"From one bloody orange!" by "Terry Madeley" on Flickr

Making Vagrant install the latest version of Ansible using Pip and run it as root in Ubuntu Virtual Machines

As previously mentioned, I use Ansible a lot inside Virtual machines orchestrated with Vagrant. Today’s brief tip is how to make Vagrant install the absolutely latest version of Ansible on Ubuntu boxes with Pip.

Here’s your Vagrantfile

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.vm.box = "ubuntu/focal64"
  config.vm.provision "ansible_local", run: "always" do |ansible|
    ansible.playbook         = "setup.yml"
    ansible.playbook_command = "sudo ansible-playbook"
    ansible.install_mode     = "pip"
    ansible.pip_install_cmd  = "(until sudo apt update ; do sleep 1 ; done && sudo apt install -y python3-pip && sudo rm -f /usr/bin/pip && sudo ln -s /usr/bin/pip3 /usr/bin/pip && sudo -H pip install --upgrade pip) 2>&1 | tee -a /var/log/vagrant-init"
  end
end

“But, that pip_install_cmd block is huge”, I hear you cry!

Well, yes, but let’s split that out into a slightly more readable code block! (Yes, I’ve removed the “&&” for clarity sake – it just means “only execute the next command if this one worked”)

(
  # Wait until we get the apt "package lock" released
  until sudo apt update
  do
    # By sleeping for 1 second increments until it works
    sleep 1
  done

  # Then install python3-pip
  sudo apt install -y python3-pip

  # Just in case python2-pip is installed, delete it
  sudo rm -f /usr/bin/pip

  # And symbolically link pip3 to pip
  sudo ln -s /usr/bin/pip3 /usr/bin/pip

  # And then do a pip self-upgrade
  sudo -H pip install --upgrade pip

# And output this to the end of the file /var/log/vagrant-init, including any error messages
) 2>&1 | tee -a /var/log/vagrant-init

What does this actually do? Well, pip is the python package manager, so we’re asking for the latest packaged version to be installed (it often isn’t particularly with older releases of, well, frankly any Linux distribution) – this is the “pip_install_cmd” block. Then, once pip is installed, it’ll run “pip install ansible” – which will give it the latest version available to Pip, and then when that’s all done, it’ll run “sudo ansible-playbook /vagrant/setup.yml”

Featured image is β€œFrom one bloody orange!” by β€œTerry Madeley” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Platform" by "Brian Crawford" on Flickr

Cross Platform Decision Records/Architectural Decision Records – a HowTo Guide

Several months ago, I wrote a post talking about Architectural Decision Records with adr-tools, but since then I’ve moved on a bit with things, so I wanted to write about alternatives.

I also wanted to comment a bit on why I use the term “Decision Records” (always “decision record”, never “DR” due to the overloading of that particular abbreviation) rather than “Architectural Decision Records” (ADR), but I’ll get to that towards the end of the post 😊

Using Decision Records the Manual Way

A decision record is usually basically a text file, using the “Markdown” format, which has several “standard” blocks of text in it. The “npryce” version, which most people use, has the following sections in it:

  1. Title (as a “level 1” heading) which also holds the date of the record.
  2. A (level 2 heading) status section, holding the status of this decision (and any links to documents which supersede or relate to this decision).
  3. The context of the decision.
  4. The decision.
  5. The consequences of that decision.

So, somewhat understandably, your organisational tooling should support you making your own documents, without using those tools.

There are conventions about how the index-critical details will be stored:

  1. Your title block should follow the format # 1. Decision Title. The # symbol means it is the primary heading for the document, then the number, which should probably be lower than 9999, is used as an index for linking to other records and then the text of the title should also be the name of the file you’ve created. In this case, it will likely be 0001-decision-title.md.
  2. The status will usually be one of: Approved or Proposed. If a document is superseded, it should remove this status. Any other link type will live under the line showing the current status.

So, there’s no reason why you couldn’t just use this template for any files you create:

# NUMBER. TITLE

Date: yyyy-mm-dd

## Status

Accepted
Superseded by [2. Another Decision](0002-another-decision.md)

## Context

The context of the decision.

## Decision

The decision.

## Consequences

The consequences of that decision.

BUT, that’s not very automated, is it?

