"Feb 11" by "Gordon" on Flickr

How to quickly get the next SemVer for your app

SemVer, short for Semantic Versioning is an easy way of numbering your software versions. They follow the model Major.Minor.Patch, like this 0.9.1 and has a very opinionated view on what is considered a Major “version bump” and what isn’t.

Sometimes, when writing a library, it’s easy to forget what version you’re on. Perhaps you have a feature change you’re working on, but also bug fixes to two or three previous versions you need to keep an eye on? How about an easy way of figuring out what that next bump should be?

In a recent conversation on the McrTech slack, Steven [0] mentioned he had a simple bash script for incrementing his SemVer numbers, and posted it over. Naturally, I tweaked it to work more easily for my usecases so, this is *mostly* Steven’s code, but with a bit of a wrapper before and after by me :)

So how do you use this? Dead simple, use nextver in a tree that has an existing git tag SemVer to get the next patch number. If you want to bump it to the next minor or major version, try nextver minor or nextver major. If you don’t have a git tag, and don’t specify a SemVer number, then it’ll just assume you’re starting from fresh, and return 0.0.1 :)

Want to find more cool stuff from the original author of this work? Below there is a video by the author :)

[0] Steven from Leafshade Software’s Recent Youtube Video

Featured image is “Feb 11” by “Gordon” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

"Key mess" by "Alper Çuğun" on Flickr

Making Ansible Keys more useful in complex and nested data structures

One of the things I miss about Jekyll when I’m working with Ansible is the ability to fragment my data across multiple files, but still have it as a structured *whole* at the end.

For example, given the following directory structure in Jekyll:

+ _data
|
+---+ members
|   +--- member1.yml
|   +--- member2.yml
|
+---+ groups
    +--- group1.yml
    +--- group2.yml

The content of member1.yml and member2.yml will be rendered into site.data.members.member1 and site.data.members.member2 and likewise, group1 and group2 are loaded into their respective variables.

This kind of structure isn’t possible in Ansible, because all the data files are compressed into one vars value that we can read. To work around this on a few different projects I’ve worked on, I’ve ended up doing the following:

- set_fact:
    my_members: |-
      [
        {%- for var in vars | dict2items -%}
          {%- if var.key | regex_search(my_regex) is not none -%}
            "{{ var.key | regex_replace(my_regex, '') }}": 
              {%- if var.value | string %}"{% endif -%}
              {{ var.value }}
              {%- if var.value | string %}"{% endif %},
          {%- endif -%}
        {%- endfor -%}
      ]
  vars:
    my_regex: '^member_'

So, what this does is to step over all the variables defined (for example, in host_vars\*, group_vars\*, from the gathered facts and from the role you’re in – following Ansible’s loading precedence), and then checks to see whether the key of that variable name (e.g. “member_i_am_a_member” or “member_1”) matches the regular expression (click here for more examples). If it does, the key (minus the regular expression matching piece [using regex_replace]) is added to a dictionary, and the value attached. If the value is actually a string, then it wraps it in quotes.

So, while this doesn’t give me my expressive data structure that Jekyll does (no site.data.members.member1.somevalue for me), I do at least get to have my_members.member1.somevalue if I put the right headers in! :)

I’ll leave extending this model for doing other sorts of building variables out (for example, something like if var.value['variable_place'] | default('') == 'my_members.member' + current_position) to the reader to work out how they could use something like this in their workflows!

Featured image is “Key mess” by “Alper Çuğun” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Seca" by "Olearys" on Flickr

Getting Started with Terraform on Azure

I’m strongly in the “Ansible is my tool, what needs fixing” camp, when it comes to Infrastructure as Code (IaC) but, I know there are other tools out there which are equally as good. I’ve been strongly advised to take a look at Terraform from HashiCorp. I’m most familiar at the moment with Azure, so this is going to be based around resources available on Azure.


Late edit: I want to credit my colleague, Pete, for his help getting started with this. While many of the code samples have been changed from what he provided me with, if it hadn’t been for these code samples in the first place, I’d never have got started!

Late edit 2: This post was initially based on Terraform 0.11, and I was prompted by another colleague, Jon, that the available documentation still follows the 0.11 layout. 0.12 was released in May, and changes how variables are reused in the code. This post now *should* follow the 0.12 conventions, but if you spot something where it doesn’t, check out this post from the Terraform team.


