A•B•C Delicious

Hmm, some Internets would be good here...
Hmm, some Internets would be good here...

Sometimes You’re on a Train

And you need some internet.  You know, to giggle over the funny lolcats like a vapid schoolgirl or figure out just what Bobby Love is really up to these days or God forbid, get some actual hacking done.  What’s a person to do?  You could pull out your iPhone, but the guy across the table with the Sierra card says AT&T is shite on this part of the corridor.  Besides, you don’t have an iPhone, and the iPhone can’t tether anyway.  Useless.  Or, you could pull out your T-Mobile G1 Googlephone and make rlove proud.  Oh wait, it can’t tether either.  Nice try.

You could get out your cable and hook up a real phone that can tether, like most other phones on the planet besides the iPhone and the G1.  But then again…

Wires Suck

That’s where Bluetooth tethering comes in.  There’s a few reasons Bluetooth support hadn’t yet got into NetworkManager, mostly related to lack of time and good planning of the user experience.  Bastien and I talked over a lot of it last summer in Portland and came up with a strategy, which was spelled out in various places, but nobody really followed it through.  Bluetooth support can’t just be a hack; it shouldn’t be “Type your modem device name here”-style fail; it should be well-integrated into the desktop experience.  And that requires doing the right things in the right places.  The first step towards that goal was ModemManager, which pulls all the modem code out of NetworkManager into a nicely architected daemon that abstracts the hardware differences.  The next step was making NetworkManager talk to Bluez.

But Bluetooth Kicks Ass

Since Bastien apparently had nothing better to do, and since his favorite team was probably losing as hard as only they can and thus pointless to watch, he showed up with a pile of patches adding Bluetooth bits to NetworkManager.  At the end of the week, we’d got core Bluetooth PAN working pretty well on master, while DUN has to wait a bit until some ModemManager issues get sorted out.  Next up is creating the seamless Bluetooth desktop experience from pair to air by adding the necessary bits to the applet and connection editor.  But the heavy lifting on the NetworkManager side is mostly done.  Thanks to Bastien, NetworkManager 0.8 will ship with native Bluetooth support that doesn’t suck.

I was told there’d be cookies?

Oooh how cute...  Look at my laté!
Oooh how cute... Look at my laté!

Land of Confusion

Since NetworkManager 0.7 came out, there’s one issue that’s been causing confusion with lots of users: hashed network keys.  That passphrase you type into the box when you connect to a WiFi network using any OS isn’t what actually gets used; instead it’s hashed to come up with the real key.  There are a few different ways to enter an encryption key for a WiFi network, so bear with me:

  • Hex: works with both WEP and WPA, and is the most compatible since it actually is exactly what gets sent to the driver as the encryption key.  For WEP, this is either a 10 character (for 40-bit WEP) or a 26 character (for 104-bit WEP) string composed of hexadecimal characters.  For WPA it’s a 64 character hexadecimal string.  Typing in 64 hexadecimal characters gets old pretty fast, which leads us to…
  • Passphrase: a string of arbitrary characters that is hashed into the actual key to be used.  WEP passphrases have no real size restrictions, and are repeated into a 64-byte buffer before being hashed with MD5.  At least the creators of WPA learned from experience, specifying that WPA passphrases are between 8 and 63 characters inclusive, which means you can actually autodetect whether it’s a passphrase or a hex key, unlike WEP passphrases.  WPA passphrases are hashed using SHA-1 into the real encryption key.
  • ASCII key: Thanks, Lucent.  The original WaveLAN cards used passphrases of 5 or 13 ASCII characters, which some drivers and people still use for God knows what reason.  To hash it, take the two-byte ASCII value of each character and stuff them into a buffer.  Not secure at all.
  • Apple passwords: in their infinite wisdom, Apple chose a completely different hashing mechanism for WEP.  This means that to connect a non-Apple computer to an Airport WEP network, you need the “Compatible Network Password”, ie the hexadecimal WEP key.  At least they stuck with the standard for WPA.