ADRs using Bash

Of course, most people making decision records use the Bash command line….. right? Oh, perhaps not. I’ll get back to you in a tic. If you’re using Bash, the “npryce” tooling I mentioned above is the same one I wrote about those months ago. So, read that, and then crack on with your ADRs.

ADRs using Powershell

So, if you’re using Windows, you might be tempted to find a decision record tool for Powershell. If so, I found “ajoberstar” on Github had produced just such a thing, and you “just”, as an administrator, run:

Install-Module -Name ArchitectureDecisionRecords
Set-ExecutionPolicy -ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

Then edit the script you installed (in C:\Program Files\WindowsPowerShell\Modules\ArchitectureDecisionRecords\0.1.1\ArchitectureDecisionRecords.psm1) and search-and-replace UTF8NoBOM for UTF8 and then save it…

And then you can run commands like Initialize-Adr or New-Adr -Title 'Use a database'. However, this script was last touched on 2nd July 2018, and although I’ve raised a few issues, they don’t seem to have been resolved (see also replacing UTF8NoBOM above).

ADRs using VSCode

By far, so far, the best tooling I’ve seen in this space is the adr-tools extension for VSCode. It too, however, has it’s own caveats, but these are not disastrous. Essentially, you need to create a path in which you store the template to use. You can get this from his own repo, here: https://github.com/vincent-ledu/adr-template.git and put it in .adr-templates in the root directory of your project. This, however, is customizable, by going to the settings for your user or workspace, searching for ADR and adjusting the paths accordingly.

A settings pane showing the Adr paths in your project’s tree

To add a new decision record, press Ctrl+Shift+P or click the cog icon in the sidebar, and select “Command Palette…”

Opening the Command Palette in VS Code

Then start typing “adr” to select from “ADR New”, “ADR Init”, “ADR Change Status” or “ADR Link”.

The Command Palette showing your options for commands to run

All of these will walk you through some options at the top of the screen, either asking for some text input, or asking you to select between options.

You may be tempted to just run this up now, and select “ADR New”, and it’ll look like it’s working, but, you first need to have obtained the template and create the directory structure. Selecting “ADR Init” will create the directory structure for your project and will try to perform a git clone of the repo mentioned above, but if you are already in a git repository, or you have some form of MITM proxy in the way, this will also break silently. The easiest thing to do is to either manually create the paths in your tree, according to what you have set or selected, or just run the ADR init, and then obtain the template from the git repo.

Talking of templates, in the previous scripts, the script would come with a template file built-in, and it would do a simple string replacement of the values “NUMBER”, “TITLE” and “STATUS”. With this script it instead uses it’s own template, which is stored in your project’s file tree, and uses parameter substitution, finding strings wrapped in pairs of curled braces (like {{ this }}). The downside to this is that you can’t just reuse the template I listed above… but no worries, get the file from the repo and stick it in your tree where it’s expecting it, or let the adr init function clone the template into your path – job done.

What other options are there?

Well, actually, this comes down to why I’m using the term “decision records” rather than “architectural decision record”, because I’m writing my own tool, and all the “adr” namespaces on Github were taken, and I’d seen a fair amount of posts suggesting that the “A” in “ADR” should stand for “Any”.. and I figured why should it exist at all?

The tool I’ve written so far is written in Javascript, and is starting from a (somewhat loose) TDD development process. It’s here: https://github.com/DecisionRecords/javascript-decision-records

Why Javascript? Frankly, I needed to learn a modern programming language, and wanted to apply it to a domain I was interested in. It’s currently not complete, it creates the record path and a configuration file, and I’m currently writing the functions to create new records. Also, because it’s Javascript, in theory I can also use the internals to create a VSCode extension with this later… MUCH later!

Why re-implement this at all? Firstly, it looks like most of the development work on those projects halted around 3-4 years ago, with no further interest in updating them to resolve bugs and issues. I didn’t want to fork the projects as-is, as I think they were largely written to scratch a particular itch (which is fine!) but they all miss key things I want to provide, like proper unit testing (only the npryce project comes close to this), internationalisation (none of them have this) and the ability to use a company- or project-wide template (only the VSCode extension does this). I also saw requests to support alternative file formats (like Restructured Text, which was completely rejected) and realised that if you built the script in such a way that these alternate formats could be used, then there was no reason not to support that.

In summary

There are tools you can use, whatever platform you’re using. My preference is the VSCode extension, and eventually will (hopefully!!) be the script I’m writing… but it’s not ready, yet.