As with most things, there’s a learning curve, and I struggled to find a “simple” getting started guide for Terraform. I’m sure this is a failing on my part, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to put something out there for others to pick up and see if it helps someone else (and, if that “someone else” is you, please let me know in the comments!)

Pre-requisites

You need an Azure account for this. This part is very far outside my spectrum of influence, but I’m assuming you’ve got one. If not, look at something like Digital Ocean, AWS or VMWare :) For my “controller”, I’m using Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), and wrote the following notes about getting my pre-requisites.

Building the file structure

One quirk with Terraform, versus other tools like Ansible, is that when you run one of the terraform commands (like terraform init, terraform plan or terraform apply), it reads the entire content of any file suffixed “tf” in that directory, so if you don’t want a file to be loaded, you need to either move it out of the directory, comment it out, or rename it so it doesn’t end .tf. By convention, you normally have three “standard” files in a terraform directory – main.tf, variables.tf and output.tf, but logically speaking, you could have everything in a single file, or each instruction in it’s own file. Because this is a relatively simple script, I’ll use this standard layout.

The actions I’ll be performing are the “standard” steps you’d perform in Azure to build a single Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) server service:

  • Create your Resource Group (RG)
  • Create a Virtual Network (VNET)
  • Create a Subnet
  • Create a Security Group (SG) and rules
  • Create a Public IP address (PubIP) with a DNS name associated to that IP.
  • Create a Network Interface (NIC)
  • Create a Virtual Machine (VM), supplying a username and password, the size of disks and VM instance, and any post-provisioning instructions (yep, I’m using Ansible for that :) ).

I’m using Visual Studio Code, but almost any IDE will have integrations for Terraform. The main thing I’m using it for is auto-completion of resource, data and output types, also the fact that control+clicking resource types opens your browser to the documentation page on terraform.io.

So, creating my main.tf, I start by telling it that I’m working with the Terraform AzureRM Provider (the bit of code that can talk Azure API).

This simple statement is enough to get Terraform to load the AzureRM, but it still doesn’t tell Terraform how to get access to the Azure account. Use az login from a WSL shell session to authenticate.

Next, we create our basic resource, vnet and subnet resources.

But wait, I hear you cry, what are those var.something bits in there? I mentioned before that in the “standard” set of files is a “variables.tf” file. In here, you specify values for later consumption. I have recorded variables for the resource group name and location, as well as the VNet name and subnet name. Let’s add those into variables.tf.

When you’ve specified a resource, you can capture any of the results from that resource to use later – either in the main.tf or in the output.tf files. By creating the resource group (called “rg” here, but you can call it anything from “demo” to “myfirstresourcegroup”), we can consume the name or location with azurerm_resource_group.rg.name and azurerm_resource_group.rg.location, and so on. In the above code, we use the VNet name in the subnet, and so on.

After the subnet is created, we can start adding the VM specific parts – a security group (with rules), a public IP (with DNS name) and a network interface. I’ll create the VM itself later. So, let’s do this.

BUT WAIT, what’s that ${trimspace(data.http.icanhazip.body)}/32 bit there?? Any resources we want to load from the terraform state, but that we’ve not directly defined ourselves needs to come from somewhere. These items are classed as “data” – that is, we want to know what their values are, but we aren’t *changing* the service to get it. You can also use this to import other resource items, perhaps a virtual network that is created by another team, or perhaps your account doesn’t have the rights to create a resource group. I’ll include a commented out data block in the overall main.tf file for review that specifies a VNet if you want to see how that works.

In this case, I want to put the public IP address I’m coming from into the NSG Rule, so I can get access to the VM, without opening it up to *everyone*. I’m not that sure that my IP address won’t change between one run and the next, so I’m using the icanhazip.com service to determine my IP address. But I’ve not defined how to get that resource yet. Let’s add it to the main.tf for now.

So, we’re now ready to create our virtual machine. It’s quite a long block, but I’ll pull certain elements apart once I’ve pasted this block in.

So, this is broken into four main pieces.

