Tag Archives: Linux

Linux 4.1 = +50% power efficiency (when idle)

Increased battery efficiency

Increased battery efficiency

On my laptop, I’m running Fedora 22 which was shipped initially with a Linux 4.0 kernel. It was difficult to get 4h of battery life (3h30 was usually enough to deplete the battery down to 5%). Recently, the kernel was changed to 4.1 and because after 5h working on my laptop I got notified that I still had 10% power I got curious,

Therefore with a fully charged battery, I booted with Fedora 22 Linux kernel 4.0.4-301. I used powertop to measure the battery power usage in Watt in graphical (ex-init 5 level) and multi-user target (ex-init 3 level). I then rebooted using Linux kernel 4.1.3-201 and did the same measurement. I waited each time that the system settled down and that successive measurements where constant. Nothing was running, WiFi was ON and connected (Link Quality=64/70), screen brightness at 30%, Graphical target is using Gnome 3.

SystemD Target (~init level) Linux 4.0 (in W) Linux 4.1 (in W) Progress
Multi-User (init 3) 12,8 8,66 -32%
Graphical (init 5) 13,1 8,51 -35%

Wow! That’s great. And the estimated battery power is now up from 4h to 6h30 with WiFi ON. But with light browsing usage and some Arduino development, I got a bit more than 5h15 without requiring a wall power connection!! That close to 50% more battery life than with earlier kernels.

Where does this come from? I don’t know. There seems to have been a few pull requests about power management for kernel 4,1 but none stroke me as relevant for such a huge improvement, Matthew Garrett has proposed a patch to improve dramatically the power efficiency of Intel’s Haswell and Broadwell CPUs (and I happen to have an Haswell one), so that could have been that patch, but I did not find it in the kernel 4.1 changelog, so I doubt it was yet implemented. So I really don’t know what made change in the kernel bring such an improvement. (note: I’m running Fedora 22 and without software update, just by selecting kernel 4.0 or 4.1 at boot, I can see the difference in power consumption. So this is really a kernel-side improvement).

Did you also witness improvement when switching to Linux kernel 4.1? Let me know using any social media means!

Note to self: telinit is now deprecated in favour of systemd targets. Runlevel 3 can be reached by invoking sudo systemctl isolate multi-user.target and the switch to the “runlevel 5” can be triggered using sudo systemctl isolate graphical.target.

Picture credits: Picture was created by me using elements from the KDE project. The original materials were licensed under GNU LGPLv3, and the picture is also provided under this license terms and conditions.

Using TPM as a source of randomness entropy

Lencois_Maranhenses_7-x256A headless server by definition has no input devices such as a keyboard or a mouse which provides a great deal of external randomness to the system. Thus, on such a server, even if using rotational hard disks, it can be difficult to avoid the depletion of the Linux kernel’s random entropy pool. A simplified view of this situation is if the entropy pool is deemed too low, one of the “dices” which generates random numbers is getting biased.  This is can be even more exacerbate on server hosted in virtual machines, but this article won’t help you in this case.

Update 2015-08-24: the article was updated to provide some more information on TPM and commands adapted to the new systemd-based Ubuntu 15.04 and newer. When marked, use either the classic commands from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and older or the newer ones.

The level of the kernel entropy pool can be checked with the following command:

$ echo $(cat /proc/sys/kernel/random/entropy_avail)/$(cat /proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize)

(Note depending of the workload of your server the above result could be considered adequate or not)

What means a depleted entropy pool? It means that any call to /dev/random would be blocking until enough entropy is available. A blocking call is not usually wished, it means the application could be considered frozen until the call is freed. On the other side, calls to /dev/urandom would not be blocking in such situation, but there is a higher risk that the randomness quality of the output decreases. Such a higher risk could mean giving a higher chance for an attacker to predict your next dice roll. This could be exploitable or not and it is hard to tell, at least for me. Therefore, I tend to try avoiding having a depleted entropy pool especially for certain workload.