Featured image is β€œPlatform” by β€œBrian Crawford” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Bat Keychain" by "Nishant Khurana" on Flickr

Unit Testing Bash scripts with BATS-Core

I’m taking a renewed look into Unit Testing the scripts I’m writing, because (amongst other reasons) it’s important to know what expected behaviours you break when you make a change to a script!

A quick detour – what is Unit Testing?

A unit test is where you take one component of your script, and prove that, given specific valid or invalid tests, it works in an expected way.

For example, if you normally run sum_two_digits 1 1 and expect to see 2 as the result, with a unit test, you might write the following tests:

  • sum_two_digits should fail (no arguments)
  • sum_two_digits 1 should fail (no arguments)
  • sum_two_digits 1 1 should pass!
  • sum_two_digits 1 1 1 may fail (too many arguments), may pass (only sum the first two digits)
  • sum_two_digits a b should fail (not numbers)

and so on… you might have seen this tweet, for example

Things you might unit test in a bar.

Preparing your environment

Everyone’s development methodology differs slightly, but I create my scripts in a git repository.

I start from a new repo, like this:

mkdir my_script
cd my_script
git init

echo '# `my_script`' > README.md
echo "" >> README.md
echo "This script does awesome things for awesome people. CC-0 licensed." >> README.md
git add README.md
git commit -m 'Added README'

echo '#!/bin/bash' > my_script.sh
chmod +x my_script.sh
git add my_script.sh
git commit -m 'Added initial commit of "my_script.sh"'

OK, so far, so awesome. Now let’s start adding BATS. (Yes, this is not necessarily the “best” way to create your “test_all.sh” script, but it works for my case!)

git submodule add https://github.com/bats-core/bats-core.git test/libs/bats
git commit -m 'Added BATS library'
echo '#!/bin/bash' > test/test_all.sh
echo 'cd "$(dirname "$0")" || true' >> test/test_all.sh
echo 'libs/bats/bin/bats $(find *.bats -maxdepth 0 | sort)' >> test/test_all.sh
chmod +x test/test_all.sh
git add test/test_all.sh
git commit -m 'Added test runner'

Now, let’s write two simple tests, one which fails and one which passes, so I can show you what this looks like. Create a file called test/prove_bats.bats

#!/usr/bin/env ./libs/bats/bin/bats

@test "This will fail" {
  run false
  [ "$status" -eq 0 ]
}

@test "This will pass" {
  run true
  [ "$status" -eq 0 ]
}

And now, when we run this with test/test_all.sh we get the following:

 βœ— This will fail
   (in test file prove_bats.bats, line 5)
     `[ "$status" -eq 0 ]' failed
 βœ“ This will pass

2 tests, 1 failure

Excellent, now we know that our test library works, and we have a rough idea of what a test looks like. Let’s build something a bit more awesome. But first, let’s remove prove_bats.bats file, with rm test/prove_bats.bats.

Starting to develop “real” tests

Let’s create a new file, test/path_checking.bats. Our amazing script needs to have a configuration file, but we’re not really sure where in the path it is! Let’s get building!

#!/usr/bin/env ./libs/bats/bin/bats

# This runs before each of the following tests are executed.
setup() {
  source "../my_script.sh"
  cd "$BATS_TEST_TMPDIR"
}

@test "No configuration file is found" {
  run find_config_file
  echo "Status received: $status"
  echo "Actual output:"
  echo "$output"
  [ "$output" == "No configuration file found." ]
  [ "$status" -eq 1 ]
}

When we run this test (using test/test_all.sh), we get this response:

 βœ— No configuration file is found
   (in test file path_checking.bats, line 14)
     `[ "$output" == "No configuration file found." ]' failed with status 127
   Status received: 127
   Actual output:
   /tmp/my_script/test/libs/bats/lib/bats-core/test_functions.bash: line 39: find_config_file: command not found

1 test, 1 failure

Uh oh! Well, I guess that’s because we don’t have a function called find_config_file yet in that script. Ah, yes, let’s quickly divert into making your script more testable, by making use of functions!