  • Virtual Machine Details. This part is relatively sensible. Name RG, location, NIC, Size and what happens to the disks when the machine powers on. OK.
name                             = "iaas-vm"
location                         = azurerm_resource_group.rg.location
resource_group_name              = azurerm_resource_group.rg.name
network_interface_ids            = [azurerm_network_interface.iaasnic.id]
vm_size                          = "Standard_DS1_v2"
delete_os_disk_on_termination    = true
delete_data_disks_on_termination = true
  • Disk details.
storage_image_reference {
  publisher = "Canonical"
  offer     = "UbuntuServer"
  sku       = "18.04-LTS"
  version   = "latest"
}
storage_os_disk {
  name              = "iaas-os-disk"
  caching           = "ReadWrite"
  create_option     = "FromImage"
  managed_disk_type = "Standard_LRS"
}
  • OS basics: VM Hostname, username of the first user, and it’s password. Note, if you want to use an SSH key, this must be stored for Terraform to use without passphrase. If you mention an SSH key here, as well as a password, this can cause all sorts of connection issues, so pick one or the other.
os_profile {
  computer_name  = "iaas"
  admin_username = var.ssh_user
  admin_password = var.ssh_password
}
os_profile_linux_config {
  disable_password_authentication = false
}
  • And lastly, provisioning. I want to use Ansible for my provisioning. In this example, I have a basic playbook stored locally on my Terraform host, which I transfer to the VM, install Ansible via pip, and then execute ansible-playbook against the file I uploaded. This could just as easily be a git repo to clone or a shell script to copy in, but this is a “simple” example.
provisioner "remote-exec" {
  inline = ["mkdir /tmp/ansible"]

  connection {
    type     = "ssh"
    host     = azurerm_public_ip.iaaspubip.fqdn
    user     = var.ssh_user
    password = var.ssh_password
  }
}

provisioner "file" {
  source = "ansible/"
  destination = "/tmp/ansible"

  connection {
    type     = "ssh"
    host     = azurerm_public_ip.iaaspubip.fqdn
    user     = var.ssh_user
    password = var.ssh_password
  }
}

provisioner "remote-exec" {
  inline = [
    "sudo apt update > /tmp/apt_update || cat /tmp/apt_update",
    "sudo apt install -y python3-pip > /tmp/apt_install_python3_pip || cat /tmp/apt_install_python3_pip",
    "sudo -H pip3 install ansible > /tmp/pip_install_ansible || cat /tmp/pip_install_ansible",
    "ansible-playbook /tmp/ansible/main.yml"
  ]

  connection {
    type     = "ssh"
    host     = azurerm_public_ip.iaaspubip.fqdn
    user     = var.ssh_user
    password = var.ssh_password
  }
}

This part of code is done in three parts – create upload path, copy the files in, and then execute it. If you don’t create the upload path, it’ll upload just the first file it comes to into the path specified.

Each remote-exec and file provisioner statement must include the hostname, username and either the password, or SSH private key. In this example, I provide just the password.

So, having created all this lot, you need to execute the terraform workload. Initially you do terraform init. This downloads all the provisioners and puts them into the same tree as these .tf files are stored in. It also resets the state of the terraform discovered or created datastore.

Next, you do terraform plan -out tfout. Technically, the tfout part can be any filename, but having something like tfout marks it as clearly part of Terraform. This creates the tfout file with the current state, and whatever needs to change in the Terraform state file on it’s next run. Typically, if you don’t use a tfout file within about 20 minutes, it’s probably worth removing it.

Finally, once you’ve run your plan stage, now you need to apply it. In this case you execute terraform apply tfout. This tfout is the same filename you specified in terraform plan. If you don’t include -out tfout on your plan (or even run a plan!) and tfout in your apply, then you can skip the terraform plan stage entirely.

When I ran this, with a handful of changes to the variable files, I got this result:

Once you’re done with your environment, use terraform destroy to shut it all down… and enjoy :)

The full source is available in the associated Gist. Pull requests and constructive criticism are very welcome!

Featured image is “Seca” by “Olearys” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Tower" by " Yijun Chen" on Flickr

Building a Gitlab and Ansible Tower (AWX) Demo in Vagrant with Ansible

TL;DR – I created a repository on GitHub‌ containing a Vagrantfile and an Ansible Playbook to build a VM running Docker. That VM hosts AWX (Ansible Tower’s upstream open-source project) and Gitlab.

