OsmoDevCon 2018 retrospective

One week ago, the annual Osmocom developer meeting (OsmoDevCon 2018) concluded after four long and intense days with old and new friends (schedule can be seen here

It was already the 7th incarnation of OsmoDevCon, and I have to say that it's really great to see the core Osmocom community come together every year, to share their work and experience with their fellow hackers.

Ever since the beginning we've had the tradition that we look beyond our own projects. In 2012, David Burgess was presenting on OpenBTS. In 2016, Ismael Gomez presented about srsUE + srsLTE, and this year we've had the pleasure of having Sukchan Kim coming all the way from Korea to talk to us about his nextepc project (a FOSS implementation of the Evolved Packet Core, the 4G core network).

What has also been a regular "entertainment" part in recent years are the field trip reports to various [former] satellite/SIGINT/... sites by Dimitri Stolnikov.

All in all, the event has become at least as much about the people than about technology. It's a community of like-minded people that to some part are still working on joint projects, but often work independently and scratch their own itch - whether open source mobile comms related or not.

After some criticism last year, the so-called "unstructured" part of OsmoDevCon has received more time again this year, allowing for exchange among the participants irrespective of any formal / scheduled talk or discussion topic.

In 2018, with the help of c3voc, for the first time ever, we've recorded most of the presentations on video. The results are still in the process of being cut, but are starting to appear at https://media.ccc.de/c/osmodevcon2018

If you want to join a future OsmoDevCon in person: Make sure you start contributing to any of the many Osmocom member projects now to become eligible. We need you!

Now the sad part i that it will take one entire year until we'll reconvene. May the Osmocom Developer community live long and prosper. I want to meet you guys for many more years at OsmoDevCon!

There is of course the user-oriented OsmoCon 2018 in October, but that's of course a much larger event with a different audience.

Nevertheless, I'm very much looking forward to that, too.

The OsmoCon 2018 Call for Participation is still running. Please consider submitting talks if you have anything open source mobile communications related to share!

osmo-fl2k - Using USB-VGA dongles as SDR transmitter

Yesterday, during OsmoDevCon 2018, Steve Markgraf released osmo-fl2k, a new Osmocom member project which enables the use of FL2000 USB-VGA adapters as ultra-low-cost SDR transmitters.

How does it work?

A major part of any VGA card has always been a rather fast DAC which generates the 8-bit analog values for (each) red, green and blue at the pixel clock. Given that fast DACs were very rare/expensive (and still are to some extent), the idea of (ab)using the VGA DAC to transmit radio has been followed by many earlier, mostly proof-of-concept projects, such as Tempest for Eliza in 2001.

However, with osmo-fl2k, for the first time it was possible to completely disable the horizontal and vertical blanking, resulting in a continuous stream of pixels (samples). Furthermore, as the supported devices have no frame buffer memory, the samples are streamed directly from host RAM.

As most USB-VGA adapters appear to have no low-pass filters on their DAC outputs, it is possible to use any of the harmonics to transmit signals at much higher frequencies than normally possible within the baseband of the (max) 157 Mega-Samples per seconds that can be achieved.

osmo-fl2k and rtl-sdr

Steve is the creator of the earlier, complementary rtl-sdr software, which since 2012 transforms USB DVB adapters into general-purpose SDR receivers.

Today, six years later, it is hard to think of where SDR would be without rtl-sdr. Reducing the entry cost of SDR receivers nearly down to zero has done a lot for democratization of SDR technology.

There is hence a big chance that his osmo-fl2k project will attain a similar popularity. Having a SDR transmitter for as little as USD 5 is an amazing proposition.

free riders

Please keep in mind that Steve has done rtl-sdr just for fun, to scratch his own itch and for the "hack value". He chose to share his work with the wider public, in source code, under a free software license. He's a very humble person, he doesn't need to stand in the limelight.

Many other people since have built a business around rtl-sdr. They have grabbed domains with his project name, etc. They are now earning money based on what he has done and shared selflessly, without ever contributing back to the pioneering developers who brought this to all of us in the first place.

So, do we want to bet if history repeats itself? How long will it take for vendors showing up online advertising the USB VGA dongles as "SDR transmitter", possibly even with a surcharge? How long will it take for them to include Steve's software without giving proper attribution? How long until they will violate the GNU GPL by not providing the complete corresponding source code to derivative versions they create?

If you want to thank Steve for his amazing work

  • reach out to him personally
  • contribute to his work, e.g.
  • help to maintain it
  • package it for distributions
  • send patches (via osmocom-sdr mailing list)
  • register an osmocom.org account and update the wiki with more information

And last, but not least, carry on the spirit of "hack value" and democratization of software defined radio.

Thank you, Steve! After rtl-sdr and osmo-fl2k, it's hard to guess what will come next :)

udtrace - Unix domain socket tracing

When developing applications that exchange data over sockets, every so often you'd like to analyze exactly what kind of data is exchanged over the socket.

For TCP/UDP/SCTP/DCCP or other IP-based sockets, this is rather easy by means of libpcap and tools like tcpdump, tshark or wireshark. However, for unix domain socket, unfortunately no such general capture/tracing infrastructure exists in the Linux kernel.

Interestingly, even after searching for quite a bit I couldn't find any existing tools for this. This is surprising, as unix domain sockets are used by a variety of programs, from sql servers to bind8 ndc all the way to the systemctl tool to manage systemd.

In absence of any kernel support, the two technologies I can think of to implement this is either systemtap or a LD_PRELOAD wrapper.

However, I couldn't find an example for using either of those two to get traces of unix domain soocket communications.

Ok, so I get to write my own. My first idea hence was to implement something based on top of systemtap, the Linux kernel tracing framework. Unfortunately, systemtap was broken in Debian unstable (which I use for decades) at the time, so I went back to the good old LD_PRELOAD shim library / wrapper approach.

The result is called udtrace and can be found at

git clone git://git.gnumonks.org/udtrace

or alternatively via its github mirror.

Below is a copy+paste of its README file. Let's hope this tool is useful to other developers, too:

udtrace - Unix Domain socket tracing

This is a LD_PRELOAD wrapper library which can be used to trace the data sent and/or received via unix domain sockets.

Unlike IP based communication that can be captured/traced with pcap programs like tcpdump or wireshark, there is no similar mechanism available for unix domain sockets.

This LD_PRELOAD library intercepts the C library function calls of dynamically linked programs. It will detect all file descriptors representing unix domain sockets and will then print traces of all data sent/received via the socket.

Usage

Simply build libudtrace.so using the make command, and then start your to-be-traced program with

LD_PRELOAD=libudtrace.os

e.g.

LD_PRELOAD=libudtrace.so systemctl status

which will produce output like this:

>>> UDTRACE: Unix Domain Socket Trace initialized (TITAN support DISABLED)
>>> UDTRACE: Adding FD 4
>>> UDTRACE: connect(4, "/run/dbus/system_bus_socket")
4 sendmsg W 00415554482045585445524e414c20
4 sendmsg W 3331333033303330
4 sendmsg W 0d0a4e45474f54494154455f554e49585f46440d0a424547494e0d0a
[...]

Output Format

Currently, udtrace will produc the following output:

At time a FD for a unix domain socket is created:

>>> UDTRACE: Adding FD 8

At time a FD for a unix domain socket is closed:

>>> UDTRACE: Removing FD 8

At time a FD for a unix domain socket is bound or connected:

>>> UDTRACE: connect(9, "/tmp/mncc")

When data is read from the socket:

9 read R 00040000050000004403000008000000680000001c0300002c03000000000000

When data is written to the socket:

9 write W 00040000050000004403000008000000680000001c0300002c03000000000000
Where
  • 9 is the file dsecriptor on which the event happened
  • read/write is the name of the syscall, could e.g. also be sendmsg / readv / etc.
  • R|W is Read / Write (from the process point of view)
  • followed by a hex-dump of the raw data. Only data successfully written (or read) will be printed, not the entire buffer passed to the syscall. The rationale is to only print data that was actually sent to or received from the socket.

TITAN decoder support

Getting hex-dumps is nice and fine, but normally one wants to have a more detailed decode of the data that is being passed on the socket.

For TCP based protocols, there is wireshark. But most protocols on unix domain sockets don't follow inter-operable / public standards, so even if one was to pass the traces into wireshark somehow, there would be no decoder.

In the Osmocom project, we already had some type definitions and decoders for our protocols written in the TTCN-3 programming language, using Eclipse TITAN. In order to build those decoders fro MNCC and PCUIF, please use

make ENABLE_TITAN=1

when building the code.

Please note that this introduces a run-time dependency to libttcn3-dynamic.so, which is (at least on Debian GNU/Linux) not installed in a default library search path, so you will have to use something like:

LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/lib/titan LD_PRELOAD=libudtrace.so systemctl status

Report from the Geniatech vs. McHardy GPL violation court hearing

Today, I took some time off to attend the court hearing in the appeal hearing related to a GPL infringement dispute between former netfilter colleague Partrick McHardy and Geniatech Europe

I am not in any way legally involved in the lawsuit on either the plaintiff or the defendant side. However, as a fellow (former) Linux kernel developer myself, and a long-term Free Software community member who strongly believes in the copyleft model, I of course am very interested in this case.

History of the Case

This case is about GPL infringements in consumer electronics devices based on a GNU/Linux operating system, including the Linux kernel and at least some devices netfilter/iptables. The specific devices in question are a series of satellite TV receivers built by a Shenzhen (China) based company Geniatech, which is represented in Europe by Germany-based Geniatech Europe GmbH.

The Geniatech Europe CEO has openly admitted (out of court) that they had some GPL incompliance in the past, and that there was failure on their part that needed to be fixed. However, he was not willing to accept an overly wide claim in the preliminary injunction against his company.

The history of the case is that at some point in July 2017, Patrick McHardy has made a test purchase of a Geniatech Europe product, and found it infringing the GNU General Public License v2. Apparently no source code (and/or written offer) had been provide alongside the binary - a straight-forward violation of the license terms and hence a violation of copyright. The plaintiff then asked the regional court of Cologne to issue a preliminary injunction against the defendant, which was granted on September 8th,2017.

In terms of legal procedure, in Germany, when a plaintiff applies for a preliminary injunction, it is immediately granted by the court after brief review of the filing, without previously hearing the defendant in an oral hearing. If the defendant (like in this case) wishes to appeal the preliminary injunction, it files an appeal which then results in an oral hearing. This is what happened, after which the district court of cologne (Landgericht Koeln) on October 20, 2017 issued ruling 14 O 188/17 partially upholding the injunction.