The huge pain with WEP is that you simply cannot autodetect what type of key the user has entered.  Since WEP passphrases can also be composed of 10 or 26 hexadecimal characters, it’s impossible to differentiate between a WEP hex key, a WEP passphrase, or a WEP 104-bit ASCII key.  Which means the user has to know what WEP key type they are using.  FAIL.  They also have to know whether the network uses 40-bit or 104-bit encryption, and whether it uses Shared Key authentication or Open System authentication.  That’s 12 different possible WEP configurations.


In any case, NetworkManager 0.7 required pre-hashed keys for reasons I don’t accurately remember, possibly related to bad trips from the NM 0.6 API that I mis-designed.  So the applet hashed your passphrase right after you entered it and stored the hashed key in the keyring.  Unfortunately, when the driver failed to connect and NetworkManager asked for your secrets again, all you saw was something you certainly don’t remember typing in.  While this actually was your passphrase, and it would work when you hit OK, it certainly was confusing.

Change We Can Believe In

As of Saturday, you’ll always see what you typed in.  The real fix is to simply connect the first time and never ask for your passphrase again, but that’s almost always due to driver and supplicant bugs that can and should be fixed; I’ve spent weeks of my life doing just that.  Of course, that can only reliably happen in open-source drivers; at least when we find the bugs we can fix them.  Which is why you really don’t want any of these.

You will upgrade to NetworkManager 0.7.1


It’s awesome.  This guy loves it.  So does your mom since I installed it on her laptop last night.  That means you’ll love it too.

NetworkManager nm-applet NetworkManager-vpnc NetworkManager-openvpn NetworkManager-pptp NetworkManager-openconnect

Tons of bugs fixed and new features implemented due to popular demand.

  • Support for more mobile broadband devices and phones
  • Plays better with stupid wifi and ethernet drivers
  • Support for rfc3442 classless static routes
  • The default “Auto eth0” connection is now read/write
  • Compatibility fixes for 802.1x PEAP authentication and 3G/PPP connections
  • Reduced wakeups for power saving awesomeness
  • Ability to deny specific devices the default route
  • More correct display of wifi signal strength
  • Custom IPv4 settings for mobile broadband connections
  • More informative display of network device state
  • Less annoying password behavior in the vpnc plugin
  • OpenVPN HMAC authentication and IP configuration fixes

This release fixes more than 50 bugs, including 17 from Fedora, 22 from GNOME, 6 from Ubuntu, and 3 from Debian.  Packages are already in updates-testing for Fedora.  If you don’t use Fedora, and your distro doesn’t have 0.7.1 soon, then you need to harrass them until they get it 🙂

That’s when I reach for my revolver…

All your GSM are belong to me
A few of the 3G cards NetworkManager gets tested with

… to shoot myself in the head.  Some mobile broadband cards are like a nice, quiet child that does everything you tell them to do; they’d even clean out your family’s slurry tank if you asked.  Unfortunately, most of the cards you just want to throw right into the slurry tank strapped to the side of a large brick.  Hopefully the tank is full, and the card doesn’t have a snorkel, not that a snorkel would help it much.

Yes, there are standards.  But as we all know, given 10 people and a standard, you’ll end the day with 12 or 13 differently behaving “standards-compliant” implementations.  People suck. You’d think it would be easy to agree on an AT command for “prefer 3G / prefer 2G / 3G only / 2G only”.  NO SIMPLE FOR YOU.  But NetworkManager has to work around huge amounts of stupid.  Here’s a run-down of some of the mobile broadband hardware that’s available today and what about it sucks.