There are several mechanism to provide randomness sources to the entropy pool. The haveged daemon uses some CPU clock timers variation to achieve that, but it is highly dependant of the CPU being used. Other approaches are using sound cards, etc. And finally there are hardware random number generators (RNG). In my previous article, I talked briefly about the hardware RNG from the Raspberry Pi. In this article, I will present another hardware RNG which is available in many computers and servers: Trusted Platform Module (TPM).


I found the name somewhat marketing, and I’m not even sure we should trust it that much. But we will activate it only to provide a new source of entropy and nothing more. I would advise to use other source of entropy as well. Anyway, if interested the following paragraphs are describing how to achieve this, and if you decide to implement them, be reminded that I give no warranty that it will work for you nor that it won’t break things. I can only guarantee you that it worked on my machine running Ubuntu 14.04.2 LTS.

Let’s install the necessary tools and deactivate the main services (the tools launch a daemon which we don’t want to use as we will use rngd to get and verify the randomness of the TPM RNG before feeding the entropy pool).

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

$ sudo apt install tpm-tools
$ sudo update-rc.d trousers disable
$ sudo service trousers stop

Ubuntu 15.04 and newer

$ sudo apt install tpm-tools
$ sudo systemctl stop trousers.service
$ sudo systemctl disable trousers.service

Then, you will need to go into the BIOS/EFI settings of your computer/server and activate TPM, and possibly clear the ownership of the TPM if it happened to be owned by someone else. Of course, don’t do that if it is not your computer.

I found out that my particular BIOS option only allow clearing from the BIOS settings. Trying to do so from the OS results in the following:

$ sudo tpm_clear --force
Tspi_TPM_ClearOwner failed: 0x0000002d - layer=tpm, code=002d (45), Bad physical presence value

I also found out that my particular BIOS when clearing the ownership, deletes also the Endorsement Key (EK). When I was trying to take ownership of the TPM device (see further) I was getting the following error:

$ sudo tpm_takeownership
Tspi_TPM_TakeOwnership failed: 0x00000023 - layer=tpm, code=0023 (35), No EK

So I had to do an extra step, to generate a new EK:

$ sudo tpm_createek

After having creating a new EK, I was able to successfully take ownership of the TPM device.

$ sudo tpm_takeownership
Enter owner password:
Confirm password:
Enter SRK password:
Confirm password:
tpm_takeownership succeeded

Once all this is done, we are ready to load the TPM RNG kernel module and launch the user space tool that will use this source to feed the Linux kernel entropy pool. The user space tool are the rng-tools suite (with the rngd daemon).

Load the kernel module (to load it permanently add tpm_rng as a new line to /etc/modules):

$ sudo modprobe tpm_rng

And then install the user space tool.

$ sudo apt install rng-tools

The default configuration should be good enough. But you can check it by editing the file /etc/default/rng-tools. The default settings for rngd are to not fill more than half of the pool. I don’t advise to set it to higher, unless you really trust blindly those TPM chips. If you have installed the tool, it should already be running but if you modified the default settings then a restart is necessary.

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

$ sudo service rng-tools restart

Ubuntu 15.04 and newer

$ sudo systemctl restart rng-tools.services

Now you can check again the available entropy with the command that I gave at the beginning of this post.

Installing Linux on Raspberry Pi – The Easy Way

As I announced, I got a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B and although I did not get much time to play yet with it, it was just an excuse to get back to programming and a little computer science fun.

Anyway, I’ve installed Raspbian on it and did a few configurations which I think are worthy to share with others. I’m not going to describe a step-by-step to install a Linux distribution on your Pi, I recommend trying NOOBS and check the good documentation from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. With this setup you can choose during the installation process which Linux distribution to install.

That’s what I did as a warm-up and a quick way to get an up-and-running Pi.

Note that the Raspberry Pi 2 has a new CPU (ARMv7) which is not yet fully exploited by most distribution targeted at the Raspberry Pi ecosystem (with the exception of the Linux kernel). There is one exception: Snappy Ubuntu Core but it is yet alpha. However it should be possible to install most standard Linux distribution that are supporting ARMv7 instructions set, however this is an interesting exercise which I did not perform (yet).