Bash script testing with functions

When many people write a bash script, you’ll see something like this:

#!/bin/bash
echo "Validate 'uname -a' returns a string: "
read_some_value="$(uname -a)"
if [ -n "$read_some_value" ]
then
  echo "Yep"
fi

While this works, what it’s not good for is testing each of those bits (and also, as a sideline, if your script is edited while you’re running it, it’ll break, because Bash parses each line as it gets to it!)

A good way of making this “better” is to break this down into functions. At the very least, create a “main” function, and put everything into there, like this:

#!/bin/bash
function main() {
  echo "Validate 'uname -a' returns a string: "
  read_some_value="$(uname -a)"
  if [ -n "$read_some_value" ]
  then
    echo "Yep"
  fi
}

main

By splitting this into a “main” function, which is called when it runs, at the very least, a change to the script during operation won’t break it… but it’s still not very testable. Let’s break down some more of this functionality.

#!/bin/bash
function read_uname() {
  echo "$(uname -a)"
}
function test_response() {
  if [ -n "$1" ]
  then
    echo "Yep"
  fi
}
function main() {
  echo "Validate 'uname -a' returns a string: "
  read_some_value="$(read_uname)"
  test_response "$read_some_value"
}

main

So, what does this give us? Well, in theory we can test each part of this in isolation, but at the moment, bash will execute all those functions straight away, because they’re being called under “main”… so we need to abstract main out a bit further. Let’s replace that last line, main into a quick check.

if [[ "${BASH_SOURCE[0]}" == "${0}" ]]
then
  main
fi

Stopping your code from running by default with some helper variables

The special value $BASH_SOURCE[0] will return the name of the file that’s being read at this point, while $0 is the name of the script that was executed. As a little example, I’ve created two files, source_file.sh and test_sourcing.sh. Here’s source_file.sh:

#!/bin/bash

echo "Source: ${BASH_SOURCE[0]}"
echo "File: ${0}"

And here’s test_sourcing.sh:

#!/bin/bash
source ./source_file.sh

What happens when we run the two of them?

user@host:/tmp/my_script$ ./source_file.sh
Source: ./source_file.sh
File: ./source_file.sh
user@host:/tmp/my_script$ ./test_sourcing.sh
Source: ./source_file.sh
File: ./test_sourcing.sh

So, this means if we source our script (which we’ll do with our testing framework), $BASH_SOURCE[0] will return a different value from $0, so it knows not to invoke the “main” function, and we can abstract that all into more test code.

Now we’ve addressed all that lot, we need to start writing code… where did we get to? Oh yes, find_config_file: command not found

Walking up a filesystem tree

The function we want needs to look in this path, and all the parent paths for a file called “.myscript-config“. To do this, we need two functions – one to get the directory name of the “real” directory, and the other to do the walking up the path.

function _absolute_directory() {
  # Change to the directory provided, or if we can't, return with error 1
  cd "$1" || return 1
  # Return the full pathname, resolving symbolic links to "real" paths
  pwd -P
}

function find_config_file() {
  # Get the "real" directory name for this path
  absolute_directory="$(_absolute_directory ".")"
  # As long as the directory name isn't "/" (the root directory), and the
  #  return value (config_path) isn't empty, check for the config file.
  while [ "$absolute_directory" != "/" ] && 
        [ -n "$absolute_directory" ] && 
        [ -z "$config_path" ]
  do
    # Is the file we're looking for here?
    if [ -f "$absolute_directory/.myscript-config" ]
    then
      # Store the value
      config_path="$absolute_directory/.myscript-config"
    else
      # Get the directory name for the parent directory, ready to loop.
      absolute_directory="$(_absolute_directory "$absolute_directory/..")"
    fi
  done
  # If we've exited the loop, but have no return value, exit with an error
  if [ -z "$config_path" ]
  then
    echo "No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory."
    # Failure states return an exit code of anything greater than 0. Success is 0.
    exit 1
  else
    # Output the result
    echo "$config_path"
  fi
}

Let’s re-run our test!

 βœ— No configuration file is found
   (in test file path_checking.bats, line 14)
     `[ "$output" == "No configuration file found." ]' failed
   Status received: 1
   Actual output:
   No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory.

1 test, 1 failure

Uh oh! Our output isn’t what we told it to use. Fortunately, we’ve recorded the output it sent (“No config found. Please...“) so we can fix our test (or, find that output line and fix that).

