Tag Archives: fines

Sweden Considers Six Years in Jail For Online Pirates

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/sweden-considers-six-years-in-jail-for-online-pirates-180218/

Ever since the infamous Pirate Bay trial more than a decade ago, prosecutors in Sweden have called for a tougher approach to breaches of copyright law. In general terms, the country has been painted as soft on infringement but that could all be about to change.

After reaching the conclusion that penalties in Sweden “appear to be low” when compared to those on the international stage, the government sought advice on how such crimes can be punished, not only more severely, but also in proportion to the alleged damage caused.

In response, Minister for Justice Heléne Fritzon received a report this week. It proposes a new tier of offenses with “special” punishments to tackle large-scale copyright infringement and “serious” trademark infringement.

Presented by Council of Justice member Dag Mattsson, the report envisions new criminal designations and crime being divided into two levels of seriousness.

“A person who has been found guilty of copyright infringement or trademark infringement of a normal grade may be sentenced to fines or imprisonment up to a maximum of two years,” the government notes.

“In cases of gross crimes, a person may be convicted of gross copyright infringement or gross trademark infringement and sent to prison for at least six months and not more than six years.”

Last year the Supreme Court found that although prison sentences can be handed down in such cases, there were no legislative indications that copyright infringement should be penalized via a term of imprisonment.

For an idea of the level of change, one only need refer to The Pirate Bay case, which would undoubtedly be considered as “gross infringement” under the new proposals.

Under the new rules, defendants Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundström would be sentenced to a minimum of six months and a maximum of six years. As things stood, with infringement being dealt with via fines or up to two years’ imprisonment, they were sentenced to prison terms of eight, ten and four months respectively.

Under the new proposals, damage to rightsholders and monetary gain by the defendant would be taken into account when assessing whether a crime is “gross” or not. This raises the question of whether someone sharing a single pre-release movie could be deemed a gross infringer even if no money was made.

Also of interest are proposals that would enable the state to confiscate all kinds of property, both physical items and more intangible assets such as domain names. This proposal is a clear nod towards the Pirate Bay case which dragged on for several years before the state was able to take over its thepiratebay.se domain.

“Today there is organized online piracy that has major consequences for the whole community,” Minister Fritzon said in a statement.

“Therefore, it is good that the punishments for these crimes have been reviewed, as the sentence will then be proportional to the seriousness of the crime.”

The legislative amendments are proposed to enter into force on July 1, 2019.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

How to Patch Linux Workloads on AWS

Post Syndicated from Koen van Blijderveen original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-patch-linux-workloads-on-aws/

Most malware tries to compromise your systems by using a known vulnerability that the operating system maker has already patched. As best practices to help prevent malware from affecting your systems, you should apply all operating system patches and actively monitor your systems for missing patches.

In this blog post, I show you how to patch Linux workloads using AWS Systems Manager. To accomplish this, I will show you how to use the AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI) to:

  1. Launch an Amazon EC2 instance for use with Systems Manager.
  2. Configure Systems Manager to patch your Amazon EC2 Linux instances.

In two previous blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I showed how to use the AWS Management Console to perform the necessary steps to patch, inspect, and protect Microsoft Windows workloads. You can implement those same processes for your Linux instances running in AWS by changing the instance tags and types shown in the previous blog posts.

Because most Linux system administrators are more familiar with using a command line, I show how to patch Linux workloads by using the AWS CLI in this blog post. The steps to use the Amazon EBS Snapshot Scheduler and Amazon Inspector are identical for both Microsoft Windows and Linux.

What you should know first

To follow along with the solution in this post, you need one or more Amazon EC2 instances. You may use existing instances or create new instances. For this post, I assume this is an Amazon EC2 for Amazon Linux instance installed from Amazon Machine Images (AMIs).

Systems Manager is a collection of capabilities that helps you automate management tasks for AWS-hosted instances on Amazon EC2 and your on-premises servers. In this post, I use Systems Manager for two purposes: to run remote commands and apply operating system patches. To learn about the full capabilities of Systems Manager, see What Is AWS Systems Manager?

As of Amazon Linux 2017.09, the AMI comes preinstalled with the Systems Manager agent. Systems Manager Patch Manager also supports Red Hat and Ubuntu. To install the agent on these Linux distributions or an older version of Amazon Linux, see Installing and Configuring SSM Agent on Linux Instances.

If you are not familiar with how to launch an Amazon EC2 instance, see Launching an Instance. I also assume you launched or will launch your instance in a private subnet. You must make sure that the Amazon EC2 instance can connect to the internet using a network address translation (NAT) instance or NAT gateway to communicate with Systems Manager. The following diagram shows how you should structure your VPC.

Diagram showing how to structure your VPC

Later in this post, you will assign tasks to a maintenance window to patch your instances with Systems Manager. To do this, the IAM user you are using for this post must have the iam:PassRole permission. This permission allows the IAM user assigning tasks to pass his own IAM permissions to the AWS service. In this example, when you assign a task to a maintenance window, IAM passes your credentials to Systems Manager. You also should authorize your IAM user to use Amazon EC2 and Systems Manager. As mentioned before, you will be using the AWS CLI for most of the steps in this blog post. Our documentation shows you how to get started with the AWS CLI. Make sure you have the AWS CLI installed and configured with an AWS access key and secret access key that belong to an IAM user that have the following AWS managed policies attached to the IAM user you are using for this example: AmazonEC2FullAccess and AmazonSSMFullAccess.

Step 1: Launch an Amazon EC2 Linux instance

In this section, I show you how to launch an Amazon EC2 instance so that you can use Systems Manager with the instance. This step requires you to do three things:

  1. Create an IAM role for Systems Manager before launching your Amazon EC2 instance.
  2. Launch your Amazon EC2 instance with Amazon EBS and the IAM role for Systems Manager.
  3. Add tags to the instances so that you can add your instances to a Systems Manager maintenance window based on tags.

A. Create an IAM role for Systems Manager

Before launching an Amazon EC2 instance, I recommend that you first create an IAM role for Systems Manager, which you will use to update the Amazon EC2 instance. AWS already provides a preconfigured policy that you can use for the new role and it is called AmazonEC2RoleforSSM.

  1. Create a JSON file named trustpolicy-ec2ssm.json that contains the following trust policy. This policy describes which principal (an entity that can take action on an AWS resource) is allowed to assume the role we are going to create. In this example, the principal is the Amazon EC2 service.
    {
      "Version": "2012-10-17",
      "Statement": {
        "Effect": "Allow",
        "Principal": {"Service": "ec2.amazonaws.com"},
        "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"
      }
    }

  1. Use the following command to create a role named EC2SSM that has the AWS managed policy AmazonEC2RoleforSSM attached to it. This generates JSON-based output that describes the role and its parameters, if the command is successful.
    $ aws iam create-role --role-name EC2SSM --assume-role-policy-document file://trustpolicy-ec2ssm.json

  1. Use the following command to attach the AWS managed IAM policy (AmazonEC2RoleforSSM) to your newly created role.
    $ aws iam attach-role-policy --role-name EC2SSM --policy-arn arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/service-role/AmazonEC2RoleforSSM

  1. Use the following commands to create the IAM instance profile and add the role to the instance profile. The instance profile is needed to attach the role we created earlier to your Amazon EC2 instance.
    $ aws iam create-instance-profile --instance-profile-name EC2SSM-IP
    $ aws iam add-role-to-instance-profile --instance-profile-name EC2SSM-IP --role-name EC2SSM

B. Launch your Amazon EC2 instance

To follow along, you need an Amazon EC2 instance that is running Amazon Linux. You can use any existing instance you may have or create a new instance.

When launching a new Amazon EC2 instance, be sure that:

  1. Use the following command to launch a new Amazon EC2 instance using an Amazon Linux AMI available in the US East (N. Virginia) Region (also known as us-east-1). Replace YourKeyPair and YourSubnetId with your information. For more information about creating a key pair, see the create-key-pair documentation. Write down the InstanceId that is in the output because you will need it later in this post.
    $ aws ec2 run-instances --image-id ami-cb9ec1b1 --instance-type t2.micro --key-name YourKeyPair --subnet-id YourSubnetId --iam-instance-profile Name=EC2SSM-IP

  1. If you are using an existing Amazon EC2 instance, you can use the following command to attach the instance profile you created earlier to your instance.
    $ aws ec2 associate-iam-instance-profile --instance-id YourInstanceId --iam-instance-profile Name=EC2SSM-IP

C. Add tags

The final step of configuring your Amazon EC2 instances is to add tags. You will use these tags to configure Systems Manager in Step 2 of this post. For this example, I add a tag named Patch Group and set the value to Linux Servers. I could have other groups of Amazon EC2 instances that I treat differently by having the same tag name but a different tag value. For example, I might have a collection of other servers with the tag name Patch Group with a value of Web Servers.

  • Use the following command to add the Patch Group tag to your Amazon EC2 instance.
    $ aws ec2 create-tags --resources YourInstanceId --tags --tags Key="Patch Group",Value="Linux Servers"

Note: You must wait a few minutes until the Amazon EC2 instance is available before you can proceed to the next section. To make sure your Amazon EC2 instance is online and ready, you can use the following AWS CLI command:

$ aws ec2 describe-instance-status --instance-ids YourInstanceId

At this point, you now have at least one Amazon EC2 instance you can use to configure Systems Manager.

Step 2: Configure Systems Manager

In this section, I show you how to configure and use Systems Manager to apply operating system patches to your Amazon EC2 instances, and how to manage patch compliance.

To start, I provide some background information about Systems Manager. Then, I cover how to:

  1. Create the Systems Manager IAM role so that Systems Manager is able to perform patch operations.
  2. Create a Systems Manager patch baseline and associate it with your instance to define which patches Systems Manager should apply.
  3. Define a maintenance window to make sure Systems Manager patches your instance when you tell it to.
  4. Monitor patch compliance to verify the patch state of your instances.

You must meet two prerequisites to use Systems Manager to apply operating system patches. First, you must attach the IAM role you created in the previous section, EC2SSM, to your Amazon EC2 instance. Second, you must install the Systems Manager agent on your Amazon EC2 instance. If you have used a recent Amazon Linux AMI, Amazon has already installed the Systems Manager agent on your Amazon EC2 instance. You can confirm this by logging in to an Amazon EC2 instance and checking the Systems Manager agent log files that are located at /var/log/amazon/ssm/.

To install the Systems Manager agent on an instance that does not have the agent preinstalled or if you want to use the Systems Manager agent on your on-premises servers, see Installing and Configuring the Systems Manager Agent on Linux Instances. If you forgot to attach the newly created role when launching your Amazon EC2 instance or if you want to attach the role to already running Amazon EC2 instances, see Attach an AWS IAM Role to an Existing Amazon EC2 Instance by Using the AWS CLI or use the AWS Management Console.

A. Create the Systems Manager IAM role

For a maintenance window to be able to run any tasks, you must create a new role for Systems Manager. This role is a different kind of role than the one you created earlier: this role will be used by Systems Manager instead of Amazon EC2. Earlier, you created the role, EC2SSM, with the policy, AmazonEC2RoleforSSM, which allowed the Systems Manager agent on your instance to communicate with Systems Manager. In this section, you need a new role with the policy, AmazonSSMMaintenanceWindowRole, so that the Systems Manager service can execute commands on your instance.