Europe apparently got carpet-bombed with these things.  They provide two usable serial ports; one for data and another for stuff like signal strength, mode switches, etc.  But asking it anything on the second port makes the modem cry, grab its toys, and run home to tell mommy what you’ve done.  This caused problems with the new modem capability probing code in NetworkManager 0.7.1.  Thanks guys (not). Dropping unhandled input on the floor would apparently have been too easy.  And, of course, they use AT^SYSCFG with some magic numbers to indicate 2G/3G preference.  That said, Huawei does participate upstream and proactively adds IDs and support for their hardware.

gobiQualcomm Gobi (NEW HOTNESS ALERT)

Apparently now all the rage State-side (though they’ve been out for a while); even in the ultra-small Atom-based Poulsbong-smoking Sony Vaio P series.  These parts can do GSM/HSPA and CDMA/EVDO, depending on the firmware they load.  Now that’s pretty cool.  There’s even a driver for them (qcserial) queued up in gregkh’s tree.  Unfortunately, because Qualcomm still can’t get their head out of their ass you won’t get signal strength, cell tower reports, or mode change signals, since the driver only exposes one serial port which is used for PPP (it might support GSM multiplexing, in which case this rant is wrong).  Everything else seems to get done from userspace with libusb and a proprietary protocol.  WTF is so awesome about proprietary protocols?  You get to sell people an SDK for $20,000 or something?  Nice try.

sierraModern Sierra (MAGICALLY DELICIOUS)

Driven by the ‘sierra’ driver (surprise!), these cards expose multiple serial ports; two or more of which accept AT commands.  Only one of these ports has a full AT interpreter and gets used for PPP, the other ports get used for signal strength and GPS during the PPP session.  I hear new Sierra gear is switching to the tty+netdevice model though, so these will be old-but-not-busted soon.  But of course, somebody took a huge pull off the bong, and came up with AT!SELRAT for 2G/3G preference.  Yay!  Variation #2!


Old-School Sierra (OLD BUT NOT BUSTED)

Sweet bliss.  Works like a champ.  16-bit PCMCIA.  HSDPA even.  GSM multiplexing support makes up for the fact that it only exposes one serial port to the OS (even though we don’t support userspace muxing yet).  It’s been supported in NetworkManager since, like, day #1.  Like the newer Sierra cards, it also uses AT!SELRAT, so at least Sierra is consistent.  Which is more than I can say for some other hardware I’ve seen.

option-2Option “HSO” (THE NEED FOR SPEED)

PPP sucks; it’s only between you and the card, not over the air.  So why bother?  Which is why Option killed PPP dead.  These devices expose multiple AT-capable ttys, and an ethernet network interface.  Do the setup on the AT ports, do the data in high speed on the network interface.  This is the current trend.  Sierra is going to do it soon.  So is Huawei.  But unfortunately, everyone does the authentication and the IP configuration differently.  And Option’s 2G/3G preference command is AT_OPSYS.  Variant #3!  Go to hell.  In any case, big thanks to Option for providing me with hardware and also working with the upstream kernel community; you guys rock.

f3507gEricsson F3507g (SWEDISH INVASION)

Dude, you got a Dell Mini?  If you’ve coughed up for the 5530 Mobile Broadband option, it’s probably got one of these inside.  The Sony Ericsson MD300 is the same hardware.  For once, somebody uses standard interfaces too; these parts expose multiple cdc-acm serial ports (like most mobile phones), and one cdc-ether network device used for data.  The interesting thing is that to get an IP address, you use DHCP on the ethernet interface.  We don’t yet know how to set 2G/3G preference, but you can get it with AT*ERINFO.  All hail variant #4.  This is getting rediculous.  At least Ericsson pays people to make their stuff work with Linux, though the AT reference document is NDA-encumbered.  Need to hit somebody with the cluebat for that.

buslinkBUSlink SCWi275u (DEAR GOD DON’T BUY THIS)

Really.  If you find one, put it out of its misery by burning it alive.  Yeah, it’s really old, and it’s only GPRS, and it’s from the land before time when they put WiFi into cellular modems because nobody had it onboard.  And hey, its firmware is as clueless about standards as Qualcomm is about Open Source.  But it works fine with NetworkManager 🙂

As you can see, nobody in this industry talks to each other, and none of the carriers care about making it easier to write software for the devices they sell.  Everywhere you look there are silos, walled gardens, and revenue stream protection.  But that’s where NetworkManager comes in.

