Tag Archives: express

C is to low level

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/05/c-is-too-low-level.html

I’m in danger of contradicting myself, after previously pointing out that x86 machine code is a high-level language, but this article claiming C is a not a low level language is bunk. C certainly has some problems, but it’s still the closest language to assembly. This is obvious by the fact it’s still the fastest compiled language. What we see is a typical academic out of touch with the real world.

The author makes the (wrong) observation that we’ve been stuck emulating the PDP-11 for the past 40 years. C was written for the PDP-11, and since then CPUs have been designed to make C run faster. The author imagines a different world, such as where CPU designers instead target something like LISP as their preferred language, or Erlang. This misunderstands the state of the market. CPUs do indeed supports lots of different abstractions, and C has evolved to accommodate this.

The author criticizes things like “out-of-order” execution which has lead to the Spectre sidechannel vulnerabilities. Out-of-order execution is necessary to make C run faster. The author claims instead that those resources should be spent on having more slower CPUs, with more threads. This sacrifices single-threaded performance in exchange for a lot more threads executing in parallel. The author cites Sparc Tx CPUs as his ideal processor.

But here’s the thing, the Sparc Tx was a failure. To be fair, it’s mostly a failure because most of the time, people wanted to run old C code instead of new Erlang code. But it was still a failure at running Erlang.

Time after time, engineers keep finding that “out-of-order”, single-threaded performance is still the winner. A good example is ARM processors for both mobile phones and servers. All the theory points to in-order CPUs as being better, but all the products are out-of-order, because this theory is wrong. The custom ARM cores from Apple and Qualcomm used in most high-end phones are so deeply out-of-order they give Intel CPUs competition. The same is true on the server front with the latest Qualcomm Centriq and Cavium ThunderX2 processors, deeply out of order supporting more than 100 instructions in flight.

The Cavium is especially telling. Its ThunderX CPU had 48 simple cores which was replaced with the ThunderX2 having 32 complex, deeply out-of-order cores. The performance increase was massive, even on multithread-friendly workloads. Every competitor to Intel’s dominance in the server space has learned the lesson from Sparc Tx: many wimpy cores is a failure, you need fewer beefy cores. Yes, they don’t need to be as beefy as Intel’s processors, but they need to be close.

Even Intel’s “Xeon Phi” custom chip learned this lesson. This is their GPU-like chip, running 60 cores with 512-bit wide “vector” (sic) instructions, designed for supercomputer applications. Its first version was purely in-order. Its current version is slightly out-of-order. It supports four threads and focuses on basic number crunching, so in-order cores seems to be the right approach, but Intel found in this case that out-of-order processing still provided a benefit. Practice is different than theory.

As an academic, the author of the above article focuses on abstractions. The criticism of C is that it has the wrong abstractions which are hard to optimize, and that if we instead expressed things in the right abstractions, it would be easier to optimize.

This is an intellectually compelling argument, but so far bunk.

The reason is that while the theoretical base language has issues, everyone programs using extensions to the language, like “intrinsics” (C ‘functions’ that map to assembly instructions). Programmers write libraries using these intrinsics, which then the rest of the normal programmers use. In other words, if your criticism is that C is not itself low level enough, it still provides the best access to low level capabilities.

Given that C can access new functionality in CPUs, CPU designers add new paradigms, from SIMD to transaction processing. In other words, while in the 1980s CPUs were designed to optimize C (stacks, scaled pointers), these days CPUs are designed to optimize tasks regardless of language.

The author of that article criticizes the memory/cache hierarchy, claiming it has problems. Yes, it has problems, but only compared to how well it normally works. The author praises the many simple cores/threads idea as hiding memory latency with little caching, but misses the point that caches also dramatically increase memory bandwidth. Intel processors are optimized to read a whopping 256 bits every clock cycle from L1 cache. Main memory bandwidth is orders of magnitude slower.

The author goes onto criticize cache coherency as a problem. C uses it, but other languages like Erlang don’t need it. But that’s largely due to the problems each languages solves. Erlang solves the problem where a large number of threads work on largely independent tasks, needing to send only small messages to each other across threads. The problems C solves is when you need many threads working on a huge, common set of data.

For example, consider the “intrusion prevention system”. Any thread can process any incoming packet that corresponds to any region of memory. There’s no practical way of solving this problem without a huge coherent cache. It doesn’t matter which language or abstractions you use, it’s the fundamental constraint of the problem being solved. RDMA is an important concept that’s moved from supercomputer applications to the data center, such as with memcached. Again, we have the problem of huge quantities (terabytes worth) shared among threads rather than small quantities (kilobytes).

The fundamental issue the author of the the paper is ignoring is decreasing marginal returns. Moore’s Law has gifted us more transistors than we can usefully use. We can’t apply those additional registers to just one thing, because the useful returns we get diminish.

For example, Intel CPUs have two hardware threads per core. That’s because there are good returns by adding a single additional thread. However, the usefulness of adding a third or fourth thread decreases. That’s why many CPUs have only two threads, or sometimes four threads, but no CPU has 16 threads per core.

You can apply the same discussion to any aspect of the CPU, from register count, to SIMD width, to cache size, to out-of-order depth, and so on. Rather than focusing on one of these things and increasing it to the extreme, CPU designers make each a bit larger every process tick that adds more transistors to the chip.

The same applies to cores. It’s why the “more simpler cores” strategy fails, because more cores have their own decreasing marginal returns. Instead of adding cores tied to limited memory bandwidth, it’s better to add more cache. Such cache already increases the size of the cores, so at some point it’s more effective to add a few out-of-order features to each core rather than more cores. And so on.

The question isn’t whether we can change this paradigm and radically redesign CPUs to match some academic’s view of the perfect abstraction. Instead, the goal is to find new uses for those additional transistors. For example, “message passing” is a useful abstraction in languages like Go and Erlang that’s often more useful than sharing memory. It’s implemented with shared memory and atomic instructions, but I can’t help but think it couldn’t better be done with direct hardware support.

Of course, as soon as they do that, it’ll become an intrinsic in C, then added to languages like Go and Erlang.


Academics live in an ideal world of abstractions, the rest of us live in practical reality. The reality is that vast majority of programmers work with the C family of languages (JavaScript, Go, etc.), whereas academics love the epiphanies they learned using other languages, especially function languages. CPUs are only superficially designed to run C and “PDP-11 compatibility”. Instead, they keep adding features to support other abstractions, abstractions available to C. They are driven by decreasing marginal returns — they would love to add new abstractions to the hardware because it’s a cheap way to make use of additional transitions. Academics are wrong believing that the entire system needs to be redesigned from scratch. Instead, they just need to come up with new abstractions CPU designers can add.

Working with the Scout Association on digital skills for life

Post Syndicated from Philip Colligan original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/working-with-scout-association-digital-skills-for-life/

Today we’re launching a new partnership between the Scouts and the Raspberry Pi Foundation that will help tens of thousands of young people learn crucial digital skills for life. In this blog post, I want to explain what we’ve got planned, why it matters, and how you can get involved.

This is personal

First, let me tell you why this partnership matters to me. As a child growing up in North Wales in the 1980s, Scouting changed my life. My time with 2nd Rhyl provided me with countless opportunities to grow and develop new skills. It taught me about teamwork and community in ways that continue to shape my decisions today.

As my own kids (now seven and ten) have joined Scouting, I’ve seen the same opportunities opening up for them, and like so many parents, I’ve come back to the movement as a volunteer to support their local section. So this is deeply personal for me, and the same is true for many of my colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation who in different ways have been part of the Scouting movement.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Scouting and Raspberry Pi share many of the same values. We are both community-led movements that aim to help young people develop the skills they need for life. We are both powered by an amazing army of volunteers who give their time to support that mission. We both care about inclusiveness, and pride ourselves on combining fun with learning by doing.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi started life in 2008 as a response to the problem that too many young people were growing up without the skills to create with technology. Our goal is that everyone should be able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies, for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.

In 2012 we launched our first product, the world’s first $35 computer. Just six years on, we have sold over 20 million Raspberry Pi computers and helped kickstart a global movement for digital skills.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation now runs the world’s largest network of volunteer-led computing clubs (Code Clubs and CoderDojos), and creates free educational resources that are used by millions of young people all over the world to learn how to create with digital technologies. And lots of what we are able to achieve is because of partnerships with fantastic organisations that share our goals. For example, through our partnership with the European Space Agency, thousands of young people have written code that has run on two Raspberry Pi computers that Tim Peake took to the International Space Station as part of his Mission Principia.

Digital makers

Today we’re launching the new Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to help tens of thousands of young people learn how to create with technology through Scouting. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with the Scouts all over the UK to develop and test the new badge requirements, along with guidance, project ideas, and resources that really make them work for Scouting. We know that we need to get two things right: relevance and accessibility.

Relevance is all about making sure that the activities and resources we provide are a really good fit for Scouting and Scouting’s mission to equip young people with skills for life. From the digital compass to nature cameras and the reinvented wide game, we’ve had a lot of fun thinking about ways we can bring to life the crucial role that digital technologies can play in the outdoors and adventure.

Compass Coding with Raspberry Pi

We are beyond excited to be launching a new partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which will help tens of thousands of young people learn digital skills for life.

We also know that there are great opportunities for Scouts to use digital technologies to solve social problems in their communities, reflecting the movement’s commitment to social action. Today we’re launching the first set of project ideas and resources, with many more to follow over the coming weeks and months.

Accessibility is about providing every Scout leader with the confidence, support, and kit to enable them to offer the Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to their young people. A lot of work and care has gone into designing activities that require very little equipment: for example, activities at Stages 1 and 2 can be completed with a laptop without access to the internet. For the activities that do require kit, we will be working with Scout Stores and districts to make low-cost kit available to buy or loan.

We’re producing accessible instructions, worksheets, and videos to help leaders run sessions with confidence, and we’ll also be planning training for leaders. We will work with our network of Code Clubs and CoderDojos to connect them with local sections to organise joint activities, bringing both kit and expertise along with them.

Get involved

Today’s launch is just the start. We’ll be developing our partnership over the next few years, and we can’t wait for you to join us in getting more young people making things with technology.

Take a look at the brand-new Raspberry Pi resources designed especially for Scouts, to get young people making and creating right away.

The post Working with the Scout Association on digital skills for life appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Williams: Introducing Git protocol version 2

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/754872/rss

Brandon Williams writes
about the new Git remote protocol
that will debut in the 2.18 release.
We recently rolled out support for protocol version 2 at Google and
have seen a performance improvement of 3x for no-op fetches of a single
branch on repositories containing 500k references. Protocol v2 has also
enabled a reduction of 8x of the overhead bytes (non-packfile) sent from
googlesource.com servers. A majority of this improvement is due to
filtering references advertised by the server to the refs the client has
expressed interest in.

Announcing Local Build Support for AWS CodeBuild

Post Syndicated from Karthik Thirugnanasambandam original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/announcing-local-build-support-for-aws-codebuild/

Today, we’re excited to announce local build support in AWS CodeBuild.

AWS CodeBuild is a fully managed build service. There are no servers to provision and scale, or software to install, configure, and operate. You just specify the location of your source code, choose your build settings, and CodeBuild runs build scripts for compiling, testing, and packaging your code.

In this blog post, I’ll show you how to set up CodeBuild locally to build and test a sample Java application.

By building an application on a local machine you can:

  • Test the integrity and contents of a buildspec file locally.
  • Test and build an application locally before committing.
  • Identify and fix errors quickly from your local development environment.


In this post, I am using AWS Cloud9 IDE as my development environment.

If you would like to use AWS Cloud9 as your IDE, follow the express setup steps in the AWS Cloud9 User Guide.

The AWS Cloud9 IDE comes with Docker and Git already installed. If you are going to use your laptop or desktop machine as your development environment, install Docker and Git before you start.

Steps to build CodeBuild image locally

Run git clone https://github.com/aws/aws-codebuild-docker-images.git to download this repository to your local machine.

$ git clone https://github.com/aws/aws-codebuild-docker-images.git

Lets build a local CodeBuild image for JDK 8 environment. The Dockerfile for JDK 8 is present in /aws-codebuild-docker-images/ubuntu/java/openjdk-8.