A couple of years ago, a colleague created (and I enhanced) a Vagrant and Ansible playbook called “Project X” which would run an AWX instance in a Virtual Machine. It’s a bit heavy, and did a lot of things to do with persistence that I really didn’t need, so I parked my changes and kept an eye on his playbook…

Fast-forward to a week-or-so ago. I needed to explain what a Git/Ansible Workflow would look like, and so I went back to look at ProjectX. Oh my, it looks very complex and consumed a lot of roles that, historically, I’ve not been that impressed with… I just needed the basics to run AWX. Oh, and I also needed a Gitlab environment.

I knew that Gitlab had a docker-based install, and so does AWX, so I trundled off to find some install guides. These are listed in the playbook I eventually created (hence not listing them here). Not all the choices I made were inspired by those guides – I wanted to make quite a bit of this stuff “build itself”… this meant I wanted users, groups and projects to be created in Gitlab, and users, projects, organisations, inventories and credentials to be created in AWX.

I knew that you can create Docker Containers in Ansible, so after I’d got my pre-requisites built (full upgrade, docker installed, pip libraries installed), I add the gitlab-ce:latest docker image, and expose some ports. Even now, I’m not getting the SSH port mapped that I was expecting, but … it’s no disaster.

I did notice that the Gitlab service takes ages to start once the container is marked as running, so I did some more digging, and found that the uri module can be used to poll a URL. It wasn’t documented well how you can make it keep polling until you get the response you want, so … I added a PR on the Ansible project’s github repo for that one (and I also wrote a blog post about that earlier too).

Once I had a working Gitlab service, I needed to customize it. There are a bunch of Gitlab modules in Ansible but since a few releases back of Gitlab, these don’t work any more, so I had to find a different way. That different way was to run an internal command called “gitlab-rails”. It’s not perfect (so it doesn’t create repos in your projects) but it’s pretty good at giving you just enough to build your demo environment. So that’s getting Gitlab up…

Now I need to build AWX. There’s lots of build guides for this, but actually I had most luck using the README in their repository (I know, who’d have thought it!??!) There are some “Secrets” that should be changed in production that I’m changing in my script, but on the whole, it’s pretty much a vanilla install.

Unlike the Gitlab modules, the Ansible Tower modules all work, so I use these to create the users, credentials and so-on. Like the gitlab-rails commands, however, the documentation for using the tower modules is pretty ropey, and I still don’t have things like “getting your users to have access to your organisation” working from the get-go, but for the bulk of the administration, it does “just work”.

Like all my playbooks, I use group_vars to define the stuff I don’t want to keep repeating. In this demo, I’ve set all the passwords to “Passw0rd”, and I’ve created 3 users in both AWX and Gitlab – csa, ops and release – indicative of the sorts of people this demo I ran was aimed at – Architects, Operations and Release Managers.

Maybe, one day, I’ll even be able to release the presentation that went with the demo ;)

On a more productive note, if you’re doing things with the tower_ modules and want to tell me what I need to fix up, or if you’re doing awesome things with the gitlab-rails tool, please visit the repo with this automation code in, and take a look at some of my “todo” items! Thanks!!

Featured image is “Tower” by “Yijun Chen” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

"funfair action" by "Jon Bunting" on Flickr

Improving the speed of Azure deployments in Ansible with Async

Recently I was building a few environments in Azure using Ansible, and found this stanza which helped me to speed things up.

  - name: "Schedule UDR Creation"
    azure_rm_routetable:
      resource_group: "{{ resource_group }}"
      name: "{{ item.key }}_udr"
    loop: "{{ routetables | dict2items }}"
    loop_control:
        label: "{{ item.key }}_udr"
    async: 1000
    poll: 0
    changed_when: False
    register: sleeper

  - name: "Check UDRs Created"
    async_status:
      jid: "{{ item.ansible_job_id }}"
    register: sleeper_status
    until: sleeper_status.finished
    retries: 500
    delay: 4
    loop: "{{ sleeper.results|flatten(levels=1) }}"
    when: item.ansible_job_id is defined
    loop_control:
      label: "{{ item._ansible_item_label }}"

What we do here is to start an action with an “async” time (to give the Schedule an opportunity to register itself) and a “poll” time of 0 (to prevent the Schedule from waiting to be finished). We then tell it that it’s “never changed” (changed_when: False) because otherwise it always shows as changed, and to register the scheduled item itself as a “sleeper”.