The Bright, Shiny New Mobile Future

NM 0.7 delivered the promise of Mobile Broadband.  We took a limited set of devices (ie, no phones) and made those work out of the box.  Now it’s time to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  We can’t support everything in the current architecture inside NetworkManager, so Tambet started a new project called ModemManager.  All mobile broadband handling gets punted out to ModemManager (similar to how WiFi is handled with wpa_supplicant), making the NetworkManager core simpler, easier to maintain, and more robust.  ModemManager provides a nice D-Bus API for everything modem-related; data connections, SMS, phonebook, signal strength, GPS, etc.  It rocks.  It’s more flexible.  It spews out cute, cuddly kittens by the thousands.  It’s definitely the right architecture and the way forward.

The Slightly Less-Bright Now

But until ModemManager drops some awesome on y’all, we need to better support modems in NetworkManager 0.7.x too.  A few problems we’ve been tackling over the past few months:

  • multiple serial ports – most modems provide more than one port; but nothing tells you what that port gets used for.  Sometimes asking the port what’s purpose in life is doesn’t work either.  So we have to special-case some modems in the udev prober, and some in NetworkManager.  This gets as ugly as your first girlfriend/boyfriend.
  • modem capabilities –  this is why your mobile phone didn’t work with NetworkManager 0.7.0.   We need to know whether the modem is CDMA/EVDO or GSM/HSPA since the operation and UI needs to change based on which kind of modem it is.  Previously we used hal-info’s 10-modem.fdi, which simply doesn’t scale.  Asking the modem freaks some of them out (ie, Huawei) and others just lie for various reasons.  So with NM 0.7.1, we probe serial ports with a udev helper and are careful not to touch things that shouldn’t be touched.
  • modem init strings – because, of course, consistent handling of initialization strings between devices would just be too easy.  Some devices puke up half-eaten puppies when given the same init string that every other device on the planet supports.  No standardization here.  So NetworkManager 0.7.1 tries different init strings until one works.
  • registration commands –  some Huawei modems want to use AT+CGREG instead of AT+CREG.  Yeah, I know why it seems to think it can be special, but it’s not.  It’s just plain stupid.  And this seems to change based on firmware version of all things.  Dear God, why do you toy with me?  So in lieu of finding a Huawei engineer and asking them what the fuck they were thinking, we hacked around it for now.

We’ve gotten most of worked out in the NetworkManager 0.7.1 release candidate series.  And all this crap is exactly why NM 0.7.1 isn’t out yet.  Like when NM 0.7.1-rc1 broke people’s Huawei cards due to modem probing freaking out the firmware, I spent $100 for a Huawei E160G off eBay.  It took a week to get here, and two days to fix it.

But that’s why NetworkManager rocks; we pony up the cash to make sure our shit works.  Users appreciate that.

Suspend/resume vs. NetworkManager


The other day while chilling beside the pool on my private island (A), I decided to head into Port Nelson (B) to check up on my various offshore accounts.  Financial crisis and all you see; that Stanford thing last week really had me worried.  A laptop hibernation and a short helicopter ride later, I’m in the branch office and need to look up a few things pertaining to my net worth.  But upon resume, NetworkManager started reconnecting to my villa’s access point, which was all the way back on my island. WTH!!!??!?!

This problem has been around for a long time.  Pretty much since the beginning of time.  I looked at it last year and concluded that it wasn’t NetworkManager.  This time it really annoyed me, so I made a bet with my porter that I’d figure it out by time I left to hit up this party in Bailey Town.  He’s cool like that.  I got to keep my money.  It still wasn’t NetworkManager.