All in all, nothing particularly unusual about this. There is no dispute about a copyright infringement having existed, and this generally grants any of the copyright holders the right to have the infringing party to cease and desist from any further infringement.

However, this injunction has a very wide scope, stating that the defendant was to cease and desist not only from ever publishing, selling, offering for download any version of Linux (unless being compliant to the license). It furthermore asked the defendant to cease and desist

  • from putting hyperlinks on their website to any version of Linux
  • from asking users to download any version of Linux

unless the conditions of the GPL are met, particularly the clauses related to providing the complete and corresponding source code.

The appeals case at OLG Cologne

The defendant now escalated this to the next higher court, the higher regional court of Cologne (OLG Koeln), asking to withdraw the earlier ruling of the lower court, i.e. removing the injunction with its current scope.

The first very positive surprise at the hearing was the depth in which the OLG court has studied the subject matter of the dispute prior to the hearing. In the many GPL related court cases that I witnessed so far, it was by far the most precise analysis of how Linux kernel development works, and this despite the more than 1000 pages of filings that parties had made to the court to this point.

Just to give you some examples:

  • the court understood that Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 and released under GPL to facilitate the open and collaborative development
  • the court recognized that there is no co-authorship / joint authorship (German: Miturheber) in the Linux kernel as a whole, as it was not a group of people planning+developing a given program together, but it is a program that has been released by Linus Torvalds and has since been edited by more than 15.000 developers without any "grand joint plan" but rather in successive iterations. This situation constitutes "editing authorship" (German: Bearbeiterurheber)
  • the court further recognized that being listed as "head of the netfilter core team" or a "subsystem maintainer" doesn't necessarily mean that one is contributing copyrightable works. Reviewing thousands of patches doesn't mean you own copyright on them, drawing an analogy to an editorial office at a publisher.
  • the court understood there are plenty of Linux versions that may not even contain any of Patric McHardy's code (such as older versions)

After about 35 minutes of the presiding judge explaining the court's understanding of the case (and how kernel development works), it went on to summarize the summary of their internal elaboration at the court prior to the meeting.

In this summary, the presiding judge stated very clearly that they believe there is some merit to the arguments of the defendant, and that they would be inclined in a ruling favorable to the defendant based on their current understanding of the case.

He cited the following main reasons:

  • The Linux kernel development model does not support the claim of Patrick McHardy having co-authored Linux. In so far, he is only an editing author (Bearbeiterurheber), and not a co-author. Nevertheless, even an editing author has the right to ask for cease and desist, but only on those portions that he authored/edited, and not on the entire Linux kernel.
  • The plaintiff did not sufficiently show what exactly his contributions were and how they were forming themselves copyrightable works
  • The plaintiff did not substantiate what copyrightable contributions he has made outside of netfilter/iptables. His mere listing as general networking subsystem maintainer does not clarify what his copyrightable contributions were
  • The plaintiff being a member of the netfilter core team or even the head of the core team still doesn't support the claim of being a co-author, as netfilter substantially existed since 1999, three years before Patrick's first contribution to netfilter, and five years before joining the core team in 2004.

So all in all, it was clear that the court also thought the ruling on all of Linux was too far-fetching.

The court suggested that it might be better to have regular main proceedings, in which expert witnesses can be called and real evidence has to be provided, as opposed to the constraints of the preliminary procedure that was applied currently.

Some other details that were mentioned somewhere during the hearing:

  • Patrick McHardy apparently unilaterally terminated the license to his works in an e-mail dated 26th of July 2017 towards the defendant. According to the defendant (and general legal opinion, including my own position), this is in turn a violation of the GPLv2, as it only allowed plaintiff to create and publish modified versions of Linux under the obligation that he licenses his works under GPLv2 to any third party, including the defendant. The defendant believes this is abuse of his rights (German: Rechtsmissbraeuchlich).
  • sworn affidavits of senior kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman and current netfilter maintainer Pablo Neira were presented in support of some of the defendants claims. The contents of those are unfortunately not public, neither is the contents of the sworn affidavists presented by the plaintiff.
  • The defendant has made substantiated claims in his filings that Patrick McHardy would perform his enforcement activities not with the primary motivation of achieving license compliance, but as a method to generate monetary gain. Such claims include that McHardy has acted in more than 38 cases, in at least one of which he has requested a contractual penalty of 1.8 million EUR. The total amount of monies received as contractual penalties was quoted as over 2 million EUR to this point. Please note that those are claims made by the defendant, which were just reproduced by the court. The court has not assessed their validity. However, the presiding judge explicitly stated that he received a phone calls about this case from a lawyer known to him personally, who supported that large contractual penalties are being paid in other related cases.
  • One argument by the plaintiff seems to center around being listed as a general kernel networking maintainer until 2017 (despite his latest patches being from 2015, and those were netfilter only)

Withdrawal by Patrick McHardy

At some point, the court hearing was temporarily suspended to provide the legal representation of the plaintiff with the opportunity to have a Phone call with the plaintiff to decide if they would want to continue with their request to uphold the preliminary injunction. After a few minutes, the hearing was resumed, with the plaintiff withdrawing their request to uphold the injunction.

As a result, the injunction is now withdrawn, and the plaintiff has to bear all legal costs (court fees, lawyers costs on both sides).

Personal Opinion

For me, this is all of course a difficult topic. With my history of being the first to enforce the GNU GPLv2 in (equally German) court, it is unsurprising that I am in favor of license enforcement being performed by copyright holders.

I believe individual developers who have contributed to the Linux kernel should have the right to enforce the license, if needed. It is important to have distributed copyright, and to avoid a situation where only one (possibly industry friendly) entity would be able to take [legal] action.

I'm not arguing for a "too soft" approach. It's almost 15 years since the first court cases on license violations on (embedded) Linux, and the fact that the problem still exists today clearly shows the industry is very far from having solved a seemingly rather simple problem.

On the other hand, such activities must always be oriented to compliance, and compliance only. Collecting huge amounts of contractual penalties is questionable. And if it was necessary to collect such huge amounts to motivate large corporations to be compliant, then this must be done in the open, with the community knowing about it, and the proceeds of such contractual penalties must be donated to free software related entities to prove that personal financial gain is not a motivation.

The rumors of Patrick performing GPL enforcement for personal financial gain have been around for years. It was initially very hard for me to believe. But as more and more about this became known, and Patrick would refuse to any contact requests by his former netfilter team-mates as well as the wider kernel community make it hard to avoid drawing related conclusions.

We do need enforcement, both out of court and in court. But we need it to happen out of the closet, with the community in the picture, and without financial gain to individuals. The "principles of community oriented enforcement" of the Software Freedom Conservancy as well as the more recent (but much less substantial) kernel enforcement statement represent the most sane and fair approach for how we as a community should deal with license violations.

So am I happy with the outcome? Not entirely. It's good that an over-reaching injunction was removed. But then, a lot of money and effort was wasted on this, without any verdict/ruling. It would have been IMHO better to have a court ruling published, in which the injunction is substantially reduced in scope (e.g. only about netfilter, or specific versions of the kernel, or specific products, not about placing hyperlinks, etc.). It would also have been useful to have some of the other arguments end up in a written ruling of a court, rather than more or less "evaporating" in the spoken word of the hearing today, without advancing legal precedent.

Lessons learned for the developer community

  • In the absence of detailed knowledge on computer programming, legal folks tend to look at "metadata" more, as this is what they can understand.
  • It matters who has which title and when. Should somebody not be an active maintainer, make sure he's not listed as such.
  • If somebody ceases to be a maintainer or developer of a project, remove him or her from the respective lists immediately, not just several years later.
  • Copyright statements do matter. Make sure you don't merge any patches adding copyright statements without being sure they are actually valid.

Lessons learned for the IT industry

  • There may be people doing GPL enforcement for not-so-noble motives
  • Defending yourself against claims in court can very well be worth it, as opposed to simply settling out of court (presumably for some money). The Telefonica case in 2016 <>_ has shown this, as has this current Geniatech case. The legal system can work, if you give it a chance.
  • Nevertheless, if you have violated the license, and one of the copyright holders makes a properly substantiated claim, you still will get injunctions granted against you (and rightfully so). This was just not done in this case (not properly substantiated, scope of injunction too wide/coarse).

Dear Patrick

For years, your former netfilter colleagues and friends wanted to have a conversation with you. You have not returned our invitation so far. Please do reach out to us. We won't bite, but we want to share our views with you, and show you what implications your actions have not only on Linux, but also particularly on the personal and professional lives of the very developers that you worked hand-in-hand with for a decade. It's your decision what you do with that information afterwards, but please do give us a chance to talk. We would greatly appreciate if you'd take up that invitation for such a conversation. Thanks.

Osmocom Review 2017

As 2017 has just concluded, let's have a look at the major events and improvements in the Osmocom Cellular Infrastructure projects (i.e. those projects dealing with building protocol stacks and network elements for mobile network infrastructure.

I've prepared a detailed year 2017 summary at the osmocom.org website, but let me write a bit about the most note-worthy topics here.

NITB Split

Once upon a time, we implemented everything needed to operate a GSM network inside a single process called OsmoNITB. Those days are now gone, and we have separate OsmoBSC, OsmoMSC, OsmoHLR, OsmoSTP processes, which use interfaces that are interoperable with non-Osmocom implementations (which is what some of our users require).

This change is certainly the most significant change in the close-to-10-year history of the project. However, we have tried to make it as non-intrusive as possible, by using default point codes and IP addresses which will make the individual processes magically talk to each other if installed on a single machine.

We've also released a OsmoNITB Migration Guide, as well as our usual set of user manuals in order to help our users.

We'll continue to improve the user experience, to re-introduce some of the features lost in the split, such as the ability to attach names to the subscribers.

Testing

We have osmo-gsm-tester together with the two physical setups at the sysmocom office, which continuously run the latest Osmocom components and test an entire matrix of different BTSs, software configurations and modems. However, this tests at super low load, and it tests only signalling so far, not user plane yet. Hence, coverage is limited.

We also have unit tests as part of the 'make check' process, Jenkins based build verification before merging any patches, as well as integration tests for some of the network elements in TTCN-3. This is much more than we had until 2016, but still by far not enough, as we had just seen at the fall-out from the sub-optimal 34C3 event network.

OsmoCon

2017 also marks the year where we've for the first time organized a user-oriented event. It was a huge success, and we will for sure have another OsmoCon incarnation in 2018 (most likely in May or June). It will not be back-to-back with the developer conference OsmoDevCon this time.