Edit the Dockerfile to remove the last line ENTRYPOINT [“dockerd-entrypoint.sh”] and save the file.

Run cd ubuntu/java/openjdk-8 to change the directory in your local workspace.

Run docker build -t aws/codebuild/java:openjdk-8 . to build the Docker image locally. This command will take few minutes to complete.

$ cd aws-codebuild-docker-images
$ cd ubuntu/java/openjdk-8
$ docker build -t aws/codebuild/java:openjdk-8 .

Steps to setup CodeBuild local agent

Run the following Docker pull command to download the local CodeBuild agent.

$ docker pull amazon/aws-codebuild-local:latest --disable-content-trust=false

Now you have the local agent image on your machine and can run a local build.

Run the following git command to download a sample Java project.

$ git clone https://github.com/karthiksambandam/sample-web-app.git

Steps to use the local agent to build a sample project

Let’s build the sample Java project using the local agent.

Execute the following Docker command to run the local agent and build the sample web app repository you cloned earlier.

$ docker run -it -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock -e "IMAGE_NAME=aws/codebuild/java:openjdk-8" -e "ARTIFACTS=/home/ec2-user/environment/artifacts" -e "SOURCE=/home/ec2-user/environment/sample-web-app" amazon/aws-codebuild-local

Note: We need to provide three environment variables namely  IMAGE_NAME, SOURCE and ARTIFACTS.

IMAGE_NAME: The name of your build environment image.

SOURCE: The absolute path to your source code directory.

ARTIFACTS: The absolute path to your artifact output folder.

When you run the sample project, you get a runtime error that says the YAML file does not exist. This is because a buildspec.yml file is not included in the sample web project. AWS CodeBuild requires a buildspec.yml to run a build. For more information about buildspec.yml, see Build Spec Example in the AWS CodeBuild User Guide.

Let’s add a buildspec.yml file with the following content to the sample-web-app folder and then rebuild the project.

version: 0.2

      - echo Build started on `date`
      - mvn install

    - target/javawebdemo.war

$ docker run -it -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock -e "IMAGE_NAME=aws/codebuild/java:openjdk-8" -e "ARTIFACTS=/home/ec2-user/environment/artifacts" -e "SOURCE=/home/ec2-user/environment/sample-web-app" amazon/aws-codebuild-local

This time your build should be successful. Upon successful execution, look in the /artifacts folder for the final built artifacts.zip file to validate.


In this blog post, I showed you how to quickly set up the CodeBuild local agent to build projects right from your local desktop machine or laptop. As you see, local builds can improve developer productivity by helping you identify and fix errors quickly.

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions in the comments.

EC2 Fleet – Manage Thousands of On-Demand and Spot Instances with One Request

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/ec2-fleet-manage-thousands-of-on-demand-and-spot-instances-with-one-request/

EC2 Spot Fleets are really cool. You can launch a fleet of Spot Instances that spans EC2 instance types and Availability Zones without having to write custom code to discover capacity or monitor prices. You can set the target capacity (the size of the fleet) in units that are meaningful to your application and have Spot Fleet create and then maintain the fleet on your behalf. Our customers are creating Spot Fleets of all sizes. For example, one financial service customer runs Monte Carlo simulations across 10 different EC2 instance types. They routinely make requests for hundreds of thousands of vCPUs and count on Spot Fleet to give them access to massive amounts of capacity at the best possible price.

EC2 Fleet
Today we are extending and generalizing the set-it-and-forget-it model that we pioneered in Spot Fleet with EC2 Fleet, a new building block that gives you the ability to create fleets that are composed of a combination of EC2 On-Demand, Reserved, and Spot Instances with a single API call. You tell us what you need, capacity and instance-wise, and we’ll handle all the heavy lifting. We will launch, manage, monitor and scale instances as needed, without the need for scaffolding code.

You can specify the capacity of your fleet in terms of instances, vCPUs, or application-oriented units, and also indicate how much of the capacity should be fulfilled by Spot Instances. The application-oriented units allow you to specify the relative power of each EC2 instance type in a way that directly maps to the needs of your application. All three capacity specification options (instances, vCPUs, and application-oriented units) are known as weights.

I think you’ll find a number ways this feature makes managing a fleet of instances easier, and believe that you will also appreciate the team’s near-term feature roadmap of interest (more on that in a bit).

Using EC2 Fleet
There are a number of ways that you can use this feature, whether you’re running a stateless web service, a big data cluster or a continuous integration pipeline. Today I’m going to describe how you can use EC2 Fleet for genomic processing, but this is similar to workloads like risk analysis, log processing or image rendering. Modern DNA sequencers can produce multiple terabytes of raw data each day, to process that data into meaningful information in a timely fashion you need lots of processing power. I’ll be showing you how to deploy a “grid” of worker nodes that can quickly crunch through secondary analysis tasks in parallel.

Projects in genomics can use the elasticity EC2 provides to experiment and try out new pipelines on hundreds or even thousands of servers. With EC2 you can access as many cores as you need and only pay for what you use. Prior to today, you would need to use the RunInstances API or an Auto Scaling group for the On-Demand & Reserved Instance portion of your grid. To get the best price performance you’d also create and manage a Spot Fleet or multiple Spot Auto Scaling groups with different instance types if you wanted to add Spot Instances to turbo-boost your secondary analysis. Finally, to automate scaling decisions across multiple APIs and Auto Scaling groups you would need to write Lambda functions that periodically assess your grid’s progress & backlog, as well as current Spot prices – modifying your Auto Scaling Groups and Spot Fleets accordingly.

You can now replace all of this with a single EC2 Fleet, analyzing genomes at scale for as little as $1 per analysis. In my grid, each step in in the pipeline requires 1 vCPU and 4 GiB of memory, a perfect match for M4 and M5 instances with 4 GiB of memory per vCPU. I will create a fleet using M4 and M5 instances with weights that correspond to the number of vCPUs on each instance:

  • m4.16xlarge – 64 vCPUs, weight = 64
  • m5.24xlarge – 96 vCPUs, weight = 96

This is expressed in a template that looks like this:

"Overrides": [
  "InstanceType": "m4.16xlarge",
  "WeightedCapacity": 64,
  "InstanceType": "m5.24xlarge",
  "WeightedCapacity": 96,

By default, EC2 Fleet will select the most cost effective combination of instance types and Availability Zones (both specified in the template) using the current prices for the Spot Instances and public prices for the On-Demand Instances (if you specify instances for which you have matching RIs, your discounts will apply). The default mode takes weights into account to get the instances that have the lowest price per unit. So for my grid, fleet will find the instance that offers the lowest price per vCPU.

Now I can request capacity in terms of vCPUs, knowing EC2 Fleet will select the lowest cost option using only the instance types I’ve defined as acceptable. Also, I can specify how many vCPUs I want to launch using On-Demand or Reserved Instance capacity and how many vCPUs should be launched using Spot Instance capacity:

"TargetCapacitySpecification": {
	"TotalTargetCapacity": 2880,
	"OnDemandTargetCapacity": 960,
	"SpotTargetCapacity": 1920,
	"DefaultTargetCapacityType": "Spot"

The above means that I want a total of 2880 vCPUs, with 960 vCPUs fulfilled using On-Demand and 1920 using Spot. The On-Demand price per vCPU is lower for m5.24xlarge than the On-Demand price per vCPU for m4.16xlarge, so EC2 Fleet will launch 10 m5.24xlarge instances to fulfill 960 vCPUs. Based on current Spot pricing (again, on a per-vCPU basis), EC2 Fleet will choose to launch 30 m4.16xlarge instances or 20 m5.24xlarges, delivering 1920 vCPUs either way.

Putting it all together, I have a single file (fl1.json) that describes my fleet:

    "LaunchTemplateConfigs": [
            "LaunchTemplateSpecification": {
                "LaunchTemplateId": "lt-0e8c754449b27161c",
                "Version": "1"
        "Overrides": [
          "InstanceType": "m4.16xlarge",
          "WeightedCapacity": 64,
          "InstanceType": "m5.24xlarge",
          "WeightedCapacity": 96,
    "TargetCapacitySpecification": {
        "TotalTargetCapacity": 2880,
        "OnDemandTargetCapacity": 960,
        "SpotTargetCapacity": 1920,
        "DefaultTargetCapacityType": "Spot"

I can launch my fleet with a single command:

$ aws ec2 create-fleet --cli-input-json file://home/ec2-user/fl1.json

My entire fleet is created within seconds and was built using 10 m5.24xlarge On-Demand Instances and 30 m4.16xlarge Spot Instances, since the current Spot price was 1.5¢ per vCPU for m4.16xlarge and 1.6¢ per vCPU for m5.24xlarge.

Now lets imagine my grid has crunched through its backlog and no longer needs the additional Spot Instances. I can then modify the size of my fleet by changing the target capacity in my fleet specification, like this:

    "TotalTargetCapacity": 960,

Since 960 was equal to the amount of On-Demand vCPUs I had requested, when I describe my fleet I will see all of my capacity being delivered using On-Demand capacity:

"TargetCapacitySpecification": {
	"TotalTargetCapacity": 960,
	"OnDemandTargetCapacity": 960,
	"SpotTargetCapacity": 0,
	"DefaultTargetCapacityType": "Spot"

When I no longer need my fleet I can delete it and terminate the instances in it like this:

$ aws ec2 delete-fleets --fleet-id fleet-838cf4e5-fded-4f68-acb5-8c47ee1b248a \
    "UnsuccessfulFleetDletetions": [],
    "SuccessfulFleetDeletions": [
            "CurrentFleetState": "deleted_terminating",
            "PreviousFleetState": "active",
            "FleetId": "fleet-838cf4e5-fded-4f68-acb5-8c47ee1b248a"

Earlier I described how RI discounts apply when EC2 Fleet launches instances for which you have matching RIs, so you might be wondering how else RI customers benefit from EC2 Fleet. Let’s say that I own regional RIs for M4 instances. In my EC2 Fleet I would remove m5.24xlarge and specify m4.10xlarge and m4.16xlarge. Then when EC2 Fleet creates the grid, it will quickly find M4 capacity across the sizes and AZs I’ve specified, and my RI discounts apply automatically to this usage.

In the Works
We plan to connect EC2 Fleet and EC2 Auto Scaling groups. This will let you create a single fleet that mixed instance types and Spot, Reserved and On-Demand, while also taking advantage of EC2 Auto Scaling features such as health checks and lifecycle hooks. This integration will also bring EC2 Fleet functionality to services such as Amazon ECS, Amazon EKS, and AWS Batch that build on and make use of EC2 Auto Scaling for fleet management.

Available Now
You can create and make use of EC2 Fleets today in all public AWS Regions!


Welcome Steven: Associate Front End Developer

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/welcome-steven-associate-front-end-developer/

The Backblaze web team is growing! As we add more features and work on our website we need more hands to get things done. Enter Steven, who joins us as an Associate Front End Developer. Steven is going to be getting his hands dirty and diving in to the fun-filled world of web development. Lets learn a bit more about Steven shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
Associate Front End Developer.

Where are you originally from?
The Bronx, New York born and raised.

What attracted you to Backblaze?
The team behind Backblaze made me feel like family from the moment I stepped in the door. The level of respect and dedication they showed me is the same respect and dedication they show their customers. Those qualities made wanting to be a part of Backblaze a no brainer!

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
I expect to grow as a software developer and human being by absorbing as much as I can from the immensely talented people I’ll be surrounded by.

Where else have you worked?
I previously worked at The Greenwich Hotel where I was a front desk concierge and bellman. If the team at Backblaze is anything like the team I was a part of there then this is going to be a fun ride.

Where did you go to school?
I studied at Baruch College and Bloc.

What’s your dream job?
My dream job is one where I’m able to express 100% of my creativity.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Favorite hobby?
Watching my Yankees, Knicks or Jets play.

Of what achievement are you most proud?
Becoming a Software Developer…

Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars! May the force be with you…

Coke or Pepsi?
… Water. Black iced tea? One of god’s finer creations.