To create the new IAM role for Systems Manager:

  1. Create a JSON file named trustpolicy-maintenancewindowrole.json that contains the following trust policy. This policy describes which principal is allowed to assume the role you are going to create. This trust policy allows not only Amazon EC2 to assume this role, but also Systems Manager.
    {
       "Version":"2012-10-17",
       "Statement":[
          {
             "Sid":"",
             "Effect":"Allow",
             "Principal":{
                "Service":[
                   "ec2.amazonaws.com",
                   "ssm.amazonaws.com"
               ]
             },
             "Action":"sts:AssumeRole"
          }
       ]
    }

  1. Use the following command to create a role named MaintenanceWindowRole that has the AWS managed policy, AmazonSSMMaintenanceWindowRole, attached to it. This command generates JSON-based output that describes the role and its parameters, if the command is successful.
    $ aws iam create-role --role-name MaintenanceWindowRole --assume-role-policy-document file://trustpolicy-maintenancewindowrole.json

  1. Use the following command to attach the AWS managed IAM policy (AmazonEC2RoleforSSM) to your newly created role.
    $ aws iam attach-role-policy --role-name MaintenanceWindowRole --policy-arn arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/service-role/AmazonSSMMaintenanceWindowRole

B. Create a Systems Manager patch baseline and associate it with your instance

Next, you will create a Systems Manager patch baseline and associate it with your Amazon EC2 instance. A patch baseline defines which patches Systems Manager should apply to your instance. Before you can associate the patch baseline with your instance, though, you must determine if Systems Manager recognizes your Amazon EC2 instance. Use the following command to list all instances managed by Systems Manager. The --filters option ensures you look only for your newly created Amazon EC2 instance.

$ aws ssm describe-instance-information --filters Key=InstanceIds,Values= YourInstanceId

{
    "InstanceInformationList": [
        {
            "IsLatestVersion": true,
            "ComputerName": "ip-10-50-2-245",
            "PingStatus": "Online",
            "InstanceId": "YourInstanceId",
            "IPAddress": "10.50.2.245",
            "ResourceType": "EC2Instance",
            "AgentVersion": "2.2.120.0",
            "PlatformVersion": "2017.09",
            "PlatformName": "Amazon Linux AMI",
            "PlatformType": "Linux",
            "LastPingDateTime": 1515759143.826
        }
    ]
}

If your instance is missing from the list, verify that:

  1. Your instance is running.
  2. You attached the Systems Manager IAM role, EC2SSM.
  3. You deployed a NAT gateway in your public subnet to ensure your VPC reflects the diagram shown earlier in this post so that the Systems Manager agent can connect to the Systems Manager internet endpoint.
  4. The Systems Manager agent logs don’t include any unaddressed errors.

Now that you have checked that Systems Manager can manage your Amazon EC2 instance, it is time to create a patch baseline. With a patch baseline, you define which patches are approved to be installed on all Amazon EC2 instances associated with the patch baseline. The Patch Group resource tag you defined earlier will determine to which patch group an instance belongs. If you do not specifically define a patch baseline, the default AWS-managed patch baseline is used.

To create a patch baseline:

  1. Use the following command to create a patch baseline named AmazonLinuxServers. With approval rules, you can determine the approved patches that will be included in your patch baseline. In this example, you add all Critical severity patches to the patch baseline as soon as they are released, by setting the Auto approval delay to 0 days. By setting the Auto approval delay to 2 days, you add to this patch baseline the Important, Medium, and Low severity patches two days after they are released.
    $ aws ssm create-patch-baseline --name "AmazonLinuxServers" --description "Baseline containing all updates for Amazon Linux" --operating-system AMAZON_LINUX --approval-rules "PatchRules=[{PatchFilterGroup={PatchFilters=[{Values=[Critical],Key=SEVERITY}]},ApproveAfterDays=0,ComplianceLevel=CRITICAL},{PatchFilterGroup={PatchFilters=[{Values=[Important,Medium,Low],Key=SEVERITY}]},ApproveAfterDays=2,ComplianceLevel=HIGH}]"
    
    {
        "BaselineId": "YourBaselineId"
    }

  1. Use the following command to register the patch baseline you created with your instance. To do so, you use the Patch Group tag that you added to your Amazon EC2 instance.
    $ aws ssm register-patch-baseline-for-patch-group --baseline-id YourPatchBaselineId --patch-group "Linux Servers"
    
    {
        "PatchGroup": "Linux Servers",
        "BaselineId": "YourBaselineId"
    }

C.  Define a maintenance window

Now that you have successfully set up a role, created a patch baseline, and registered your Amazon EC2 instance with your patch baseline, you will define a maintenance window so that you can control when your Amazon EC2 instances will receive patches. By creating multiple maintenance windows and assigning them to different patch groups, you can make sure your Amazon EC2 instances do not all reboot at the same time.

To define a maintenance window:

  1. Use the following command to define a maintenance window. In this example command, the maintenance window will start every Saturday at 10:00 P.M. UTC. It will have a duration of 4 hours and will not start any new tasks 1 hour before the end of the maintenance window.
    $ aws ssm create-maintenance-window --name SaturdayNight --schedule "cron(0 0 22 ? * SAT *)" --duration 4 --cutoff 1 --allow-unassociated-targets
    
    {
        "WindowId": "YourMaintenanceWindowId"
    }

For more information about defining a cron-based schedule for maintenance windows, see Cron and Rate Expressions for Maintenance Windows.

  1. After defining the maintenance window, you must register the Amazon EC2 instance with the maintenance window so that Systems Manager knows which Amazon EC2 instance it should patch in this maintenance window. You can register the instance by using the same Patch Group tag you used to associate the Amazon EC2 instance with the AWS-provided patch baseline, as shown in the following command.
    $ aws ssm register-target-with-maintenance-window --window-id YourMaintenanceWindowId --resource-type INSTANCE --targets "Key=tag:Patch Group,Values=Linux Servers"
    
    {
        "WindowTargetId": "YourWindowTargetId"
    }

  1. Assign a task to the maintenance window that will install the operating system patches on your Amazon EC2 instance. The following command includes the following options.
    1. name is the name of your task and is optional. I named mine Patching.
    2. task-arn is the name of the task document you want to run.
    3. max-concurrency allows you to specify how many of your Amazon EC2 instances Systems Manager should patch at the same time. max-errors determines when Systems Manager should abort the task. For patching, this number should not be too low, because you do not want your entire patch task to stop on all instances if one instance fails. You can set this, for example, to 20%.
    4. service-role-arn is the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the AmazonSSMMaintenanceWindowRole role you created earlier in this blog post.
    5. task-invocation-parameters defines the parameters that are specific to the AWS-RunPatchBaseline task document and tells Systems Manager that you want to install patches with a timeout of 600 seconds (10 minutes).
      $ aws ssm register-task-with-maintenance-window --name "Patching" --window-id "YourMaintenanceWindowId" --targets "Key=WindowTargetIds,Values=YourWindowTargetId" --task-arn AWS-RunPatchBaseline --service-role-arn "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/MaintenanceWindowRole" --task-type "RUN_COMMAND" --task-invocation-parameters "RunCommand={Comment=,TimeoutSeconds=600,Parameters={SnapshotId=[''],Operation=[Install]}}" --max-concurrency "500" --max-errors "20%"
      
      {
          "WindowTaskId": "YourWindowTaskId"
      }

Now, you must wait for the maintenance window to run at least once according to the schedule you defined earlier. If your maintenance window has expired, you can check the status of any maintenance tasks Systems Manager has performed by using the following command.

$ aws ssm describe-maintenance-window-executions --window-id "YourMaintenanceWindowId"

{
    "WindowExecutions": [
        {
            "Status": "SUCCESS",
            "WindowId": "YourMaintenanceWindowId",
            "WindowExecutionId": "b594984b-430e-4ffa-a44c-a2e171de9dd3",
            "EndTime": 1515766467.487,
            "StartTime": 1515766457.691
        }
    ]
}

D.  Monitor patch compliance

You also can see the overall patch compliance of all Amazon EC2 instances using the following command in the AWS CLI.

$ aws ssm list-compliance-summaries

This command shows you the number of instances that are compliant with each category and the number of instances that are not in JSON format.

You also can see overall patch compliance by choosing Compliance under Insights in the navigation pane of the Systems Manager console. You will see a visual representation of how many Amazon EC2 instances are up to date, how many Amazon EC2 instances are noncompliant, and how many Amazon EC2 instances are compliant in relation to the earlier defined patch baseline.

Screenshot of the Compliance page of the Systems Manager console

In this section, you have set everything up for patch management on your instance. Now you know how to patch your Amazon EC2 instance in a controlled manner and how to check if your Amazon EC2 instance is compliant with the patch baseline you have defined. Of course, I recommend that you apply these steps to all Amazon EC2 instances you manage.

Summary

In this blog post, I showed how to use Systems Manager to create a patch baseline and maintenance window to keep your Amazon EC2 Linux instances up to date with the latest security patches. Remember that by creating multiple maintenance windows and assigning them to different patch groups, you can make sure your Amazon EC2 instances do not all reboot at the same time.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing any part of this solution, start a new thread on the Amazon EC2 forum or contact AWS Support.

– Koen

Backblaze and GDPR

Post Syndicated from Andy Klein original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/gdpr-compliance/

GDPR General Data Protection Regulation

Over the next few months the noise over GDPR will finally reach a crescendo. For the uninitiated, “GDPR” stands for “General Data Protection Regulation” and it goes into effect on May 25th of this year. GDPR is designed to protect how personal information of EU (European Union) citizens is collected, stored, and shared. The regulation should also improve transparency as to how personal information is managed by a business or organization.

Backblaze fully expects to be GDPR compliant when May 25th rolls around and we thought we’d share our experience along the way. We’ll start with this post as an introduction to GDPR. In future posts, we’ll dive into some of the details of the process we went through in meeting the GDPR objectives.

GDPR: A Two Way Street

To ensure we are GDPR compliant, Backblaze has assembled a dedicated internal team, engaged outside counsel in the United Kingdom, and consulted with other tech companies on best practices. While it is a sizable effort on our part, we view this as a waypoint in our ongoing effort to secure and protect our customers’ data and to be transparent in how we work as a company.

In addition to the effort we are putting into complying with the regulation, we think it is important to underscore and promote the idea that data privacy and security is a two-way street. We can spend millions of dollars on protecting the security of our systems, but we can’t stop a bad actor from finding and using your account credentials left on a note stuck to your monitor. We can give our customers tools like two factor authentication and private encryption keys, but it is the partnership with our customers that is the most powerful protection. The same thing goes for your digital privacy — we’ll do our best to protect your information, but we will need your help to do so.

Why GDPR is Important

At the center of GDPR is the protection of Personally Identifiable Information or “PII.” The definition for PII is information that can be used stand-alone or in concert with other information to identify a specific person. This includes obvious data like: name, address, and phone number, less obvious data like email address and IP address, and other data such as a credit card number, and unique identifiers that can be decoded back to the person.

How Will GDPR Affect You as an Individual

If you are a citizen in the EU, GDPR is designed to protect your private information from being used or shared without your permission. Technically, this only applies when your data is collected, processed, stored or shared outside of the EU, but it’s a good practice to hold all of your service providers to the same standard. For example, when you are deciding to sign up with a service, you should be able to quickly access and understand what personal information is being collected, why it is being collected, and what the business can do with that information. These terms are typically found in “Terms and Conditions” and “Privacy Policy” documents, or perhaps in a written contract you signed before starting to use a given service or product.

Even if you are not a citizen of the EU, GDPR will still affect you. Why? Because nearly every company you deal with, especially online, will have customers that live in the EU. It makes little sense for Backblaze, or any other service provider or vendor, to create a separate set of rules for just EU citizens. In practice, protection of private information should be more accountable and transparent with GDPR.

How Will GDPR Affect You as a Backblaze Customer

Over the coming months Backblaze customers will see changes to our current “Terms and Conditions,” “Privacy Policy,” and to our Backblaze services. While the changes to the Backblaze services are expected to be minimal, the “terms and privacy” documents will change significantly. The changes will include among other things the addition of a group of model clauses and related materials. These clauses will be generally consistent across all GDPR compliant vendors and are meant to be easily understood so that a customer can easily determine how their PII is being collected and used.

Common GDPR Questions:

Here are a few of the more common questions we have heard regarding GDPR.