SIGTRAN stack

We have a new SIGTRAN stakc with SUA, M3UA and SCCP as well as OsmoSTP. This has been lacking a long time.

OsmoGGSN

We have converted OpenGGSN into a true member of the Osmocom family, thereby deprecating OpenGGSN which we had earlier adopted and maintained.

34C3 and its Osmocom GSM/UMTS network

At the 34th annual Chaos Communication Congress, a team of Osmocom folks continued the many years old tradition of operating an experimental Osmocom based GSM network at the event. Though I've originally started that tradition, I'm not involved in installation and/or operation of that network, all the credits go to Lynxis, neels, tsaitgaist and the larger team of volunteers surrounding them. My involvement was only to answer the occasional technical question and to look at bugs that show up in the software during operation, and if possible fix them on-site.

34C3 marks two significant changes in terms of its cellular network:

  • the new post-nitb Osmocom stack was used, with OsmoBSC, OsmoMSC and OsmoHLR
  • both an GSM/GPRS network (on 1800 MHz) was operated ,as well as (for the first time) an UMTS network (in the 850 MHz band)

The good news is: The team did great work building this network from scratch, in a new venue, and without relying on people that have significant experience in network operation. Definitely, the team was considerably larger and more distributed than at the time when I was still running that network.

The bad news is: There was a seemingly endless number of bugs that were discovered while operating this network. Some shortcomings were known before, but the extent and number of bugs uncovered all across the stack was quite devastating to me. Sure, at some point from day 2 onwards we had a network that provided [some level of] service, and as far as I've heard, some ~ 23k calls were switched over it. But that was after more than two days of debugging + bug fixing, and we still saw unexplained behavior and crashes later on.

This is such a big surprise as we have put a lot of effort into testing over the last years. This starts from the osmo-gsm-tester software and continuously running test setup, and continues with the osmo-ttcn3-hacks integration tests that mainly I wrote during the last few months. Both us and some of our users have also (successfully!) performed interoperability testing with other vendors' implementations such as MSCs. And last, but not least, the individual Osmocom developers had been using the new post-NITB stack on their personal machines.

So what does this mean?

  • I'm sorry about the sub-standard state of the software and the resulting problems we've experienced in the 34C3 network. The extent of problems surprised me (and I presume everyone else involved)
  • I'm grateful that we've had the opportunity to discover all those bugs, thanks to the GSM team at 34C3, as well as Deutsche Telekom for donating 3 ARFCNs from their spectrum, as well as the German regulatory authority Bundesnetzagentur for providing the experimental license in the 850 MHz spectrum.
  • We need to have even more focus on automatic testing than we had so far. None of the components should be without exhaustive test coverage on at least the most common transactions, including all their failure modes (such as timeouts, rejects, ...)

My preferred method of integration testing has been by using TTCN-3 and Eclipse TITAN to emulate all the interfaces surrounding a single of the Osmocom programs (like OsmoBSC) and then test both valid and invalid transactions. For the BSC, this means emulating MS+BTS on Abis; emulating MSC on A; emulating the MGW, as well as the CTRL and VTY interfaces.

I currently see the following areas in biggest need of integration testing:

  • OsmoHLR (which needs a GSUP implementation in TTCN-3, which I've created on the spot at 34C3) where we e.g. discovered that updates to the subscriber via VTY/CTRL would surprisingly not result in an InsertSubscriberData to VLR+SGSN
  • OsmoMSC, particularly when used with external MNCC handlers, which was so far blocked by the lack of a MNCC implementation in TTCN-3, which I've been working on both on-site and after returning back home.
  • user plane testing for OsmoMGW and other components. We currently only test the control plane (MGCP), but not the actual user plane e.g. on the RTP side between the elements
  • UMTS related testing on OsmoHNBGW, OsmoMSC and OsmoSGSN. We currently have no automatic testing at all in these areas.

Even before 34C3 and the above-mentioned experiences, I concluded that for 2018 we will pursue a test-driven development approach for all new features added by the sysmocom team to the Osmocom code base. The experience with the many issues at 34C3 has just confirmed that approach. In parallel, we will have to improve test coverage on the existing code base, as outlined above. The biggest challenge will of course be to convince our paying customers of this approach, but I see very little alternative if we want to ensure production quality of our cellular stack.

So here we come: 2018, The year of testing.

SFLC sues SFC over trademark infringement

As the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has publicly disclosed on their website, it appears that Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed for a trademark infringement lawsuit against SFC.

SFLC has launched SFC in 2006, and SFLC has helped and endorsed SFC in the past.

This lawsuit is hard to believe. What has this community come to, if its various members - who used all to be respected equally - start filing law suits against each other?

It's of course not known what kind of negotiations might have happened out-of-court before an actual lawsuit has been filed. Nevertheless, one would have hoped that people are able to talk to each other, and that the mutual respect for working at different aspects and with possibly slightly different strategies would have resulted in a less confrontational approach to resolving any dispute.

To me, this story just looks like there can only be losers on all sides, by far not just limited to the two entities in question.

On lwn.net some people, including high-ranking members of the FOSS community have started to spread conspiracy theories as to whether there's any secret scheming behind the scenes, particularly from the Linux Foundation towards SFLC to cause trouble towards the SFC and their possibly-not-overly-enjoyed-by-everyone enforcement activities.

I think this is complete rubbish. Neither have I ever had the impression that the LF is completely opposed to license enforcement to begin with, nor do I have remotely enough phantasy to see them engage in such malicious scheming.

What motivates SFLC and/or Eben to attack their former offspring is however unexplainable to the bystander. One hopes there is no connection to his departure from FSF about one year ago, where he served as general counsel for more than two decades.

On the Linux Kernel Enforcement Statement

I'm late with covering this here, but work overload is having its toll on my ability to blog.

On October 16th, key Linux Kernel developers have released and anounced the Linux Kernel Community Enforcement Statemnt.

In its actual text, those key kernel developers cover

  • compliance with the reciprocal sharing obligations of GPLv2 is critical and mandatory
  • acknowledgement to the right to enforce
  • expression of interest to ensure that enforcement actions are conducted in a manner beneficial to the larger community
  • a method to provide reinstatement of rights after ceasing a license violation (see below)
  • that legal action is a last resort
  • that after resolving any non-compliance, the formerly incompliant user is welcome to the community

I wholeheartedly agree with those. This should be no surprise as I've been one of the initiators and signatories of the earlier statement of the netfilter project on GPL enforcement.

On the reinstatement of rights

The enforcement statement then specifically expresses the view of the signatories on the specific aspect of the license termination. Particularly in the US, among legal scholars there is a strong opinion that if the rights under the GPLv2 are terminated due to non-compliance, the infringing entity needs an explicit reinstatement of rights from the copyright holder. The enforcement statement now basically states that the signatories believe the rights should automatically be re-instated if the license violation ceases within 30 days of being notified of the license violation

To people like me living in the European (and particularly German) legal framework, this has very little to no implications. It has been the major legal position that any user, even an infringing user can automatically obtain a new license as soon as he no longer violates. He just (really or imaginary) obtains a new copy of the source code, at which time he again gets a new license from the copyright holders, as long as he fulfills the license conditions.

So my personal opinion as a non-legal person active in GPL compliance on the reinstatement statement is that it changes little to nothing regarding the jurisdiction that I operate in. It merely expresses that other developers express their intent and interest to a similar approach in other jurisdictions.

Obtaining the local IP address of an unbound UDP socket

Sometimes one is finding an interesting problem and is surprised that there is not a multitude of blog post, stackoverflow answers or the like about it.

A (I think) not so uncommon problem when working with datagram sockets is that you may want to know the local IP address that the OS/kernel chooses when sending a packet to a given destination.

In an unbound UDP socket, you basically send and receive packets with any number of peers from a single socket. When sending a packet to destination Y, you simply pass the destination address/port into the sendto() socket function, and the OS/kernel will figure out which of its local IP addresses will be used for reaching this particular destination.

If you're a dumb host with a single default router, then the answer to that question is simple. But in any reasonably non-trivial use case, your host will have a variety of physical and/or virtual network devices with any number of addresses on them.

Why would you want to know that address? Because maybe you need to encode that address as part of a packet payload. In the current use case that we have, it is the OsmoMGW, implementing the IETF MGCP Media Gateway Control Protocol.

So what can you do? You can actually create a new "trial" socket, not bind it to any specific local address/port, but connect() it to the destination of your IP packets. Then you do a getsockname(), which will give you the local address/port the kernel has selected for this socket. And that's exactly the answer to your question. You can now close the "trial" socket and have learned which local IP address the kernel would use if you were to send a packet to that destination.

At least on Linux, this works. While getsockname() is standard BSD sockets API, I'm not sure how portable it is to use it on a socket that has not been explicitly bound by a prior call to bind().

Invited keynote + TTCN-3 talk at netdevconf 2.2 in Seoul

It was a big surprise that I've recently been invited to give a keynote on netfilter history at netdevconf 2.2.

First of all, I wouldn't have expected netfilter to be that relevant next to all the other [core] networking topics at netdevconf. Secondly, I've not been doing any work on netfilter for about a decade now, so my memory is a bit rusty by now ;)

Speaking of Rusty: Timing wise there is apparently a nice coincidence that I'll be able to meet up with him in Berlin later this month, i.e. hopefully we can spend some time reminiscing about old times and see what kind of useful input he has for the keynote.

I'm also asking my former colleagues and successors in the netfilter project to share with me any note-worthy events or anecdotes, particularly also covering the time after my retirement from the core team. So if you have something that you believe shouldn't miss in a keynote on netfilter project history: Please reach out to me by e-mail ASAP and let me know about it.

To try to fend off the elder[ly] statesmen image that goes along with being invited to give keynotes about the history of projects you were working on a long time ago, I also submitted an actual technical talk: TTCN-3 and Eclipse Titan for testing protocol stacks, in which I'll cover my recent journey into TTCN-3 and TITAN land, and how I think those tools can help us in the Linux [kernel] networking community to productively produce tests for the various protocols.

As usual for netdevconf, there are plenty of other exciting talks in the schedule

I'm very much looking forward to both visiting Seoul again, as well as meeting lots of the excellent people involved in the Linux networking subsystems. See ya!

Ten years Openmoko Neo1973 release anniversary dinner

As I noted earlier this year, 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of shipping the first Openmoko phone, the Neo1973.

On this occasion, a number of the key people managed to gather for an anniversary dinner in Taipei. Thanks for everyone who could make it, it was very good to see them together again. Sadly, by far not everyone could attend. You have been missed!