See, drivers timestamp wifi networks they know about.  That way you can figure out if the network was last seen a second ago, 7 seconds ago, or so long ago that it’s dead to me.  But they all use an kernel counter called ‘jiffies’ to do that.  And ‘jiffies’ doesn’t increment across suspend/resume.  See where I’m going with this?

So the next scan after resume, all the old networks are mixed in with the new networks, and you simply can’t tell which ones are old and which ones are new.  They all look like they were scanned within the past 10 seconds.  The last AP you were connected to looks like a great candidate to try, no matter where it is.

Abusing people as a metaphor for scan results:

new scan results are awesome

(with apologies to Imansyah)

old scan results suck


The solution is to age the scan results with the amount of time spent in suspend.  This keeps both normal laptops (where you’ll usually be suspended for a while) and OLPC-style laptops (where suspend can happen for sub-second durations) happy.  The patches are queued for 2.6.30, and I’ve backported them to 2.6.27, 2.6.28, and 2.6.29.  They are also a prerequisite for making NetworkManager just try harder to associate when the connection fails, which I know annoys a lot of people, including myself.

Problem solved, party attended.

The big lesson?  When something is wrong with the drivers, fix the drivers. Don’t hack around it like a helpless tool.  And if you can’t fix the driver, well… then why did mindlessly stuff $50 bills into Broadcom’s thong in the first place?

Everyone gets a NetworkManager!

He's a fan of NetworkManager 0.7
He’s a fan of NetworkManager 0.7!
(photo by exfordy, reused under cc attriubtion 2.0)

I’m pleased to formally announce the release of NetworkManager 0.7, after about 2 years of development.  You asked, we delivered.  Top feature requests for 0.6 were:

  • Static IP
  • Mobile broadband
  • Multiple active devices
  • Internet Connection Sharing
  • Networking at boot / across logins
  • A connection editor

How did we do?  100% baby! With this much awesome, little Susie and Paul certainly won’t be disappointed to find NetworkManager 0.7 goodness under the tree on Christmas morning.  You can get the new hotness in your latest distro, or download tarballs of the applet and the core daemon.

There will be a 0.7.1 release pretty soon to fix up a few issues and add a few things we didn’t quite get to until now.  After that, it’s full afterburner towards NetworkManager 0.8, where we’ve got some great stuff in the works, like Bluetooth, full IPv6, and yet more mobile broadband enhancements.  Come and get it.

The Road to NetworkManager 0.7

Let’s start off with an artsy photo1 and an obscure-but-related caption2, becuase that’s the trendy thing to do these days on a blog:

Door (Thumb)

Almost home…

We’ve been working on NetworkManager 0.7 for almost 2 years; it’s been on the rotiesserie’s tasty-slow-cook setting for a long time.  And it’s so close to being done that your Mom is already yelling at you to stop pounding the little kids from across the street and come inside for dinner.  I’ve put up a wiki page with some work items for the NM 0.7 release. This list is by no means complete.  But in the interest of not being a black hole let’s get the stuff out in public and hey, maybe some patches will even show up on networkmanager-list@.  The driving features have been done for a few weeks now, and what’s left are a few UI things, and lots library best-practices stuff like documentation, symbol visibility, API review, and bug fixes.

But what’s not on the list?

  • Bluetooth: a bunch of work, but will be a major driver of 0.7.1 or 0.7.5
  • IPv6: probably won’t be ready by the time 0.7 ships
  • Your broken driver: it’s in the same place as your mom, in a gimp suit in my basement.  Some things just don’t cooperate; you have to keep ’em in the dark and learn ’em with a whip until they stop acting up.

but don’t worry, these will get fixed up over time.

As a bonus, I ported the PPTP VPN plugin to the 0.7 API over the weekend.  You’re welcome. Enjoy.  File bugs.  Await the release of 0.7 breathlessly.