Favorite food?
Mangu con Los Tres Golpes (Mashed Plantains with Fried Salami, Eggs & Cheese).

Why do you like certain things?
I like things that give me good vibes.

Anything else you’d like you’d like to tell us?
If you break any complex concept down into to its simplest parts you’ll have an easier time trying to fully grasp it.

Those are some serious words of wisdom from Steven. We look forward to him helping us get cool stuff out the door!

The post Welcome Steven: Associate Front End Developer appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

OMG The Stupid It Burns

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/04/omg-stupid-it-burns.html

This article, pointed out by @TheGrugq, is stupid enough that it’s worth rebutting.

The article starts with the question “Why did the lessons of Stuxnet, Wannacry, Heartbleed and Shamoon go unheeded?“. It then proceeds to ignore the lessons of those things.
Some of the actual lessons should be things like how Stuxnet crossed air gaps, how Wannacry spread through flat Windows networking, how Heartbleed comes from technical debt, and how Shamoon furthers state aims by causing damage.
But this article doesn’t cover the technical lessons. Instead, it thinks the lesson should be the moral lesson, that we should take these things more seriously. But that’s stupid. It’s the sort of lesson people teach you that know nothing about the topic. When you have nothing of value to contribute to a topic you can always take the moral high road and criticize everyone for being morally weak for not taking it more seriously. Obviously, since doctors haven’t cured cancer yet, it’s because they don’t take the problem seriously.
The article continues to ignore the lesson of these cyber attacks and instead regales us with a list of military lessons from WW I and WW II. This makes the same flaw that many in the military make, trying to understand cyber through analogies with the real world. It’s not that such lessons could have no value, it’s that this article contains a poor list of them. It seems to consist of a random list of events that appeal to the author rather than events that have bearing on cybersecurity.
Then, in case we don’t get the point, the article bullies us with hyperbole, cliches, buzzwords, bombastic language, famous quotes, and citations. It’s hard to see how most of them actually apply to the text. Rather, it seems like they are included simply because he really really likes them.
The article invests much effort in discussing the buzzword “OODA loop”. Most attacks in cyberspace don’t have one. Instead, attackers flail around, trying lots of random things, overcoming defense with brute-force rather than an understanding of what’s going on. That’s obviously the case with Wannacry: it was an accident, with the perpetrator experimenting with what would happen if they added the ETERNALBLUE exploit to their existing ransomware code. The consequence was beyond anybody’s ability to predict.
You might claim that this is just the first stage, that they’ll loop around, observe Wannacry’s effects, orient themselves, decide, then act upon what they learned. Nope. Wannacry burned the exploit. It’s essentially removed any vulnerable systems from the public Internet, thereby making it impossible to use what they learned. It’s still active a year later, with infected systems behind firewalls busily scanning the Internet so that if you put a new system online that’s vulnerable, it’ll be taken offline within a few hours, before any other evildoer can take advantage of it.
See what I’m doing here? Learning the actual lessons of things like Wannacry? The thing the above article fails to do??
The article has a humorous paragraph on “defense in depth”, misunderstanding the term. To be fair, it’s the cybersecurity industry’s fault: they adopted then redefined the term. That’s why there’s two separate articles on Wikipedia: one for the old military term (as used in this article) and one for the new cybersecurity term.
As used in the cybersecurity industry, “defense in depth” means having multiple layers of security. Many organizations put all their defensive efforts on the perimeter, and none inside a network. The idea of “defense in depth” is to put more defenses inside the network. For example, instead of just one firewall at the edge of the network, put firewalls inside the network to segment different subnetworks from each other, so that a ransomware infection in the customer support computers doesn’t spread to sales and marketing computers.
The article talks about exploiting WiFi chips to bypass the defense in depth measures like browser sandboxes. This is conflating different types of attacks. A WiFi attack is usually considered a local attack, from somebody next to you in bar, rather than a remote attack from a server in Russia. Moreover, far from disproving “defense in depth” such WiFi attacks highlight the need for it. Namely, phones need to be designed so that successful exploitation of other microprocessors (namely, the WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular baseband chips) can’t directly compromise the host system. In other words, once exploited with “Broadpwn”, a hacker would need to extend the exploit chain with another vulnerability in the hosts Broadcom WiFi driver rather than immediately exploiting a DMA attack across PCIe. This suggests that if PCIe is used to interface to peripherals in the phone that an IOMMU be used, for “defense in depth”.
Cybersecurity is a young field. There are lots of useful things that outsider non-techies can teach us. Lessons from military history would be well-received.
But that’s not this story. Instead, this story is by an outsider telling us we don’t know what we are doing, that they do, and then proceeds to prove they don’t know what they are doing. Their argument is based on a moral suasion and bullying us with what appears on the surface to be intellectual rigor, but which is in fact devoid of anything smart.
My fear, here, is that I’m going to be in a meeting where somebody has read this pretentious garbage, explaining to me why “defense in depth” is wrong and how we need to OODA faster. I’d rather nip this in the bud, pointing out if you found anything interesting from that article, you are wrong.

Hackspace magazine 6: Paper Engineering

Post Syndicated from Andrew Gregory original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/hackspace-magazine-6/

HackSpace magazine is back with our brand-new issue 6, available for you on shop shelves, in your inbox, and on our website right now.

Inside Hackspace magazine 6

Paper is probably the first thing you ever used for making, and for good reason: in no other medium can you iterate through 20 designs at the cost of only a few pennies. We’ve roped in Rob Ives to show us how to make a barking paper dog with moveable parts and a cam mechanism. Even better, the magazine includes this free paper automaton for you to make yourself. That’s right: free!

At the other end of the scale, there’s the forge, where heat, light, and noise combine to create immutable steel. We speak to Alec Steele, YouTuber, blacksmith, and philosopher, about his amazingly beautiful Damascus steel creations, and about why there’s no difference between grinding a knife and blowing holes in a mountain to build a road through it.

HackSpace magazine 6 Alec Steele

Do it yourself

You’ve heard of reading glasses — how about glasses that read for you? Using a camera, optical character recognition software, and a text-to-speech engine (and of course a Raspberry Pi to hold it all together), reader Andrew Lewis has hacked together his own system to help deal with age-related macular degeneration.

It’s the definition of hacking: here’s a problem, there’s no solution in the shops, so you go and build it yourself!


60 years ago, the cutting edge of home hacking was the transistor radio. Before the internet was dreamt of, the transistor radio made the world smaller and brought people together. Nowadays, the components you need to build a radio are cheap and easily available, so if you’re in any way electronically inclined, building a radio is an ideal excuse to dust off your soldering iron.


If you’re a 12-month subscriber (if you’re not, you really should be), you’ve no doubt been thinking of all sorts of things to do with the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express we gave you for free. How about a sewable circuit for a canvas bag? Use the accelerometer to detect patterns of movement — walking, for example — and flash a series of lights in response. It’s clever, fun, and an easy way to add some programmable fun to your shopping trips.

We’re also making gin, hacking a children’s toy car to unlock more features, and getting started with robot sumo to fill the void left by the cancellation of Robot Wars.

HackSpace magazine 6

All this, plus an 11-metre tall mechanical miner, in HackSpace magazine issue 6 — subscribe here from just £4 an issue or get the PDF version for free. You can also find HackSpace magazine in WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and independent newsagents in the UK. If you live in the US, check out your local Barnes & Noble, Fry’s, or Micro Center next week. We’re also shipping to stores in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil, so be sure to ask your local newsagent whether they’ll be getting HackSpace magazine.

The post Hackspace magazine 6: Paper Engineering appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Announcing Coolest Projects North America

Post Syndicated from Courtney Lentz original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/coolest-projects-north-america/

The Raspberry Pi Foundation loves to celebrate people who use technology to solve problems and express themselves creatively, so we’re proud to expand the incredibly successful event Coolest Projects to North America. This free event will be held on Sunday 23 September 2018 at the Discovery Cube Orange County in Santa Ana, California.

Coolest Projects North America logo Raspberry Pi CoderDojo

What is Coolest Projects?

Coolest Projects is a world-leading showcase that empowers and inspires the next generation of digital creators, innovators, changemakers, and entrepreneurs. The event is both a competition and an exhibition to give young digital makers aged 7 to 17 a platform to celebrate their successes, creativity, and ingenuity.

showcase crowd — Coolest Projects North America

In 2012, Coolest Projects was conceived as an opportunity for CoderDojo Ninjas to showcase their work and for supporters to acknowledge these achievements. Week after week, Ninjas would meet up to work diligently on their projects, hacks, and code; however, it can be difficult for them to see their long-term progress on a project when they’re concentrating on its details on a weekly basis. Coolest Projects became a dedicated time each year for Ninjas and supporters to reflect, celebrate, and share both the achievements and challenges of the maker’s journey.

three female coolest projects attendees — Coolest Projects North America

Coolest Projects North America

Not only is Coolest Projects expanding to North America, it’s also expanding its participant pool! Members of our team have met so many amazing young people creating in all areas of the world, that it simply made sense to widen our outreach to include Code Clubs, students of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, and members of the Raspberry Jam community at large as well as CoderDojo attendees.

 a boy showing a technology project to an old man, with a girl playing on a laptop on the floor — Coolest Projects North America

Exhibit and attend Coolest Projects

Coolest Projects is a free, family- and educator-friendly event. Young people can apply to exhibit their projects, and the general public can register to attend this one-day event. Be sure to register today, because you make Coolest Projects what it is: the coolest.

The post Announcing Coolest Projects North America appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

[$] Accelerating networking with AF_XDP

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/750845/rss

The Linux network stack does not lack for features; it also performs well
enough for most uses. At the highest network speeds, though, any overhead
at all is too much; that has driven the most demanding users toward
specialized, user-space networking implementations that can outperform the
kernel for highly constrained tasks. The express data path (XDP)
development effort is an attempt win those users back, with some apparent
success so far. With the posting of the AF_XDP patch set by Björn Töpel,
another piece of the XDP puzzle is coming into focus.

Amazon S3 Update: New Storage Class and General Availability of S3 Select

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/amazon-s3-update-new-storage-class-general-availability-of-s3-select/

I’ve got two big pieces of news for anyone who stores and retrieves data in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3):

New S3 One Zone-IA Storage Class – This new storage class is 20% less expensive than the existing Standard-IA storage class. It is designed to be used to store data that does not need the extra level of protection provided by geographic redundancy.

General Availability of S3 Select – This unique retrieval option lets you retrieve subsets of data from S3 objects using simple SQL expressions, with the possibility for a 400% performance improvement in the process.

Let’s take a look at both!

S3 One Zone-IA (Infrequent Access) Storage Class
This new storage class stores data in a single AWS Availability Zone and is designed to provide eleven 9’s (99.99999999%) of data durability, just like the other S3 storage classes. Unlike those other classes, it is not designed to be resilient to the physical loss of an AZ due to major event such as an earthquake or a flood, and data could be lost in the unlikely event that an AZ is destroyed. S3 One Zone-IA storage gives you a lower cost option for secondary backups of on-premises data and for data that can be easily re-created. You can also use it as the target of S3 Cross-Region Replication from another AWS region.

You can specify the use of S3 One Zone-IA storage when you upload a new object to S3:

You can also make use of it as part of an S3 lifecycle rule:

You can set up a lifecycle rule that moves previous versions of an object to S3 One Zone-IA after 30 or more days:

And you can modify the storage class of an existing object:

You can also manage storage classes using the S3 API, CLI, and CloudFormation templates.

The S3 One Zone-IA storage class can be used in all public AWS regions. As I noted earlier, pricing is 20% lower than for the S3 Standard-IA storage class (see the S3 Pricing page for more info). There’s a 30 day minimum retention period, and a 128 KB minimum object size.

General Availability of S3 Select
Randall wrote a detailed introduction to S3 Select last year and showed you how you can use it to retrieve selected data from within S3 objects. During the preview we added support for server-side encryption and the ability to run queries from the S3 Console.