The award for the most crazy attendee of the meeting goes out to my friend Milosch, who has actually flown from his home in the UK to Taiwan, only to meet up with old friends and attend the anniversary dinner.

You can some pictures in Milosch's related tweet.

On Vacation

In case you're wondering about the lack of activity not only on this blog but also in git repositories, mailing lists and the like: I've been on vacation since September 13. It's my usual "one month in Taiwan" routine, during which I spend some time in Taipei, but also take several long motorbike tours around mostly rural Taiwan.

You can find the occasional snapshot in my twitter feed, such as the, pictures, here and there.

Purism Librem 5 campaign

There's a new project currently undergoing crowd funding that might be of interest to the former Openmoko community: The Purism Librem 5 campaign.

Similar to Openmoko a decade ago, they are aiming to build a FOSS based smartphone built on GNU/Linux without any proprietary drivers/blobs on the application processor, from bootloader to userspace.

Furthermore (just like Openmoko) the baseband processor is fully isolated, with no shared memory and with the Linux-running application processor being in full control.

They go beyond what we wanted to do at Openmoko in offering hardware kill switches for camera/phone/baseband/bluetooth. During Openmoko days we assumed it is sufficient to simply control all those bits from the trusted Linux domain, but of course once that might be compromised, a physical kill switch provides a completely different level of security.

I wish them all the best, and hope they can leave a better track record than Openmoko. Sure, we sold some thousands of phones, but the company quickly died, and the state of software was far from end-user-ready. I think the primary obstacles/complexities are verification of the hardware design as well as the software stack all the way up to the UI.

The budget of ~ 1.5 million seems extremely tight from my point of view, but then I have no information about how much Puri.sm is able to invest from other sources outside of the campaign.

If you're a FOSS developer with a strong interest in a Free/Open privacy-first smartphone, please note that they have several job openings, from Kernel Developer to OS Developer to UI Developer. I'd love to see some talents at work in that area.

It's a bit of a pity that almost all of the actual technical details are unspecified at this point (except RAM/flash/main-cpu). No details on the cellular modem/chipset used, no details on the camera, neither on the bluetooth chipset, wifi chipset, etc. This might be an indication of the early stage of their plannings. I would have expected that one has ironed out those questions before looking for funding - but then, it's their campaign and they can run it as they see it fit!

I for my part have just put in a pledge for one phone. Let's see what will come of it. In case you feel motivated by this post to join in: Please keep in mind that any crowdfunding campaign bears significant financial risks. So please make sure you made up your mind and don't blame my blog post for luring you into spending money :)

First actual XMOS / XCORE project

For many years I've been fascinated by the XMOS XCore architecture. It offers a surprisingly refreshing alternative virtually any other classic microcontroller architectures out there. However, despite reading a lot about it years ago, being fascinated by it, and even giving a short informal presentation about it once, I've so far never used it. Too much "real" work imposes a high barrier to spending time learning about new architectures, languages, toolchains and the like.

Introduction into XCore

Rather than having lots of fixed-purpose built-in "hard core" peripherals for interfaces such as SPI, I2C, I2S, etc. the XCore controllers have a combination of

  • I/O ports for 1/4/8/16/32 bit wide signals, with SERDES, FIFO, hardware strobe generation, etc
  • Clock blocks for using/dividing internal or external clocks
  • hardware multi-threading that presents 8 logical threads on each core
  • xCONNECT links that can be used to connect multiple processors over 2 or 5 wires per direction
  • channels as a means of communication (similar to sockets) between threads, whether on the same xCORE or a remote core via xCONNECT
  • an extended C (xC) programming language to make use of parallelism, channels and the I/O ports

In spirit, it is like a 21st century implementation of some of the concepts established first with Transputers.

My main interest in xMOS has been the flexibility that you get in implementing not-so-standard electronics interfaces. For regular I2C, UART, SPI, etc. there is of course no such need. But every so often one encounters some interface that's very rately found (like the output of an E1/T1 Line Interface Unit).

Also, quite often I run into use cases where it's simply impossible to find a microcontroller with a sufficient number of the related peripherals built-in. Try finding a microcontroller with 8 UARTs, for example. Or one with four different PCM/I2S interfaces, which all can run in different clock domains.

The existing options of solving such problems basically boil down to either implementing it in hard-wired logic (unrealistic, complex, expensive) or going to programmable logic with CPLD or FPGAs. While the latter is certainly also quite interesting, the learning curve is steep, the tools anything but easy to use and the synthesising time (and thus development cycles) long. Furthermore, your board design will be more complex as you have that FPGA/CPLD and a microcontroller, need to interface the two, etc (yes, in high-end use cases there's the Zynq, but I'm thinking of several orders of magnitude less complex designs).

Of course one can also take a "pure software" approach and go for high-speed bit-banging. There are some ARM SoCs that can toggle their pins. People have reported rates like 14 MHz being possible on a Raspberry Pi. However, when running a general-purpose OS in parallel, this kind of speed is hard to do reliably over long term, and the related software implementations are going to be anything but nice to write.

So the XCore is looking like a nice alternative for a lot of those use cases. Where you want a microcontroller with more programmability in terms of its I/O capabilities, but not go as far as to go full-on with FPGA/CPLD development in Verilog or VHDL.

My current use case

My current use case is to implement a board that can accept four independent PCM inputs (all in slave mode, i.e. clock provided by external master) and present them via USB to a host PC. The final goal is to have a board that can be combined with the sysmoQMOD and which can interface the PCM audio of four cellular modems concurrently.

While XMOS is quite strong in the Audio field and you can find existing examples and app notes for I2S and S/PDIF, I couldn't find any existing code for a PCM slave of the given requirements (short frame sync, 8kHz sample rate, 16bit samples, 2.048 MHz bit clock, MSB first).

I wanted to get a feeling how well one can implement the related PCM slave. In order to test the slave, I decided to develop the matching PCM master and run the two against each other. Despite having never written any code for XMOS before, nor having used any of the toolchain, I was able to implement the PCM master and PCM slave within something like ~6 hours, including simulation and verification. Sure, one can certainly do that in much less time, but only once you're familiar with the tools, programming environment, language, etc. I think it's not bad.

The biggest problem was that the clock phase for a clocked output port cannot be configured, i.e. the XCore insists on always clocking out a new bit at the falling edge, while my use case of course required the opposite: Clocking oout new signals at the rising edge. I had to use a second clock block to generate the inverted clock in order to achieve that goal.

Beyond that 4xPCM use case, I also have other ideas like finally putting the osmo-e1-xcvr to use by combining it with an XMOS device to build a portable E1-to-USB adapter. I have no clue if and when I'll find time for that, but if somebody wants to join in: Let me know!

The good parts

Documentation excellent

I found the various pieces of documentation extremely useful and very well written.

Fast progress

I was able to make fast progress in solving the first task using the XMOS / Xcore approach.

Soft Cores developed in public, with commit log

You can find plenty of soft cores that XMOS has been developing on github at https://github.com/xcore, including the full commit history.

This type of development is a big improvement over what most vendors of smaller microcontrollers like Atmel are doing (infrequent tar-ball code-drops without commit history). And in the case of the classic uC vendors, we're talking about drivers only. In the XMOS case it's about the entire logic of the peripheral!

You can for example see that for their I2C core, the very active commit history goes back to January 2011.

xSIM simulation extremely helpful

The xTIMEcomposer IDE (based on Eclipse) contains extensive tracing support and an extensible near cycle accurate simulator (xSIM). I've implemented a PCM mater and PCM slave in xC and was able to simulate the program while looking at the waveforms of the logic signals between those two.

The bad parts

Unfortunately, my extremely enthusiastic reception of XMOS has suffered quite a bit over time. Let me explain why:

Hard to get XCore chips

While the product portfolio on on the xMOS website looks extremely comprehensive, the vast majority of the parts is not available from stock at distributors. You won't even get samples, and lead times are 12 weeks (!). If you check at digikey, they have listed a total of 302 different XMOS controllers, but only 35 of them are in stock. USB capable are 15. With other distributors like Farnell it's even worse.

I've seen this with other semiconductor vendors before, but never to such a large extent. Sure, some packages/configurations are not standard products, but having only 11% of the portfolio actually available is pretty bad.

In such situations, where it's difficult to convince distributors to stock parts, it would be a good idea for XMOS to stock parts themselves and provide samples / low quantities directly. Not everyone is able to order large trays and/or capable to wait 12 weeks, especially during the R&D phase of a board.

Extremely limited number of single-bit ports

In the smaller / lower pin-count parts, like the XU[F]-208 series in QFN/LQFP-64, the number of usable, exposed single-bit ports is ridiculously low. Out of the total 33 I/O lines available, only 7 can be used as single-bit I/O ports. All other lines can only be used for 4-, 8-, or 16-bit ports. If you're dealing primarily with serial interfaces like I2C, SPI, I2S, UART/USART and the like, those parallel ports are of no use, and you have to go for a mechanically much larger part (like XU[F]-216 in TQFP-128) in order to have a decent number of single-bit ports exposed. Those parts also come with twice the number of cores, memory, etc- which you don't need for slow-speed serial interfaces...

Change to a non-FOSS License

XMOS deserved a lot of praise for releasing all their soft IP cores as Free / Open Source Software on github at https://github.com/xcore. The License has basically been a 3-clause BSD license. This was a good move, as it meant that anyone could create derivative versions, whether proprietary or FOSS, and there would be virtually no license incompatibilities with whatever code people wanted to write.

However, to my very big disappointment, more recently XMOS seems to have changed their policy on this. New soft cores (released at https://github.com/xmos as opposed to the old https://github.com/xcore) are made available under a non-free license. This license is nothing like BSD 3-clause license or any other Free Software or Open Source license. It restricts the license to use the code together with an XMOS product, requires the user to contribute fixes back to XMOS and contains references to importand export control. This license is incopatible with probably any FOSS license in existance, making it impossible to write FOSS code on XMOS while using any of the new soft cores released by XMOS.

But even beyond that license change, not even all code is provided in source code format anymore. The new USB library (lib_usb) is provided as binary-only library, for example.

If you know anyone at XMOS management or XMOS legal with whom I could raise this topic of license change when transitioning from older sc_* software to later lib_* code, I would appreciate this a lot.

Proprietary Compiler

While a lot of the toolchain and IDE is based on open source (Eclipse, LLVM, ...), the actual xC compiler is proprietary.

The sad state of voice support in cellular modems

Cellular modems have existed for decades and come in many shapes and kinds. They contain the cellular baseband processor, RF frontend, protocol stack software and anything else required to communicate with a cellular network. Basically a phone without display or input.