After all the async jobs get queued, we then check the status of all the scheduled items with the async_status module, passing it the registered job ID. This lets me spin up a lot more items in parallel, and then “just” confirm afterwards that they’ve been run properly.

It’s not perfect, and it can make for rather messy code. But, it does work, and it’s well worth giving it the once over, particularly if you’ve got some slow-to-run tasks in your playbook!

Featured image is “funfair action” by “Jon Bunting” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

A web browser with the example.com web page loaded

Working around the fact that Ansible’s URI module doesn’t honour the no_proxy variable…

An Ansible project I’ve been working on has tripped me up this week. I’m working with some HTTP APIs and I need to check early whether I can reach the host. To do this, I used a simple Ansible Core Module which lets you call an HTTP URI.

- uri:
    follow_redirects: none
    validate_certs: False
    timeout: 5
    url: "http{% if ansible_https | default(True) %}s{% endif %}://{{ ansible_host }}/login"
  register: uri_data
  failed_when: False
  changed_when: False

This all seems pretty simple. One of the environments I’m working in uses the following values in their environment:

http_proxy="http://192.0.2.1:8080"
https_proxy="http://192.0.2.1:8080"
no_proxy="10.0.0.0/8, 172.16.0.0/12, 192.168.0.0/16, 192.0.2.0/24, 198.51.100.0/24, 203.0.113.0/24"

And this breaks the uri module, because it tries to punt everything through the proxy if the “no_proxy” contains CIDR values (like 192.0.2.0/24) (there’s a bug raised for this)… So here’s my fix!

- set_fact:
    no_proxy_match: |
      {
        {% for no_proxy in (lookup('env', 'no_proxy') | replace(',', '') ).split() %}
          {% if no_proxy| ipaddr | type_debug != 'NoneType' %}
            {% if ansible_host | ipaddr(no_proxy) | type_debug != 'NoneType' %}
              "match": "True"
            {% endif %}
          {% endif %}
        {% endfor %}
      }

- uri:
    follow_redirects: none
    validate_certs: False
    timeout: 5
    url: "http{% if ansible_https | default(True) %}s{% endif %}://{{ ansible_host }}/login"
  register: uri_data
  failed_when: False
  changed_when: False
  environment: "{ {% if no_proxy_match.match | default(False) %}'no_proxy': '{{ ansible_host }}'{% endif %} }"

So, let’s break this down.

The key part to this script is that we need to override the no_proxy environment variable with the IP address that we’re trying to address (so that we’re not putting 16M addresses for 10.0.0.0/8 into no_proxy, for example). To do that, we use the exact same URI block, except for the environment line at the end.

In turn, the set_fact block steps through the no_proxy values, looking for IP Addresses to check ({% if no_proxy | ipaddr ... %}‌ says “if the no_proxy value is an IP Address, return it, but if it isn’t, return a ‘None’ value”) and if it’s an IP address or subnet mask, it checks to see whether the IP address of the host you’re trying to reach falls inside that IP Address or Subnet Mask ({% if ansible_host | ipaddr(no_proxy) ... %} says “if the ansible_host address falls inside the no_proxy range, then return it, otherwise return a ‘None’ value”). Both of these checks say “If this previous check returns anything other than a ‘None’ value, do the next thing”, and on the last check, the “next” thing is to set the flag ‘match’ to ‘true’. When we get to the environment variable, we say “if match is not true, it’s false, so don’t put a value in there”.

So that’s that! Yes, I could merge the set_fact block into the environment variable, but I do end up using that a fair amount. And really, if it was merged, that would be even MORE complicated to pick through.

I have raised a pull request on the Ansible project to update the documentation, so we’ll see whether we end up with people over here looking for ways around this issue. If so, let me know in the comments below! Thanks!!

"Matrix" by "Paul Downey" on Flickr

Idempotent Dynamic Content in Ansible

One of my colleagues recently sent out a link to a post about generating idempotent random numbers for Ansible. As I was reading it, I realised that there are other ways of doing the same thing (but not quite as pretty).