  1. GDPR will only affect citizens in the EU.
    Answer: The changes that are being made by companies such as Backblaze to comply with GDPR will almost certainly apply to customers from all countries. And that’s a good thing. The protections afforded to EU citizens by GDPR are something all users of our service should benefit from.
  2. After May 25, 2018, a citizen of the EU will not be allowed to use any applications or services that store data outside of the EU.
    Answer: False, no one will stop you as an EU citizen from using the internet-based service you choose. But, you should make sure you know where your data is being collected, processed, and stored. If any of those activities occur outside the EU, make sure the company is following the GDPR guidelines.
  3. My business only has a few EU citizens as customers, so I don’t need to care about GDPR?
    Answer: False, even if you have just one EU citizen as a customer, and you capture, process or store data their PII outside of the EU, you need to comply with GDPR.
  4. Companies can be fined millions of dollars for not complying with GDPR.
    Answer:
    True, but: the regulation allows for companies to be fined up to $4 Million dollars or 20% of global revenue (whichever is greater) if they don’t comply with GDPR. In practice, the feeling is that such fines will be reserved (at least initially) for egregious violators that ignore or merely give “lip-service” to GDPR.
  5. You’ll be able to tell a company is GDPR compliant because they have a “GDPR Certified” badge on their website.
    Answer: There is no official GDPR certification or an official GDPR certification program. Companies that comply with GDPR are expected to follow the articles in the regulation and it should be clear from the outside looking in that they have followed the regulations. For example, their “Terms and Conditions,” and “Privacy Policy” should clearly spell out how and why they collect, use, and share your information. At some point a real GDPR certification program may be adopted, but not yet.

For all the hoopla about GDPR, the regulation is reasonably well thought out and addresses a very important issue — people’s privacy online. Creating a best practices document, or in this case a regulation, that companies such as Backblaze can follow is a good idea. The document isn’t perfect, and over the coming years we expect there to be changes. One thing we hope for is that the countries within the EU continue to stand behind one regulation and not fragment the document into multiple versions, each applying to themselves. We believe that having multiple different GDPR versions for different EU countries would lead to less protection overall of EU citizens.

In summary, GDPR changes are coming over the next few months. Backblaze has our internal staff and our EU-based legal council working diligently to ensure that we will be GDPR compliant by May 25th. We believe that GDPR will have a positive effect in enhancing the protection of personally identifiable information for not only EU citizens, but all of our Backblaze customers.

The post Backblaze and GDPR appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Sharing Secrets with AWS Lambda Using AWS Systems Manager Parameter Store

Post Syndicated from Chris Munns original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/sharing-secrets-with-aws-lambda-using-aws-systems-manager-parameter-store/

This post courtesy of Roberto Iturralde, Sr. Application Developer- AWS Professional Services

Application architects are faced with key decisions throughout the process of designing and implementing their systems. One decision common to nearly all solutions is how to manage the storage and access rights of application configuration. Shared configuration should be stored centrally and securely with each system component having access only to the properties that it needs for functioning.

With AWS Systems Manager Parameter Store, developers have access to central, secure, durable, and highly available storage for application configuration and secrets. Parameter Store also integrates with AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), allowing fine-grained access control to individual parameters or branches of a hierarchical tree.

This post demonstrates how to create and access shared configurations in Parameter Store from AWS Lambda. Both encrypted and plaintext parameter values are stored with only the Lambda function having permissions to decrypt the secrets. You also use AWS X-Ray to profile the function.

Solution overview

This example is made up of the following components:

  • An AWS SAM template that defines:
    • A Lambda function and its permissions
    • An unencrypted Parameter Store parameter that the Lambda function loads
    • A KMS key that only the Lambda function can access. You use this key to create an encrypted parameter later.
  • Lambda function code in Python 3.6 that demonstrates how to load values from Parameter Store at function initialization for reuse across invocations.

Launch the AWS SAM template

To create the resources shown in this post, you can download the SAM template or choose the button to launch the stack. The template requires one parameter, an IAM user name, which is the name of the IAM user to be the admin of the KMS key that you create. In order to perform the steps listed in this post, this IAM user will need permissions to execute Lambda functions, create Parameter Store parameters, administer keys in KMS, and view the X-Ray console. If you have these privileges in your IAM user account you can use your own account to complete the walkthrough. You can not use the root user to administer the KMS keys.

SAM template resources

The following sections show the code for the resources defined in the template.
Lambda function

ParameterStoreBlogFunctionDev:
    Type: 'AWS::Serverless::Function'
    Properties:
      FunctionName: 'ParameterStoreBlogFunctionDev'
      Description: 'Integrating lambda with Parameter Store'
      Handler: 'lambda_function.lambda_handler'
      Role: !GetAtt ParameterStoreBlogFunctionRoleDev.Arn
      CodeUri: './code'
      Environment:
        Variables:
          ENV: 'dev'
          APP_CONFIG_PATH: 'parameterStoreBlog'
          AWS_XRAY_TRACING_NAME: 'ParameterStoreBlogFunctionDev'
      Runtime: 'python3.6'
      Timeout: 5
      Tracing: 'Active'

  ParameterStoreBlogFunctionRoleDev:
    Type: AWS::IAM::Role
    Properties:
      AssumeRolePolicyDocument:
        Version: '2012-10-17'
        Statement:
          -
            Effect: Allow
            Principal:
              Service:
                - 'lambda.amazonaws.com'
            Action:
              - 'sts:AssumeRole'
      ManagedPolicyArns:
        - 'arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/service-role/AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole'
      Policies:
        -
          PolicyName: 'ParameterStoreBlogDevParameterAccess'
          PolicyDocument:
            Version: '2012-10-17'
            Statement:
              -
                Effect: Allow
                Action:
                  - 'ssm:GetParameter*'
                Resource: !Sub 'arn:aws:ssm:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:parameter/dev/parameterStoreBlog*'
        -
          PolicyName: 'ParameterStoreBlogDevXRayAccess'
          PolicyDocument:
            Version: '2012-10-17'
            Statement:
              -
                Effect: Allow
                Action:
                  - 'xray:PutTraceSegments'
                  - 'xray:PutTelemetryRecords'
                Resource: '*'

In this YAML code, you define a Lambda function named ParameterStoreBlogFunctionDev using the SAM AWS::Serverless::Function type. The environment variables for this function include the ENV (dev) and the APP_CONFIG_PATH where you find the configuration for this app in Parameter Store. X-Ray tracing is also enabled for profiling later.

The IAM role for this function extends the AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole by adding IAM policies that grant the function permissions to write to X-Ray and get parameters from Parameter Store, limited to paths under /dev/parameterStoreBlog*.
Parameter Store parameter

SimpleParameter:
    Type: AWS::SSM::Parameter
    Properties:
      Name: '/dev/parameterStoreBlog/appConfig'
      Description: 'Sample dev config values for my app'
      Type: String
      Value: '{"key1": "value1","key2": "value2","key3": "value3"}'

This YAML code creates a plaintext string parameter in Parameter Store in a path that your Lambda function can access.
KMS encryption key

ParameterStoreBlogDevEncryptionKeyAlias:
    Type: AWS::KMS::Alias
    Properties:
      AliasName: 'alias/ParameterStoreBlogKeyDev'
      TargetKeyId: !Ref ParameterStoreBlogDevEncryptionKey

  ParameterStoreBlogDevEncryptionKey:
    Type: AWS::KMS::Key
    Properties:
      Description: 'Encryption key for secret config values for the Parameter Store blog post'
      Enabled: True
      EnableKeyRotation: False
      KeyPolicy:
        Version: '2012-10-17'
        Id: 'key-default-1'
        Statement:
          -
            Sid: 'Allow administration of the key & encryption of new values'
            Effect: Allow
            Principal:
              AWS:
                - !Sub 'arn:aws:iam::${AWS::AccountId}:user/${IAMUsername}'
            Action:
              - 'kms:Create*'
              - 'kms:Encrypt'
              - 'kms:Describe*'
              - 'kms:Enable*'
              - 'kms:List*'
              - 'kms:Put*'
              - 'kms:Update*'
              - 'kms:Revoke*'
              - 'kms:Disable*'
              - 'kms:Get*'
              - 'kms:Delete*'
              - 'kms:ScheduleKeyDeletion'
              - 'kms:CancelKeyDeletion'
            Resource: '*'
          -
            Sid: 'Allow use of the key'
            Effect: Allow
            Principal:
              AWS: !GetAtt ParameterStoreBlogFunctionRoleDev.Arn
            Action:
              - 'kms:Encrypt'
              - 'kms:Decrypt'
              - 'kms:ReEncrypt*'
              - 'kms:GenerateDataKey*'
              - 'kms:DescribeKey'
            Resource: '*'

This YAML code creates an encryption key with a key policy with two statements.

The first statement allows a given user (${IAMUsername}) to administer the key. Importantly, this includes the ability to encrypt values using this key and disable or delete this key, but does not allow the administrator to decrypt values that were encrypted with this key.

The second statement grants your Lambda function permission to encrypt and decrypt values using this key. The alias for this key in KMS is ParameterStoreBlogKeyDev, which is how you reference it later.

Lambda function

Here I walk you through the Lambda function code.

import os, traceback, json, configparser, boto3
from aws_xray_sdk.core import patch_all
patch_all()

# Initialize boto3 client at global scope for connection reuse
client = boto3.client('ssm')
env = os.environ['ENV']
app_config_path = os.environ['APP_CONFIG_PATH']
full_config_path = '/' + env + '/' + app_config_path
# Initialize app at global scope for reuse across invocations
app = None

class MyApp:
    def __init__(self, config):
        """
        Construct new MyApp with configuration
        :param config: application configuration
        """
        self.config = config

    def get_config(self):
        return self.config

def load_config(ssm_parameter_path):
    """
    Load configparser from config stored in SSM Parameter Store
    :param ssm_parameter_path: Path to app config in SSM Parameter Store
    :return: ConfigParser holding loaded config
    """
    configuration = configparser.ConfigParser()
    try:
        # Get all parameters for this app
        param_details = client.get_parameters_by_path(
            Path=ssm_parameter_path,
            Recursive=False,
            WithDecryption=True
        )

        # Loop through the returned parameters and populate the ConfigParser
        if 'Parameters' in param_details and len(param_details.get('Parameters')) > 0:
            for param in param_details.get('Parameters'):
                param_path_array = param.get('Name').split("/")
                section_position = len(param_path_array) - 1
                section_name = param_path_array[section_position]
                config_values = json.loads(param.get('Value'))
                config_dict = {section_name: config_values}
                print("Found configuration: " + str(config_dict))
                configuration.read_dict(config_dict)

    except:
        print("Encountered an error loading config from SSM.")
        traceback.print_exc()
    finally:
        return configuration

def lambda_handler(event, context):
    global app
    # Initialize app if it doesn't yet exist
    if app is None:
        print("Loading config and creating new MyApp...")
        config = load_config(full_config_path)
        app = MyApp(config)

    return "MyApp config is " + str(app.get_config()._sections)

Beneath the import statements, you import the patch_all function from the AWS X-Ray library, which you use to patch boto3 to create X-Ray segments for all your boto3 operations.

Next, you create a boto3 SSM client at the global scope for reuse across function invocations, following Lambda best practices. Using the function environment variables, you assemble the path where you expect to find your configuration in Parameter Store. The class MyApp is meant to serve as an example of an application that would need its configuration injected at construction. In this example, you create an instance of ConfigParser, a class in Python’s standard library for handling basic configurations, to give to MyApp.

The load_config function loads the all the parameters from Parameter Store at the level immediately beneath the path provided in the Lambda function environment variables. Each parameter found is put into a new section in ConfigParser. The name of the section is the name of the parameter, less the base path. In this example, the full parameter name is /dev/parameterStoreBlog/appConfig, which is put in a section named appConfig.

Finally, the lambda_handler function initializes an instance of MyApp if it doesn’t already exist, constructing it with the loaded configuration from Parameter Store. Then it simply returns the currently loaded configuration in MyApp. The impact of this design is that the configuration is only loaded from Parameter Store the first time that the Lambda function execution environment is initialized. Subsequent invocations reuse the existing instance of MyApp, resulting in improved performance. You see this in the X-Ray traces later in this post. For more advanced use cases where configuration changes need to be received immediately, you could implement an expiry policy for your configuration entries or push notifications to your function.

To confirm that everything was created successfully, test the function in the Lambda console.

