Sunday, 23 October 2016

Rabbit of Caerbannog

Subsequent to my previous use of American Fuzzy Lop (AFL) on the NetSurf bitmap image library I applied it to the gif library which, after fixing the test runner, failed to produce any crashes but did result in a better test corpus improving coverage above 90%

I then turned my attention to the SVG processing library. This was different to the bitmap libraries in that it required parsing a much lower density text format and performing operations on the resulting tree representation.

The test program for the SVG library needed some improvement but is very basic in operation. It takes the test SVG, parses it using libsvgtiny and then uses the parsed output to write out an imagemagick mvg file.

The libsvg processing uses the NetSurf DOM library which in turn uses an expat binding to parse the SVG XML text. To process this with AFL required instrumenting not only the XVG library but the DOM library. I did not initially understand this and my first run resulted in a "map coverage" indicating an issue. Helpfully the AFL docs do cover this so it was straightforward to rectify.

Once the test program was written and environment set up an AFL run was started and left to run. The next day I was somewhat alarmed to discover the fuzzer had made almost no progress and was running very slowly. I asked for help on the AFL mailing list and got a polite and helpful response, basically I needed to RTFM.

I must thank the members of the AFL mailing list for being so helpful and tolerating someone who ought to know better asking  dumb questions.

After reading the fine manual I understood I needed to ensure all my test cases were as small as possible and further that the fuzzer needed a dictionary as a hint to the file format because the text file was of such low data density compared to binary formats.

Rabbit of Caerbannog. Death awaits you with pointy teeth
I crafted an SVG dictionary based on the XML one, ensured all the seed SVG files were as small as possible and tried again. The immediate result was thousands of crashes, nothing like being savaged by a rabbit to cause a surprise.

Not being in possession of the appropriate holy hand grenade I resorted instead to GDB and electric fence. Unlike the bitmap library crashes memory bounds issues simply did not feature in the crashes.Instead they mainly centered around actual logic errors when constructing and traversing the data structures.

For example Daniel Silverstone fixed an interesting bug where the XML parser binding would try and go "above" the root node in the tree if the source closed more tags than it opened which resulted in wild pointers and NULL references.

I found and squashed several others including dealing with SVG which has no valid root element and division by zero errors when things like colour gradients have no points.

I find it interesting that the type and texture of the crashes completely changed between the SVG and binary formats. Perhaps it is just the nature of the textural formats that causes this although it might be due to the techniques used to parse the formats.

Once all the immediately reproducible crashes were dealt with I performed a longer run. I used my monster system as previously described and ran the fuzzer for a whole week.

Summary stats

       Fuzzers alive : 10
      Total run time : 68 days, 7 hours
         Total execs : 9268 million
    Cumulative speed : 15698 execs/sec
       Pending paths : 0 faves, 2501 total
  Pending per fuzzer : 0 faves, 250 total (on average)
       Crashes found : 9 locally unique

After burning almost seventy days of processor time AFL found me another nine crashes and possibly more importantly a test corpus that generates over 90% coverage.

A useful tool that AFL provides is afl-cmin. This reduces the number of test files in a corpus to only those that are required to exercise all the code paths reached by the test set. In this case it reduced the number of files from 8242 to 2612

afl-cmin -i queue_all/ -o queue_cmin -- test_decode_svg @@ 1.0 /dev/null
corpus minimization tool for afl-fuzz by 

[+] OK, 1447 tuples recorded.
[*] Obtaining traces for input files in 'queue_all/'...
    Processing file 8242/8242...
[*] Sorting trace sets (this may take a while)...
[+] Found 23812 unique tuples across 8242 files.
[*] Finding best candidates for each tuple...
    Processing file 8242/8242...
[*] Sorting candidate list (be patient)...
[*] Processing candidates and writing output files...
    Processing tuple 23812/23812...
[+] Narrowed down to 2612 files, saved in 'queue_cmin'.

Additionally the actual information within the test files can be minimised with the afl-tmin tool. This must be run on each file individually and can take a relatively long time. Fortunately with GNU parallel one can run many of these jobs simultaneously which merely required another three days of CPU time to process. The resulting test corpus weighs in at a svelte 15 Megabytes or so against the 25 Megabytes before minimisation.