See, one of the things I (mis-)use Ansible for is to build Azure, AWS and OpenStack environments (instead of, perhaps, using Terraform, Cloud Formations or Heat Stacks). As a result, I frequently want to set complex passwords that are unique to *that environment* but that aren’t new for each build. My way of doing this is to run a delegated task to generate files in host_vars. Here’s a version of the playbook I use for that!

In the same gist as that block has been sourced from I have some example output from “20 hosts” – one of which has a pre-defined password in the inventory, and the rest of which are generated by the script.

I hope this is useful to someone!

Late Edit – 2019-05-19: Encrypting the values you generate

Following this post, a friend of mine – Jeremy mentioned on Linked In that I should have a look at Ansible Vault. Well, *ideally*, yes, however, when I looked at this code, I couldn’t work out a way of forcing the session to run Vault against a value I’ve just created, short of running something a raw or a shell module like “ansible-vault encrypt {{ file_containing_password }}“. Realistically, if you’re doing a lot with these passwords, you should probably use an external password vault, such as HashiCorp’s Vault or PasswordStore.org’s Pass. Neither of which I tend to use, because it’s just not part of my life yet – but I’ve heard good things about both!

Featured image is “Matrix” by “Paul Downey” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Wifi Here on a Blackboard" by "Jem Stone" on Flickr

Free Wi-Fi does not need to be password-less!

Recently a friend of mine forwarded an email to me about a Wi-fi service he wanted to use from a firm, but he raised some technical questions with them which they seemed to completely misunderstand!

So, let’s talk about the misconceptions of Wi-fi passwords.

Many people assume that when you log into a system, it means that system is secure. For example, logging into a website makes sure that your data is secure and protected, right? Not necessarily – the password you entered could be on a web page that is not secured by TLS, or perhaps the web server doesn’t properly transfer it’s contents to a database. Maybe the website was badly written, and means it’s vulnerable to one of a handful of common attacks (with fun names like “Cross Site Scripting” or “SQL Injection Attacks”)…

People also assume the same thing about Wi-fi. You reached a log in page, so it must be secure, right? It depends. If you didn’t put in a password to access the Wi-fi in the first place (like in the image of the Windows 10 screen, or on my KDE Desktop) then you’re probably using Unsecured Wi-fi.

An example of a secured Wi-fi sign-in box on Windows 10
The same Wi-fi sign in box on KDE Neon

People like to compare network traffic to “sending things through the post”, notablycomparing E-Mail to “sending a postcard”, versus PGP encrypted E-Mail being compared to “sending a sealed letter”. Unencrypted Wi-fi is like using CB. Anyone who can hear your signal can understand what you are saying… but if you visit a website which uses HTTPS, then it’s like listening to someone saying random numbers over the radio.

And, if you’re using Unencrypted Wi-fi, it’s also possible for an attacker to see what website you visited, because the request for the address to reach on the Internet (e.g. “Google.com” = 172.217.23.14) is sent in the clear. Also because of the way that DNS works (that name to address matching thing) means that if someone knows you’re visiting a “site of interest” (like, perhaps a bank website), they can reply *before* the real DNS server, and tell you that the server on their machine is actually your bank’s website.

So, many of these things can be protected against by using a simple method, that many people who provide Wi-fi don’t do.

Turn on WPA2 (the authentication bit). Even if *everyone* uses the same password (which they’d have to for WPA2), the fact you’re logging into the Access Point means it creates a unique shared secret for your session.

“But hang on”, I hear the guy at the back cry, “you used the same password – how does that work?”

OK, so this is where the fun stuff starts. The password is just part of how you negotiate to get on to the network. There’s a complex beast of a method that explains how get a shared unique secret when you’re passing stuff around “in the clear”, and so as a result, when you first connect to that Wi-fi access point, and you hand over your password, it “Authorises” you on to the network, but then hands you over to the encryption part, where you generate a key and then use that to talk to each other. The encryption is the bit like “HTTPS”, where you make it so that people can’t see what you’re looking at.

“I got told that if everyone used the same password” said a hipster in the front row, “I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.” Aha, not true. You can have a separate passphrase to access the Wi-fi from the Login page, after all, you’ve got to make sure that people aren’t breaking the rules (which they *TOTALLY* read, before clicking “I agree, just get me on the damn Wi-fi already”) by using your network.