Let’s fix the test! (The BATS test file just shows the test we’re amending)

@test "No configuration file is found" {
  run find_config_file
  echo "Status received: $status"
  echo "Actual output:"
  echo "$output"
  [ "$output" == "No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory." ]
  [ "$status" -eq 1 ]
}

Fab, and now when we run it, it’s all good!

user@host:/tmp/my_script$ test/test_all.sh
 βœ“ No configuration file is found

1 test, 0 failures

So, how do we test what happens when the file is there? We make a new test! Add this to your test file, or create a new one, ending .bats in the test directory.

@test "Configuration file is found and is OK" {
  touch .myscript-config
  run find_config_file
  echo "Status received: $status"
  echo "Actual output:"
  echo "$output"
  [ "$output" == "$BATS_TEST_TMPDIR/.myscript-config" ]
  [ "$status" -eq 0 ]
}

And now, when you run your test, you’ll see this:

user@host:/tmp/my_script$ test/test_all.sh
 βœ“ No configuration file is found
 βœ“ Configuration file is found and is OK

2 tests, 0 failures

Extending BATS

There are some extra BATS tests you can run – at the moment you’re doing manual checks of output and success or failure checks which aren’t very pretty. Let’s include the “assert” library for BATS.

Firstly, we need this library added as a submodule again.

# This module provides the formatting for the other non-core libraries
git submodule add https://github.com/bats-core/bats-support.git test/libs/bats-support
# This is the actual assertion tests library
git submodule add https://github.com/bats-core/bats-assert.git test/libs/bats-assert

And now we need to update our test. At the top of the file, under the #!/usr/bin/env line, add these:

load "libs/bats-support/load"
load "libs/bats-assert/load"

And then update your tests:

@test "No configuration file is found" {
  run find_config_file
  assert_output "No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory."
  assert_failure
}

@test "Configuration file is found and is OK" {
  touch .myscript-config
  run find_config_file
  assert_output "$BATS_TEST_TMPDIR/.myscript-config"
  assert_success
}

Note that we removed the “echo” statements in this file. I’ve purposefully broken both types of tests (exit 1 became exit 0 and the file I’m looking for is $absolute_directory/.config instead of $absolute_directory/.myscript-config) in the source file, and now you can see what this looks like:

 βœ— No configuration file is found
   (from function `assert_failure' in file libs/bats-assert/src/assert_failure.bash, line 66,
    in test file path_checking.bats, line 15)
     `assert_failure' failed

   -- command succeeded, but it was expected to fail --
   output : No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory.
   --

 βœ— Configuration file is found and is OK
   (from function `assert_output' in file libs/bats-assert/src/assert_output.bash, line 194,
    in test file path_checking.bats, line 21)
     `assert_output "$BATS_TEST_TMPDIR/.myscript-config"' failed

   -- output differs --
   expected : /tmp/bats-run-21332-1130Ph/suite-tmpdir-QMDmz6/file-tmpdir-path_checking.bats-nQf7jh/test-tmpdir--I3pJYk/.myscript-config
   actual   : No config found. Please create .myscript-config in your project's root directory.
   --

And so now you can see some of how to do unit testing with Bash and BATS. BATS also says you can unit test any command that can be run in a Bash environment, so have fun!

Featured image is “Bat Keychain” by “Nishant Khurana” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"2015_12_06_VisΓ©_135942" by "Norbert Schnitzler" on Flickr

Idea for Reusable “Custom Data” templates across multiple modules with Terraform

A few posts ago I wrote about building Windows virtual machines with Terraform, and a couple of days ago, “YoureInHell” on Twitter reached out and asked what advice I’d give about having several different terraform modules use the same basic build of custom data.

They’re trying to avoid putting the same template file into several repos (I suspect so that one team can manage the “custom-data”, “user-data” or “cloud-init” files, and another can manage the deployment terraform files), and asked if I had any suggestions.

I had three ideas.