The result is yet another NetSurf library significantly improved by the use of AFL both from finding and squashing crashing bugs and from having a greatly improved test corpus to allow future library changes with a high confidence there will not be any regressions.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The pine stays green in winter... wisdom in hardship.

In December 2015 I saw the kickstarter for the Pine64. The project seemed to have a viable hardware design and after my experience with the hikey I decided it could not be a great deal worse.

Pine64 board in my case design
The system I acquired comprises of:
  • Quad core Allwinner A64 processor clocked at 1.2GHz 
  • 2 Gigabytes of DDR3 memory
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • two 480Mbit USB 2.0 ports
  • HDMI type A
  • micro SD card for storage.
Hardware based kickstarter projects are susceptible to several issues and the usual suspects occurred causing delays:
  • Inability to scale, several thousand backers instead of the hundred they were aiming for
  • Issues with production
  • Issues with shipping
My personal view is that PINE 64 inc. handled it pretty well, much better than several other projects I have backed and as my Norman Douglas quotation suggests I think they have gained some wisdom from this.

I received my hardware at the beginning of April only a couple of months after their initial estimated shipping date which as these things go is not a huge delay. I understand some people who had slightly more complex orders were just receiving their orders in late June which is perhaps unfortunate but still well within kickstarter project norms.

As an aside: I fear that many people simply misunderstand the crowdfunding model for hardware projects and fail to understand that they are not buying a finished product, on the other side of the debate I think many projects need to learn expectation management much better than they do. Hyping the product to get interest is obviously the point of the crowdfunding platform, but over promising and under delivering always causes unhappy customers.

Pine64 board dimensions
Despite the delays in production and shipping the information available for the board was (and sadly remains) inadequate. As usual I wanted to case my board and there were no useful dimension drawings so I had to make my own from direct measurements together with a STL 3D model.

Also a mental sigh for "yet another poor form factor decision" so another special case size and design. After putting together a design and fabricating with the laser cutter I moved on to the software.

Once more this is where, once again, the story turns bleak. We find a very pretty website but no obvious link to the software (hint scroll to the bottom and find the "support" wiki link) once you find the wiki you will eventually discover that the provided software is either an Android 5.1.1 image (which failed to start on my board) or relies on some random guy from the forums who has put together his own OS images using a hacked up Allwinner Board Support Package (BSP) kernel.

Now please do not misunderstand me, I think the work by Simon Eisenmann (longsleep) to get a working kernel and Lenny Raposo to get viable OS images is outstanding and useful. I just feel that Allwinner and vendors like Pine64 Inc. should have provided something much, much better than they have. Even the efforts to get mainline support for this hardware are all completely volunteer community efforts and are are making slow progress as a result.

Assuming I wanted to run a useful OS on this hardware and not just use it as a modern work of art I installed a basic Debian arm64 using Lenny Raposo's pine64 pro site downloads. I was going to use the system for compiling and builds so used the "Debian Base" image to get a minimal setup. After generating unique ssh keys, renaming the default user and checking all the passwords and permissions I convinced myself the system was reasonably trustworthy.

The standard Debian Jessie OS runs as expected with few surprises. The main concern I have is that there are a number of unpackaged scripts installed (prefixed with pine64_) which perform several operations from reporting system health (using sysfs entries) to upgrading the kernel and bootloader.

While I understand these scripts have been provided for the novice users to reduce support burden, doing even more of the vendors job, I would much rather have had proper packages for these scripts, kernel and bootloader which apt could manage. This would have reduced image creation to a simple debootstrap giving much greater confidence in the images provenance.

The 3.10 based kernel is three years old at the time of writing and lacks a great number of features for the aarch64 ARM processors introduced since release. However I was pleasantly surprised at kvm apparently being available.

# dmesg|grep -i kvm
[    7.592896] kvm [1]: Using HYP init bounce page @b87c4000
[    7.593361] kvm [1]: interrupt-controller@1c84000 IRQ25
[    7.593778] kvm [1]: timer IRQ27
[    7.593801] kvm [1]: Hyp mode initialized successfully

I installed the libvirt packages (and hence all their dependencies like qemu) and created a bridge ready for the virtual machines.

