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VyOS PLATFORM BLOG

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VyOS 2.0 development digest #9: socket communication functionality, complete parser, and open tasks

Socket communication

A long-awaited (by me, anyway ;) milestone: VyConf is now capable of communicating with clients. This allows us to write a simple non-interactive client. Right now the only supported operaion is "status" (a keepalive of sorts), but the list will be growing.

I guess I should talk about the client before going into technical details of the protocol. The client will be way easier to use than what we have now. Two main problems with CLI tools from VyOS 1.x is that my_cli_bin (the command used by set/delete operations) requires a lot of environment setup, and that cli-shell-api is limited in scope. Part of the reason for this is that my_cli_bin is used in the interactive shell. Since the interactive shell of VyConf will be a standalone program rather than a bash completion hack, we are free to make the non-interactive client more idiomatic as a shell command, closer in user experience to git or s3cmd.

This is what it will look like:


SESSION=$(vycli setupSession)
vycli --session=$SESSION configure
vycli --session=$SESSION set "system host-name vyos"
vycli --session=$SESSION delete "system name-server 192.0.2.1"
vycli --session=$SESSION commit
vycli --session=$SESSION exists "service dhcp-server"
vycli --session=$SESSION commit returnValue "system host-name"
vycli --session=$SESSION --format=json show "interfaces ethernet"

As you can see, first, the top level words are subcommands, much like "git branch". Since the set of top level words is fixed anyway, this doesn't create new limitations. Second, the same client can execute both high level set/delete/commit operations and low level exists/returnValue/etc. methods. Third, the only thing it needs to operate is a session token (I'm thinking that unless it's passed in --session option, vycli should try to get it from an environment variable, but we'll see, let me know what you think about this issue). This way contributors will get an easy way to test the code even before interactive shell is complete; and when VyOS 2.0 is usable, shell scripts and people fond of working from bash rather than the domain-specific shell will have access to all system functions, without worrying about intricate environment variable setup.

The protocol

As I already said in the previous post, VyConf uses Protobuf for serialized messages. Protobuf doesn't define any framing, however, so we have to come up with something. Most popular options are delimiters and length headers. The issue with delimiters is that you have to make sure they do not appear in user input, or you risk losing a part of the message. Some programs choose to escape delimiters, other rely on unusual sequences, e.g. the backend of OPNSense uses three null bytes for it. Since Protobuf is a binary protocol, no sequence is unusual enough, so length headers look like the best option. VyConf uses 4 byte headers in network order, that are followed by a Protobuf message. This is easy enough to implement in any language, so it shouldn't be a problem when writing bindings for other languages.

The code

There is a single client library that can be used by all of the non-interactive client and the interactive shell. It will also serve as the OCaml bindings package for VyConf (Python and other languages wil need their own bindings, but with Protobuf, most of it can be autogenerated).

Parser improvements

Inactive and ephemeral nodes

The curly config parser is now complete. It supports the inactive and ephemeral properties. This is what a config with those will look like:

protocols {
static {
/* Inserted by a fail2ban-like script */
#EPHEMERAL route 192.0.2.78/32 {
blackhole;
}
/* DIsabled by admin */
#INACTIVE route 203.0.113.128/25 {
next-hop 203.0.113.1;
}
}
}

While I'm not sure if there are valid use cases for it, nodes can be inactive and ephemeral at the same time. Deactivating an ephemeral node that was created by scritp perhaps? Anyway, since both are a part of the config format that the "show" command will produce, we get to support both in the parser too.

Multi nodes

By multi nodes I mean nodes that may have more than one value, such as "address" in interfaces. As you remember, I suggested and implemented a new syntax for such nodes:

interfaces {
ethernet eth0 {
address [
192.0.2.1/24;
192.0.2.2/24;
];
}
}

However, the parser now supports the original syntax too, that is:.

interfaces {
ethernet eth0 {
address 192.0.2.1/24;
address 192.0.2.2/24;
}
}

I didn't intend to support it originally, but it was another edge case that prompted me to add it. For config read operations to work correctly, every path in the tree must be unique. The high level Config_tree.set function maintains this invariant, but the parser gets to use lower level primitives that do not, so if a user creates a config with duplicate nodes, e.g. by careless pasting, the config tree that the parser returns will have them too, so we get to detect such situations and do something about it. Configs with duplicate tag nodes (e.g. "ethernet eth0 { ... } ethernet eth0 { ... }") are rejected as incorrect since there is no way to recover from this. Multiple non-leaf nodes with distinct children (e.g. "system { host-name vyos; } system { name-server 192.0.2.1; }") can be merged cleanly, so I've added some code to merge them by moving children of subsequent nodes under the first on and removing the extra nodes afterwards. However, since in the raw config there is no real distinction between leaf and non-leaf nodes, so in case of leaf nodes that code would simply remove all but the first. I've extended it to also move values into the first node, which equates support for the old syntax, except node comments and inactive/ephemeral properties will be inherited from the first node. Then again, this is how the parser in VyOS 1.x behaves, so nothing is lost.

While the show command in VyOS 2.0 will always use the new syntax with curly brackets, the parser will not break the principle of least astonishment for people used to the old one. Also, if we decide to write a migration utility for converting 1.x configs to 2.0, we'll be able to reuse the parser, after adding semicolons to the old config with a simple regulat expression perhaps.

Misc

Node names and unquoted values now can contain any characters that are not reserved, that is, anything but whitespace, curly braces, square brackets, and semicolons.

What's next?

Next I'm going to work on adding low level config operations (exists/returnValue/...) and set commands so that we can do some real life tests.

There's a bunch of open tasks if you want to join the development:

T254 is about preventing nodes with reserved characters in their names early in the process, at the "set" time. There's a rather nasty bug in VyOS 1.1.7 related to this: you can pass a quoted node name with spaces to set and if there is no validation rule attached to the node, as it's with "vpn l2tp remote-access authentication local-users", the node will be created. It will fail to parse correctly after you save and reload the config. We'll fix it in 1.2.0 of course, but we also need to prevent it from ever appearing in 2.0 too.


T255 is about adding the curly config renderer. While we can use the JSON serializer for testing right now, the usual format is also just easier on the eyes, and it's a relatively simple task too.

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