  1. Open the Lambda console.
  2. In the navigation pane, choose Functions.
  3. In the Functions pane, filter to ParameterStoreBlogFunctionDev to find the function created by the SAM template earlier. Open the function name to view its details.
  4. On the top right of the function detail page, choose Test. You may need to create a new test event. The input JSON doesn’t matter as this function ignores the input.

After running the test, you should see output similar to the following. This demonstrates that the function successfully fetched the unencrypted configuration from Parameter Store.

Create an encrypted parameter

You currently have a simple, unencrypted parameter and a Lambda function that can access it.

Next, you create an encrypted parameter that only your Lambda function has permission to use for decryption. This limits read access for this parameter to only this Lambda function.

To follow along with this section, deploy the SAM template for this post in your account and make your IAM user name the KMS key admin mentioned earlier.

  1. In the Systems Manager console, under Shared Resources, choose Parameter Store.
  2. Choose Create Parameter.
    • For Name, enter /dev/parameterStoreBlog/appSecrets.
    • For Type, select Secure String.
    • For KMS Key ID, choose alias/ParameterStoreBlogKeyDev, which is the key that your SAM template created.
    • For Value, enter {"secretKey": "secretValue"}.
    • Choose Create Parameter.
  3. If you now try to view the value of this parameter by choosing the name of the parameter in the parameters list and then choosing Show next to the Value field, you won’t see the value appear. This is because, even though you have permission to encrypt values using this KMS key, you do not have permissions to decrypt values.
  4. In the Lambda console, run another test of your function. You now also see the secret parameter that you created and its decrypted value.

If you do not see the new parameter in the Lambda output, this may be because the Lambda execution environment is still warm from the previous test. Because the parameters are loaded at Lambda startup, you need a fresh execution environment to refresh the values.

Adjust the function timeout to a different value in the Advanced Settings at the bottom of the Lambda Configuration tab. Choose Save and test to trigger the creation of a new Lambda execution environment.

Profiling the impact of querying Parameter Store using AWS X-Ray

By using the AWS X-Ray SDK to patch boto3 in your Lambda function code, each invocation of the function creates traces in X-Ray. In this example, you can use these traces to validate the performance impact of your design decision to only load configuration from Parameter Store on the first invocation of the function in a new execution environment.

From the Lambda function details page where you tested the function earlier, under the function name, choose Monitoring. Choose View traces in X-Ray.

This opens the X-Ray console in a new window filtered to your function. Be aware of the time range field next to the search bar if you don’t see any search results.
In this screenshot, I’ve invoked the Lambda function twice, one time 10.3 minutes ago with a response time of 1.1 seconds and again 9.8 minutes ago with a response time of 8 milliseconds.

Looking at the details of the longer running trace by clicking the trace ID, you can see that the Lambda function spent the first ~350 ms of the full 1.1 sec routing the request through Lambda and creating a new execution environment for this function, as this was the first invocation with this code. This is the portion of time before the initialization subsegment.

Next, it took 725 ms to initialize the function, which includes executing the code at the global scope (including creating the boto3 client). This is also a one-time cost for a fresh execution environment.

Finally, the function executed for 65 ms, of which 63.5 ms was the GetParametersByPath call to Parameter Store.

Looking at the trace for the second, much faster function invocation, you see that the majority of the 8 ms execution time was Lambda routing the request to the function and returning the response. Only 1 ms of the overall execution time was attributed to the execution of the function, which makes sense given that after the first invocation you’re simply returning the config stored in MyApp.

While the Traces screen allows you to view the details of individual traces, the X-Ray Service Map screen allows you to view aggregate performance data for all traced services over a period of time.

In the X-Ray console navigation pane, choose Service map. Selecting a service node shows the metrics for node-specific requests. Selecting an edge between two nodes shows the metrics for requests that traveled that connection. Again, be aware of the time range field next to the search bar if you don’t see any search results.

After invoking your Lambda function several more times by testing it from the Lambda console, you can view some aggregate performance metrics. Look at the following:

  • From the client perspective, requests to the Lambda service for the function are taking an average of 50 ms to respond. The function is generating ~1 trace per minute.
  • The function itself is responding in an average of 3 ms. In the following screenshot, I’ve clicked on this node, which reveals a latency histogram of the traced requests showing that over 95% of requests return in under 5 ms.
  • Parameter Store is responding to requests in an average of 64 ms, but note the much lower trace rate in the node. This is because you only fetch data from Parameter Store on the initialization of the Lambda execution environment.

Conclusion

Deduplication, encryption, and restricted access to shared configuration and secrets is a key component to any mature architecture. Serverless architectures designed using event-driven, on-demand, compute services like Lambda are no different.

In this post, I walked you through a sample application accessing unencrypted and encrypted values in Parameter Store. These values were created in a hierarchy by application environment and component name, with the permissions to decrypt secret values restricted to only the function needing access. The techniques used here can become the foundation of secure, robust configuration management in your enterprise serverless applications.

Task Networking in AWS Fargate

Post Syndicated from Nathan Peck original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/task-networking-in-aws-fargate/

AWS Fargate is a technology that allows you to focus on running your application without needing to provision, monitor, or manage the underlying compute infrastructure. You package your application into a Docker container that you can then launch using your container orchestration tool of choice.

Fargate allows you to use containers without being responsible for Amazon EC2 instances, similar to how EC2 allows you to run VMs without managing physical infrastructure. Currently, Fargate provides support for Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS). Support for Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (Amazon EKS) will be made available in the near future.

Despite offloading the responsibility for the underlying instances, Fargate still gives you deep control over configuration of network placement and policies. This includes the ability to use many networking fundamentals such as Amazon VPC and security groups.

This post covers how to take advantage of the different ways of networking your containers in Fargate when using ECS as your orchestration platform, with a focus on how to do networking securely.

The first step to running any application in Fargate is defining an ECS task for Fargate to launch. A task is a logical group of one or more Docker containers that are deployed with specified settings. When running a task in Fargate, there are two different forms of networking to consider:

  • Container (local) networking
  • External networking

Container Networking

Container networking is often used for tightly coupled application components. Perhaps your application has a web tier that is responsible for serving static content as well as generating some dynamic HTML pages. To generate these dynamic pages, it has to fetch information from another application component that has an HTTP API.

One potential architecture for such an application is to deploy the web tier and the API tier together as a pair and use local networking so the web tier can fetch information from the API tier.

If you are running these two components as two processes on a single EC2 instance, the web tier application process could communicate with the API process on the same machine by using the local loopback interface. The local loopback interface has a special IP address of 127.0.0.1 and hostname of localhost.

By making a networking request to this local interface, it bypasses the network interface hardware and instead the operating system just routes network calls from one process to the other directly. This gives the web tier a fast and efficient way to fetch information from the API tier with almost no networking latency.

In Fargate, when you launch multiple containers as part of a single task, they can also communicate with each other over the local loopback interface. Fargate uses a special container networking mode called awsvpc, which gives all the containers in a task a shared elastic network interface to use for communication.

If you specify a port mapping for each container in the task, then the containers can communicate with each other on that port. For example the following task definition could be used to deploy the web tier and the API tier:

{
  "family": "myapp"
  "containerDefinitions": [
    {
      "name": "web",
      "image": "my web image url",
      "portMappings": [
        {
          "containerPort": 80
        }
      ],
      "memory": 500,
      "cpu": 10,
      "esssential": true
    },
    {
      "name": "api",
      "image": "my api image url",
      "portMappings": [
        {
          "containerPort": 8080
        }
      ],
      "cpu": 10,
      "memory": 500,
      "essential": true
    }
  ]
}

ECS, with Fargate, is able to take this definition and launch two containers, each of which is bound to a specific static port on the elastic network interface for the task.

Because each Fargate task has its own isolated networking stack, there is no need for dynamic ports to avoid port conflicts between different tasks as in other networking modes. The static ports make it easy for containers to communicate with each other. For example, the web container makes a request to the API container using its well-known static port:

curl 127.0.0.1:8080/my-endpoint

This sends a local network request, which goes directly from one container to the other over the local loopback interface without traversing the network. This deployment strategy allows for fast and efficient communication between two tightly coupled containers. But most application architectures require more than just internal local networking.

External Networking

External networking is used for network communications that go outside the task to other servers that are not part of the task, or network communications that originate from other hosts on the internet and are directed to the task.

Configuring external networking for a task is done by modifying the settings of the VPC in which you launch your tasks. A VPC is a fundamental tool in AWS for controlling the networking capabilities of resources that you launch on your account.

When setting up a VPC, you create one or more subnets, which are logical groups that your resources can be placed into. Each subnet has an Availability Zone and its own route table, which defines rules about how network traffic operates for that subnet. There are two main types of subnets: public and private.

Public subnets

A public subnet is a subnet that has an associated internet gateway. Fargate tasks in that subnet are assigned both private and public IP addresses:


A browser or other client on the internet can send network traffic to the task via the internet gateway using its public IP address. The tasks can also send network traffic to other servers on the internet because the route table can route traffic out via the internet gateway.

If tasks want to communicate directly with each other, they can use each other’s private IP address to send traffic directly from one to the other so that it stays inside the subnet without going out to the internet gateway and back in.

Private subnets

A private subnet does not have direct internet access. The Fargate tasks inside the subnet don’t have public IP addresses, only private IP addresses. Instead of an internet gateway, a network address translation (NAT) gateway is attached to the subnet:

 

There is no way for another server or client on the internet to reach your tasks directly, because they don’t even have an address or a direct route to reach them. This is a great way to add another layer of protection for internal tasks that handle sensitive data. Those tasks are protected and can’t receive any inbound traffic at all.

In this configuration, the tasks can still communicate to other servers on the internet via the NAT gateway. They would appear to have the IP address of the NAT gateway to the recipient of the communication. If you run a Fargate task in a private subnet, you must add this NAT gateway. Otherwise, Fargate can’t make a network request to Amazon ECR to download the container image, or communicate with Amazon CloudWatch to store container metrics.

Load balancers

If you are running a container that is hosting internet content in a private subnet, you need a way for traffic from the public to reach the container. This is generally accomplished by using a load balancer such as an Application Load Balancer or a Network Load Balancer.

ECS integrates tightly with AWS load balancers by automatically configuring a service-linked load balancer to send network traffic to containers that are part of the service. When each task starts, the IP address of its elastic network interface is added to the load balancer’s configuration. When the task is being shut down, network traffic is safely drained from the task before removal from the load balancer.

To get internet traffic to containers using a load balancer, the load balancer is placed into a public subnet. ECS configures the load balancer to forward traffic to the container tasks in the private subnet:

This configuration allows your tasks in Fargate to be safely isolated from the rest of the internet. They can still initiate network communication with external resources via the NAT gateway, and still receive traffic from the public via the Application Load Balancer that is in the public subnet.

Another potential use case for a load balancer is for internal communication from one service to another service within the private subnet. This is typically used for a microservice deployment, in which one service such as an internet user account service needs to communicate with an internal service such as a password service. Obviously, it is undesirable for the password service to be directly accessible on the internet, so using an internet load balancer would be a major security vulnerability. Instead, this can be accomplished by hosting an internal load balancer within the private subnet:

With this approach, one container can distribute requests across an Auto Scaling group of other private containers via the internal load balancer, ensuring that the network traffic stays safely protected within the private subnet.

Best Practices for Fargate Networking

Determine whether you should use local task networking

Local task networking is ideal for communicating between containers that are tightly coupled and require maximum networking performance between them. However, when you deploy one or more containers as part of the same task they are always deployed together so it removes the ability to independently scale different types of workload up and down.

In the example of the application with a web tier and an API tier, it may be the case that powering the application requires only two web tier containers but 10 API tier containers. If local container networking is used between these two container types, then an extra eight unnecessary web tier containers would end up being run instead of allowing the two different services to scale independently.

A better approach would be to deploy the two containers as two different services, each with its own load balancer. This allows clients to communicate with the two web containers via the web service’s load balancer. The web service could distribute requests across the eight backend API containers via the API service’s load balancer.