Anyway, using the NOOBS installation or any of the images provided for SD Card has several implication in terms of security. Here is what I recommend to do after the first boot.

Changing password and locking root

If you use the Raspbian installation, then you have one user account `pi’. If you haven’t changed the password for this user during installation, then better do it now. Once connected as `pi’ do:

$ passwd

And enter and then confirm the password you want to use.

With Raspbian, the `pi’ user has administrator’s rights. You can call sudo to perform system changes. If you are comfortable with that, then simply lock the root account:

$ sudo passwd -dl root

Or if you simply want to give a password of your own and use root:

$ sudo passwd root

Getting some Entropy

I am preparing a more detail article on this topic, so for now I am only going to give some background and the commands to increase the sources of entropy. Entropy is important, you need sufficient entropy (which your Linux kernel can gather for you) to be able to generate good pseudo-random numbers. Those numbers are used by many cryptographic services, such as generating SSH keys or SSL/TLS certificates.

The problem with embedded devices such as the Raspberry Pi (especially if you run it headless like I do) is that there aren’t many sources of entropy available to the kernel, especially at boot time.

The Raspberry Pi has an integrated hardware random number generator (HW RNG) which Linux can use to feed its entropy pool. The implication of using such HW RNG is debatable and I will discuss it in the coming article. But here is how to activate it.

First of all, load the kernel module (aka driver) for the HW RNG (the Raspberry Pi 2 can use the same kernel module as the Raspberry Pi 1 models). The Linux way of doing it is via modprobe:

$ sudo modprobe bcm2708-rng

If it worked a new device should be now available /dev/hwrng and the following should be visible in the system messages:

$ dmesg | tail -1
[ 133.787336] bcm2708_rng_init=bbafe000

To make the change permanent, on any Linux system you simply load the module in the /etc/modules file by adding a new line with bcm2708_rng (see next command). Or you can use the Raspberry Pi firmware Device Tree (DT) overlays (see below).

$ sudo bash -c 'echo bcm2708_rng >> /etc/modules'

Now install the rng-tools (the service should be automatically activated and started, default configuration is fine, but you can tweak/amend it in /etc/default/rng-tools)

$ sudo apt-get install rng-tools

After awhile you can check the level of entropy in your pool and some stats on the rng-tools service:

$ echo $(cat /proc/sys/kernel/random/entropy_avail)/$(cat /proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize)                                 
$ sudo pkill -USR1 rngd; tail -15 /var/log/syslog
rngd[7231]: stats: bits received from HRNG source: 100064
rngd[7231]: stats: bits sent to kernel pool: 40512
rngd[7231]: stats: entropy added to kernel pool: 40512
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2 successes: 5
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2 failures: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Monobit: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Poker: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Runs: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Long run: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Continuous run: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: HRNG source speed: (min=824.382; avg=1022.108; max=1126.435)Kibits/s
rngd[7231]: stats: FIPS tests speed: (min=6.459; avg=8.161; max=9.872)Mibits/s
rngd[7231]: stats: Lowest ready-buffers level: 2
rngd[7231]: stats: Entropy starvations: 0
rngd[7231]: stats: Time spent starving for entropy: (min=0; avg=0.000; max=0)us

Securing SSH – the basic

I run my Pi headless for the moment. So after the first boot, I went into the advanced configuration of the raspi-config and activated SSH daemon. I’m not here going to describe how to properly secure the SSHd daemon, which can be a topic for a future article. I’m only going to focus on one topic which is SSH host keys.

