking Problem

I thought I’d write a bit about a long standing problem that the hardened team has been facing with Gentoo’s profile system.  Ever since I joined the team around 2009, we’ve had to deal with the “profile stacking problem”.  Most users and devs just merily go along using `eselect profile` to pick the profile closest to the type of system they want and then tweak the various files under /etc/portage, adding a USE flag here, and keywording or unmasking a package there, until they get the “perfect” system.  What I want to do in this post is expose just what goes into designing the profiles that we publicly export.

I was inpsired to write this because of bug #492312.  There we want to re-introduce the hardened desktop profile for amd64, x86 and arm.  I say “re-introduce” because we had to remove it and its sibling profiles /server and /developer.  So what was going on there?

To start, let me give you a nice pice of python code:

import portage
for p in portage.settings.profiles:
    print("%s" % p)

What this little snippet does is print out the profile stack as the directories inherited from one another via the parent file.  Its a useful tool because profile stacking can get very hard to follow.  When the parent file has something simple like just “..” then the inheritance is easy and that directory just inherits all the package.mask, package.unmask etc of the parent directory, as you would expect from the shell meaning of “..”  But what happens when the parent file looks like this:


as it does for hardened/linux/amd64?  Well then we get some interesting behavior. The first line says, inherit from base. Easy enough since base inherits from nothing else you get all of base’s settings. The second line says inherit from default/linux, which aslo doesn’t inherit from anything.  These setting just add and override those from base.  Easy enough. Ah! But now we come to arch/amd64, where the parent file says


and the inheritance continues to those directories in order. Finally “..” in hardened/linux/amd64 means inherit hardened/linux which sets most of hardened’s needs via make.defaults, package.mask, use.mask and friends. But alas, hardened/linux has its own parent file which reads


and the trip down the rabbit hole continues!  If you are starting to get a little lost, don’t feel bad. It is hard to wrap your brain around stacking, which is why that little script above is so useful.  But the difficulty in following profiles stacking is not the real problem. If you’re like me, you’re too proud to admit you can’t get your head around any complexity ;)   No, the real problem is that you can’t control the stacking order.

To demonstrate, let me refer again to bug #492312.  There we’d like to have a profile which reads


Okay, but what should we put for its parent file?  We’ll need “..” in there to inherit all of hardened/amd64 settings, but we also would like targets/desktop.  So let’s try a parent file that looks like this


In that case, our little script tells us that our profile stack as follows:


And if you switch the order of .. and targets/desktop, you get


The problem with the first ordering is that targets/desktop overrides hardened/linux/amd64 and so any USE flags that we may turn off or on in hardened can get reverse in desktop.  The example here is the jit flag — Just-In-Time compilers write executable code on the fly in areas of memory which must be both writeable and executable.  But a PaX hardened kernel will not allow WX mmap-ings because this is an obvious exploit vector.  Rather, in hardened, we prefer slower and safer methods for compiling/interpreting code on the fly than JIT.

Okay, so what about the second ordering.  It may look strange to have target/desktop before base, but that in itself is not an issue.  Here we have the same problem as above but in an even more subtle way!  (See my comment #9 of bug #492312.)  Consider a fairly important package like dev-libs/libxml2.  In the current state of the tree, `emerge -vp dev-libs/libxml2` would give

 [ebuild   R    ] dev-libs/libxml2-2.9.1-r1:2  USE="ipv6 python* ...

for both stacking choices. But if at some point in the future, someone added the following to profiles/default/linux/package.use

#Python support causes problems on xyz
#Don't pull it in if we don't neeed it
dev-libs/libxml2  -python

The vanilla profile default/linux/amd64/13.0/desktop and our hardened profile with targets/desktop last would not change since they have “dev-libs/libxml2 python” in package.use near the bottom of the stack, but our proposed hardened profile with targets/desktop on top would give

 dev-libs/libxml2-2.9.1-r1:2  USE="ipv6 readline ... -python ...

So, both choices for orderings of “..” and “targets/desktop” in our parent file for hardened/linux/amd64/desktop lead to situations where we can’t control what packages get what use flags. What we would like is a stacking that looks something like this


but how do we get that with our current inheritance mechanism? One idea that Magnus (Zorry) had was to gutt out this portion of portage and replace the parsing of the parent file with something along the lines of openrc’s depend() { … } clause. Then we just locally say what has to come before/after what and we let the algorithm figure it out. It sounds like an interesting problem if there were two of me and if there were a good chance that it would actually get implemented. In the mean time, we limp along with what we have and do ad hoc fixes as changes in one part of the profiles means we have to adjust other things. Since we are all responsible for different areas of the tree’s profiles, inevitably we cause one another breakage even with the best of intentions. For example, a few days ago, Mike (vapier) removed a masking on the uclibc USE flag in the base profile.  Doing so makes perfect sense. He didn’t tell me, and why should he have to?, but this lead to a small breakage in hardened/linux/uclibc/amd64 and friends where I had to relax that masking.  I only discovered this upon a catalyst run which is a bit annoying.

Lilblue: a security-enhanced, fully featured XFCE4 desktop for amd64, built on uClibc

Hi everyone,

I’d like to announce a new (fun?) initiative of the hardened uClibc subproject: a security enhanced, fully featured XFCE4 desktop for amd64, built on uClibc, codenamed “Lilblue”, after the little blue penguin of New Zealand [1], a smaller cousin of the Gentoo.

The hardened uClibc subproject aims at producing hardened stage3s for amd64, mips (isa=mips32r2/mipsel3, abi=o32), armv7a (softfloat) and i686 [2].  Recent improvements in uClibc and bugfixes in various Gentoo packages, both downstream and upstream, now make it possible to build an entire desktop system replacing glibc with uClibc.  So, in addition to the stage3s, we are now releasing a fully featured XFCE4 desktop for arch=amd64.  It does *not* depend on busybox to provide its core utilities like most uClibc systems, but coreutils, util-linux and all the usual system packages you find on a generic Gentoo system.  The tarball bundles about 800 packages including ephiphany, claws, hexchat, abiword, gqview, transmission, vinagre, etc.  We have plans to provide binpkgs for up to 7000 packages in all.  The hardening includes all of the usual toolchain and kernel hardening you get in regular hardened glibc-based Gentoo.

The project has been in development for a year but should be considered experimental.  A user base of … uhm … one … does not really qualify it to be labeled as “safe for production” [3]. However, I have had no issues with it (minor bugs of course) and I use it on a daily basis.  For the average user, the main advantage is speed and the system does feel “snappy”.  For developers, its fun to dig into bugs which revolve around what functions are provided by your standard C lib: is this POSIX or a GNU-ism?  should I fix the package or add a new function to uClibc?  what is the best way to implement this fix so it ports across different *libcs?  what do I do about this package whose build system is braindead and doesn’t understand libdir?  If you have too much time on your hands and you’re into that kind of “fun” we have a project for you!  On a serious note, the main reason for this initiative is to explore and expand the usefulness of an alternative standard C library.

The home page is at [4] and a announcement at [5].  It can be downloaded from any gentoo mirror [6] at [mirror]/gentoo/experimental/amd64/uclibc/desktop-amd64-uclibc-hardened-[date].tar.bz2. The date of the first release is 20130531.

[3] This is not entirely true.  I would like to thank my students for testing, especially Devan Franchini <>.