During the last decade or so, the vast majority of cellular modems come as LGA modules, i.e. a small PCB with all components on the top side (and a shielding can), which has contact pads on the bottom so you can solder it onto your mainboard. You can obtain them from vendors such as Sierra Wireless, u-blox, Quectel, ZTE, Huawei, Telit, Gemalto, and many others.

In most cases, the vendors now also solder those modules to small adapter boards to offer the same product in mPCIe form-factor. Other modems are directly manufactured in mPCIe or NGFF aka m.2 form-factor.

As long as those modems were still 2G / 2.5G / 2.75G, the main interconnection with the host (often some embedded system) was a serial UART. The Audio input/output for voice calls was made available as analog signals, ready to connect a microphone and spekaer, as that's what the cellular chipsets were designed for in the smartphones. In the Openmoko phones we also interfaced the audio of the cellular modem in analog, exactly for that reason.

From 3G onwards, the primary interface towards the host is now USB, with the modem running as a USB device. If your laptop contains a cellular modem, you will see it show up in the lsusb output.

From that point onwards, it would have made a lot of sense to simply expose the audio also via USB. Simply offer a multi-function USB device that has both whatever virutal serial ports for AT commands and network device for IP, and add a USB Audio device to it. It would simply show up as a "USB sound card" to the host, with all standard drivers working as expected. Sadly, nobody seems to have implemented this, at least not in a supported production version of their product

Instead, what some modem vendors have implemented as an ugly hack is the transport of 8kHz 16bit PCM samples over one of the UARTs. See for example the Quectel UC-20 or the Simcom SIM7100 which implement such a method.

All the others ignore any acess to the audio stream from software to a large part. One wonders why that is. From a software and systems architecture perspective it would be super easy. Instead, what most vendors do, is to expose a digital PCM interface. This is suboptimal in many ways:

  • there is no mPCIe standard on which pins PCM should be exposed
  • no standard product (like laptop, router, ...) with mPCIe slot will have anything connected to those PCM pins

Furthermore, each manufacturer / modem seems to support a different subset of dialect of the PCM interface in terms of

  • voltage (almost all of them are 1.8V, while mPCIe signals normally are 3.3V logic level)
  • master/slave (almost all of them insist on being a clock master)
  • sample format (alaw/ulaw/linear)
  • clock/bit rate (mostly 2.048 MHz, but can be as low as 128kHz)
  • frame sync (mostly short frame sync that ends before the first bit of the sample)
  • endianness (mostly MSB first)
  • clock phase (mostly change signals at rising edge; sample at falling edge)

It's a real nightmare, when it could be so simple. If they implemented USB-Audio, you could plug a cellular modem into any board with a mPCIe slot and it would simply work. As they don't, you need a specially designed mainboard that implements exactly the specific dialect/version of PCM of the given modem.

By the way, the most "amazing" vendor seems to be u-blox. Their Modems support PCM audio, but only the solder-type version. They simply didn't route those signals to the mPCIe slot, making audio impossible to use when using a connectorized modem. How inconvenient.

Summary

If you want to access the audio signals of a cellular modem from software, then you either

  • have standard hardware and pick one very specific modem model and hope this is available sufficiently long during your application, or
  • build your own hardware implementing a PCM slave interface and then pick + choose your cellular modem

On the Osmocom mpcie-breakout board and the sysmocom QMOD board we have exposed the PCM related pins on 2.54mm headers to allow for some separate board to pick up that PCM and offer it to the host system. However, such separate board hasn't been developed so far.

Osmocom jenkins test suite execution

Automatic Testing in Osmocom

So far, in many Osmocom projects we have unit tests next to the code. Those unit tests are executing test on a per-C-function basis, and typically use the respective function directly from a small test program, executed at make check time. The actual main program (like OsmoBSC or OsmoBTS) is not executed at that time.

We also have VTY testing, which specifically tests that the VTY has proper documentation for all nodes of all commands.

Then there's a big gap, and we have osmo-gsm-tester for testing a full cellular network end-to-end. It includes physical GSM modesm, coaxial distribution network, attenuators, splitter/combiners, real BTS hardware and logic to run the full network, from OsmoBTS to the core - both for OsmoNITB and OsmoMSC+OsmoHLR based networks.

However, I think a lot of testing falls somewhere in between, where you want to run the program-under-test (e.g. OsmoBSC), but you don't want to run the MS, BTS and MSC that normally surroudns it. You want to test it by emulating the BTS on the Abis sid and the MSC on the A side, and just test Abis and A interface transactions.

For this kind of testing, I have recently started to investigate available options and tools.

OsmoSTP (M3UA/SUA)

Several months ago, during the development of OsmoSTP, I disovered that the Network Programming Lab of Münster University of Applied Sciences led by Michael Tuexen had released implementations of the ETSI test suite for the M3UA and SUA members of the SIGTRAN protocol family.

The somewhat difficult part is that they are implemented in scheme, using the guile interpreter/compiler, as well as a C-language based execution wrapper, which then is again called by another guile wrapper script.

I've reimplemented the test executor in python and added JUnitXML output to it. This means it can feed the test results directly into Jenkins.

I've also cleaned up the Dockerfiles and related image generation for the osmo-stp-master, m3ua-test and sua-test images, as well as some scripts to actually execute them on one of the Builders. You can find related Dockerfiles as well as associtaed Makfiles in http://git.osmocom.org/docker-playground

The end result after integration with Osmocom jenkins can be seen in the following examples on jenkins.osmocom.org for M3UA and for SUA

Triggering the builds is currently periodic once per night, but we could of course also trigger them automatically at some later point.

OpenGGSN (GTP)

For OpenGGSN, during the development of IPv6 PDP context support, I wrote some test infrastructure and test cases in TTCN-3. Those test cases can be found at http://git.osmocom.org/osmo-ttcn3-hacks/tree/ggsn_tests

I've also packaged the GGSN and the test cases each into separate Docker containers called osmo-ggsn-latest and ggsn-test. Related Dockerfiles and Makefiles can again be found in http://git.osmocom.org/docker-playground - together with a Eclipse TITAN Docker base image using Debian Stretch called debian-stretch-titan

Using those TTCN-3 test cases with the TITAN JUnitXML logger plugin we can again integrate the results directly into Jenkins, whose results you can see at https://jenkins.osmocom.org/jenkins/view/TTCN3/job/ttcn3-ggsn-test/14/testReport/(root)/GGSN_Tests/

Further Work

I've built some infrastructure for Gb (NS/BSSGP), VirtualUm and other testing, but yet have to build Docker images and related jenkins integration for it. Stay tuned about that. Also, lots more actual tests cases are required. I'm very much looking forward to any contributions.

IPv6 User Plane support in Osmocom

Preface

Cellular systems ever since GPRS are using a tunnel based architecture to provide IP connectivity to cellular terminals such as phones, modems, M2M/IoT devices and the like. The MS/UE establishes a PDP context between itself and the GGSN on the other end of the cellular network. The GGSN then is the first IP-level router, and the entire cellular network is abstracted away from the User-IP point of view.

This architecture didn't change with EGPRS, and not with UMTS, HSxPA and even survived conceptually in LTE/4G.

While the concept of a PDP context / tunnel exists to de-couple the transport layer from the structure and type of data inside the tunneled data, the primary user plane so far has been IPv4.

In Osmocom, we made sure that there are no impairments / assumptions about the contents of the tunnel, so OsmoPCU and OsmoSGSN do not care at all what bits and bytes are transmitted in the tunnel.

The only Osmocom component dealing with the type of tunnel and its payload structure is OpenGGSN. The GGSN must allocate the address/prefix assigned to each individual MS/UE, perform routing between the external IP network and the cellular network and hence is at the heart of this. Sadly, OpenGGSN was an abandoned project for many years until Osmocom adopted it, and it only implemented IPv4.

This is actually a big surprise to me. Many of the users of the Osmocom stack are from the IT security area. They use the Osmocom stack to test mobile phones for vulnerabilities, analyze mobile malware and the like. As any penetration tester should be interested in analyzing all of the attack surface exposed by a given device-under-test, I would have assumed that testing just on IPv4 would be insufficient and over the past 9 years, somebody should have come around and implemented the missing bits for IPv6 so they can test on IPv6, too.

In reality, it seems nobody appears to have shared line of thinking and invested a bit of time in growing the tools used. Or if they did, they didn't share the related code.

In June 2017, Gerrie Roos submitted a patch for OpenGGSN IPv6 support that raised hopes about soon being able to close that gap. However, at closer sight it turns out that the code was written against a more than 7 years old version of OpenGGSN, and it seems to primarily focus on IPv6 on the outer (transport) layer, rather than on the inner (user) layer.

OpenGGSN IPv6 PDP Context Support

So in July 2017, I started to work on IPv6 PDP support in OpenGGSN.

Initially I thought How hard can it be? It's not like IPv6 is new to me (I joined 6bone under 3ffe prefixes back in the 1990ies and worked on IPv6 support in ip6tables ages ago. And aside from allocating/matching longer addresses, what kind of complexity does one expect?

After my initial attempt of implementation, partially mislead by the patch that was contributed against that 2010-or-older version of OpenGGSN, I'm surprised how wrong I was.

In IPv4 PDP contexts, the process of establishing a PDP context is simple:

  • Request establishment of a PDP context, set the type to IETF IPv4
  • Receive an allocated IPv4 End User Address
  • Optionally use IPCP (part of PPP) to reques and receive DNS Server IP addresses

So I implemented the identical approach for IPv6. Maintain a pool of IPv6 addresses, allocate one, and use IPCP for DNS. And nothing worked.

  • IPv6 PDP contexts assign a /64 prefix, not a single address or a smaller prefix
  • The End User Address that's part of the Signalling plane of Layer 3 Session Management and GTP is not the actual address, but just serves to generate the interface identifier portion of a link-local IPv6 address
  • IPv6 stateless autoconfiguration is used with this link-local IPv6 address inside the User Plane, after the control plane signaling to establish the PDP context has completed. This means the GGSN needs to parse ICMPv6 router solicitations and generate ICMPV6 router advertisements.

To make things worse, the stateless autoconfiguration is modified in some subtle ways to make it different from the normal SLAAC used on Ethernet and other media:

  • the timers / lifetimes are different
  • only one prefix is permitted
  • only a prefix length of 64 is permitted

A few days later I implemented all of that, but it still didn't work. The problem was with DNS server adresses. In IPv4, the 3GPP protocols simply tunnel IPCP frames for this. This makes a lot of sense, as IPCP is designed for point-to-point interfaces, and this is exactly what a PDP context is.