I used a CSV file of airport codes to exercise the new console functionality:

This file contains listings for over 9100 airports, so it makes for useful test data but it definitely does not test the limits of S3 Select in any way. I select the file, open the More menu, and choose Select from:

The console sets the file format and compression according to the file name and the encryption status. I set delimiter and click Show file preview to verify that my settings are correct. Then I click Next to proceed:

I type SQL expressions in the SQL editor and click Run SQL to issue the query:


I can also issue queries from the AWS SDKs. I initiate the select operation:

s3 = boto3.client('s3', region_name='us-west-2')

r = s3.select_object_content(
        Expression="select * from s3object s where s.\"Country (Name)\" like '%United States%'",
        InputSerialization = {'CSV': {"FileHeaderInfo": "Use"}},
        OutputSerialization = {'CSV': {}},

And then I process the stream of results:

for event in r['Payload']:
    if 'Records' in event:
        records = event['Records']['Payload'].decode('utf-8')
    elif 'Stats' in event:
        statsDetails = event['Stats']['Details']
        print("Stats details bytesScanned: ")
        print("Stats details bytesProcessed: ")

S3 Select is available in all public regions and you can start using it today. Pricing is based on the amount of data scanned and the amount of data returned.


Engineering deep dive: Encoding of SCTs in certificates

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org/2018/04/04/sct-encoding.html

<p>Let&rsquo;s Encrypt recently <a href="https://community.letsencrypt.org/t/signed-certificate-timestamps-embedded-in-certificates/57187">launched SCT embedding in
This feature allows browsers to check that a certificate was submitted to a
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_Transparency">Certificate Transparency</a>
log. As part of the launch, we did a thorough review
that the encoding of Signed Certificate Timestamps (SCTs) in our certificates
matches the relevant specifications. In this post, I&rsquo;ll dive into the details.
You&rsquo;ll learn more about X.509, ASN.1, DER, and TLS encoding, with references to
the relevant RFCs.</p>

<p>Certificate Transparency offers three ways to deliver SCTs to a browser: In a
TLS extension, in stapled OCSP, or embedded in a certificate. We chose to
implement the embedding method because it would just work for Let&rsquo;s Encrypt
subscribers without additional work. In the SCT embedding method, we submit
a &ldquo;precertificate&rdquo; with a <a href="#poison">poison extension</a> to a set of
CT logs, and get back SCTs. We then issue a real certificate based on the
precertificate, with two changes: The poison extension is removed, and the SCTs
obtained earlier are added in another extension.</p>

<p>Given a certificate, let&rsquo;s first look for the SCT list extension. According to CT (<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962
section 3.3</a>),
the extension OID for a list of SCTs is <code></code>. An <a href="http://www.hl7.org/Oid/information.cfm">OID (object
ID)</a> is a series of integers, hierarchically
assigned and globally unique. They are used extensively in X.509, for instance
to uniquely identify extensions.</p>

<p>We can <a href="https://acme-v01.api.letsencrypt.org/acme/cert/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451">download an example certificate</a>,
and view it using OpenSSL (if your OpenSSL is old, it may not display the
detailed information):</p>

<pre><code>$ openssl x509 -noout -text -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451

CT Precertificate SCTs:
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : DB:74:AF:EE:CB:29:EC:B1:FE:CA:3E:71:6D:2C:E5:B9:
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:07.993 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : 29:3C:51:96:54:C8:39:65:BA:AA:50:FC:58:07:D4:B7:
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:08.010 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256

<p>Now let&rsquo;s go a little deeper. How is that extension represented in
the certificate? Certificates are expressed in
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_Syntax_Notation_One">ASN.1</a>,
which generally refers to both a language for expressing data structures
and a set of formats for encoding them. The most common format,
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X.690#DER_encoding">DER</a>,
is a tag-length-value format. That is, to encode an object, first you write
down a tag representing its type (usually one byte), then you write
down a number expressing how long the object is, then you write down
the object contents. This is recursive: An object can contain multiple
objects within it, each of which has its own tag, length, and value.</p>

<p>One of the cool things about DER and other tag-length-value formats is that you
can decode them to some degree without knowing what they mean. For instance, I
can tell you that 0x30 means the data type &ldquo;SEQUENCE&rdquo; (a struct, in ASN.1
terms), and 0x02 means &ldquo;INTEGER&rdquo;, then give you this hex byte sequence to

<pre><code>30 06 02 01 03 02 01 0A

<p>You could tell me right away that decodes to:</p>


<p>Try it yourself with this great <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#300602010302010A">JavaScript ASN.1
decoder</a>. However, you wouldn&rsquo;t know
what those integers represent without the corresponding ASN.1 schema (or
&ldquo;module&rdquo;). For instance, if you knew that this was a piece of DogData, and the
schema was:</p>

<pre><code>DogData ::= SEQUENCE {
cutenessLevel INTEGER

<p>You&rsquo;d know this referred to a three-legged dog with a cuteness level of 10.</p>

<p>We can take some of this knowledge and apply it to our certificates. As a first
step, convert the above certificate to hex with
<code>xxd -ps &lt; Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code>. You can then copy
and paste the result into
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js">lapo.it/asn1js</a> (or use <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js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this handy link</a>). You can also run <code>openssl asn1parse -i -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code> to use OpenSSL&rsquo;s parser, which is less easy to use in some ways, but easier to copy and paste.</p>

<p>In the decoded data, we can find the OID <code></code>, indicating
the SCT list extension. Per <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5280#page-17">RFC 5280, section
4.1</a>, an extension is defined:</p>

<pre><code>Extension ::= SEQUENCE {
— contains the DER encoding of an ASN.1 value
— corresponding to the extension type identified
— by extnID

<p>We&rsquo;ve found the <code>extnID</code>. The &ldquo;critical&rdquo; field is omitted because it has the
default value (false). Next up is the <code>extnValue</code>. This has the type
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which has the tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;. <code>OCTET STRING</code> means &ldquo;here&rsquo;s
a bunch of bytes!&rdquo; In this case, as described by the spec, those bytes
happen to contain more DER. This is a fairly common pattern in X.509
to deal with parameterized data. For instance, this allows defining a
structure for extensions without knowing ahead of time all the structures
that a future extension might want to carry in its value. If you&rsquo;re a C
programmer, think of it as a <code>void*</code> for data structures. If you prefer Go,
think of it as an <code>interface{}</code>.</p>

<p>Here&rsquo;s that <code>extnValue</code>:</p>

<pre><code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

<p>That&rsquo;s tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;, meaning <code>OCTET STRING</code>, followed by &ldquo;0x81 0xF5&rdquo;, meaning
&ldquo;this string is 245 bytes long&rdquo; (the 0x81 prefix is part of <a href="#variable-length">variable length
number encoding</a>).</p>

<p>According to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section
3.3</a>, &ldquo;obtained SCTs
can be directly embedded in the final certificate, by encoding the
SignedCertificateTimestampList structure as an ASN.1 <code>OCTET STRING</code>
and inserting the resulting data in the TBSCertificate as an X.509v3
certificate extension&rdquo;</p>

<p>So, we have an <code>OCTET STRING</code>, all&rsquo;s good, right? Except if you remove the
tag and length from extnValue to get its value, you&rsquo;re left with:</p>

<pre><code>04 81 F2 00F0007500DB74AFEEC…

<p>There&rsquo;s that &ldquo;0x04&rdquo; tag again, but with a shorter length. Why
do we nest one <code>OCTET STRING</code> inside another? It&rsquo;s because the
contents of extnValue are required by RFC 5280 to be valid DER, but a
SignedCertificateTimestampList is not encoded using DER (more on that
in a minute). So, by RFC 6962, a SignedCertificateTimestampList is wrapped in an
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which is wrapped in another <code>OCTET STRING</code> (the extnValue).</p>

<p>Once we decode that second <code>OCTET STRING</code>, we&rsquo;re left with the contents:</p>


<p>&ldquo;0x00&rdquo; isn&rsquo;t a valid tag in DER. What is this? It&rsquo;s TLS encoding. This is
defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4">RFC 5246, section 4</a>
(the TLS 1.2 RFC). TLS encoding, like ASN.1, has both a way to define data
structures and a way to encode those structures. TLS encoding differs
from DER in that there are no tags, and lengths are only encoded when necessary for
variable-length arrays. Within an encoded structure, the type of a field is determined by
its position, rather than by a tag. This means that TLS-encoded structures are
more compact than DER structures, but also that they can&rsquo;t be processed without
knowing the corresponding schema. For instance, here&rsquo;s the top-level schema from
<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section 3.3</a>:</p>

<pre><code> The contents of the ASN.1 OCTET STRING embedded in an OCSP extension
or X509v3 certificate extension are as follows:

opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
SerializedSCT sct_list &lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;
} SignedCertificateTimestampList;

Here, &quot;SerializedSCT&quot; is an opaque byte string that contains the
serialized TLS structure.

<p>Right away, we&rsquo;ve found one of those variable-length arrays. The length of such
an array (in bytes) is always represented by a length field just big enough to
hold the max array size. The max size of an <code>sct_list</code> is 65535 bytes, so the
length field is two bytes wide. Sure enough, those first two bytes are &ldquo;0x00
0xF0&rdquo;, or 240 in decimal. In other words, this <code>sct_list</code> will have 240 bytes. We
don&rsquo;t yet know how many SCTs will be in it. That will become clear only by
continuing to parse the encoded data and seeing where each struct ends (spoiler
alert: there are two SCTs!).</p>

<p>Now we know the first SerializedSCT starts with <code>0075…</code>. SerializedSCT
is itself a variable-length field, this time containing <code>opaque</code> bytes (much like <code>OCTET STRING</code>
back in the ASN.1 world). Like SignedCertificateTimestampList, it has a max size
of 65535 bytes, so we pull off the first two bytes and discover that the first
SerializedSCT is 0x0075 (117 decimal) bytes long. Here&rsquo;s the whole thing, in


<p>This can be decoded using the TLS encoding struct defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#page-13">RFC 6962, section

<pre><code>enum { v1(0), (255) }

struct {
opaque key_id[32];
} LogID;

opaque CtExtensions&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
Version sct_version;
LogID id;
uint64 timestamp;
CtExtensions extensions;
digitally-signed struct {
Version sct_version;
SignatureType signature_type = certificate_timestamp;
uint64 timestamp;
LogEntryType entry_type;
select(entry_type) {
case x509_entry: ASN.1Cert;
case precert_entry: PreCert;
} signed_entry;
CtExtensions extensions;
} SignedCertificateTimestamp;

<p>Breaking that down:</p>

<pre><code># Version sct_version v1(0)
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
# digitally-signed struct

<p>To understand the &ldquo;digitally-signed struct,&rdquo; we need to turn back to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4.7">RFC 5246,
section 4.7</a>. It says:</p>

<pre><code>A digitally-signed element is encoded as a struct DigitallySigned:

struct {
SignatureAndHashAlgorithm algorithm;
opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
} DigitallySigned;

<p>And in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-">section</a>:</p>

<pre><code>enum {
none(0), md5(1), sha1(2), sha224(3), sha256(4), sha384(5),
sha512(6), (255)
} HashAlgorithm;

enum { anonymous(0), rsa(1), dsa(2), ecdsa(3), (255) }

struct {
HashAlgorithm hash;
SignatureAlgorithm signature;
} SignatureAndHashAlgorithm;

<p>We have &ldquo;0x0403&rdquo;, which corresponds to sha256(4) and ecdsa(3). The next two
bytes, &ldquo;0x0046&rdquo;, tell us the length of the &ldquo;opaque signature&rdquo; field, 70 bytes in
decimal. To decode the signature, we reference <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc4492#page-20">RFC 4492 section
5.4</a>, which says:</p>

<pre><code>The digitally-signed element is encoded as an opaque vector &lt;0..2^16-1&gt;, the
contents of which are the DER encoding corresponding to the
following ASN.1 notation.