SSH host keys are the means for a user connecting to a remote server to verify the authenticity of the server. That the sort of message you see the first time you connect to an SSH server:

$ ssh pi@raspberrypi
The authenticity of host 'raspberrypi (' can't be established.
ECDSA key fingerprint is 42:3d:4f:b7:0b:4b:62:11:47:28:cc:86:76:0c:ac:24.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

If an attacker tries to spoof your SSH server, on connection you will get this message:

$ ssh pi@raspberrypi
Someone could be eavesdropping on you right now (man-in-the-middle attack)!
It is also possible that a host key has just been changed.
The fingerprint for the ECDSA key sent by the remote host is
Please contact your system administrator.
Add correct host key in /home/pithagore/.ssh/known_hosts to get rid of this message.
Offending ECDSA key in /home/pithagore/.ssh/known_hosts:3
  remove with: ssh-keygen -f "/home/pithagore/.ssh/known_hosts" -R raspberrypi
ECDSA host key for raspberrypi has changed and you have requested strict checking.
Host key verification failed.

So this is all good, but the problem with these host keys is that you cannot really trust the one installed by default. They could be the same as the one from the image you downloaded and flashed on your SD Card, and so would be similar to all other persons installing the same image. Another problem is that they could have been generated at a point in the installation where not enough entropy was gathered by the kernel to be able to provide non-predictable random numbers. Therefore someone could use this to generate new host keys that would match the one on your Raspberry Pi.

Now that in the earlier chapter we added good source to feed the entropy pool, we can regenerate better host keys. First get rid off the previous ones:

$ sudo rm /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*key{,.pub}

Then generate new ones with one of the 3 possibilities:

  • Automatic configuration using dpkg
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure openssh-server 
Creating SSH2 RSA key; this may take some time ...
Creating SSH2 ECDSA key; this may take some time ...
Restarting OpenBSD Secure Shell server: sshd.
  • Automatic configuration using ssh-keygen
$ sudo ssh-keygen -A
$ sudo service ssh restart
  • Manual configuration
$ sudo ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -N "" -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
$ sudo ssh-keygen -t ecdsa -b 521 -N "" -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key
$ sudo service ssh restart

Now if you want to print the fingerprint of any of your host keys to make sure of the authenticity of the server you are connecting to (should only be needed the first time your client connects to your server):

$ ssh-keygen -l -f


Gnome 3 on Ubuntu LTS

This mini how-to is to install Gnome on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Of course the best approach would have been to install Ubuntu Gnome in the first place. But if you didn’t (like me) and have Unity as desktop and would like Gnome (or just give it a try), check the rest of this article.

Note and disclaimer: Gnome3 will be available alongside Unity. So you can always switch back and forth between the two without troubles. However, a word of caution, as usual with system modifications, make sure you have backups available and working before proceeding. I make no guarantee that the following will work for you. I’m only stated it worked for me.

Installing Gnome Shell (aka Gnome3)

Installing the “core” Gnome 3 is rather easy. You need to have the Universe repository activated and then:

$ sudo apt update; sudo apt upgrade
$ sudo apt install gnome-shell

During installation of gnome-shell, you will be prompted to choose between GDM (the default Gnome Display Manager) and LightDM (an alternative Ubuntu is using by default). The main functions of these DM, from an end user perspective, is that they provide a graphical login where you can choose the user (and type a password) and choose the desktop environment to use once logged in. In addition these DM can offer things such as autologin. There is no wrong answer here. You can stick with LightDM (it is the one installed by default on UBuntu, and that’s the option I chose) or switch to GDM. In both cases, you need to choose for the session if you wish to use Gnome or Unity desktop environment.

Now you can log out and log in again (choosing Gnome for the session).

Installing some missing default Gnome Apps

This is entirely optional. If you have seen Gnome3 release notes, you will be looking for a few extra applications that are not installed by default by Ubuntu and that are available in the Universe repository. Example applications: Gnome Maps, Gnome Weather, etc.

To install them, you can either install the gnome-core package which will install a minimal Gnome applications environment to start with. Or install a complete Gnome applications environment (which includes all of gnome-core) by installing the package gnome. Or finally simply install a few goodies (a subselection of gnome) that is tailored to your needs. Here is a list of goodies that I installed (from Universe Repos):

$ sudo apt install eog-plugins gnome-{backgrounds,boxes,clocks,color-manager} \
  gnome-{dictionary,documents,maps,packagekit,shell-extension-weather} \
  gnome-{system-tools,weather,music,photos} gnote

And a few others from the main repos:

$ sudo apt install gnome-user-share indicator-printers

And with this, you can get a nice Gnome environment with a Ubuntu based OS.