“OK”, says the lady over on the right, “but when I connected to the Wi-fi, they asked me to log in using Facebook – that’s secure, right?”

Um, no. Well, maybe. See, if they gave you a WPA2 password to log into the Wi-fi, and then the first thing you got to was that login screen, then yep, it’s all good! {*} You can browse with (relative) impunity. But if they didn’t… well, not only are they asking you to shout your secrets on the radio, but if you’re really unlucky, the page asking you to log into Facebook might *also* not actually be Facebook, but another website that just looks like Facebook… after all, I’m sure that page you went to complained that it wasn’t Google or Facebook when you tried to open it…

{*} Except for the fact they’re asking you to tell them not only who you are, but who you’re also friends with, where you went to school, what your hobbies are, what groups you’re in, your date of birth and so on.

But anyway. I understand why those login screens are there. They’re asserting that not only do you understand that you mustn’t use their network for bad things, but that if the police come and ask them who used their network to do something naughty, they can say “He said his name was ‘Bob Smith’ and his email address was ‘bob@example.com’, Officer”…

It also means that the “free” service they provide to you, usually at some great expense (*eye roll*) can get them some return on investment (like, they just got your totally-real-and-not-at-all-made-up-email-address… honest, and they also know what websites you visited while you were there, which they can sell on).

So… What to do the next time you “need” Wi-fi, and there’s a free service there? Always use a VPN when you’re not using a network you trust. If the Wi-fi isn’t using WPA2 encryption (even something as simple as “Buy a drink first” is a great passphrase to use!) point them to this page, and tell them it’s virtually pain free (as long as the passphrase is easy to remember, easy to type and doesn’t have too many weird symbols in) and makes their service more safe and secure for their customers…

Featured image is “Wifi Here on a Blackboard” by “Jem Stone” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Centralized, Decentralized, Distributed" by "Amber Case" on Flickr

A brief summary of Terminology about non-centralised applications

I hang out in the #redecentralize matrix group, and yesterday one of the group asked a question about getting clarification on the terminology. Here’s what I wrote:

Self Hosted: An application (usually running on a server) that you run in your own environment.

Examples include: Ethercalc, Sandstorm, WordPress.

[Note, Self Hosted services may still be classed as self-hosted, even if you don’t manage the environment yourself, for example, if you use a Virtual Machine, a Virtual Private Server, or pay someone like modular.im to build and run it for you – provided you can migrate your hosted application to your own environment if you want to]

P2P (Peer to Peer): A locally running application (or client) which predominantly talks to other clients (referred to as a peer), not to a server. There may be a central server which helps facilitate the initial connection between applications, but this is typically only used for that introduction. There may also be a semi-fixed list of “seed nodes” used to discover other nodes in the network.

Examples include: Bittorrent, Secure Scuttlebutt

[Many VoIP systems will have some sort of federated connection between “signalling” nodes, but have a P2P connection for the Audio/Visual streams.]

Federated: A server-based application that can talk to other server applications. (Federation can also refer to the method by which they find each other – either by responses to specific HTTP(s) requests or from particular DNS records).

Examples include: Matrix.org, Mastodon

Distributed: This is more how data is processed – if it’s centralised but distributed (e.g. Facebook, Netflix) then a central server instructs other servers how to act, and the nodes perform actions on behalf of the server. When talking about Decentralised, this means that you could have several nodes cooperating on an activity.

Examples include: BOINC, DNS

Blockchain: A distributed, secure, append-only database. May be P2P or Federated.

Examples include: Bitcoin

Decentralised: Any application which does not require a central service to function. Usually implies Self hosted.

Examples include: Collabora Online, “Internet Mail” (the original decentralised service!)

Enhanced from a message sent to the #redentralize:matrix.org chat, following advice from participants in the group

I hope you find this list of definitions useful!

(Edited 2019-02-21 to address comments from Ben in the Binary Times Telegram group, also others from mylo5ha5 in the Redecentralize group. Typo fixed, thanks to uhoreg)

Featured image is “Centralized, Decentralized, Distributed” by “Amber Case” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-NC license.