Ecdsa-Sig-Value ::= SEQUENCE {

<p>Having dived through two layers of TLS encoding, we are now back in ASN.1 land!
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419">decode</a>
the remaining bytes into a SEQUENCE containing two INTEGERS. And we&rsquo;re done! Here&rsquo;s the whole
extension decoded:</p>

<pre><code># Extension SEQUENCE – RFC 5280
# length 0x0104 bytes (260 decimal)
# length 0x0A bytes (10 decimal)
# value (
# length 0xF5 bytes (245 decimal)
# OCTET STRING (embedded) – RFC 6962
# length 0xF2 bytes (242 decimal)
# Beginning of TLS encoded SignedCertificateTimestampList – RFC 5246 / 6962
# length 0xF0 bytes
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x75 bytes
# Version sct_version v1(0)
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0046
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
44 # length 0x44 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
02 # s INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x77 bytes
# Version sct_version v1(0)
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0048
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
46 # length 0x46 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value
02 # s INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value

<p>One surprising thing you might notice: In the first SCT, <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are twenty
bytes long. In the second SCT, they are both twenty-one bytes long, and have a
leading zero. Integers in DER are two&rsquo;s complement, so if the leftmost bit is
set, they are interpreted as negative. Since <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are positive, if the
leftmost bit would be a 1, an extra byte has to be added so that the leftmost
bit can be 0.</p>

<p>This is a little taste of what goes into encoding a certificate. I hope it was
informative! If you&rsquo;d like to learn more, I recommend &ldquo;<a href="http://luca.ntop.org/Teaching/Appunti/asn1.html">A Layman&rsquo;s Guide to a
Subset of ASN.1, BER, and DER</a>.&rdquo;</p>

<p><a name="poison"></a>Footnote 1: A &ldquo;poison extension&rdquo; is defined by <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.1">RFC 6962
section 3.1</a>:</p>

<pre><code>The Precertificate is constructed from the certificate to be issued by adding a special
critical poison extension (OID ``, whose
extnValue OCTET STRING contains ASN.1 NULL data (0x05 0x00))

<p>In other words, it&rsquo;s an empty extension whose only purpose is to ensure that
certificate processors will not accept precertificates as valid certificates. The
specification ensures this by setting the &ldquo;critical&rdquo; bit on the extension, which
ensures that code that doesn&rsquo;t recognize the extension will reject the whole
certificate. Code that does recognize the extension specifically as poison
will also reject the certificate.</p>

<p><a name="variable-length"></a>Footnote 2: Lengths from 0-127 are represented by
a single byte (short form). To express longer lengths, more bytes are used (long form).
The high bit (0x80) on the first byte is set to distinguish long form from short
form. The remaining bits are used to express how many more bytes to read for the
length. For instance, 0x81F5 means &ldquo;this is long form because the length is
greater than 127, but there&rsquo;s still only one byte of length (0xF5) to decode.&rdquo;</p>

A geometric Rust adventure

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/03/30/a-geometric-rust-adventure/

Hi. Yes. Sorry. I’ve been trying to write this post for ages, but I’ve also been working on a huge writing project, and apparently I have a very limited amount of writing mana at my disposal. I think this is supposed to be a Patreon reward from January. My bad. I hope it’s super great to make up for the wait!

I recently ported some math code from C++ to Rust in an attempt to do a cool thing with Doom. Here is my story.

The problem

I presented it recently as a conundrum (spoilers: I solved it!), but most of those details are unimportant.

The short version is: I have some shapes. I want to find their intersection.

Really, I want more than that: I want to drop them all on a canvas, intersect everything with everything, and pluck out all the resulting polygons. The input is a set of cookie cutters, and I want to press them all down on the same sheet of dough and figure out what all the resulting contiguous pieces are. And I want to know which cookie cutter(s) each piece came from.

But intersection is a good start.

Example of the goal.  Given two squares that overlap at their corners, I want to find the small overlap piece, plus the two L-shaped pieces left over from each square

I’m carefully referring to the input as shapes rather than polygons, because each one could be a completely arbitrary collection of lines. Obviously there’s not much you can do with shapes that aren’t even closed, but at the very least, I need to handle concavity and multiple disconnected polygons that together are considered a single input.

This is a non-trivial problem with a lot of edge cases, and offhand I don’t know how to solve it robustly. I’m not too eager to go figure it out from scratch, so I went hunting for something I could build from.

(Infuriatingly enough, I can just dump all the shapes out in an SVG file and any SVG viewer can immediately solve the problem, but that doesn’t quite help me. Though I have had a few people suggest I just rasterize the whole damn problem, and after all this, I’m starting to think they may have a point.)

Alas, I couldn’t find a Rust library for doing this. I had a hard time finding any library for doing this that wasn’t a massive fully-featured geometry engine. (I could’ve used that, but I wanted to avoid non-Rust dependencies if possible, since distributing software is already enough of a nightmare.)

A Twitter follower directed me towards a paper that described how to do very nearly what I wanted and nothing else: “A simple algorithm for Boolean operations on polygons” by F. Martínez (2013). Being an academic paper, it’s trapped in paywall hell; sorry about that. (And as I understand it, none of the money you’d pay to get the paper would even go to the authors? Is that right? What a horrible and predatory system for discovering and disseminating knowledge.)

The paper isn’t especially long, but it does describe an awful lot of subtle details and is mostly written in terms of its own reference implementation. Rather than write my own implementation based solely on the paper, I decided to try porting the reference implementation from C++ to Rust.

And so I fell down the rabbit hole.

The basic algorithm

Thankfully, the author has published the sample code on his own website, if you want to follow along. (It’s the bottom link; the same author has, confusingly, published two papers on the same topic with similar titles, four years apart.)

If not, let me describe the algorithm and how the code is generally laid out. The algorithm itself is based on a sweep line, where a vertical line passes across the plane and ✨ does stuff ✨ as it encounters various objects. This implementation has no physical line; instead, it keeps track of which segments from the original polygon would be intersecting the sweep line, which is all we really care about.

A vertical line is passing rightwards over a couple intersecting shapes.  The line current intersects two of the shapes' sides, and these two sides are the "sweep list"

The code is all bundled inside a class with only a single public method, run, because… that’s… more object-oriented, I guess. There are several helper methods, and state is stored in some attributes. A rough outline of run is:

  1. Run through all the line segments in both input polygons. For each one, generate two SweepEvents (one for each endpoint) and add them to a std::deque for storage.

    Add pointers to the two SweepEvents to a std::priority_queue, the event queue. This queue uses a custom comparator to order the events from left to right, so the top element is always the leftmost endpoint.

  2. Loop over the event queue (where an “event” means the sweep line passed over the left or right end of a segment). Encountering a left endpoint means the sweep line is newly touching that segment, so add it to a std::set called the sweep list. An important point is that std::set is ordered, and the sweep list uses a comparator that keeps segments in order vertically.

    Encountering a right endpoint means the sweep line is leaving a segment, so that segment is removed from the sweep list.

  3. When a segment is added to the sweep list, it may have up to two neighbors: the segment above it and the segment below it. Call possibleIntersection to check whether it intersects either of those neighbors. (This is nearly sufficient to find all intersections, which is neat.)

  4. If possibleIntersection detects an intersection, it will split each segment into two pieces then and there. The old segment is shortened in-place to become the left part, and a new segment is created for the right part. The new endpoints at the point of intersection are added to the event queue.

  5. Some bookkeeping is done along the way to track which original polygons each segment is inside, and eventually the segments are reconstructed into new polygons.

Hopefully that’s enough to follow along. It took me an inordinately long time to tease this out. The comments aren’t especially helpful.

    std::deque<SweepEvent> eventHolder;    // It holds the events generated during the computation of the boolean operation

Syntax and basic semantics

The first step was to get something that rustc could at least parse, which meant translating C++ syntax to Rust syntax.

This was surprisingly straightforward! C++ classes become Rust structs. (There was no inheritance here, thankfully.) All the method declarations go away. Method implementations only need to be indented and wrapped in impl.

I did encounter some unnecessarily obtuse uses of the ternary operator:

(prevprev != sl.begin()) ? --prevprev : prevprev = sl.end();

Rust doesn’t have a ternary — you can use a regular if block as an expression — so I expanded these out.

C++ switch blocks become Rust match blocks, but otherwise function basically the same. Rust’s enums are scoped (hallelujah), so I had to explicitly spell out where enum values came from.

The only really annoying part was changing function signatures; C++ types don’t look much at all like Rust types, save for the use of angle brackets. Rust also doesn’t pass by implicit reference, so I needed to sprinkle a few &s around.

I would’ve had a much harder time here if this code had relied on any remotely esoteric C++ functionality, but thankfully it stuck to pretty vanilla features.

Language conventions

This is a geometry problem, so the sample code unsurprisingly has its own home-grown point type. Rather than port that type to Rust, I opted to use the popular euclid crate. Not only is it code I didn’t have to write, but it already does several things that the C++ code was doing by hand inline, like dot products and cross products. And all I had to do was add one line to Cargo.toml to use it! I have no idea how anyone writes C or C++ without a package manager.

The C++ code used getters, i.e. point.x (). I’m not a huge fan of getters, though I do still appreciate the need for them in lowish-level systems languages where you want to future-proof your API and the language wants to keep a clear distinction between attribute access and method calls. But this is a point, which is nothing more than two of the same numeric type glued together; what possible future logic might you add to an accessor? The euclid authors appear to side with me and leave the coordinates as public fields, so I took great joy in removing all the superfluous parentheses.

Polygons are represented with a Polygon class, which has some number of Contours. A contour is a single contiguous loop. Something you’d usually think of as a polygon would only have one, but a shape with a hole would have two: one for the outside, one for the inside. The weird part of this arrangement was that Polygon implemented nearly the entire STL container interface, then waffled between using it and not using it throughout the rest of the code. Rust lets anything in the same module access non-public fields, so I just skipped all that and used polygon.contours directly. Hell, I think I made contours public.

Finally, the SweepEvent type has a pol field that’s declared as an enum PolygonType (either SUBJECT or CLIPPING, to indicate which of the two inputs it is), but then some other code uses the same field as a numeric index into a polygon’s contours. Boy I sure do love static typing where everything’s a goddamn integer. I wanted to extend the algorithm to work on arbitrarily many input polygons anyway, so I scrapped the enum and this became a usize.

Then I got to all the uses of STL. I have only a passing familiarity with the C++ standard library, and this code actually made modest use of it, which caused some fun days-long misunderstandings.

As mentioned, the SweepEvents are stored in a std::deque, which is never read from. It took me a little thinking to realize that the deque was being used as an arena: it’s the canonical home for the structs so pointers to them can be tossed around freely. (It can’t be a std::vector, because that could reallocate and invalidate all the pointers; std::deque is probably a doubly-linked list, and guarantees no reallocation.)

Rust’s standard library does have a doubly-linked list type, but I knew I’d run into ownership hell here later anyway, so I think I replaced it with a Rust Vec to start with. It won’t compile either way, so whatever. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

The list of segments currently intersecting the sweep line is stored in a std::set. That type is explicitly ordered, which I’m very glad I knew already. Rust has two set types, HashSet and BTreeSet; unsurprisingly, the former is unordered and the latter is ordered. Dropping in BTreeSet and fixing some method names got me 90% of the way there.

Which brought me to the other 90%. See, the C++ code also relies on finding nodes adjacent to the node that was just inserted, via STL iterators.

next = prev = se->posSL = it = sl.insert(se).first;
(prev != sl.begin()) ? --prev : prev = sl.end();

I freely admit I’m bad at C++, but this seems like something that could’ve used… I don’t know, 1 comment. Or variable names more than two letters long. What it actually does is:

  1. Add the current sweep event (se) to the sweep list (sl), which returns a pair whose first element is an iterator pointing at the just-inserted event.

  2. Copies that iterator to several other variables, including prev and next.

  3. If the event was inserted at the beginning of the sweep list, set prev to the sweep list’s end iterator, which in C++ is a legal-but-invalid iterator meaning “the space after the end” or something. This is checked for in later code, to see if there is a previous event to look at. Otherwise, decrement prev, so it’s now pointing at the event immediately before the inserted one.