For Ubuntu 14.10 Users

The above instructions works also for Ubuntu 14.10 users.

Too long without programming

I love programming! And because I do it less and less at work, I felt the need to do something about it.

I was looking for a project to help when I read the news about the new Raspberry Pi. And it took me only a couple of days to realise that was it, so I ordered it online and just received it. Raspberry Pi 2 Model BA beautiful little device with enough connectivity and power to have some fun!

I did not have much time yet to play with it, I was able to install Raspbian on it and that’s it. But I’m quite happy about my decision and I’m looking forward for the projects I plan with it (I’m hesitating between creating a weather station together with a small Arduino board as the “sensor”, or perhaps starting with something less ambitious maybe related to home automation).

Click more to see the system information (OS name, memory and CPU information) of that little wonder.

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How to verify your Synology NAS hard disks

I upgraded my 2 HDD in my Synology NAS to bigger ones. The change and rebuild of the RAID mirror was seemless. But I wanted to verify the health of the filesystems before growing the volumes. Here is how to do it.

Note: I am making the following assumptions, you know what you are doing, you activated SSH on your box and know how to connect as root, you know and understand how your NAS HDD have been configured, you have a wokring backup of your HDD data, you are not afraid of losing your data.

First find out what is the drive name of your volume(s) and also what is the filesystem type:

# mount
/dev/root on / type ext4 (rw,relatime,barrier=0,journal_checksum,data=ordered)
/dev/mapper/vol1-origin on /volume1 type ext4 (usrjquota=aquota.user,grpjquota=aquota.group,jqfmt=vfsv0,synoacl)
/dev/mapper/vol2-origin on /volume2 type ext4 (usrjquota=aquota.user,grpjquota=aquota.group,jqfmt=vfsv0,synoacl)

In my case, I have created 2 volumes on top of my mirror. The device on which these volumes are stored are /dev/mapper/vol1-origin and vol2-origin, they are both ext4 filesystems. But you probably do not have such a setup and only have one volume on top of your RAID array and your device might simply be /dev/md[x].

The fact that my devices were in /dev/mapper hinted me that they might be a LVM layer somewhere. So I executed the following command (harmless):

# lvs
LV                    VG   Attr   LSize    Origin Snap%  Move Log Copy%  Convert
syno_vg_reserved_area vg1  -wi-a-   12.00M
volume_1              vg1  -wi-ao    1.00T
volume_2              vg1  -wi-ao    1.00T

So my 2 volumes are LVM logical volumes. Now that I have this information, I can do the following to verify the filesystems’ health. First of all, shutting down most services and unmounting the filesystems:

# syno_poweroff_task

Now if you did not have LVM but rather a /dev/md[x] device, you can simply do (if you have an ext2/ext3/ext4 filesystem only, and replace the ‘x’ by the correct number):

# e2fsck -pvf /dev/mdx

But if like me you have LVM, then you will need a few extra steps. The ‘syno_power_off’ has probably deactivated the LVM logical volumes, to be sure check the “LV Status” given by the next command (harmless, not the complete output is here given):

# lvdisplay
--- Logical volume ---
LV Name                /dev/vg1/volume_1
VG Name                vg1
LV UUID                <UUID>
LV Write Access        read/write
LV Status              NOT available
LV Size                1.00 TB

As you can see the logical volume is not available. We need to make it available so that the link to the logical volume is accessible:

# lvm lvchange -ay vg1/volume_1
# lvdisplay
--- Logical volume ---
LV Name                /dev/vg1/volume_1
VG Name                vg1
LV UUID                <UUID>
LV Write Access        read/write
LV Status              available
# open                 0
LV Size                1.00 TB

The status has changed now to “available”, so we can proceed with the filesystem verification:

# e2fsck -pvf /dev/vg1/volume_1

To finish this, you need to remount and restart all the stopped services. I do not know a specific Synology command to do that, so I simply rebooted the machine:

# shutdown -r now

Measuring and understanding how a process is using the primary memory (aka RAM) is complex because Operating System have been optimising primary memory use to save space or optimise run time (memory map, virtual memory, kernel same page merging, etc.). Therefore most tasks managers are reporting several metrics to inform about memory usage, and even their own help page are sometimes reporting a wrong definition for a metric. So I am always learning new things about what actually all those metrics are measuring. Today’s is PSS:

Linux’s PSS (Proportional Set Size) metric. This is the amount of RAM actually mapped into the process, but weighted by the amount it is shared across processes. So if there is a 4K page of RAM mapped in to two processes, its PSS amount for each process would be 2K. The nice thing about using PSS is that you can add up this value across all processes to determine the actual total RAM use. – Android Developer Blog, Understanding How Your App Uses RAM

Home Server – What do I want?

What service do I want to run on my Home Server?

I do have a NAS already which has the following services: File Sharing (Samba, AFS and NFS), Media Streaming Server (DLNA), VPN Server, Cloud Sync Repository. So I do not intend to have redundant services on my Home Server. What is left?

My Home Server could support:

  • Backup: Having a proper backup of all important files from the NAS and our laptop. Implementations: rdiff-backup, Box Backup, fwbackups*, duplicity*, rsnapshot or storeBackup.
  • (N)-IDS: As I have services open to the internet, I want to take some precautions and check that no exploits is taken advantage of. I am not sure this is enough, but it is the least I can do. Implementations: AIDE or Suricata.
  • DNS cache/server: I am thinking of hosting my own DNS server to perform some caching and hopefully enhance a bit the browsing experience in terms of performance. Though I would need to benchmark this to make sure I have any gain as I suspect my old router to do some caching. Implementation: dnsmasq.
  • DHCP server: My home router is a Netgear WG614 and its features for what concern DHCP are fairly limited, having my home server addressing this issue is a nice idea (until we get a better router). I could be even tightly coupled with the DNS server (see earlier bullet point) so that one could use hostname within the local network. Implementation: dnsmasq.
  • Syslog server
  • Maybe – ownCloud: maybe one day I would prefer to use an open source solution for Cloud Sync rather than the closed source one from my NAS vendor.

*: FreeBSD support is uncertain.

As one can see, I could use Linux or BSD based OS or a mixture. However, ZFS is so compelling that I am seriously considering to go for FreeBSD+jails and basta cosi! February will be the month where I try to set-up a FreeBSD server.

ZFS on Linux

In my previous post, I was stating that ZFS on Linux was not mature enough. The native ZFS port to Linux, although active, is still in release candidate stage and requires significant work to install. As for the ZFS FUSE version, it is still a 0.7 version not updated for long but it is easy to install on Ubuntu as it is available in the Software Centre (the link only works if your system supports the ‘apt:‘ scheme like on Ubuntu).

I have tried and installed the later, and although I cannot give any conclusion from a stability/reliability point of view, I was able to perform successfully the same steps I had performed on FreeBSD using ZFS.

Btrfs – Linux answer to ZFS

Sadly ZFS on Linux is not at the same maturity level than on FreeBSD (or even Solaris). There is a FUSE implementation but it is now more than 16 month since anything happen there, and in my opinion not yet stable. Regarding native ZFS port, only one ZFS implementation for Linux is still developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory but it is still a release candidate version.
The state of ZFS on Linux is perhaps not too good today, but there is another file system in development and good support that could soon compete with ZFS, its name is btrfs (pronounce ‘butter-fs‘). Btrfs is still experimental
Yesterday, one of my virtual machines running Oracle Linux 6.3 got its root file system full, as it was configured with LVM it was not so much trouble but I wanted to try btrfs. I decided to move the /var to another partitions using btrfs. I have created a new hard disk in my VM and started it. Here is the rest of the story.

Warning: following these instructions might break your system. As an advice, create a virtual machine and experience with it before doing so on a real system.

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