Using a New Module

This was my initial thought; create a new module called something like “Standard Build File”, and this build file contains just the following terraform file, and a template file called “build.tmpl”.

variable "someKey" {
  default = "someVar"
}

variable "hostName" {
  default = "hostName"
}

variable "unsetVar" {}

output "template" {
  value = templatefile("build.tmpl",
    {
      someKey  = var.someKey
      hostName = var.hostName
      unsetVar = var.unsetVar
    }
  )
}

Now, in your calling module, you can do:

module "buildTemplate" {
  source   = "git::https://git.example.net/buildTemplate.git?ref=latestLive"
  # See https://www.terraform.io/docs/language/modules/sources.html
  #   for more details on how to specify the source of this module
  unsetVar = "Set To This String"
}

output "RenderedTemplate" {
  value = module.buildTemplate.template
}

And that means that you can use the module.buildTemplate.template anywhere you’d normally specify your templateFile, and get a consistent, yet customizable template (and note, because I specified a particular tag, you can use that to move to the “current latest” or “the version we released into live on YYYY-MM-DD” by using a tag, or a commit ref.)

Now, the downside to this is that you’ve now got a whole separate module for creating your instances that needs to be maintained. What are our other options?

Git Submodules for your template

I use Git Submodules a LOT for my code. It’s a bit easy to get into a state with them, particularly if you’re not great at keeping on top of them, but… if you are OK with them, you’d create a repo, again, let’s use “https://git.example.net/buildTemplate.git” as our git repo, and put your template in there. In your terraform git repo, you’d run this command: git submodule add https://git.example.net/buildTemplate.git and this would add a directory to your repo called “buildTemplate” that you can use your templatefile function in Terraform against (like this: templatefile("buildTemplate/build.tmpl", {someVar="var"})).

Now, this means that you’ve effectively got two git repos in one tree, and if any changes occur in your submodule repo, you’d need to do git checkout main ; git pull to get the latest updates from your main branch, and when you check it out initially on another machine, you’ll need to do git clone https://git.example.net/terraform --recurse-submodules to get the submodules populated at the same time.

A benefit to this is that because it’s “inline” with the rest of your tree, if you need to make any changes to this template, it’s clearly where it’s supposed to be in your tree, you just need to remember about the submodule when it comes to making PRs and suchforth.

How about that third idea?

Keep it simple, stupid 😁

Why bother with submodules, or modules from a git repo? Terraform can be quite easy to over complicate… so why not create all your terraform files in something like this structure:

project\build.tmpl
project\web_servers\main.tf
project\logic_servers\main.tf
project\database_servers\main.tf

And then in each of your terraform files (web_servers, logic_servers and database_servers) just reference the file in your project root, like this: templatefile("../build.tmpl", {someVar="var"})

The downside to this is that you can’t as easily farm off the control of that build script to another team, and they’d be making (change|pull|merge) requests against the same repo as you… but then again, isn’t that the idea for functional teams? πŸ˜ƒ

Featured image is β€œ2015_12_06_VisΓ©_135942” by β€œNorbert Schnitzler” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

"Router" by "Ryan Hodnett" on Flickr

Post-Config of a RaspberryPi Zero W as an OTG-USB Gadget that routes

In my last post in this series I mentioned that I’d got my Raspberry Pi Zero W to act as a USB Ethernet adaptor via libComposite, and that I was using DNSMasq to provide a DHCP service to the host computer (the one you plug the Pi into). In this part, I’m going to extend what local services I could provide on this device, and start to use this as a router.

Here’s what you missed last time… When you plug the RPi in (to receive power on the data line), it powers up the RPi Zero, and uses a kernel module called “libComposite” to turn the USB interface into an Ethernet adaptor. Because of how Windows and non-Windows devices handle network interfaces, we use two features of libComposite to create an ECM/CDC interface and a RNDIS interface, called usb0 and usb1, and whichever one of these two is natively supported in the OS, that’s which interface comes up. As a result, we can then use DNSMasq to “advertise” a DHCP address for each interface, and use that to advertise services on, like an SSH server.

By making this device into a router, we can use it to access the network, without using the in-built network adaptor (which might be useful if your in-built WiFi adaptors isn’t detected under Linux or Windows without a driver), or to protect your computer from malware (by adding a second firewall that doesn’t share the same network stack as it’s host), or perhaps to ensure that your traffic is sent over a VPN tunnel.

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"raspberry pie" by "stu_spivack" on Flickr

Post-Config of a RaspberryPi Zero W as an OTG-USB Gadget for off-device computing

History

A few months ago, I was working on a personal project that needed a separate, offline linux environment. I tried various different schemes to run what I was doing in the confines of my laptop and I couldn’t make what I was working on actually achieve my goals. So… I bought a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a “Solderless Zero Dongle“, with the intention of running Docker containers on it… unfortunately, while Docker runs on a Pi Zero, it’s really hard to find base images for the ARMv6/armhf platform that the Pi Zero W… so I put it back in the drawer, and left it there.