  4. Increment next normally. If the inserted event is last, then this will bump next to the end iterator anyway.

In other words, I need to get the previous and next elements from a BTreeSet. Rust does have bidirectional iterators, which BTreeSet supports… but BTreeSet::insert only returns a bool telling me whether or not anything was inserted, not the position. I came up with this:

let mut maybe_below = active_segments.range(..segment).last().map(|v| *v);
let mut maybe_above = active_segments.range(segment..).next().map(|v| *v);

The range method returns an iterator over a subset of the tree. The .. syntax makes a range (where the right endpoint is exclusive), so ..segment finds the part of the tree before the new segment, and segment.. finds the part of the tree after it. (The latter would start with the segment itself, except I haven’t inserted it yet, so it’s not actually there.)

Then the standard next() and last() methods on bidirectional iterators find me the element I actually want. But the iterator might be empty, so they both return an Option. Also, iterators tend to return references to their contents, but in this case the contents are already references, and I don’t want a double reference, so the map call dereferences one layer — but only if the Option contains a value. Phew!

This is slightly less efficient than the C++ code, since it has to look up where segment goes three times rather than just one. I might be able to get it down to two with some more clever finagling of the iterator, but microsopic performance considerations were a low priority here.

Finally, the event queue uses a std::priority_queue to keep events in a desired order and efficiently pop the next one off the top.

Except priority queues act like heaps, where the greatest (i.e., last) item is made accessible.

Sorting out sorting

C++ comparison functions return true to indicate that the first argument is less than the second argument. Sweep events occur from left to right. You generally implement sorts so that the first thing comes, erm, first.

But sweep events go in a priority queue, and priority queues surface the last item, not the first. This C++ code handled this minor wrinkle by implementing its comparison backwards.

struct SweepEventComp : public std::binary_function<SweepEvent, SweepEvent, bool> { // for sorting sweep events
// Compare two sweep events
// Return true means that e1 is placed at the event queue after e2, i.e,, e1 is processed by the algorithm after e2
bool operator() (const SweepEvent* e1, const SweepEvent* e2)
    if (e1->point.x () > e2->point.x ()) // Different x-coordinate
        return true;
    if (e2->point.x () > e1->point.x ()) // Different x-coordinate
        return false;
    if (e1->point.y () != e2->point.y ()) // Different points, but same x-coordinate. The event with lower y-coordinate is processed first
        return e1->point.y () > e2->point.y ();
    if (e1->left != e2->left) // Same point, but one is a left endpoint and the other a right endpoint. The right endpoint is processed first
        return e1->left;
    // Same point, both events are left endpoints or both are right endpoints.
    if (signedArea (e1->point, e1->otherEvent->point, e2->otherEvent->point) != 0) // not collinear
        return e1->above (e2->otherEvent->point); // the event associate to the bottom segment is processed first
    return e1->pol > e2->pol;

Maybe it’s just me, but I had a hell of a time just figuring out what problem this was even trying to solve. I still have to reread it several times whenever I look at it, to make sure I’m getting the right things backwards.

Making this even more ridiculous is that there’s a second implementation of this same sort, with the same name, in another file — and that one’s implemented forwards. And doesn’t use a tiebreaker. I don’t entirely understand how this even compiles, but it does!

I painstakingly translated this forwards to Rust. Unlike the STL, Rust doesn’t take custom comparators for its containers, so I had to implement ordering on the types themselves (which makes sense, anyway). I wrapped everything in the priority queue in a Reverse, which does what it sounds like.

I’m fairly pleased with Rust’s ordering model. Most of the work is done in Ord, a trait with a cmp() method returning an Ordering (one of Less, Equal, and Greater). No magic numbers, no need to implement all six ordering methods! It’s incredible. Ordering even has some handy methods on it, so the usual case of “order by this, then by this” can be written as:

return self.point().x.cmp(&other.point().x)

Well. Just kidding! It’s not quite that easy. You see, the points here are composed of floats, and floats have the fun property that not all of them are comparable. Specifically, NaN is not less than, greater than, or equal to anything else, including itself. So IEEE 754 float ordering cannot be expressed with Ord. Unless you want to just make up an answer for NaN, but Rust doesn’t tend to do that.

Rust’s float types thus implement the weaker PartialOrd, whose method returns an Option<Ordering> instead. That makes the above example slightly uglier:

return self.point().x.partial_cmp(&other.point().x).unwrap()

Also, since I use unwrap() here, this code will panic and take the whole program down if the points are infinite or NaN. Don’t do that.

This caused some minor inconveniences in other places; for example, the general-purpose cmp::min() doesn’t work on floats, because it requires an Ord-erable type. Thankfully there’s a f64::min(), which handles a NaN by returning the other argument.

(Cool story: for the longest time I had this code using f32s. I’m used to translating int to “32 bits”, and apparently that instinct kicked in for floats as well, even floats spelled double.)

The only other sorting adventure was this:

// Due to overlapping edges the resultEvents array can be not wholly sorted
bool sorted = false;
while (!sorted) {
    sorted = true;
    for (unsigned int i = 0; i < resultEvents.size (); ++i) {
        if (i + 1 < resultEvents.size () && sec (resultEvents[i], resultEvents[i+1])) {
            std::swap (resultEvents[i], resultEvents[i+1]);
            sorted = false;

(I originally misread this comment as saying “the array cannot be wholly sorted” and had no idea why that would be the case, or why the author would then immediately attempt to bubble sort it.)

I’m still not sure why this uses an ad-hoc sort instead of std::sort. But I’m used to taking for granted that general-purpose sorting implementations are tuned to work well for almost-sorted data, like Python’s. Maybe C++ is untrustworthy here, for some reason. I replaced it with a call to .sort() and all seemed fine.

Phew! We’re getting there. Finally, my code appears to type-check.

But now I see storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

Ownership hell

I have a problem. I somehow run into this problem every single time I use Rust. The solutions are never especially satisfying, and all the hacks I might use if forced to write C++ turn out to be unsound, which is even more annoying because rustc is just sitting there with this smug “I told you so expression” and—

The problem is ownership, which Rust is fundamentally built on. Any given value must have exactly one owner, and Rust must be able to statically convince itself that:

  1. No reference to a value outlives that value.
  2. If a mutable reference to a value exists, no other references to that value exist at the same time.

This is the core of Rust. It guarantees at compile time that you cannot lose pointers to allocated memory, you cannot double-free, you cannot have dangling pointers.

It also completely thwarts a lot of approaches you might be inclined to take if you come from managed languages (where who cares, the GC will take care of it) or C++ (where you just throw pointers everywhere and hope for the best apparently).

For example, pointer loops are impossible. Rust’s understanding of ownership and lifetimes is hierarchical, and it simply cannot express loops. (Rust’s own doubly-linked list type uses raw pointers and unsafe code under the hood, where “unsafe” is an escape hatch for the usual ownership rules. Since I only recently realized that pointers to the inside of a mutable Vec are a bad idea, I figure I should probably not be writing unsafe code myself.)

This throws a few wrenches in the works.

Problem the first: pointer loops

I immediately ran into trouble with the SweepEvent struct itself. A SweepEvent pulls double duty: it represents one endpoint of a segment, but each left endpoint also handles bookkeeping for the segment itself — which means that most of the fields on a right endpoint are unused. Also, and more importantly, each SweepEvent has a pointer to the corresponding SweepEvent at the other end of the same segment. So a pair of SweepEvents point to each other.

Rust frowns upon this. In retrospect, I think I could’ve kept it working, but I also think I’m wrong about that.

My first step was to wrench SweepEvent apart. I moved all of the segment-stuff (which is virtually all of it) into a single SweepSegment type, and then populated the event queue with a SweepEndpoint tuple struct, similar to:

enum SegmentEnd {

struct SweepEndpoint<'a>(&'a SweepSegment, SegmentEnd);

This makes SweepEndpoint essentially a tuple with a name. The 'a is a lifetime and says, more or less, that a SweepEndpoint cannot outlive the SweepSegment it references. Makes sense.

Problem solved! I no longer have mutually referential pointers. But I do still have pointers (well, references), and they have to point to something.

Problem the second: where’s all the data

Which brings me to the problem I always run into with Rust. I have a bucket of things, and I need to refer to some of them multiple times.

I tried half a dozen different approaches here and don’t clearly remember all of them, but I think my core problem went as follows. I translated the C++ class to a Rust struct with some methods hanging off of it. A simplified version might look like this.

struct Algorithm {
    arena: LinkedList<SweepSegment>,
    event_queue: BinaryHeap<SweepEndpoint>,

Ah, hang on — SweepEndpoint needs to be annotated with a lifetime, so Rust can enforce that those endpoints don’t live longer than the segments they refer to. No problem?

struct Algorithm<'a> {
    arena: LinkedList<SweepSegment>,
    event_queue: BinaryHeap<SweepEndpoint<'a>>,

Okay! Now for some methods.

fn run(&mut self) {
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 5 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    for event in &self.event_queue {
        println!("{:?}", event)

Aaand… this doesn’t work. Rust “cannot infer an appropriate lifetime for autoref due to conflicting requirements”. The trouble is that self.arena.back() takes a reference to self.arena, and then I put that reference in the event queue. But I promised that everything in the event queue has lifetime 'a, and I don’t actually know how long self lives here; I only know that it can’t outlive 'a, because that would invalidate the references it holds.

A little random guessing let me to change &mut self to &'a mut self — which is fine because the entire impl block this lives in is already parameterized by 'a — and that makes this compile! Hooray! I think that’s because I’m saying self itself has exactly the same lifetime as the references it holds onto, which is true, since it’s referring to itself.

Let’s get a little more ambitious and try having two segments.

fn run(&'a mut self) {
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 5 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 17 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    for event in &self.event_queue {
        println!("{:?}", event)

Whoops! Rust complains that I’m trying to mutate self.arena while other stuff is referring to it. And, yes, that’s true — I have references to it in the event queue, and Rust is preventing me from potentially deleting everything from the queue when references to it still exist. I’m not actually deleting anything here, of course (though I could be if this were a Vec!), but Rust’s type system can’t encode that (and I dread the thought of a type system that can).

I struggled with this for a while, and rapidly encountered another complete showstopper:

fn run(&'a mut self) {

fn mutate_something(&'a mut self) {}

Rust objects that I’m trying to borrow self mutably, twice — once for the first call, once for the second.

But why? A borrow is supposed to end automatically once it’s no longer used, right? Maybe if I throw some braces around it for scope… nope, that doesn’t help either.

It’s true that borrows usually end automatically, but here I have explicitly told Rust that mutate_something() should borrow with the lifetime 'a, which is the same as the lifetime in run(). So the first call explicitly borrows self for at least the rest of the method. Removing the lifetime from mutate_something() does fix this error, but if that method tries to add new segments, I’m back to the original problem.

Oh no. The mutation in the C++ code is several calls deep. Porting it directly seems nearly impossible.

The typical solution here — at least, the first thing people suggest to me on Twitter — is to wrap basically everything everywhere in Rc<RefCell<T>>, which gives you something that’s reference-counted (avoiding questions of ownership) and defers borrow checks until runtime (avoiding questions of mutable borrows). But that seems pretty heavy-handed here — not only does RefCell add .borrow() noise anywhere you actually want to interact with the underlying value, but do I really need to refcount these tiny structs that only hold a handful of floats each?

I set out to find a middle ground.

Solution, kind of

I really, really didn’t want to perform serious surgery on this code just to get it to build. I still didn’t know if it worked at all, and now I had to rearrange it without being able to check if I was breaking it further. (This isn’t Rust’s fault; it’s a natural problem with porting between fairly different paradigms.)

So I kind of hacked it into working with minimal changes, producing a grotesque abomination which I’m ashamed to link to. Here’s how!

First, I got rid of the class. It turns out this makes lifetime juggling much easier right off the bat. I’m pretty sure Rust considers everything in a struct to be destroyed simultaneously (though in practice it guarantees it’ll destroy fields in order), which doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Locals within a function, on the other hand, can each have their own distinct lifetimes, which solves the problem of expressing that the borrows won’t outlive the arena.