In IPv6, the corresponding IP6CP protocol does not have the capability to provision DNS server addresses to a PPP client. WTF? The IETF seriously requires implementations to do DHCPv6 over PPP, after establishing a point-to-point connection, only to get DNS server information?!? Some people suggested an IETF draft to change this butthe draft has expired in 2011 and we're still stuck.

While 3GPP permits the use of DHCPv6 in some scenarios, support in phones/modems for it is not mandatory. Rather, the 3GPP has come up with their own mechanism on how to communicate DNS server IPv6 addresses during PDP context activation: The use of containers as part of the PCO Information Element used in L3-SM and GTP (see Section 10.5.6.3 of 3GPP TS 24.008. They by the way also specified the same mechanism for IPv4, so there's now two competing methods on how to provision IPv4 DNS server information: IPCP and the new method.

In any case, after some more hacking, OpenGGSN can now also provide DNS server information to the MS/UE. And once that was implemented, I had actual live uesr IPv6 data over a full Osmocom cellular stack!

Summary

We now have working IPv6 User IP in OpenGGSN. Together with the rest of the Osmocom stack you can operate a private GPRS, EGPRS, UMTS or HSPA network that provide end-to-end transparent, routed IPv6 connectivity to mobile devices.

All in all, it took much longer than nneeded, and the following questions remain in my mind:

  • why did the IETF not specify IP6CP capabilities to configure DNS servers?
  • why the complex two-stage address configuration with PDP EUA allocation for the link-local address first and then stateless autoconfiguration?
  • why don't we simply allocate the entire prefix via the End User Address information element on the signaling plane? For sure next to the 16byte address we could have put one byte for prefix-length?
  • why do I see duplication detection flavour neighbour solicitations from Qualcomm based phones on what is a point-to-point link with exactly two devices: The UE and the GGSN?
  • why do I see link-layer source address options inside the ICMPv6 neighbor and router solicitation from mobile phones, when that option is specifically not to be used on point-to-point links?
  • why is the smallest prefix that can be allocated a /64? That's such a waste for a point-to-point link with a single device on the other end, and in times of billions of connected IoT devices it will just encourage the use of non-public IPv6 space (i.e. SNAT/MASQUERADING) while wasting large parts of the address space

Some of those choices would have made sense if one would have made it fully compatible with normal IPv6 like e.g. on Ethernet. But implementing ICMPv6 router and neighbor solicitation without getting any benefit such as ability to have multiple prefixes, prefixes of different lengths, I just don't understand why anyone ever thought You can find the code at http://git.osmocom.org/openggsn/log/?h=laforge/ipv6 and the related ticket at https://osmocom.org/issues/2418

Virtual Um interface between OsmoBTS and OsmocomBB

During the last couple of days, I've been working on completing, cleaning up and merging a Virtual Um interface (i.e. virtual radio layer) between OsmoBTS and OsmocomBB. After I started with the implementation and left it in an early stage in January 2016, Sebastian Stumpf has been completing it around early 2017, with now some subsequent fixes and improvements by me. The combined result allows us to run a complete GSM network with 1-N BTSs and 1-M MSs without any actual radio hardware, which is of course excellent for all kinds of testing scenarios.

The Virtual Um layer is based on sending L2 frames (blocks) encapsulated via GSMTAP UDP multicast packets. There are two separate multicast groups, one for uplink and one for downlink. The multicast nature simulates the shared medium and enables any simulated phone to receive the signal from multiple BTSs via the downlink multicast group.

/images/osmocom-virtum.png

In OsmoBTS, this is implemented via the new osmo-bts-virtual BTS model.

In OsmocomBB, this is realized by adding virtphy virtual L1, which speaks the same L1CTL protocol that is used between the real OsmcoomBB Layer1 and the Layer2/3 programs such as mobile and the like.

Now many people would argue that GSM without the radio and actual handsets is no fun. I tend to agree, as I'm a hardware person at heart and I am not a big fan of simulation.

Nevertheless, this forms the basis of all kinds of possibilities for automatized (regression) testing in a way and for layers/interfaces that osmo-gsm-tester cannot cover as it uses a black-box proprietary mobile phone (modem). It is also pretty useful if you're traveling a lot and don't want to carry around a BTS and phones all the time, or get some development done in airplanes or other places where operating a radio transmitter is not really a (viable) option.

If you're curious and want to give it a shot, I've put together some setup instructions at the Virtual Um page of the Osmocom Wiki.

Ten years after first shipping Openmoko Neo1973

Exactly 10 years ago, on July 9th, 2007 we started to sell+ship the first Openmoko Neo1973. To be more precise, the webshop actually opened a few hours early, depending on your time zone. Sean announced the availability in this mailing list post

I don't really have to add much to my ten years [of starting to work on] Openmoko anniversary blog post a year ago, but still thought it's worth while to point out the tenth anniversary.

It was exciting times, and there was a lot of pioneering spirit: Building a Linux based smartphone with a 100% FOSS software stack on the application processor, including all drivers, userland, applications - at a time before Android was known or announced. As history shows, we'd been working in parallel with Apple on the iPhone, and Google on Android. Of course there's little chance that a small taiwanese company can compete with the endless resources of the big industry giants, and the many Neo1973 delays meant we had missed the window of opportunity to be the first on the market.

It's sad that Openmoko (or similar projects) have not survived even as a special-interest project for FOSS enthusiasts. Today, virtually all options of smartphones are encumbered with way more proprietary blobs than we could ever imagine back then.

In any case, the tenth anniversary of trying to change the amount of Free Softwware in the smartphone world is worth some celebration. I'm reaching out to old friends and colleagues, and I guess we'll have somewhat of a celebration party both in Germany and in Taiwan (where I'll be for my holidays from mid-September to mid-October).

How the Osmocom GSM stack is funded

As the topic has been raised on twitter, I thought I might share a bit of insight into the funding of the Osmocom Cellular Infrastructure Projects.

Keep in mind: Osmocom is a much larger umbrella project, and beyond the Networks-side cellular stack is home many different community-based projects around open source mobile communications. All of those have started more or less as just for fun projects, nothing serious, just a hobby [1]

The projects implementing the network-side protocol stacks and network elements of GSM/GPRS/EGPRS/UMTS cellular networks are somewhat the exception to that, as they have evolved to some extent professionalized. We call those projects collectively the Cellular Infrastructure projects inside Osmocom. This post is about that part of Osmocom only

History

From late 2008 through 2009, People like Holger and I were working on bs11-abis and later OpenBSC only in our spare time. The name Osmocom didn't even exist back then. There was a strong technical community with contributions from Sylvain Munaut, Andreas Eversberg, Daniel Willmann, Jan Luebbe and a few others. None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for all the help we got from Dieter Spaar with the BS-11 [2]. We all had our dayjob in other places, and OpenBSC work was really just a hobby. People were working on it, because it was where no FOSS hacker has gone before. It was cool. It was a big and pleasant challenge to enter the closed telecom space as pure autodidacts.

Holger and I were doing freelance contract development work on Open Source projects for many years before. I was mostly doing Linux related contracting, while Holger has been active in all kinds of areas throughout the FOSS software stack.

In 2010, Holger and I saw some first interest by companies into OpenBSC, including Netzing AG and On-Waves ehf. So we were able to spend at least some of our paid time on OpenBSC/Osmocom related contract work, and were thus able to do less other work. We also continued to spend tons of spare time in bringing Osmocom forward. Also, the amount of contract work we did was only a fraction of the many more hours of spare time.

In 2011, Holger and I decided to start the company sysmocom in order to generate more funding for the Osmocom GSM projects by means of financing software development by product sales. So rather than doing freelance work for companies who bought their BTS hardware from other places (and spent huge amounts of cash on that), we decided that we wanted to be a full solution supplier, who can offer a complete product based on all hardware and software required to run small GSM networks.

The only problem is: We still needed an actual BTS for that. Through some reverse engineering of existing products we figured out who one of the ODM suppliers for the hardware + PHY layer was, and decided to develop the OsmoBTS software to do so. We inherited some of the early code from work done by Andreas Eversberg on the jolly/bts branch of OsmocomBB (thanks), but much was missing at the time.

What follows was Holger and me working several years for free [3], without any salary, in order to complete the OsmoBTS software, build an embedded Linux distribution around it based on OE/poky, write documentation, etc. and complete the first sysmocom product: The sysmoBTS 1002

We did that not because we want to get rich, or because we want to run a business. We did it simply because we saw an opportunity to generate funding for the Osmocom projects and make them more sustainable and successful. And because we believe there is a big, gaping, huge vacuum in terms of absence of FOSS in the cellular telecom sphere.

Funding by means of sysmocom product sales

Once we started to sell the sysmoBTS products, we were able to fund Osmocom related development from the profits made on hardware / full-system product sales. Every single unit sold made a big contribution towards funding both the maintenance as well as the ongoing development on new features.

This source of funding continues to be an important factor today.

Funding by means of R&D contracts

The probably best and most welcome method of funding Osmocom related work is by means of R&D projects in which a customer funds our work to extend the Osmocom GSM stack in one particular area where he has a particular need that the existing code cannot fulfill yet.

This kind of project is the ideal match, as it shows where the true strength of FOSS is: Each of those customers did not have to fund the development of a GSM stack from scratch. Rather, they only had to fund those bits that were missing for their particular application.

Our reference for this is and has been On-Waves, who have been funding development of their required features (and bug fixing etc.) since 2010.

We've of course had many other projects from a variety of customers over over the years. Last, but not least, we had a customer who willingly co-funded (together with funds from NLnet foundation and lots of unpaid effort by sysmocom) the 3G/3.5G support in the Osmocom stack.

The problem here is:

  • we have not been able to secure anywhere nearly as many of those R&D projects within the cellular industry, despite believing we have a very good foundation upon which we can built. I've been writing many exciting technical project proposals
  • you almost exclusively get funding only for new features. But it's very hard to get funding for the core maintenance work. The bug-fixing, code review, code refactoring, testing, etc.

So as a result, the profit margin you have on selling R&D projects is basically used to (do a bad job of) fund those bits and pieces that nobody wants to pay for.

Funding by means of customer support

There is a way to generate funding for development by providing support services. We've had some success with this, but primarily alongside the actual hardware/system sales - not so much in terms of pure software-only support.