Run internet tasks that require internet access in a public subnet

If you have tasks that require internet access and a lot of bandwidth for communication with other services, it is best to run them in a public subnet. Give them public IP addresses so that each task can communicate with other services directly.

If you run these tasks in a private subnet, then all their outbound traffic has to go through an NAT gateway. AWS NAT gateways support up to 10 Gbps of burst bandwidth. If your bandwidth requirements go over this, then all task networking starts to get throttled. To avoid this, you could distribute the tasks across multiple private subnets, each with their own NAT gateway. It can be easier to just place the tasks into a public subnet, if possible.

Avoid using a public subnet or public IP addresses for private, internal tasks

If you are running a service that handles private, internal information, you should not put it into a public subnet or use a public IP address. For example, imagine that you have one task, which is an API gateway for authentication and access control. You have another background worker task that handles sensitive information.

The intended access pattern is that requests from the public go to the API gateway, which then proxies request to the background task only if the request is from an authenticated user. If the background task is in a public subnet and has a public IP address, then it could be possible for an attacker to bypass the API gateway entirely. They could communicate directly to the background task using its public IP address, without being authenticated.

Conclusion

Fargate gives you a way to run containerized tasks directly without managing any EC2 instances, but you still have full control over how you want networking to work. You can set up containers to talk to each other over the local network interface for maximum speed and efficiency. For running workloads that require privacy and security, use a private subnet with public internet access locked down. Or, for simplicity with an internet workload, you can just use a public subnet and give your containers a public IP address.

To deploy one of these Fargate task networking approaches, check out some sample CloudFormation templates showing how to configure the VPC, subnets, and load balancers.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.

Raspberry Pi Spy’s Alexa Skill

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pi-spy-alexa-skill/

With Raspberry Pi projects using home assistant services such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home becoming more and more popular, we invited Raspberry Pi maker Matt ‘Raspberry Pi Spy‘ Hawkins to write a guest post about his latest project, the Pi Spy Alexa Skill.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Pi Spy Skill

The Alexa system uses Skills to provide voice-activated functionality, and it allows you to create new Skills to add extra features. With the Pi Spy Skill, you can ask Alexa what function each pin on the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header provides, for example by using the phrase “Alexa, ask Pi Spy what is Pin 2.” In response to a phrase such as “Alexa, ask Pi Spy where is GPIO 8”, Alexa can now also tell you on which pin you can find a specific GPIO reference number.

This information is already available in various forms, but I thought it would be useful to retrieve it when I was busy soldering or building circuits and had no hands free.

Creating an Alexa Skill

There is a learning curve to creating a new Skill, and in some regards it was similar to mobile app development.

A Skill consists of two parts: the first is created within the Amazon Developer Console and defines the structure of the voice commands Alexa should recognise. The second part is a webservice that can receive data extracted from the voice commands and provide a response back to the device. You can create the webservice on a webserver, internet-connected device, or cloud service.

I decided to use Amazon’s AWS Lambda service. Once set up, this allows you to write code without having to worry about the server it is running on. It also supports Python, so it fit in nicely with most of my other projects.

To get started, I logged into the Amazon Developer Console with my personal Amazon account and navigated to the Alexa section. I created a new Skill named Pi Spy. Within a Skill, you define an Intent Schema and some Sample Utterances. The schema defines individual intents, and the utterances define how these are invoked by the user.

Here is how my ExaminePin intent is defined in the schema:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Example utterances then attempt to capture the different phrases the user might speak to their device.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Whenever Alexa matches a spoken phrase to an utterance, it passes the name of the intent and the variable PinID to the webservice.

In the test section, you can check what JSON data will be generated and passed to your webservice in response to specific phrases. This allows you to verify that the webservices’ responses are correct.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Over on the AWS Services site, I created a Lambda function based on one of the provided examples to receive the incoming requests. Here is the section of that code which deals with the ExaminePin intent:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

For this intent, I used a Python dictionary to match the incoming pin number to its description. Another Python function deals with the GPIO queries. A URL to this Lambda function was added to the Skill as its ‘endpoint’.

As with the Skill, the Python code can be tested to iron out any syntax errors or logic problems.

With suitable configuration, it would be possible to create the webservice on a Pi, and that is something I’m currently working on. This approach is particularly interesting, as the Pi can then be used to control local hardware devices such as cameras, lights, or pet feeders.

Note

My Alexa Skill is currently only available to UK users. I’m hoping Amazon will choose to copy it to the US service, but I think that is down to its perceived popularity, or it may be done in bulk based on release date. In the next update, I’ll be adding an American English version to help speed up this process.

The post Raspberry Pi Spy’s Alexa Skill appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

A hedgehog cam or two

Post Syndicated from Helen Lynn original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/a-hedgehog-cam-or-two/

Here we are, hauling ourselves out of the Christmas and New Year holidays and into January proper. It’s dawning on me that I have to go back to work, even though it’s still very cold and gloomy in northern Europe, and even though my duvet is lovely and warm. I found myself envying beings that hibernate, and thinking about beings that hibernate, and searching for things to do with hedgehogs. And, well, the long and the short of it is, today’s blog post is a short meditation on the hedgehog cam.

A hedgehog in a garden, photographed in infrared light by a hedgehog cam

Success! It’s a hedgehog!
Photo by Andrew Wedgbury

Hedgehog watching

Someone called Barker has installed a Raspberry Pi–based hedgehog cam in a location with a distant view of a famous Alp, and as well as providing live views by visible and infrared light for the dedicated and the insomniac, they also make a sped-up version of the previous night’s activity available. With hedgehogs usually being in hibernation during January, you mightn’t see them in any current feed — but don’t worry! You’re guaranteed a few hedgehogs on Barker’s website, because they have also thrown in some lovely GIFs of hoggy (and foxy) divas that their camera captured in the past.

A Hedgehog eating from a bowl on a patio, captured by a hedgehog cam

Nom nom nom!
GIF by Barker’s Site

Build your own hedgehog cam

For pointers on how to replicate this kind of setup, you could do worse than turn to Andrew Wedgbury’s hedgehog cam write-up. Andrew’s Twitter feed reveals that he’s a Cambridge local, and there are hints that he was behind RealVNC’s hoggy mascot for Pi Wars 2017.

RealVNC on Twitter

Another day at the office: testing our #PiWars mascot using a @Raspberry_Pi 3, #VNC Connect and @4tronix_uk Picon Zero. Name suggestions? https://t.co/iYY3xAX9Bk

Our infrared bird box and time-lapse camera resources will also set you well on the way towards your own custom wildlife camera. For a kit that wraps everything up in a weatherproof enclosure made with love, time, and serious amounts of design and testing, take a look at Naturebytes’ wildlife cam kit.

Or, if you’re thinking that a robot mascot is more dependable than real animals for the fluffiness you need in order to start your January with something like productivity and with your soul intact, you might like to put your own spin on our robot buggy.

Happy 2018

While we’re on the subject of getting to grips with the new year, do take a look at yesterday’s blog post, in which we suggest a New Year’s project that’s different from the usual resolutions. However you tackle 2018, we wish you an excellent year of creative computing.

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Massive Site-Blocking Measures Countered By 100K Browser Addon Users

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/massive-site-blocking-measures-countered-by-100k-browser-addon-users-171231/

FCT tyIn July 2015, Portugal’s Ministry of Culture announced the signing of a memorandum between its own General Inspection of Cultural Activities (IGAC), the Portuguese Association of Telecommunication Operators (APRITEL), various rightsholder groups, the body responsible for administering Portugal’s .PT domain, and representatives from the advertising industry.

The memorandum laid out a new mechanism for blocking so-called ‘pirate’ sites. In common with similar frameworks elsewhere, the process can be triggered by a complaint from a rightsholder association. Local anti-piracy group MAPINET then collates evidence that a site is engaged in the unlawful distribution of copyright works and has failed to cease its activities.

The system was quickly utilized by rightsholders seeking to block access to their content. Within six months, 330 sites had been blocked by ISPs, but that was only the beginning. In the months and years that followed, hundreds more sites were rendered inaccessible but in common with similar programs elsewhere, no official list of blocked sites was made available. People are keeping watch, however.

SitesBloqueados (Blocked Sites) is a web portal run by Revolução dos Bytes (Bytes’ Revolution), a group of like-minded anti-censorship activists in Portugal. Created a few months after blocking began in the region, their comprehensive database now contains almost 1,400 domains, the majority of which have been blocked on copyright grounds.

“SitesBloqueados was mainly created because, although the Memorandum of Understanding contained certain requirements to make a site eligible to be blocked – such as 500 items [or links] to copyright content or one third of the site containing copyrighted material – there was no official way to validate that data and make sure that these ‘rules’ are being respected,” team member Henrique Mouta informs TF.

The manner in which the list is maintained is quite unique. As mentioned earlier, there are no official sources listing blocked domains so the people behind SitesBloqueados had to get creative. Alongside this project they also run Ahoy!, a Chrome and Firefox extension that allows users to circumvent censorship in Portugal and it’s through that tool they gather information.

“Ahoy! basically bypasses any traffic to a blocked site through our own proxies, allowing the users to navigate in a free, uncensored internet,” Henrique explains.

As this extension works on a whitelist basis, we had to create a mechanism to automatically detect and whitelist sites that have been blocked, so if a user accesses a blocked site that is not on our list yet, we get a notification so we can review the site and add it to the list. That is the list that is also powering SitesBloqueados.pt.”

When the voluntary agreement was first announced, local ISPs came under intense criticism for agreeing to work with copyright holders without need for a court process. However, Henrique says they are actually in a precarious position.

“We usually see the ISPs as the bad guys, blocking sites, throttling our internet and, more recently, going against the Internet Neutrality. But, in this particular case, all the major ISPs are forced to block any sites that have been requested in 15 days, or they might pay fines for every single day after the deadline.

“MAPiNET (MOVIMENTO CÍVICOANTI PIRATARIA NA INTERNET) is the organization, alongside with IGAC (Inspecção Geral Das Actividades Culturais), that compiles the lists of sites and sends them to the ISP. It’s usually two lists per month. Of course, I’m not excusing the ISPs, as they should stand up against censorship. But we all know that’s asking too much of them,” Henrique adds.

Interestingly, the first site blockade in Portugal wasn’t actioned on copyright grounds. It was, in fact, targeted at Uber.com.

“This happened in June 2015, after a court order to suspend all Uber activity in Portugal. This opened a huge precedent, with all these anti-piracy organizations seeing how easy is to block a site, technically speaking.

“So, at the end of August of that same year, the [anti-piracy] Memorandum was signed by all the parties and, since then, both MAPiNET and IGAC have the power to request any site block, without any court order, without any legal order,” Henrique notes.

This lit a fire under the team and two and half years later, Ahoy! is now being used by 100k people to unblock almost 1,400 sites, while feeding back information on newly blocked domains. These are then added to the blocklist database and considered for unblocking methods via the addon.

Currently, around 50 new domains are blocked every month in Portugal and Henrique and the team are determined to document every one of them. They believe that by keeping an eye on things publicly, it lets the anti-piracy groups know they are being watched and cannot act with impunity. Around 90% of all blocked domains are restricted on copyright grounds but some also fall foul of new gambling laws that forbid unlicensed sites.

From the beginning, the big question has surrounded potential abuse. So, given the lack of a court process, have any players attempted to game the system?

“So far, we haven’t seen any signs of intentional abuse. There have been a few problems with sites being wrongly blocked. The most popular case is Carbon Games site that was blocked nearly two years ago, and it was mistaken for a different site, a Gambling site, named Carbon Gaming,” Henrique says.

“A few months later, we detected another case. A Spanish journalist had a website where he was posting videoclips of the latest releases. All of these releases were originally on YouTube, uploaded by the respective owners, however that was not enough to keep the site alive.”

Under pressure from Revolução dos Bytes this block was reversed but it’s not the only instance of errors. Non-existent sites have been blocked as have sites publishing headlines and linking to the respective online newspapers.

With blocking continuing at a steady pace, dozens of new domains are restricted every month. But Henrique and the team believe it won’t achieve anything positive and only serves to harm the Internet and democracy.