Speaking of the arena, I solved the mutability problem there by switching to… an arena! The typed-arena crate (a port of a type used within Rust itself, I think) is an allocator — you give it a value, and it gives you back a reference, and the reference is guaranteed to be valid for as long as the arena exists. The method that does this is sneaky and takes &self rather than &mut self, so Rust doesn’t know you’re mutating the arena and won’t complain. (One drawback is that the arena will never free anything you give to it, but that’s not a big problem here.)

My next problem was with mutation. The main loop repeatedly calls possibleIntersection with pairs of segments, which can split either or both segment. Rust definitely doesn’t like that — I’d have to pass in two &muts, both of which are mutable references into the same arena, and I’d have a bunch of immutable references into that arena in the sweep list and elsewhere. This isn’t going to fly.

This is kind of a shame, and is one place where Rust seems a little overzealous. Something like this seems like it ought to be perfectly valid:

let mut v = vec![1u32, 2u32];
let a = &mut v[0];
let b = &mut v[1];
// do stuff with a, b

The trouble is, Rust only knows the type signature, which here is something like index_mut(&'a mut self, index: usize) -> &'a T. Nothing about that says that you’re borrowing distinct elements rather than some core part of the type — and, in fact, the above code is only safe because you’re borrowing distinct elements. In the general case, Rust can’t possibly know that. It seems obvious enough from the different indexes, but nothing about the type system even says that different indexes have to return different values. And what if one were borrowed as &mut v[1] and the other were borrowed with v.iter_mut().next().unwrap()?

Anyway, this is exactly where people start to turn to RefCell — if you’re very sure you know better than Rust, then a RefCell will skirt the borrow checker while still enforcing at runtime that you don’t have more than one mutable borrow at a time.

But half the lines in this algorithm examine the endpoints of a segment! I don’t want to wrap the whole thing in a RefCell, or I’ll have to say this everywhere:

if segment1.borrow().point.x < segment2.borrow().point.x { ... }


But wait — this code only mutates the points themselves in one place. When a segment is split, the original segment becomes the left half, and a new segment is created to be the right half. There’s no compelling need for this; it saves an allocation for the left half, but it’s not critical to the algorithm.

Thus, I settled on a compromise. My segment type now looks like this:

struct SegmentPacket {
    // a bunch of flags and whatnot used in the algorithm
struct SweepSegment {
    left_point: MapPoint,
    right_point: MapPoint,
    faces_outwards: bool,
    index: usize,
    order: usize,
    packet: RefCell<SegmentPacket>,

I do still need to call .borrow() or .borrow_mut() to get at the stuff in the “packet”, but that’s far less common, so there’s less noise overall. And I don’t need to wrap it in Rc because it’s part of a type that’s allocated in the arena and passed around only via references.

This still leaves me with the problem of how to actually perform the splits.

I’m not especially happy with what I came up with, I don’t know if I can defend it, and I suspect I could do much better. I changed possibleIntersection so that rather than performing splits, it returns the points at which each segment needs splitting, in the form (usize, Option<MapPoint>, Option<MapPoint>). (The usize is used as a flag for calling code and oughta be an enum, but, isn’t yet.)

Now the top-level function is responsible for all arena management, and all is well.

Except, er. possibleIntersection is called multiple times, and I don’t want to copy-paste a dozen lines of split code after each call. I tried putting just that code in its own function, which had the world’s most godawful signature, and that didn’t work because… uh… hm. I can’t remember why, exactly! Should’ve written that down.

I tried a local closure next, but closures capture their environment by reference, so now I had references to a bunch of locals for as long as the closure existed, which meant I couldn’t mutate those locals. Argh. (This seems a little silly to me, since the closure’s references cannot possibly be used for anything if the closure isn’t being called, but maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe this is just a limitation of lifetimes.)

Increasingly desperate, I tried using a macro. But… macros are hygienic, which means that any new name you use inside a macro is different from any name outside that macro. The macro thus could not see any of my locals. Usually that’s good, but here I explicitly wanted the macro to mess with my locals.

I was just about to give up and go live as a hermit in a cabin in the woods, when I discovered something quite incredible. You can define local macros! If you define a macro inside a function, then it can see any locals defined earlier in that function. Perfect!

macro_rules! _split_segment (
    ($seg:expr, $pt:expr) => (
            let pt = $pt;
            let seg = $seg;
            // ... waaay too much code ...

loop {
    // ...
    // This is possibleIntersection, renamed because Rust rightfully complains about camelCase
    let cross = handle_intersections(Some(segment), maybe_above);
    if let Some(pt) = cross.1 {
        segment = _split_segment!(segment, pt);
    if let Some(pt) = cross.2 {
        maybe_above = Some(_split_segment!(maybe_above.unwrap(), pt));
    // ...

(This doesn’t actually quite match the original algorithm, which has one case where a segment can be split twice. I realized that I could just do the left-most split, and a later iteration would perform the other split. I sure hope that’s right, anyway.)

It’s a bit ugly, and I ran into a whole lot of implicit behavior from the C++ code that I had to fix — for example, the segment is sometimes mutated just before it’s split, purely as a shortcut for mutating the left part of the split. But it finally compiles! And runs! And kinda worked, a bit!


I still had a lot of work to do.

For one, this code was designed for intersecting two shapes, not mass-intersecting a big pile of shapes. The basic algorithm doesn’t care about how many polygons you start with — all it sees is segments — but the code for constructing the return value needed some heavy modification.

The biggest change by far? The original code traced each segment once, expecting the result to be only a single shape. I had to change that to trace each side of each segment once, since the vast bulk of the output consists of shapes which share a side. This violated a few assumptions, which I had to hack around.

I also ran into a couple very bad edge cases, spent ages debugging them, then found out that the original algorithm had a subtle workaround that I’d commented out because it was awkward to port but didn’t seem to do anything. Whoops!

The worst was a precision error, where a vertical line could be split on a point not quite actually on the line, which wreaked all kinds of havoc. I worked around that with some tasteful rounding, which is highly dubious but makes the output more appealing to my squishy human brain. (I might switch to the original workaround, but I really dislike that even simple cases can spit out points at 1500.0000000000003. The whole thing is parameterized over the coordinate type, so maybe I could throw a rational type in there and cross my fingers?)

All that done, I finally, finally, after a couple months of intermittent progress, got what I wanted!

This is Doom 2’s MAP01. The black area to the left of center is where the player starts. Gray areas indicate where the player can walk from there, with lighter shades indicating more distant areas, where “distance” is measured by the minimum number of line crossings. Red areas can’t be reached at all.

(Note: large playable chunks of the map, including the exit room, are red. That’s because those areas are behind doors, and this code doesn’t understand doors yet.)

(Also note: The big crescent in the lower-right is also black because I was lazy and looked for the player’s starting sector by checking the bbox, and that sector’s bbox happens to match.)

The code that generated this had to go out of its way to delete all the unreachable zones around solid walls. I think I could modify the algorithm to do that on the fly pretty easily, which would probably speed it up a bit too. Downside is that the algorithm would then be pretty specifically tied to this problem, and not usable for any other kind of polygon intersection, which I would think could come up elsewhere? The modifications would be pretty minor, though, so maybe I could confine them to a closure or something.

Some final observations

It runs surprisingly slowly. Like, multiple seconds. Unless I add --release, which speeds it up by a factor of… some number with multiple digits. Wahoo. Debug mode has a high price, especially with a lot of calls in play.

The current state of this code is on GitHub. Please don’t look at it. I’m very sorry.

Honestly, most of my anguish came not from Rust, but from the original code relying on lots of fairly subtle behavior without bothering to explain what it was doing or even hint that anything unusual was going on. God, I hate C++.

I don’t know if the Rust community can learn from this. I don’t know if I even learned from this. Let’s all just quietly forget about it.

Now I just need to figure this one out…

Performing Unit Testing in an AWS CodeStar Project

Post Syndicated from Jerry Mathen Jacob original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/performing-unit-testing-in-an-aws-codestar-project/

In this blog post, I will show how you can perform unit testing as a part of your AWS CodeStar project. AWS CodeStar helps you quickly develop, build, and deploy applications on AWS. With AWS CodeStar, you can set up your continuous delivery (CD) toolchain and manage your software development from one place.

Because unit testing tests individual units of application code, it is helpful for quickly identifying and isolating issues. As a part of an automated CI/CD process, it can also be used to prevent bad code from being deployed into production.

Many of the AWS CodeStar project templates come preconfigured with a unit testing framework so that you can start deploying your code with more confidence. The unit testing is configured to run in the provided build stage so that, if the unit tests do not pass, the code is not deployed. For a list of AWS CodeStar project templates that include unit testing, see AWS CodeStar Project Templates in the AWS CodeStar User Guide.

The scenario

As a big fan of superhero movies, I decided to list my favorites and ask my friends to vote on theirs by using a WebService endpoint I created. The example I use is a Python web service running on AWS Lambda with AWS CodeCommit as the code repository. CodeCommit is a fully managed source control system that hosts Git repositories and works with all Git-based tools.

Here’s how you can create the WebService endpoint:

Sign in to the AWS CodeStar console. Choose Start a project, which will take you to the list of project templates.

create project

For code edits I will choose AWS Cloud9, which is a cloud-based integrated development environment (IDE) that you use to write, run, and debug code.

choose cloud9

Here are the other tasks required by my scenario:

  • Create a database table where the votes can be stored and retrieved as needed.
  • Update the logic in the Lambda function that was created for posting and getting the votes.
  • Update the unit tests (of course!) to verify that the logic works as expected.

For a database table, I’ve chosen Amazon DynamoDB, which offers a fast and flexible NoSQL database.

Getting set up on AWS Cloud9

From the AWS CodeStar console, go to the AWS Cloud9 console, which should take you to your project code. I will open up a terminal at the top-level folder under which I will set up my environment and required libraries.

Use the following command to set the PYTHONPATH environment variable on the terminal.

export PYTHONPATH=/home/ec2-user/environment/vote-your-movie

You should now be able to use the following command to execute the unit tests in your project.

python -m unittest discover vote-your-movie/tests

cloud9 setup

Start coding

Now that you have set up your local environment and have a copy of your code, add a DynamoDB table to the project by defining it through a template file. Open template.yml, which is the Serverless Application Model (SAM) template file. This template extends AWS CloudFormation to provide a simplified way of defining the Amazon API Gateway APIs, AWS Lambda functions, and Amazon DynamoDB tables required by your serverless application.