Roll forwards a month or so, and I was doing some experiments with Nebula, and only had an old Chromebook to test it on… except, I couldn’t install the Nebula client for Linux on there, and the Android client wouldn’t give me some features I wanted… so I broke out that old Pi Zero W again…

Now, while the tests with Nebula I was working towards will be documented later, I found that a lot of the documentation about using a Raspberry Pi Zero as a USB gadget were rough and unexplained. So, this post breaks down much of the content of what I found, what I tried, and what did and didn’t work.

Late Edit 2021-06-04: I spotted some typos around providing specific DHCP options for interfaces, based on work I’m doing elsewhere with this script. I’ve updated these values accordingly. I’ve also created a specific branch for this revision.

Late Edit 2021-06-06: I’ve noticed this document doesn’t cover IPv6 at all right now. I started to perform some tweaks to cover IPv6, but as my ISP has decided not to bother with IPv6, and won’t support Hurricane Electric‘s Tunnelbroker system, I can’t test any of it, without building out an IPv6 test environment… maybe soon, eh?

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"Exam" by "Alberto G." on Flickr

My no-spoilers thoughts on the GitLab Certified Associate certification course and exam

On Wednesday, 21st April, I saw a link to a blog post in a chat group for the Linux Lads podcast. This blog post included a discount code to make the GitLab Certified Associate course and exam free. I signed up, and then shared the post to colleagues.

Free GitLab certification course and exam – until 30th April 2021.

GitLab has created a “Certified Associate” certification course which normally costs $650, but is available for free until 30th April using the discount code listed on this blog post and is available for one year after purchase (or free purchase).

I’ve signed up for the course today, and will be taking the 6 hour course, which covers:

Section 1: Self-Study – Introduction to GitLab

* GitLab Overview
* GitLab Comparison
* GitLab Components and Navigation
* Demos and Hands On Exercises

Section 2: Self-Study – Using Git and GitLab

* Git Basics
* Basic Code Creation in GitLab
* GitLab’s CI/CD Functions
* GitLab’s Package and Release Functions
* GitLab Security Scanning

Section 3: Certification Assessments

* GitLab Certified Associate Exam Instructions
* GitLab Certified Associate Knowledge Exam
* GitLab Certified Associate Hands On Exam
* Final Steps

You don’t need your own GitLab environment – you get one provided to you as part of the course.

Another benefit to this course is that you’ll learn about Git as part of the course, so if you’re looking to do any code development, infrastructure as code, documentation as code, or just learning how to store any content in a version control system – this will teach you how πŸ˜€

Good luck to everyone participating in the course!

After sharing this post, the GitLab team amended the post to remove the discount code as they were significantly oversubscribed! I’ve heard rumours that it’s possible to find the code, either on Gitlab’s own source code repository, or perhaps using Archive.org’s wayback machine, but I’ve not tried!

On Friday I started the course and completed it yesterday. The rest of this post will be my thoughts on the course itself, and the exam.

Signing up for the course and getting started

Signing up was pretty straightforward. It wasn’t clear that you had a year between when you enrolled for the course and until you first opened the content, but that once you’d opened the link to use the Gitlab demo environment, you had 21 days to use it. You’re encouraged to sign up for the demo environment on the first stage, thereby limiting you to the 21 days from that point. I suspect that if you re-visit that link on a second or third time, you’d get fresh credentials, so no real disaster there, but it does make you feel a bit under pressure to use the environment.

First impressions

The training environment is pretty standard, as far as corporate training goes. You have a side-bar showing the modules you need to complete before the end of the course, and as you scroll down through each module, you get various different media-types arriving, including youtube videos, fade-in text, flashcards which require clicking on and side-scrolling presentation cards. (Honestly, I do wonder whether this is particularly accessible to those with visual or motor impairments… I hope so, but I don’t know how I’d check!)

As you progress through each module, in the sidebar to the left, a circle outline is slowly turned from grey to purple, and when you finish a module the outline is replaced by a filled circle with a white tick in it. At the bottom of each module is a link to the next module.