1 To show you how cool I am because I can take photos

2 To show you how cool I am because I can write witty captions

Great Taste, Less Filling

Or, how NetworkManager 0.7 transcends decadence and totally respects your distro’s persistent network configuration if you want it to.

With NetworkManager 0.7, the system settings service provides system-wide network configuration, allowing network connections at boot time and across login or fast user switches.  It also reads your distro-specific config files (there are plugins for Fedora and OpenSUSE right now, and an Ubuntu one in-progress) and thus integrates with your normal workflow doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel.  So to put it differently, NetworkManager 0.7 does not ignore your distro configuration unless you really want it to.

Full of Easy

Tambet fully anticipated the decadence of which Alberto Ruiz speaks and wrote the ‘keyfile’ system settings plugin.  We’ve said that if you want a cross-distro persistent, human-readable, text-based network configuration format for interfaces, VPN, 3G, PPP, etc, you can use the keyfile plugin instead of your distro’s format.  A certain class of users really benefits from this.  The other class can just get on with their life and not care what the backend format is, because it simply doesn’t matter to them.  Everyone is happy.

Time for Change

During the 0.7 cycle the new features we added (connection sharing, multiple active devices, 3G to name a few) were pushing the applet’s menu-based design to the limit.  It neither looks good nor behaves well to cram multiple devices and multiple connections into the menu.  Thus, back in January 2008, we asked Bryan Clark and Mike Langlie to come up with some design ideas for an nm-applet that doesn’t suck.  The most intriguing mockup was window-based, which allows for much more streamlined interaction than the menu:

new applet mockup

It’s a mockup.  It deserves your love, not your flames.

Right away you’ll probably notice:

  • Simple yet convenient: you have both a general overview of your system, but you’re not punched in the face with stuff you don’t care about.  Just like the current applet, but better.  If you want more info, it’s just a click away.
  • Disconnect at will: you can already disconnect devices in NM 0.7 (the D-Bus API is there), but adding a disconnect option for every device in the current menu sucks.  Since this isn’t a GtkMenu, there’s a lot more room to play with.
  • Dynamicity ™: since it’s not a  GtkMenu, it can update things like device state, signal strength, and addresses dynamically.
  • Only shows what you care about: the current applet shows everything around you.  99% of the time, you care about only one or two of those networks, the ones you actually use.  The other 1% of the time, you want to connect to a network you’ve never connected to before.  Why show all 32 other networks all the time, and make you search for the one you want?  Uncool.
  • More information if you want it: but not if you don’t.  Becuase there’s more space to work with, we can show stuff you might care about, like the IP address of the device, or the security features of the wifi network you’re current connected to.
  • Streamlined Connection Sharing: given the larger layout and ability to tie relevant actions to a specific device, it’ll be a lot clearer to “Share this connection” than the current applet allows.

But as always, it’s a delicate balance between making the stuff you use every day prominant and easy to get to, and keeping the stuff you use only a few times a week out of your way.  I like the fact that I don’t have to care about what I’m connected to, I just want to stay connected and keep working on making stuff awesome.  I don’t want or need to know what the IP address of my VPN server is, for example, or whether my AP uses AES+CCMP for both the pairwise and group ciphers instead of AES+CCMP for the pairwise cipher and TKIP for the group cipher.  But if you really want that information, you should be able to find it within a click or two.

But windows don’t just go away when click outside them.  We could grab the pointer and close the window when you click elsewhere, but that might be weird.  It might also be weird to make this window act like and be positioned in the same place as the current popup GtkMenu, a la gnome-main-menu.  Maybe we should use effect bling to make the window genie out of the NM icon.  It’s something that needs to be prototyped and tested so we can figure out how it feels before we commit to it.  But we’ve been so busy making NetworkManager 0.7 Just Work for you that it’s taken longer than I’d like to start rewriting the applet.  Comments?  Jump #nm on freenode and discuss.