Also, providing support services from a R&D company means:

  • either you distract your developers by handling support inquiries. This means they will have less time to work on actual code, and likely get side tracked by too many issues that make it hard to focus
  • or you have to hire separate support staff. This of course means that the size of the support business has to be sufficiently large to not only cover the cots of hiring + training support staff, but also still generate funding for the actual software R&D.

We've tried shortly with the second option, but fallen back to the first for now. There's simply not sufficient user/admin type support business to rectify dedicated staff for that.

Funding by means of cross-subsizing from other business areas

sysmocom also started to do some non-Osmocom projects in order to generate revenue that we can feed again into Osmocom projects. I'm not at liberty to discuss them in detail, but basically we've been doing pretty much anything from

  • custom embedded Linux board designs
  • M2M devices with GSM modems
  • consulting gigs
  • public tendered research projects

Profits from all those areas went again into Osmocom development.

Last, but not least, we also operate the sysmocom webshop. The profit we make on those products also is again immediately re-invested into Osmocom development.

Funding by grants

We've had some success in securing funding from NLnet Foundation for specific features. While this is useful, the size of their projects grants of up to EUR 30k is not a good fit for the scale of the tasks we have at hand inside Osmocom. You may think that's a considerable amount of money? Well, that translates to 2-3 man-months of work at a bare cost-covering rate. At a team size of 6 developers, you would theoretically have churned through that in two weeks. Also, their focus is (understandably) on Internet and IT security, and not so much cellular communications.

There are of course other options for grants, such as government research grants and the like. However, they require long-term planning, they require you to match (i.e. pay yourself) a significant portion, and basically mandate that you hire one extra person for doing all the required paperwork and reporting. So all in all, not a particularly attractive option for a very small company consisting of die hard engineers.

Funding by more BTS ports

At sysmocom, we've been doing some ports of the OsmoBTS + OsmoPCU software to other hardware, and supporting those other BTS vendors with porting, R&D and support services.

If sysmocom was a classic BTS vendor, we would not help our "competition". However, we are not. sysmocom exists to help Osmocom, and we strongly believe in open systems and architectures, without a single point of failure, a single supplier for any component or any type of vendor lock-in.

So we happily help third parties to get Osmocom running on their hardware, either with a proprietary PHY or with OsmoTRX.

However, we expect that those BTS vendors also understand their responsibility to share the development and maintenance effort of the stack. Preferably by dedicating some of their own staff to work in the Osmocom community. Alternatively, sysmocom can perform that work as paid service. But that's a double-edged sword: We don't want to be a single point of failure.

Osmocom funding outside of sysmocom

Osmocom is of course more than sysmocom. Even for the cellular infrastructure projects inside Osmocom is true: They are true, community-based, open, collaborative development projects. Anyone can contribute.

Over the years, there have been code contributions by e.g. Fairwaves. They, too, build GSM base station hardware and use that as a means to not only recover the R&D on the hardware, but also to contribute to Osmocom. At some point a few years ago, there was a lot of work from them in the area of OsmoTRX, OsmoBTS and OsmoPCU. Unfortunately, in more recent years, they have not been able to keep up the level of contributions.

There are other companies engaged in activities with and around Osmcoom. There's Rhizomatica, an NGO helping indigenous communities to run their own cellular networks. They have been funding some of our efforts, but being an NGO helping rural regions in developing countries, they of course also don't have the deep pockets. Ideally, we'd want to be the ones contributing to them, not the other way around.

State of funding

We're making some progress in securing funding from players we cannot name [4] during recent years. We're also making occasional progress in convincing BTS suppliers to chip in their share. Unfortunately there are more who don't live up to their responsibility than those who do. I might start calling them out by name one day. The wider community and the public actually deserves to know who plays by FOSS rules and who doesn't. That's not shaming, it's just stating bare facts.

Which brings us to:

  • sysmocom is in an office that's actually too small for the team, equipment and stock. But we certainly cannot afford more space.
  • we cannot pay our employees what they could earn working at similar positions in other companies. So working at sysmocom requires dedication to the cause :)
  • Holger and I have invested way more time than we have ever paid us, even more so considering the opportunity cost of what we would have earned if we'd continued our freelance Open Source hacker path
  • we're [just barely] managing to pay for 6 developers dedicated to Osmocom development on our payroll based on the various funding sources indicated above

Nevertheless, I doubt that any such a small team has ever implemented an end-to-end GSM/GPRS/EGPRS network from RAN to Core at comparative feature set. My deepest respects to everyone involved. The big task now is to make it sustainable.

Summary

So as you can see, there's quite a bit of funding around. However, it always falls short of what's needed to implement all parts properly, and even not quite sufficient to keep maintaining the status quo in a proper and tested way. That can often be frustrating (mostly to us but sometimes also to users who run into regressions and oter bugs). There's so much more potential. So many things we wanted to add or clean up for a long time, but too little people interested in joining in, helping out - financially or by writing code.

On thing that is often a challenge when dealing with traditional customers: We are not developing a product and then selling a ready-made product. In fact, in FOSS this would be more or less suicidal: We'd have to invest man-years upfront, but then once it is finished, everyone can use it without having to partake in that investment.

So instead, the FOSS model requires the customers/users to chip in early during the R&D phase, in order to then subsequently harvest the fruits of that.

I think the lack of a FOSS mindset across the cellular / telecom industry is the biggest constraining factor here. I've seen that some 20-15 years ago in the Linux world. Trust me, it takes a lot of dedication to the cause to endure this lack of comprehension so many years later.

[1] just like Linux has started out.
[2] while you will not find a lot of commits from Dieter in the code, he has been playing a key role in doing a lot of prototyping, reverse engineering and debugging!
[3] sysmocom is 100% privately held by Holger and me, we intentionally have no external investors and are proud to never had to take a bank loan. So all we could invest was our own money and, most of all, time.
[4] contrary to the FOSS world, a lot of aspects are confidential in business, and we're not at liberty to disclose the identities of all our customers

FOSS misconceptions, still in 2017

The lack of basic FOSS understanding in Telecom

Given that the Free and Open Source movement has been around at least since the 1980ies, it puzzles me that people still seem to have such fundamental misconceptions about it.

Something that really triggered me was an article at LightReading [1] which quotes Ulf Ewaldsson, a leading Ericsson excecutive with

"I have yet to understand why we would open source something we think is really good software"

This completely misses the point. FOSS is not about making a charity donation of a finished product to the planet.

FOSS is about sharing the development costs among multiple players, and avoiding that everyone has to reimplement the wheel. Macro-Economically, it is complete and utter nonsense that each 3GPP specification gets implemented two dozens of times, by at least a dozen of different entities. As a result, products are way more expensive than needed.

If large Telco players (whether operators or equipment manufacturers) were to collaboratively develop code just as much as they collaboratively develop the protocol specifications, there would be no need for replicating all of this work.

As a result, everyone could produce cellular network elements at reduced cost, sharing the R&D expenses, and competing in key areas, such as who can come up with the most energy-efficient implementation, or can produce the most reliable hardware, the best receiver sensitivity, the best and most fair scheduling implementation, or whatever else. But some 80% of the code could probably be shared, as e.g. encoding and decoding messages according to a given publicly released 3GPP specification document is not where those equipment suppliers actually compete.

So my dear cellular operator executives: Next time you're cursing about the prohibitively expensive pricing that your equipment suppliers quote you: You only have to pay that much because everyone is reimplementing the wheel over and over again.

Equally, my dear cellular infrastructure suppliers: You are all dying one by one, as it's hard to develop everything from scratch. Over the years, many of you have died. One wonders, if we might still have more players left, if some of you had started to cooperate in developing FOSS at least in those areas where you're not competing. You could replicate what Linux is doing in the operating system market. There's no need in having a phalanx of different proprietary flavors of Unix-like OSs. It's way too expansive, and it's not an area in which most companies need to or want to compete anyway.

Management Summary

You don't first develop and entire product until it is finished and then release it as open source. This makes little economic sense in a lot of cases, as you've already invested into developing 100% of it. Instead, you actually develop a new product collaboratively as FOSS in order to not have to invest 100% but maybe only 30% or even less. You get a multitude of your R&D investment back, because you're not only getting your own code, but all the other code that other community members implemented. You of course also get other benefits, such as peer review of the code, more ideas (not all bright people work inside one given company), etc.

[1] that article is actually a heavily opinionated post by somebody who appears to be pushing his own anti-FOSS agenda for some time. The author is misinformed about the fact that the TIP has always included projects under both FRAND and FOSS terms. As a TIP member I can attest to that fact. I'm only referencing it here for the purpose of that that Ericsson quote.

Playing back GSM RTP streams, RTP-HR bugs

Chapter 0: Problem Statement

In an all-IP GSM network, where we use Abis, A and other interfaces within the cellular network over IP transport, the audio of voice calls is transported inside RTP frames. The codec payload in those RTP frames is the actual codec frame of the respective cellular voice codec. In GSM, there are four relevant codecs: FR, HR, EFR and AMR.

Every so often during the (meanwhile many years of ) development of Osmocom cellular infrastructure software it would have been useful to be able to quickly play back the audio for analysis of given issues.

However, until now we didn't have that capability. The reason is relatively simple: In Osmocom, we genally don't do transcoding but simply pass the voice codec frames from left to right. They're only transcoded inside the phones or inside some external media gateway (in case of larger networks).

Chapter 1: GSM Audio Pocket Knife

Back in 2010, when we were very actively working on OsmocomBB, the telephone-side GSM protocol stack implementation, Sylvain Munaut wrote the GSM Audio Pocket Knife (gapk) in order to be able to convert between different formats (representations) of codec frames. In cellular communcations, everyoe is coming up with their own representation for the codec frames: The way they look on E1 as a TRAU frame is completely different from how RTP payload looks like, or what the TI Calypso DSP uses internally, or what a GSM Tester like the Racal 61x3 uses. The differences are mostly about data types used, bit-endinanness as well as padding and headers. And of course those different formats exist for each of the four codecs :/

In 2013 I first added simplistic RTP support for FR-GSM to gapk, which was sufficient for my debugging needs back then. Still, you had to save the decoded PCM output to a file and play that back, or use a pipe into aplay.

Last week, I picked up this subject again and added a long series of patches to gapk:

  • support for variable-length codec frames (required for AMR support)
  • support for AMR codec encode/decode using libopencore-amrnb
  • support of all known RTP payload formats for all four codecs
  • support for direct live playback to a sound card via ALSA

All of the above can now be combined to make GAPK bind to a specified UDP port and play back the RTP codec frames that anyone sends to that port using a command like this:

$ gapk -I 0.0.0.0/30000 -f rtp-amr -A default -g rawpcm-s16le

I've also merged a chance to OsmoBSC/OsmoNITB which allows the administrator to re-direct the voice of any active voice channel towards a user-specified IP address and port. Using that you can simply disconnect the voice stream from its normal destination and play back the audio via your sound card.