The content

You have a series of 3 sections:

  • “Introduction to Gitlab” (aka, “Corporate Propaganda” πŸ˜‰) which includes the history of the GitLab project and product, how many contributors it has, what it’s primary objective is, and so on. There’s even an “Infotainment” QVC-like advert about how amazing GitLab is in this section, which is quite cute. At the end of this first section, you get a “Hands On” section, where you’re encouraged to use GitLab to create a new Project. I’ll come back to the Hands on sections after this.
  • “Using Git and Gitlab”, which you’d expect to be more hands-on but is largely more flashcards and presentation cards, each with a hands on section at the end.
  • “Certification Assessments” has two modules to explain what needs to happen (one before, one after) and then two parts to the “assessment” – a multiple-choice section which has to be answered 100% correctly to proceed, and a “hands on” exam, which is basically a collection of “perform this task” questions, which you are expected to perform in the demo environment.

Hands-on sections focus on a specific task – “create a project”, “commit code”, “create an issue”, “create a merge request” and so-on. There are no tasks which will stretch even the freshest Git user, and seeing the sorts of things that the “Auto DevOps” function can enable might interest someone who wants to use GitLab. I was somewhat disappointed that there was barely any focus on the fact that GitLab can be self-hosted, and what it takes to set something like that up.

We also get to witness the entire power (apparently) of upgrading to the “Premium” and “Ultimate” packages of GitLab’s proprietary add-ons… Epics. I jest of course, I’ve looked and there’s loads more to that upgrade!

The final exams (No Spoilers)

This is in two parts, a multiple-choice selection on a fixed set of 14 questions, with 100% accuracy required to move on to the next stage that can be retaken indefinitely, and a hands-on set of… from memory… 14ish tasks which must be completed on a project you create.

The exam is generally things about GitLab which you’ve covered in the course, but included two questions about using Git that were not covered in any of the modules. For this reason, I’d suggest when you get to those questions, open a git environment, and try each of the commands offered given the specific scenario.

Once you’ve finished the hands-on section, using the credentials you were given, you’re asked to complete a Google Forms page which includes the URL of the GitLab Project you’ve performed your work in, and the username for your GitLab Demo Environment. You submit this form, and in 7 days (apparently, although, given the take-up of the course, I’m not convinced this is an accurate number) you’ll get your result. If you fail, apparently, you’ll be invited to re-try your hands-on exam again.

At least some of the hands-on section tasks are a bit ambiguous, suggesting you should make this change on the first question, and then “merge that change into this branch” (again, from memory) in the next task.

My final thoughts

So, was it worth $650 to take this course? No, absolutely not. I realise that people have put time and effort into the content and there will be people within GitLab Inc checking the results at the end… but at most it’s worth maybe $200, and even that is probably a stretch.

If this course was listed at any price (other than free) would I have taken it? …. Probably not. It’s useful to show you can drive a GitLab environment, but if I were going for a job that needed to use Git, I’d probably point them at a project I’ve created on GitHub or GitLab, as the basics of Git are more likely to be what I’d need to show capabilities in.

Does this course teach you anything new about Git or GitLab that just using the products wouldn’t have done? Tentatively, yes. I didn’t know anything about the “Auto DevOps” feature of GitLab, I’d never used the “Quick Actions” in either issues or merge requests, and there were a couple of git command lines that were new to me… but on the whole, the course is about using a web based version control system, which I’ve been doing for >10 years.

Would this course have taught you anything about Git and GitLab if you were new to both? Yes! But I wouldn’t have considered paying $650… or even $65 for this, when YouTube has this sort of content for free!

What changes would you make to this course? For me, I’d probably introduce more content about the CI/CD elements of GitLab, I might introduce a couple of questions or a module about self-hosting and differences about the tiers (to explain why it would be worth paying $99/user/month for the additional features in the software). I’d probably also split the course up into several pieces, where each of those pieces goes towards a larger target… so perhaps there might be a “basic user” track, which is just “GitLab inc history”, “using git” and “using Gitlab for issues and changes”, then an advanced user, covering “GitLab tiers”, “GitLab CI/CD”, “Auto DevOps”, running “Git Runners”, and perhaps a Self Hosting course which adds running the service yourself, integrating GitLab with other services, and so on. You might also (as GitLab are a very open company) have a “marketing GitLab” course (for TAMs, Pre-Sales and Sales) which could also be consumed externally.

Have you passed? Yep

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