“Blocking sites to prevent piracy is the same as being on a sinking submarine, trying to patch every leaking hull hole with duct tape. If they want to fight piracy, they should try to understand, in the first place, why it happens and what they can do to change it.

“It’s well known that having cheap and quality services like Netflix and Spotify helped Internet piracy levels drop to record lows, DRM issues aside, of course. And the worst of it is the timing: these organizations see the decreasing levels of piracy as a signal that their stupid censorship is actually working. I’m really afraid that this is now an unstoppable snowball. The Internet in Portugal has seen much better days,” Henrique concludes.

But while he’s pessimistic over current developments, it appears that the Ahoy! movement is only set to grow. The team say they want to bring the browser-based system to other countries that are suffering from similar blockades and that suggestions from the public are welcome.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Internet Users Warned Over Fake 20th Century Fox Piracy ‘Fines’

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/internet-users-warned-over-fake-20th-century-fox-piracy-fines-171220/

Most people who obtain and share large quantities of material online understand that comes with risk, possibly in the form of an ISP-forwarded warning, a letter demanding cash, or even a visit from the police.

While the latter only happens in the rarest of circumstances, warnings are relatively commonplace, especially in the United States where companies like Rightscorp pump them out in their thousands. Letters demanding cash payment, sent by so-called copyright trolls, are less prevalent but these days most people understand the concept of a piracy ‘fine’.

With this level of understanding in the mainstream there are opportunities for scammers, who have periodically tried to extract payments from Internet users who have done nothing wrong. This is currently the case in Germany, where a consumer group is warning of a wave of piracy ‘fines’ being sent out to completely innocent victims.

The emails, which claim to be sent on behalf of 20th Century Fox, allege the recipient has infringed copyright on streaming portal Kinox.to. For this apparent transgression, they demand a payment of more than 375 euros but the whole thing is an elaborate scam.

The 20th Century Fox ‘piracy’ scam

Unlike some fairly primitive previous efforts, however, these emails are actually quite clever.

Citing a genuine ruling from the European Court of Justice which found that streaming content is illegal inside the EU, the cash demand offers up personal information of the user, such as IP addresses, browser, and operating system.

However, instead of obtaining these via an external piracy monitoring system and subsequent court order (as happens with BitTorrent cases), the data is pulled from the user’s machine when a third-party link is clicked.

As highlighted by Tarnkappe, who first noticed the warning, there are other elements to the cash demands that point to an elaborate scam.

Perhaps the biggest tell of all is the complete absence of precise details of the alleged infringement, such as the title of the content supposedly obtained along with a time and date. These are common features of all genuine settlement demands so any that fail to mention content should be treated with caution.

“Do not pay. It is rip off. Report to the police,” the local consumer group warns.

Interestingly, warning recipients are advised by the scammers to pay their ‘fine’ directly to a bank account in the United Kingdom. Hopefully it will have been shut down by now but it’s worth mentioning that people should avoid direct bank transfers with anyone they don’t trust.

If any payment must be made, credit cards are a much safer option but in the case of wannabe trolls, they’re best ignored until they appear with proper proof backed up by credible legal documentation. Even then, people should consider putting up a fight, if they’re being unfairly treated.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

MQTT 5: Introduction to MQTT 5

Post Syndicated from The HiveMQ Team original https://www.hivemq.com/blog/mqtt-5-introduction-to-mqtt-5/

MQTT 5 Introduction

Introduction to MQTT 5

Welcome to our brand new blog post series MQTT 5 – Features and Hidden Gems. Without doubt, the MQTT protocol is the most popular and best received Internet of Things protocol as of today (see the Google Trends Chart below), supporting large scale use cases ranging from Connected Cars, Manufacturing Systems, Logistics, Military Use Cases to Enterprise Chat Applications, Mobile Apps and connecting constrained IoT devices. Of course, with huge amounts of production deployments, the wish list for future versions of the MQTT protocol grew bigger and bigger.

MQTT 5 is by far the most extensive and most feature-rich update to the MQTT protocol specification ever. We are going to explore all hidden gems and protocol features with use case discussion and useful background information – one blog post at a time.

Be sure to read the MQTT Essentials Blog Post series first before diving into our new MQTT 5 series. To get the most out of the new blog posts, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the MQTT 3.1.1 protocol as we are going to highlight key changes as well as all improvements.

Seven Years of Hadopi: Nine Million Piracy Warnings, 189 Convictions

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/seven-years-of-hadopi-nine-million-piracy-warnings-189-convictions-171201/

More than seven years ago, it was predicted that the next big thing in anti-piracy enforcement would be the graduated response scheme.

Commonly known as “three strikes” or variants thereof, these schemes were promoted as educational in nature, with alleged pirates receiving escalating warnings designed to discourage further infringing behavior.

In the fall of 2010, France became one of the pioneers of the warning system and now almost more than seven years later, a new report from the country’s ‘Hadopi’ anti-piracy agency has revealed the extent of its operations.

Between July 2016 and June 2017, Hadopi sent a total of 889 cases to court, a 30% uplift on the 684 cases handed over during the same period 2015/2016. This boost is notable, not least since the use of peer-to-peer protocols (such as BitTorrent, which Hadopi closely monitors) is declining in favor of streaming methods.

When all the seven years of the scheme are added together ending August 31, 2017, the numbers are even more significant.

“Since the launch of the graduated response scheme, more than 2,000 cases have been sent to prosecutors for possible prosecution,” Hadopi’s report reads.

“The number of cases sent to the prosecutor’s office has increased every year, with a significant increase in the last two years. Three-quarters of all the cases sent to prosecutors have been sent since July 2015.”

In all, the Hadopi agency has sent more than nine million first warning notices to alleged pirates since 2012, with more than 800,000 follow-up warnings on top, 200,000 of them during 2016-2017. But perhaps of most interest is the number of French citizens who, despite all the warnings, carried on with their pirating behavior and ended up prosecuted as a result.

Since the program’s inception, 583 court decisions have been handed down against pirates. While 394 of them resulted in a small fine, a caution, or other community-based punishment, 189 citizens walked away with a criminal conviction.

These can include fines of up to 1,500 euros or in more extreme cases, up to three years in prison and/or a 300,000 euro fine.

While this approach looks set to continue into 2018, Hadopi’s report highlights the need to adapt to a changing piracy landscape, one which requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to tracking pirates, Hadopi also has a mission to promote legal offerings while educating the public. However, it is fully aware that these strategies alone won’t be enough.

To that end, the agency is calling for broader action, such as faster blocking of sites, expanding to the blocking of mirror sites, tackling unauthorized streaming platforms and, of course, dealing with the “fully-loaded” set-top box phenomenon that’s been sweeping the world for the past two years.

The full report can be downloaded here (pdf, French)

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

AWS Systems Manager – A Unified Interface for Managing Your Cloud and Hybrid Resources

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-systems-manager/

AWS Systems Manager is a new way to manage your cloud and hybrid IT environments. AWS Systems Manager provides a unified user interface that simplifies resource and application management, shortens the time to detect and resolve operational problems, and makes it easy to operate and manage your infrastructure securely at scale. This service is absolutely packed full of features. It defines a new experience around grouping, visualizing, and reacting to problems using features from products like Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) to enable rich operations across your resources.

As I said above, there are a lot of powerful features in this service and we won’t be able to dive deep on all of them but it’s easy to go to the console and get started with any of the tools.

Resource Groupings

Resource Groups allow you to create logical groupings of most resources that support tagging like: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets, Elastic Load Balancing balancers, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) instances, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, Amazon Kinesis streams, Amazon Route 53 zones, and more. Previously, you could use the AWS Console to define resource groupings but AWS Systems Manager provides this new resource group experience via a new console and API. These groupings are a fundamental building block of Systems Manager in that they are frequently the target of various operations you may want to perform like: compliance management, software inventories, patching, and other automations.

You start by defining a group based on tag filters. From there you can view all of the resources in a centralized console. You would typically use these groupings to differentiate between applications, application layers, and environments like production or dev – but you can make your own rules about how to use them as well. If you imagine a typical 3 tier web-app you might have a few EC2 instances, an ELB, a few S3 buckets, and an RDS instance. You can define a grouping for that application and with all of those different resources simultaneously.

Insights

AWS Systems Manager automatically aggregates and displays operational data for each resource group through a dashboard. You no longer need to navigate through multiple AWS consoles to view all of your operational data. You can easily integrate your exiting Amazon CloudWatch dashboards, AWS Config rules, AWS CloudTrail trails, AWS Trusted Advisor notifications, and AWS Personal Health Dashboard performance and availability alerts. You can also easily view your software inventories across your fleet. AWS Systems Manager also provides a compliance dashboard allowing you to see the state of various security controls and patching operations across your fleets.

Acting on Insights

Building on the success of EC2 Systems Manager (SSM), AWS Systems Manager takes all of the features of SSM and provides a central place to access them. These are all the same experiences you would have through SSM with a more accesible console and centralized interface. You can use the resource groups you’ve defined in Systems Manager to visualize and act on groups of resources.

Automation


Automations allow you to define common IT tasks as a JSON document that specify a list of tasks. You can also use community published documents. These documents can be executed through the Console, CLIs, SDKs, scheduled maintenance windows, or triggered based on changes in your infrastructure through CloudWatch events. You can track and log the execution of each step in the documents and prompt for additional approvals. It also allows you to incrementally roll out changes and automatically halt when errors occur. You can start executing an automation directly on a resource group and it will be able to apply itself to the resources that it understands within the group.

Run Command

Run Command is a superior alternative to enabling SSH on your instances. It provides safe, secure remote management of your instances at scale without logging into your servers, replacing the need for SSH bastions or remote powershell. It has granular IAM permissions that allow you to restrict which roles or users can run certain commands.

Patch Manager, Maintenance Windows, and State Manager

I’ve written about Patch Manager before and if you manage fleets of Windows and Linux instances it’s a great way to maintain a common baseline of security across your fleet.

Maintenance windows allow you to schedule instance maintenance and other disruptive tasks for a specific time window.

State Manager allows you to control various server configuration details like anti-virus definitions, firewall settings, and more. You can define policies in the console or run existing scripts, PowerShell modules, or even Ansible playbooks directly from S3 or GitHub. You can query State Manager at any time to view the status of your instance configurations.

Things To Know

There’s some interesting terminology here. We haven’t done the best job of naming things in the past so let’s take a moment to clarify. EC2 Systems Manager (sometimes called SSM) is what you used before today. You can still invoke aws ssm commands. However, AWS Systems Manager builds on and enhances many of the tools provided by EC2 Systems Manager and allows those same tools to be applied to more than just EC2. When you see the phrase “Systems Manager” in the future you should think of AWS Systems Manager and not EC2 Systems Manager.

AWS Systems Manager with all of this useful functionality is provided at no additional charge. It is immediately available in all public AWS regions.

The best part about these services is that even with their tight integrations each one is designed to be used in isolation as well. If you only need one component of these services it’s simple to get started with only that component.

There’s a lot more than I could ever document in this post so I encourage you all to jump into the console and documentation to figure out where you can start using AWS Systems Manager.

Randall

GDPR – A Practical Guide For Developers

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/gdpr-practical-guide-developers/

You’ve probably heard about GDPR. The new European data protection regulation that applies practically to everyone. Especially if you are working in a big company, it’s most likely that there’s already a process for gettign your systems in compliance with the regulation.

The regulation is basically a law that must be followed in all European countries (but also applies to non-EU companies that have users in the EU). In this particular case, it applies to companies that are not registered in Europe, but are having European customers. So that’s most companies. I will not go into yet another “12 facts about GDPR” or “7 myths about GDPR” posts/whitepapers, as they are often aimed at managers or legal people. Instead, I’ll focus on what GDPR means for developers.

Why am I qualified to do that? A few reasons – I was advisor to the deputy prime minister of a EU country, and because of that I’ve been both exposed and myself wrote some legislation. I’m familiar with the “legalese” and how the regulatory framework operates in general. I’m also a privacy advocate and I’ve been writing about GDPR-related stuff in the past, i.e. “before it was cool” (protecting sensitive data, the right to be forgotten). And finally, I’m currently working on a project that (among other things) aims to help with covering some GDPR aspects.