I needed access to storage for the host disc images and while I could have gone the route of using USB attached SATA as with the hikey I decided to try and use network attached storage instead. Initially I investigated iSCSI but it seems the Linux target (iSCSI uses initiator for client and target for server) support is either old, broken or unpackaged.

I turned to network block device (nbd) which is packaged and seems to have reasonable stability out of the box on modern distributions. This appeared to work well, indeed over the gigabit Ethernet interface I managed to get a sustained 40 megabytes a second read and write rate in basic testing. This is better performance than a USB 2.0 attached SSD on the hikey

I fired up the guest and perhaps I should have known better than to expect a 3.10 vendor kernel to cope. The immediate hard crashes despite tuning many variables convinced me that virtualisation was not viable with this kernel.

So abandoning that approach I attempted to run the CI workload directly on the system. To my dismay this also proved problematic. The processor has the bad habit of throttling due to thermal issues (despite a substantial heatsink) and because the storage is network attached throttling the CPU also massively impacts I/O.

The limitations meant that the workload caused the system to move between high performance and almost no progress on a roughly ten second cycle. This caused a simple NetSurf recompile CI job to take over fifteen minutes. For comparison the same task takes the armhf builder (CubieTruck) four minutes and a 64 bit x86 build which takes around a minute.

If the workload is tuned to a single core which does not trip thermal throttling the build took seven minutes. which is almost identical to the existing single core virtual machine instance running on the hikey.

In conclusion the Pine64 is an interesting bit of hardware with fatally flawed software offering. Without Simon and Lenny providing their builds to the community the device would be practically useless rather than just performing poorly. There appears to have been no progress whatsoever on the software offering from Pine64 in the six months since I received the device and no prospect of mainline Allwinner support for the SoC either.

Effectively I have spent around 50usd (40 for the board and 10 for the enclosure) on a failed experiment. Perhaps in the future the software will improve sufficiently for it to become useful but I do not hold out much hope that this will come from Pine64 themselves.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Paul Hollywood and the pistoris stone

There has been a great deal of comment among my friends recently about a particularly British cookery program called "The Great British Bake Off". There has been some controversy as the program is moving from the BBC to a commercial broadcaster.

Part of this discussion comes from all the presenters, excepting Paul Hollywood, declining to sign with the new broadcaster and partly because of speculation the BBC might continue with a similar format show with a new name.

Rob Kendrick provided the start to this conversation by passing on a satirical link suggesting Samuel L Jackson might host "cakes on a plane"

This caused a large number of suggestions for alternate names which I will be reporting but Rob Kendrick, Vivek Das Mohapatra, Colin Watson, Jonathan McDowell, Oki Kuma, Dan Alderman, Dagfinn Ilmari MannsÃ¥ke, Lesley Mitchell and Daniel Silverstone are the ones to blame.

  • Strictly come baking
  • Stars and their pies
  • Baking with the stars
  • Bake/Off.
  • Blind Cake
  • Cake or no cake?
  • The cake is a lie
  • Bake That.
  • Bake Me On
  • Bake On Me
  • Bakin' Stevens.
  • The Winner Bakes It All
  • Bakerloo
  • Bake Five
  • Every breath you bake
  • Every bread you bake
  • Unbake my heart
  • Knead and let prove
  • Bake me up before you go-go
  • I want to bake free
  • Another bake bites the dust
  • Cinnamon whorl is not enough
  • The pie who loved me
  • The yeast you can do.
  • Total collapse of the tart
  • Bake and deliver
  • You Gotta Bake
  • Bake's Seven
  • Natural Born Bakers
  • Bake It Or Leaven It
  • Driving the last pikelet
  • Pie crust on the dancefloor
  • Tomorrow never pies
  • Murder on the pie crust
  • The pie who came in from the cold.
  • You only bake twice (Every body has to make one sweet and one savoury dish).

So that is our list, anyone else got better ideas?