AWSTemplateFormatVersion: 2010-09-09
- AWS::Serverless-2016-10-31
- AWS::CodeStar

    Type: String
    Description: CodeStar projectId used to associate new resources to team members

  # The DB table to store the votes.
    Type: AWS::Serverless::SimpleTable
        # Name of the "Candidate" is the partition key of the table.
        Name: Candidate
        Type: String
  # Creating a new lambda function for retrieving and storing votes.
    Type: AWS::Serverless::Function
      Handler: index.handler
      Runtime: python3.6
        # Setting environment variables for your lambda function.
          TABLE_NAME: !Ref "MovieVoteTable"
          TABLE_REGION: !Ref "AWS::Region"
          !Join ['-', [!Ref 'ProjectId', !Ref 'AWS::Region', 'LambdaTrustRole']]
          Type: Api
            Path: /
            Method: get
          Type: Api
            Path: /
            Method: post

We’ll use Python’s boto3 library to connect to AWS services. And we’ll use Python’s mock library to mock AWS service calls for our unit tests.
Use the following command to install these libraries:

pip install --upgrade boto3 mock -t .

install dependencies

Add these libraries to the buildspec.yml, which is the YAML file that is required for CodeBuild to execute.

version: 0.2


      # Upgrade AWS CLI to the latest version
      - pip install --upgrade awscli boto3 mock


      # Discover and run unit tests in the 'tests' directory. For more information, see <https://docs.python.org/3/library/unittest.html#test-discovery>
      - python -m unittest discover tests


      # Use AWS SAM to package the application by using AWS CloudFormation
      - aws cloudformation package --template template.yml --s3-bucket $S3_BUCKET --output-template template-export.yml

  type: zip
    - template-export.yml

Open the index.py where we can write the simple voting logic for our Lambda function.

import json
import datetime
import boto3
import os

table_name = os.environ['TABLE_NAME']
table_region = os.environ['TABLE_REGION']

VOTES_TABLE = boto3.resource('dynamodb', region_name=table_region).Table(table_name)
CANDIDATES = {"A": "Black Panther", "B": "Captain America: Civil War", "C": "Guardians of the Galaxy", "D": "Thor: Ragnarok"}

def handler(event, context):
    if event['httpMethod'] == 'GET':
        resp = VOTES_TABLE.scan()
        return {'statusCode': 200,
                'body': json.dumps({item['Candidate']: int(item['Votes']) for item in resp['Items']}),
                'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

    elif event['httpMethod'] == 'POST':
            body = json.loads(event['body'])
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'Invalid input! Expecting a JSON.',
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}
        if 'candidate' not in body:
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'Missing "candidate" in request.',
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}
        if body['candidate'] not in CANDIDATES.keys():
            return {'statusCode': 400,
                    'body': 'You must vote for one of the following candidates - {}.'.format(get_allowed_candidates()),
                    'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

        resp = VOTES_TABLE.update_item(
            Key={'Candidate': CANDIDATES.get(body['candidate'])},
            UpdateExpression='ADD Votes :incr',
            ExpressionAttributeValues={':incr': 1},
        return {'statusCode': 200,
                'body': "{} now has {} votes".format(CANDIDATES.get(body['candidate']), resp['Attributes']['Votes']),
                'headers': {'Content-Type': 'application/json'}}

def get_allowed_candidates():
    l = []
    for key in CANDIDATES:
        l.append("'{}' for '{}'".format(key, CANDIDATES.get(key)))
    return ", ".join(l)

What our code basically does is take in the HTTPS request call as an event. If it is an HTTP GET request, it gets the votes result from the table. If it is an HTTP POST request, it sets a vote for the candidate of choice. We also validate the inputs in the POST request to filter out requests that seem malicious. That way, only valid calls are stored in the table.

In the example code provided, we use a CANDIDATES variable to store our candidates, but you can store the candidates in a JSON file and use Python’s json library instead.

Let’s update the tests now. Under the tests folder, open the test_handler.py and modify it to verify the logic.

import os
# Some mock environment variables that would be used by the mock for DynamoDB
os.environ['TABLE_NAME'] = "MockHelloWorldTable"
os.environ['TABLE_REGION'] = "us-east-1"

# The library containing our logic.
import index

# Boto3's core library
import botocore
# For handling JSON.
import json
# Unit test library
import unittest
## Getting StringIO based on your setup.
    from StringIO import StringIO
except ImportError:
    from io import StringIO
## Python mock library
from mock import patch, call
from decimal import Decimal

class TestCandidateVotes(unittest.TestCase):

    ## Test the HTTP GET request flow. 
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with results of votes from the table (mocked).
    def test_get_votes(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'GET'}
        # The mocked values in our DynamoDB table.
        items_in_db = [{'Candidate': 'Black Panther', 'Votes': Decimal('3')},
                        {'Candidate': 'Captain America: Civil War', 'Votes': Decimal('8')},
                        {'Candidate': 'Guardians of the Galaxy', 'Votes': Decimal('8')},
                        {'Candidate': "Thor: Ragnarok", 'Votes': Decimal('1')}
        # The mocked DynamoDB response.
        expected_ddb_response = {'Items': items_in_db}
        # The mocked response we expect back by calling DynamoDB through boto.
        response_body = botocore.response.StreamingBody(StringIO(str(expected_ddb_response)),
        # Setting the expected value in the mock.
        boto_mock.side_effect = [expected_ddb_response]
        # Expecting that there would be a call to DynamoDB Scan function during execution with these parameters.
        expected_calls = [call('Scan', {'TableName': os.environ['TABLE_NAME']})]

        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})

        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 200

        result_body = json.loads(result.get('body'))
        # Verifying that the results match to that from the table.
        assert len(result_body) == len(items_in_db)
        for i in range(len(result_body)):
            assert result_body.get(items_in_db[i].get("Candidate")) == int(items_in_db[i].get("Votes"))

        assert boto_mock.call_count == 1

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate.
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with a confirmation message.
    def test_place_valid_candidate_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"candidate\": \"D\"}"}
        # The mocked response in our DynamoDB table.
        expected_ddb_response = {'Attributes': {'Candidate': "Thor: Ragnarok", 'Votes': Decimal('2')}}
        # The mocked response we expect back by calling DynamoDB through boto.
        response_body = botocore.response.StreamingBody(StringIO(str(expected_ddb_response)),
        # Setting the expected value in the mock.
        boto_mock.side_effect = [expected_ddb_response]
        # Expecting that there would be a call to DynamoDB UpdateItem function during execution with these parameters.
        expected_calls = [call('UpdateItem', {
                                                'TableName': os.environ['TABLE_NAME'], 
                                                'Key': {'Candidate': 'Thor: Ragnarok'},
                                                'UpdateExpression': 'ADD Votes :incr',
                                                'ExpressionAttributeValues': {':incr': 1},
                                                'ReturnValues': 'ALL_NEW'
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 200

        assert result.get('body') == "{} now has {} votes".format(

        assert boto_mock.call_count == 1

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for an non-existant candidate.
    ## We expect to get back a successful response with a confirmation message.
    def test_place_invalid_candidate_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # The valid IDs for the candidates are A, B, C, and D
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"candidate\": \"E\"}"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'You must vote for one of the following candidates - {}.'.format(index.get_allowed_candidates())

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate but associated with an invalid key in the POST body.
    ## We expect to get back a failed (400) response with an appropriate error message.
    def test_place_invalid_data_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # "name" is not the expected input key.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "{\"name\": \"D\"}"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'Missing "candidate" in request.'

    ## Test the HTTP POST request flow that places a vote for a selected candidate but not as a JSON string which the body of the request expects.
    ## We expect to get back a failed (400) response with an appropriate error message.
    def test_place_malformed_json_vote(self, boto_mock):
        # Input event to our method to test.
        # "body" receives a string rather than a JSON string.
        expected_event = {'httpMethod': 'POST', 'body': "Thor: Ragnarok"}
        # Call the function to test.
        result = index.handler(expected_event, {})
        # Run unit test assertions to verify the expected calls to mock have occurred and verify the response.
        assert result.get('headers').get('Content-Type') == 'application/json'
        assert result.get('statusCode') == 400
        assert result.get('body') == 'Invalid input! Expecting a JSON.'

if __name__ == '__main__':

I am keeping the code samples well commented so that it’s clear what each unit test accomplishes. It tests the success conditions and the failure paths that are handled in the logic.

In my unit tests I use the patch decorator (@patch) in the mock library. @patch helps mock the function you want to call (in this case, the botocore library’s _make_api_call function in the BaseClient class).
Before we commit our changes, let’s run the tests locally. On the terminal, run the tests again. If all the unit tests pass, you should expect to see a result like this:

You:~/environment $ python -m unittest discover vote-your-movie/tests
Ran 5 tests in 0.003s

You:~/environment $

Upload to AWS

Now that the tests have passed, it’s time to commit and push the code to source repository!

Add your changes

From the terminal, go to the project’s folder and use the following command to verify the changes you are about to push.

git status

To add the modified files only, use the following command:

git add -u

Commit your changes

To commit the changes (with a message), use the following command:

git commit -m "Logic and tests for the voting webservice."

Push your changes to AWS CodeCommit

To push your committed changes to CodeCommit, use the following command:

git push

In the AWS CodeStar console, you can see your changes flowing through the pipeline and being deployed. There are also links in the AWS CodeStar console that take you to this project’s build runs so you can see your tests running on AWS CodeBuild. The latest link under the Build Runs table takes you to the logs.

unit tests at codebuild

After the deployment is complete, AWS CodeStar should now display the AWS Lambda function and DynamoDB table created and synced with this project. The Project link in the AWS CodeStar project’s navigation bar displays the AWS resources linked to this project.

codestar resources

Because this is a new database table, there should be no data in it. So, let’s put in some votes. You can download Postman to test your application endpoint for POST and GET calls. The endpoint you want to test is the URL displayed under Application endpoints in the AWS CodeStar console.

Now let’s open Postman and look at the results. Let’s create some votes through POST requests. Based on this example, a valid vote has a value of A, B, C, or D.
Here’s what a successful POST request looks like:

POST success

Here’s what it looks like if I use some value other than A, B, C, or D:



Now I am going to use a GET request to fetch the results of the votes from the database.

GET success

And that’s it! You have now created a simple voting web service using AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway, and DynamoDB and used unit tests to verify your logic so that you ship good code.
Happy coding!

New – Amazon DynamoDB Continuous Backups and Point-In-Time Recovery (PITR)

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-amazon-dynamodb-continuous-backups-and-point-in-time-recovery-pitr/

The Amazon DynamoDB team is back with another useful feature hot on the heels of encryption at rest. At AWS re:Invent 2017 we launched global tables and on-demand backup and restore of your DynamoDB tables and today we’re launching continuous backups with point-in-time recovery (PITR).

You can enable continuous backups with a single click in the AWS Management Console, a simple API call, or with the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI). DynamoDB can back up your data with per-second granularity and restore to any single second from the time PITR was enabled up to the prior 35 days. We built this feature to protect against accidental writes or deletes. If a developer runs a script against production instead of staging or if someone fat-fingers a DeleteItem call, PITR has you covered. We also built it for the scenarios you can’t normally predict. You can still keep your on-demand backups for as long as needed for archival purposes but PITR works as additional insurance against accidental loss of data. Let’s see how this works.

Continuous Backup

To enable this feature in the console we navigate to our table and select the Backups tab. From there simply click Enable to turn on the feature. I could also turn on continuous backups via the UpdateContinuousBackups API call.

After continuous backup is enabled we should be able to see an Earliest restore date and Latest restore date

Let’s imagine a scenario where I have a lot of old user profiles that I want to delete.

I really only want to send service updates to our active users based on their last_update date. I decided to write a quick Python script to delete all the users that haven’t used my service in a while.

import boto3
table = boto3.resource("dynamodb").Table("VerySuperImportantTable")
items = table.scan(
    FilterExpression="last_update >= :date",
    ExpressionAttributeValues={":date": "2014-01-01T00:00:00"},
print("Deleting {} Items! Dangerous.".format(len(items)))
with table.batch_writer() as batch:
    for item in items:

Great! This should delete all those pesky non-users of my service that haven’t logged in since 2013. So,— CTRL+C CTRL+C CTRL+C CTRL+C (interrupt the currently executing command).

Yikes! Do you see where I went wrong? I’ve just deleted my most important users! Oh, no! Where I had a greater-than sign, I meant to put a less-than! Quick, before Jeff Barr can see, I’m going to restore the table. (I probably could have prevented that typo with Boto 3’s handy DynamoDB conditions: Attr("last_update").lt("2014-01-01T00:00:00"))


Luckily for me, restoring a table is easy. In the console I’ll navigate to the Backups tab for my table and click Restore to point-in-time.

I’ll specify the time (a few seconds before I started my deleting spree) and a name for the table I’m restoring to.

For a relatively small and evenly distributed table like mine, the restore is quite fast.

The time it takes to restore a table varies based on multiple factors and restore times are not neccesarily coordinated with the size of the table. If your dataset is evenly distributed across your primary keys you’ll be able to take advanatage of parallelization which will speed up your restores.

Learn More & Try It Yourself
There’s plenty more to learn about this new feature in the documentation here.

Pricing for continuous backups varies by region and is based on the current size of the table and all indexes.

A few things to note:

  • PITR works with encrypted tables.
  • If you disable PITR and later reenable it, you reset the start time from which you can recover.
  • Just like on-demand backups, there are no performance or availability impacts to enabling this feature.
  • Stream settings, Time To Live settings, PITR settings, tags, Amazon CloudWatch alarms, and auto scaling policies are not copied to the restored table.
  • Jeff, it turns out, knew I restored the table all along because every PITR API call is recorded in AWS CloudTrail.

Let us know how you’re going to use continuous backups and PITR on Twitter and in the comments.