I’ll try to be a bit more comprehensive this time and cover as many aspects of the regulation that concern developers as I can. And while developers will mostly be concerned about how the systems they are working on have to change, it’s not unlikely that a less informed manager storms in in late spring, realizing GDPR is going to be in force tomorrow, asking “what should we do to get our system/website compliant”.

The rights of the user/client (referred to as “data subject” in the regulation) that I think are relevant for developers are: the right to erasure (the right to be forgotten/deleted from the system), right to restriction of processing (you still keep the data, but mark it as “restricted” and don’t touch it without further consent by the user), the right to data portability (the ability to export one’s data), the right to rectification (the ability to get personal data fixed), the right to be informed (getting human-readable information, rather than long terms and conditions), the right of access (the user should be able to see all the data you have about them), the right to data portability (the user should be able to get a machine-readable dump of their data).

Additionally, the relevant basic principles are: data minimization (one should not collect more data than necessary), integrity and confidentiality (all security measures to protect data that you can think of + measures to guarantee that the data has not been inappropriately modified).

Even further, the regulation requires certain processes to be in place within an organization (of more than 250 employees or if a significant amount of data is processed), and those include keeping a record of all types of processing activities carried out, including transfers to processors (3rd parties), which includes cloud service providers. None of the other requirements of the regulation have an exception depending on the organization size, so “I’m small, GDPR does not concern me” is a myth.

It is important to know what “personal data” is. Basically, it’s every piece of data that can be used to uniquely identify a person or data that is about an already identified person. It’s data that the user has explicitly provided, but also data that you have collected about them from either 3rd parties or based on their activities on the site (what they’ve been looking at, what they’ve purchased, etc.)

Having said that, I’ll list a number of features that will have to be implemented and some hints on how to do that, followed by some do’s and don’t’s.

  • “Forget me” – you should have a method that takes a userId and deletes all personal data about that user (in case they have been collected on the basis of consent, and not due to contract enforcement or legal obligation). It is actually useful for integration tests to have that feature (to cleanup after the test), but it may be hard to implement depending on the data model. In a regular data model, deleting a record may be easy, but some foreign keys may be violated. That means you have two options – either make sure you allow nullable foreign keys (for example an order usually has a reference to the user that made it, but when the user requests his data be deleted, you can set the userId to null), or make sure you delete all related data (e.g. via cascades). This may not be desirable, e.g. if the order is used to track available quantities or for accounting purposes. It’s a bit trickier for event-sourcing data models, or in extreme cases, ones that include some sort of blcokchain/hash chain/tamper-evident data structure. With event sourcing you should be able to remove a past event and re-generate intermediate snapshots. For blockchain-like structures – be careful what you put in there and avoid putting personal data of users. There is an option to use a chameleon hash function, but that’s suboptimal. Overall, you must constantly think of how you can delete the personal data. And “our data model doesn’t allow it” isn’t an excuse.
  • Notify 3rd parties for erasure – deleting things from your system may be one thing, but you are also obligated to inform all third parties that you have pushed that data to. So if you have sent personal data to, say, Salesforce, Hubspot, twitter, or any cloud service provider, you should call an API of theirs that allows for the deletion of personal data. If you are such a provider, obviously, your “forget me” endpoint should be exposed. Calling the 3rd party APIs to remove data is not the full story, though. You also have to make sure the information does not appear in search results. Now, that’s tricky, as Google doesn’t have an API for removal, only a manual process. Fortunately, it’s only about public profile pages that are crawlable by Google (and other search engines, okay…), but you still have to take measures. Ideally, you should make the personal data page return a 404 HTTP status, so that it can be removed.
  • Restrict processing – in your admin panel where there’s a list of users, there should be a button “restrict processing”. The user settings page should also have that button. When clicked (after reading the appropriate information), it should mark the profile as restricted. That means it should no longer be visible to the backoffice staff, or publicly. You can implement that with a simple “restricted” flag in the users table and a few if-clasues here and there.
  • Export data – there should be another button – “export data”. When clicked, the user should receive all the data that you hold about them. What exactly is that data – depends on the particular usecase. Usually it’s at least the data that you delete with the “forget me” functionality, but may include additional data (e.g. the orders the user has made may not be delete, but should be included in the dump). The structure of the dump is not strictly defined, but my recommendation would be to reuse schema.org definitions as much as possible, for either JSON or XML. If the data is simple enough, a CSV/XLS export would also be fine. Sometimes data export can take a long time, so the button can trigger a background process, which would then notify the user via email when his data is ready (twitter, for example, does that already – you can request all your tweets and you get them after a while).
  • Allow users to edit their profile – this seems an obvious rule, but it isn’t always followed. Users must be able to fix all data about them, including data that you have collected from other sources (e.g. using a “login with facebook” you may have fetched their name and address). Rule of thumb – all the fields in your “users” table should be editable via the UI. Technically, rectification can be done via a manual support process, but that’s normally more expensive for a business than just having the form to do it. There is one other scenario, however, when you’ve obtained the data from other sources (i.e. the user hasn’t provided their details to you directly). In that case there should still be a page where they can identify somehow (via email and/or sms confirmation) and get access to the data about them.
  • Consent checkboxes – this is in my opinion the biggest change that the regulation brings. “I accept the terms and conditions” would no longer be sufficient to claim that the user has given their consent for processing their data. So, for each particular processing activity there should be a separate checkbox on the registration (or user profile) screen. You should keep these consent checkboxes in separate columns in the database, and let the users withdraw their consent (by unchecking these checkboxes from their profile page – see the previous point). Ideally, these checkboxes should come directly from the register of processing activities (if you keep one). Note that the checkboxes should not be preselected, as this does not count as “consent”.
  • Re-request consent – if the consent users have given was not clear (e.g. if they simply agreed to terms & conditions), you’d have to re-obtain that consent. So prepare a functionality for mass-emailing your users to ask them to go to their profile page and check all the checkboxes for the personal data processing activities that you have.
  • “See all my data” – this is very similar to the “Export” button, except data should be displayed in the regular UI of the application rather than an XML/JSON format. For example, Google Maps shows you your location history – all the places that you’ve been to. It is a good implementation of the right to access. (Though Google is very far from perfect when privacy is concerned)
  • Age checks – you should ask for the user’s age, and if the user is a child (below 16), you should ask for parent permission. There’s no clear way how to do that, but my suggestion is to introduce a flow, where the child should specify the email of a parent, who can then confirm. Obviosuly, children will just cheat with their birthdate, or provide a fake parent email, but you will most likely have done your job according to the regulation (this is one of the “wishful thinking” aspects of the regulation).

Now some “do’s”, which are mostly about the technical measures needed to protect personal data. They may be more “ops” than “dev”, but often the application also has to be extended to support them. I’ve listed most of what I could think of in a previous post.

  • Encrypt the data in transit. That means that communication between your application layer and your database (or your message queue, or whatever component you have) should be over TLS. The certificates could be self-signed (and possibly pinned), or you could have an internal CA. Different databases have different configurations, just google “X encrypted connections. Some databases need gossiping among the nodes – that should also be configured to use encryption
  • Encrypt the data at rest – this again depends on the database (some offer table-level encryption), but can also be done on machine-level. E.g. using LUKS. The private key can be stored in your infrastructure, or in some cloud service like AWS KMS.
  • Encrypt your backups – kind of obvious
  • Implement pseudonymisation – the most obvious use-case is when you want to use production data for the test/staging servers. You should change the personal data to some “pseudonym”, so that the people cannot be identified. When you push data for machine learning purposes (to third parties or not), you can also do that. Technically, that could mean that your User object can have a “pseudonymize” method which applies hash+salt/bcrypt/PBKDF2 for some of the data that can be used to identify a person
  • Protect data integrity – this is a very broad thing, and could simply mean “have authentication mechanisms for modifying data”. But you can do something more, even as simple as a checksum, or a more complicated solution (like the one I’m working on). It depends on the stakes, on the way data is accessed, on the particular system, etc. The checksum can be in the form of a hash of all the data in a given database record, which should be updated each time the record is updated through the application. It isn’t a strong guarantee, but it is at least something.
  • Have your GDPR register of processing activities in something other than Excel – Article 30 says that you should keep a record of all the types of activities that you use personal data for. That sounds like bureaucracy, but it may be useful – you will be able to link certain aspects of your application with that register (e.g. the consent checkboxes, or your audit trail records). It wouldn’t take much time to implement a simple register, but the business requirements for that should come from whoever is responsible for the GDPR compliance. But you can advise them that having it in Excel won’t make it easy for you as a developer (imagine having to fetch the excel file internally, so that you can parse it and implement a feature). Such a register could be a microservice/small application deployed separately in your infrastructure.
  • Log access to personal data – every read operation on a personal data record should be logged, so that you know who accessed what and for what purpose
  • Register all API consumers – you shouldn’t allow anonymous API access to personal data. I’d say you should request the organization name and contact person for each API user upon registration, and add those to the data processing register. Note: some have treated article 30 as a requirement to keep an audit log. I don’t think it is saying that – instead it requires 250+ companies to keep a register of the types of processing activities (i.e. what you use the data for). There are other articles in the regulation that imply that keeping an audit log is a best practice (for protecting the integrity of the data as well as to make sure it hasn’t been processed without a valid reason)

Finally, some “don’t’s”.

  • Don’t use data for purposes that the user hasn’t agreed with – that’s supposed to be the spirit of the regulation. If you want to expose a new API to a new type of clients, or you want to use the data for some machine learning, or you decide to add ads to your site based on users’ behaviour, or sell your database to a 3rd party – think twice. I would imagine your register of processing activities could have a button to send notification emails to users to ask them for permission when a new processing activity is added (or if you use a 3rd party register, it should probably give you an API). So upon adding a new processing activity (and adding that to your register), mass email all users from whom you’d like consent.
  • Don’t log personal data – getting rid of the personal data from log files (especially if they are shipped to a 3rd party service) can be tedious or even impossible. So log just identifiers if needed. And make sure old logs files are cleaned up, just in case
  • Don’t put fields on the registration/profile form that you don’t need – it’s always tempting to just throw as many fields as the usability person/designer agrees on, but unless you absolutely need the data for delivering your service, you shouldn’t collect it. Names you should probably always collect, but unless you are delivering something, a home address or phone is unnecessary.
  • Don’t assume 3rd parties are compliant – you are responsible if there’s a data breach in one of the 3rd parties (e.g. “processors”) to which you send personal data. So before you send data via an API to another service, make sure they have at least a basic level of data protection. If they don’t, raise a flag with management.
  • Don’t assume having ISO XXX makes you compliant – information security standards and even personal data standards are a good start and they will probably 70% of what the regulation requires, but they are not sufficient – most of the things listed above are not covered in any of those standards

Overall, the purpose of the regulation is to make you take conscious decisions when processing personal data. It imposes best practices in a legal way. If you follow the above advice and design your data model, storage, data flow , API calls with data protection in mind, then you shouldn’t worry about the huge fines that the regulation prescribes – they are for extreme cases, like Equifax for example. Regulators (data protection authorities) will most likely have some checklists into which you’d have to somehow fit, but if you follow best practices, that shouldn’t be an issue.

I think all of the above features can be implemented in a few weeks by a small team. Be suspicious when a big vendor offers you a generic plug-and-play “GDPR compliance” solution. GDPR is not just about the technical aspects listed above – it does have organizational/process implications. But also be suspicious if a consultant claims GDPR is complicated. It’s not – it relies on a few basic principles that are in fact best practices anyway. Just don’t ignore them.

The post GDPR – A Practical Guide For Developers appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Object models

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/11/28/object-models/

Anonymous asks, with dollars:

More about programming languages!

Well then!

I’ve written before about what I think objects are: state and behavior, which in practice mostly means method calls.

I suspect that the popular impression of what objects are, and also how they should work, comes from whatever C++ and Java happen to do. From that point of view, the whole post above is probably nonsense. If the baseline notion of “object” is a rigid definition woven tightly into the design of two massively popular languages, then it doesn’t even make sense to talk about what “object” should mean — it does mean the features of those languages, and cannot possibly mean anything else.