Chapter 2: Bugs in OsmoBTS GSM-HR

While going through the exercise of implementing the above extension to gapk, I had lots of trouble to get it to work for GSM-HR.

After some more digging, it seems there are two conflicting specification on how to format the RTP payload for half-rate GSM:

In Osmocom, we claim to implement RFC5993, but it turned out that (at least) osmo-bts-sysmo (for sysmoBTS) was actually implementing the ETSI format instead.

And even worse, osmo-bts-sysmo gets event the ETSI format wrong. Each of the codec parameters (which are unaligned bit-fields) are in the wrong bit-endianness :(

Both the above were coincidentially also discovered by Sylvain Munaut during operating of the 32C3 GSM network in December 2015 and resulted the two following "work around" patches: * HACK for HR * HACK: Fix the bit order in HR frames

Those merely worked around those issues in the rtp_proxy of OsmoNITB, rather than addressing the real issue. That's ok, they were "quick" hacks to get something working at all during a four-day conference. I'm now working on "real" fixes in osmo-bts-sysmo. The devil is of course in the details, when people upgrade one BTS but not the other and want to inter-operate, ...

It yet remains to be investigated how osmo-bts-trx and other osmo-bts ports behave in this regard.

Chapter 3: Conclusions

Most definitely it is once again a very clear sign that more testing is required. It's tricky to see even wih osmo-gsm-tester, as GSM-HR works between two phones or even two instances of osmo-bts-sysmo, as both sides of the implementation have the same (wrong) understanding of the spec.

Given that we can only catch this kind of bug together with the hardware (the DSP runs the PHY code), pure unit tests wouldn't catch it. And the end-to-end test is also not very well suited to it. It seems to call for something in betewen. Something like an A-bis interface level test.

We need more (automatic) testing. I cannot say that often enough. The big challenge is how to convince contributors and customers that they should invest their time and money there, rather than yet-another (not automatically tested) feature?

Power-cycling a USB port should be simple, right?

Every so often I happen to be involved in designing electronics equipment that's supposed to run reliably remotely in inaccessible locations,without any ability for "remote hands" to perform things like power-cycling or the like. I'm talking about really remote locations, possible with no but limited back-haul, and a very high cost of ever sending somebody there for remote maintenance.

Given that a lot of computer peripherals (chips, modules, ...) use USB these days, this is often some kind of an embedded ARM (rarely x86) SoM or SBC, which is hooked up to a custom board that contains a USB hub chip as well as a line of peripherals.

One of the most important lectures I've learned from experience is: Never trust reset signals / lines, always include power-switching capability. There are many chips and electronics modules available on the market that have either no RESET, or even might claim to have a hardware RESET line which you later (painfully) discover just to be a GPIO polled by software which can get stuck, and hence no way to really hard-reset the given component.

In the case of a USB-attached device (even though the USB might only exist on a circuit board between two ICs), this is typically rather easy: The USB hub is generally capable of switching the power of its downstream ports. Many cheap USB hubs don't implement this at all, or implement only ganged switching, but if you carefully select your USB hub (or in the case of a custom PCB), you can make sure that the given USB hub supports individual port power switching.

Now the next step is how to actually use this from your (embedded) Linux system. It turns out to be harder than expected. After all, we're talking about a standard feature that's present in the USB specifications since USB 1.x in the late 1990ies. So the expectation is that it should be straight-forward to do with any decent operating system.

I don't know how it's on other operating systems, but on Linux I couldn't really find a proper way how to do this in a clean way. For more details, please read my post to the linux-usb mailing list.

Why am I running into this now? Is it such a strange idea? I mean, power-cycling a device should be the most simple and straight-forward thing to do in order to recover from any kind of "stuck state" or other related issue. Logical enabling/disabling of the port, resetting the USB device via USB protocol, etc. are all just "soft" forms of a reset which at best help with USB related issues, but not with any other part of a USB device.

And in the case of e.g. an USB-attached cellular modem, we're actually talking about a multi-processor system with multiple built-in micro-controllers, at least one DSP, an ARM core that might run another Linux itself (to implement the USB gadget), ... - certainly enough complex software that you would want to be able to power-cycle it...

I'm curious what the response of the Linux USB gurus is.

OsmoDevCon 2017 Review

After the public user-oriented OsmoCon 2017, we also recently had the 6th incarnation of our annual contributors-only Osmocom Developer Conference: The OsmoDevCon 2017.

This is a much smaller group, typically about 20 people, and is limited to actual developers who have a past record of contributing to any of the many Osmocom projects.

We had a large number of presentation and discussions. In fact, so large that the schedule of talks extended from 10am to midnight on some days. While this is great, it also means that there was definitely too little time for more informal conversations, chatting or even actual work on code.

We also have such a wide range of topics and scope inside Osmocom, that the traditional ad-hoch scheduling approach no longer seems to be working as it used to. Not everyone is interested in (or has time for) all the topics, so we should group them according to their topic/subject on a given day or half-day. This will enable people to attend only those days that are relevant to them, and spend the remaining day in an adjacent room hacking away on code.

It's sad that we only have OsmoDevCon once per year. Maybe that's actually also something to think about. Rather than having 4 days once per year, maybe have two weekends per year.

Always in motion the future is.

Overhyped Docker

Overhyped Docker missing the most basic features

I've always been extremely skeptical of suddenly emerging over-hyped technologies, particularly if they advertise to solve problems by adding yet another layer to systems that are already sufficiently complex themselves.

There are of course many issues with containers, ranging from replicated system libraries and the basic underlying statement that you're giving up on the system packet manager to properly deal with dependencies.

I'm also highly skeptical of FOSS projects that are primarily driven by one (VC funded?) company. Especially if their offering includes a so-called cloud service which they can stop to operate at any given point in time, or (more realistically) first get everybody to use and then start charging for.

But well, despite all the bad things I read about it over the years, on one day in May 2017 I finally thought let's give it a try. My problem to solve as a test balloon is fairly simple.

My basic use case

The plan is to start OsmoSTP, the m3ua-testtool and the sua-testtool, which both connect to OsmoSTP. By running this setup inside containers and inside an internal network, we could then execute the entire testsuite e.g. during jenkins test without having IP address or port number conflicts. It could even run multiple times in parallel on one buildhost, verifying different patches as part of the continuous integration setup.

This application is not so complex. All it needs is three containers, an internal network and some connections in between. Should be a piece of cake, right?

But enter the world of buzzword-fueled web-4000.0 software-defined virtualised and orchestrated container NFW + SDN vodoo: It turns out to be impossible, at least not with the preferred tools they advertise.

Dockerfiles

The part that worked relatively easily was writing a few Dockerfiles to build the actual containers. All based on debian:jessie from the library.

As m3ua-testsuite is written in guile, and needs to build some guile plugin/extension, I had to actually include guile-2.0-dev and other packages in the container, making it a bit bloated.

I couldn't immediately find a nice example Dockerfile recipe that would allow me to build stuff from source outside of the container, and then install the resulting binaries into the container. This seems to be a somewhat weak spot, where more support/infrastructure would be helpful. I guess the idea is that you simply install applications via package feeds and apt-get. But I digress.

So after some tinkering, I ended up with three docker containers:

  • one running OsmoSTP
  • one running m3ua-testtool
  • one running sua-testtool

I also managed to create an internal bridged network between the containers, so the containers could talk to one another.

However, I have to manually start each of the containers with ugly long command line arguments, such as docker run --network sigtran --ip 172.18.0.200 -it osmo-stp-master. This is of course sub-optimal, and what Docker Services + Stacks should resolve.

Services + Stacks

The idea seems good: A service defines how a given container is run, and a stack defines multiple containers and their relation to each other. So it should be simple to define a stack with three services, right?

Well, it turns out that it is not. Docker documents that you can configure a static ipv4_address [1] for each service/container, but it seems related configuration statements are simply silently ignored/discarded [2], [3], [4].

This seems to be related that for some strange reason stacks can (at least in later versions of docker) only use overlay type networks, rather than the much simpler bridge networks. And while bridge networks appear to support static IP address allocations, overlay apparently doesn't.

I still have a hard time grasping that something that considers itself a serious product for production use (by a company with estimated value over a billion USD, not by a few hobbyists) that has no support for running containers on static IP addresses. that. How many applications out there have I seen that require static IP address configuration? How much simpler do setups get, if you don't have to rely on things like dynamic DNS updates (or DNS availability at all)?

So I'm stuck with having to manually configure the network between my containers, and manually starting them by clumsy shell scripts, rather than having a proper abstraction for all of that. Well done :/

Exposing Ports

Unrelated to all of the above: If you run some software inside containers, you will pretty soon want to expose some network services from containers. This should also be the most basic task on the planet.

However, it seems that the creators of docker live in the early 1980ies, where only TCP and UDP transport protocols existed. They seem to have missed that by the late 1990ies to early 2000s, protocols like SCTP or DCCP were invented.

But yet, in 2017, Docker chooses to

Now some of the readers may think 'who uses SCTP anyway'. I will give you a straight answer: Everyone who has a mobile phone uses SCTP. This is due to the fact that pretty much all the connections inside cellular networks (at least for 3G/4G networks, and in reality also for many 2G networks) are using SCTP as underlying transport protocol, from the radio access network into the core network. So every time you switch your phone on, or do anything with it, you are using SCTP. Not on your phone itself, but by all the systems that form the network that you're using. And with the drive to C-RAN, NFV, SDN and all the other buzzwords also appearing in the Cellular Telecom field, people should actually worry about it, if they want to be a part of the software stack that is used in future cellular telecom systems.

Summary

After spending the better part of a day to do something that seemed like the most basic use case for running three networked containers using Docker, I'm back to step one: Most likely inventing some custom scripts based on unshare to run my three test programs in a separate network namespace for isolated execution of test suite execution as part of a Jenkins CI setup :/

It's also clear that Docker apparently don't care much about playing a role in the Cellular Telecom world, which is increasingly moving away from proprietary and hardware-based systems (like STPs) to virtualised, software-based systems.

[1] https://docs.docker.com/compose/compose-file/#ipv4address-ipv6address
[2] https://forums.docker.com/t/docker-swarm-1-13-static-ips-for-containers/28060
[3] https://github.com/moby/moby/issues/31860
[4] https://github.com/moby/moby/issues/24170