I think that’s a shame! It piles a lot of baggage onto a fairly simple idea. Polymorphism, for example, has nothing to do with objects — it’s an escape hatch for static type systems. Inheritance isn’t the only way to reuse code between objects, but it’s the easiest and fastest one, so it’s what we get. Frankly, it’s much closer to a speed tradeoff than a fundamental part of the concept.

We could do with more experimentation around how objects work, but that’s impossible in the languages most commonly thought of as object-oriented.

Here, then, is a (very) brief run through the inner workings of objects in four very dynamic languages. I don’t think I really appreciated objects until I’d spent some time with Python, and I hope this can help someone else whet their own appetite.

Python 3

Of the four languages I’m going to touch on, Python will look the most familiar to the Java and C++ crowd. For starters, it actually has a class construct.

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class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def __neg__(self):
        return Vector(-self.x, -self.y)

    def __div__(self, denom):
        return Vector(self.x / denom, self.y / denom)

    @property
    def magnitude(self):
        return (self.x ** 2 + self.y ** 2) ** 0.5

    def normalized(self):
        return self / self.magnitude

The __init__ method is an initializer, which is like a constructor but named differently (because the object already exists in a usable form by the time the initializer is called). Operator overloading is done by implementing methods with other special __dunder__ names. Properties can be created with @property, where the @ is syntax for applying a wrapper function to a function as it’s defined. You can do inheritance, even multiply:

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class Foo(A, B, C):
    def bar(self, x, y, z):
        # do some stuff
        super().bar(x, y, z)

Cool, a very traditional object model.

Except… for some details.

Some details

For one, Python objects don’t have a fixed layout. Code both inside and outside the class can add or remove whatever attributes they want from whatever object they want. The underlying storage is just a dict, Python’s mapping type. (Or, rather, something like one. Also, it’s possible to change, which will probably be the case for everything I say here.)

If you create some attributes at the class level, you’ll start to get a peek behind the curtains:

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class Foo:
    values = []

    def add_value(self, value):
        self.values.append(value)

a = Foo()
b = Foo()
a.add_value('a')
print(a.values)  # ['a']
b.add_value('b')
print(b.values)  # ['a', 'b']

The [] assigned to values isn’t a default assigned to each object. In fact, the individual objects don’t know about it at all! You can use vars(a) to get at the underlying storage dict, and you won’t see a values entry in there anywhere.

Instead, values lives on the class, which is a value (and thus an object) in its own right. When Python is asked for self.values, it checks to see if self has a values attribute; in this case, it doesn’t, so Python keeps going and asks the class for one.

Python’s object model is secretly prototypical — a class acts as a prototype, as a shared set of fallback values, for its objects.

In fact, this is also how method calls work! They aren’t syntactically special at all, which you can see by separating the attribute lookup from the call.

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print("abc".startswith("a"))  # True
meth = "abc".startswith
print(meth("a"))  # True

Reading obj.method looks for a method attribute; if there isn’t one on obj, Python checks the class. Here, it finds one: it’s a function from the class body.

Ah, but wait! In the code I just showed, meth seems to “know” the object it came from, so it can’t just be a plain function. If you inspect the resulting value, it claims to be a “bound method” or “built-in method” rather than a function, too. Something funny is going on here, and that funny something is the descriptor protocol.

Descriptors

Python allows attributes to implement their own custom behavior when read from or written to. Such an attribute is called a descriptor. I’ve written about them before, but here’s a quick overview.

If Python looks up an attribute, finds it in a class, and the value it gets has a __get__ method… then instead of using that value, Python will use the return value of its __get__ method.

The @property decorator works this way. The magnitude property in my original example was shorthand for doing this:

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class MagnitudeDescriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return (instance.x ** 2 + instance.y ** 2) ** 0.5

class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    magnitude = MagnitudeDescriptor()

When you ask for somevec.magnitude, Python checks somevec but doesn’t find magnitude, so it consults the class instead. The class does have a magnitude, and it’s a value with a __get__ method, so Python calls that method and somevec.magnitude evaluates to its return value. (The instance is None check is because __get__ is called even if you get the descriptor directly from the class via Vector.magnitude. A descriptor intended to work on instances can’t do anything useful in that case, so the convention is to return the descriptor itself.)

You can also intercept attempts to write to or delete an attribute, and do absolutely whatever you want instead. But note that, similar to operating overloading in Python, the descriptor must be on a class; you can’t just slap one on an arbitrary object and have it work.

This brings me right around to how “bound methods” actually work. Functions are descriptors! The function type implements __get__, and when a function is retrieved from a class via an instance, that __get__ bundles the function and the instance together into a tiny bound method object. It’s essentially:

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class FunctionType:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return functools.partial(self, instance)

The self passed as the first argument to methods is not special or magical in any way. It’s built out of a few simple pieces that are also readily accessible to Python code.

Note also that because obj.method() is just an attribute lookup and a call, Python doesn’t actually care whether method is a method on the class or just some callable thing on the object. You won’t get the auto-self behavior if it’s on the object, but otherwise there’s no difference.

More attribute access, and the interesting part

Descriptors are one of several ways to customize attribute access. Classes can implement __getattr__ to intervene when an attribute isn’t found on an object; __setattr__ and __delattr__ to intervene when any attribute is set or deleted; and __getattribute__ to implement unconditional attribute access. (That last one is a fantastic way to create accidental recursion, since any attribute access you do within __getattribute__ will of course call __getattribute__ again.)

Here’s what I really love about Python. It might seem like a magical special case that descriptors only work on classes, but it really isn’t. You could implement exactly the same behavior yourself, in pure Python, using only the things I’ve just told you about. Classes are themselves objects, remember, and they are instances of type, so the reason descriptors only work on classes is that type effectively does this:

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class type:
    def __getattribute__(self, name):
        value = super().__getattribute__(name)
        # like all op overloads, __get__ must be on the type, not the instance
        ty = type(value)
        if hasattr(ty, '__get__'):
            # it's a descriptor!  this is a class access so there is no instance
            return ty.__get__(value, None, self)
        else:
            return value

You can even trivially prove to yourself that this is what’s going on by skipping over types behavior:

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class Descriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        print('called!')

class Foo:
    bar = Descriptor()

Foo.bar  # called!
type.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # called!
object.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # ...

And that’s not all! The mysterious super function, used to exhaustively traverse superclass method calls even in the face of diamond inheritance, can also be expressed in pure Python using these primitives. You could write your own superclass calling convention and use it exactly the same way as super.

This is one of the things I really like about Python. Very little of it is truly magical; virtually everything about the object model exists in the types rather than the language, which means virtually everything can be customized in pure Python.

Class creation and metaclasses

A very brief word on all of this stuff, since I could talk forever about Python and I have three other languages to get to.

The class block itself is fairly interesting. It looks like this:

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class Name(*bases, **kwargs):
    # code

I’ve said several times that classes are objects, and in fact the class block is one big pile of syntactic sugar for calling type(...) with some arguments to create a new type object.

The Python documentation has a remarkably detailed description of this process, but the gist is:

  • Python determines the type of the new class — the metaclass — by looking for a metaclass keyword argument. If there isn’t one, Python uses the “lowest” type among the provided base classes. (If you’re not doing anything special, that’ll just be type, since every class inherits from object and object is an instance of type.)

  • Python executes the class body. It gets its own local scope, and any assignments or method definitions go into that scope.

  • Python now calls type(name, bases, attrs, **kwargs). The name is whatever was right after class; the bases are position arguments; and attrs is the class body’s local scope. (This is how methods and other class attributes end up on the class.) The brand new type is then assigned to Name.

Of course, you can mess with most of this. You can implement __prepare__ on a metaclass, for example, to use a custom mapping as storage for the local scope — including any reads, which allows for some interesting shenanigans. The only part you can’t really implement in pure Python is the scoping bit, which has a couple extra rules that make sense for classes. (In particular, functions defined within a class block don’t close over the class body; that would be nonsense.)

Object creation

Finally, there’s what actually happens when you create an object — including a class, which remember is just an invocation of type(...).

Calling Foo(...) is implemented as, well, a call. Any type can implement calls with the __call__ special method, and you’ll find that type itself does so. It looks something like this:

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# oh, a fun wrinkle that's hard to express in pure python: type is a class, so
# it's an instance of itself
class type:
    def __call__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # remember, here 'self' is a CLASS, an instance of type.
        # __new__ is a true constructor: object.__new__ allocates storage
        # for a new blank object
        instance = self.__new__(self, *args, **kwargs)
        # you can return whatever you want from __new__ (!), and __init__
        # is only called on it if it's of the right type
        if isinstance(instance, self):
            instance.__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        return instance

Again, you can trivially confirm this by asking any type for its __call__ method. Assuming that type doesn’t implement __call__ itself, you’ll get back a bound version of types implementation.

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>>> list.__call__
<method-wrapper '__call__' of type object at 0x7fafb831a400>

You can thus implement __call__ in your own metaclass to completely change how subclasses are created — including skipping the creation altogether, if you like.

And… there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t even touched on.

The Python philosophy

Python offers something that, on the surface, looks like a “traditional” class/object model. Under the hood, it acts more like a prototypical system, where failed attribute lookups simply defer to a superclass or metaclass.

The language also goes to almost superhuman lengths to expose all of its moving parts. Even the prototypical behavior is an implementation of __getattribute__ somewhere, which you are free to completely replace in your own types. Proxying and delegation are easy.

Also very nice is that these features “bundle” well, by which I mean a library author can do all manner of convoluted hijinks, and a consumer of that library doesn’t have to see any of it or understand how it works. You only need to inherit from a particular class (which has a metaclass), or use some descriptor as a decorator, or even learn any new syntax.

This meshes well with Python culture, which is pretty big on the principle of least surprise. These super-advanced features tend to be tightly confined to single simple features (like “makes a weak attribute“) or cordoned with DSLs (e.g., defining a form/struct/database table with a class body). In particular, I’ve never seen a metaclass in the wild implement its own __call__.

I have mixed feelings about that. It’s probably a good thing overall that the Python world shows such restraint, but I wonder if there are some very interesting possibilities we’re missing out on. I implemented a metaclass __call__ myself, just once, in an entity/component system that strove to minimize fuss when communicating between components. It never saw the light of day, but I enjoyed seeing some new things Python could do with the same relatively simple syntax. I wouldn’t mind seeing, say, an object model based on composition (with no inheritance) built atop Python’s primitives.

Lua

Lua doesn’t have an object model. Instead, it gives you a handful of very small primitives for building your own object model. This is pretty typical of Lua — it’s a very powerful language, but has been carefully constructed to be very small at the same time. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it, and “but it starts indexing at 1!” really doesn’t do it justice.

The best way to demonstrate how objects work in Lua is to build some from scratch. We need two key features. The first is metatables, which bear a passing resemblance to Python’s metaclasses.

Tables and metatables

The table is Lua’s mapping type and its primary data structure. Keys can be any value other than nil. Lists are implemented as tables whose keys are consecutive integers starting from 1. Nothing terribly surprising. The dot operator is sugar for indexing with a string key.

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local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
print(t['a'])  -- 1
print(t.b)  -- 2
t.c = 3
print(t['c'])  -- 3

A metatable is a table that can be associated with another value (usually another table) to change its behavior. For example, operator overloading is implemented by assigning a function to a special key in a metatable.

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local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
--print(t + 0)  -- error: attempt to perform arithmetic on a table value

local mt = {
    __add = function(left, right)
        return 12
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t + 0)  -- 12

Now, the interesting part: one of the special keys is __index, which is consulted when the base table is indexed by a key it doesn’t contain. Here’s a table that claims every key maps to itself.

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local t = {}
local mt = {
    __index = function(table, key)
        return key
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t.foo)  -- foo
print(t.bar)  -- bar
print(t[3])  -- 3

__index doesn’t have to be a function, either. It can be yet another table, in which case that table is simply indexed with the key. If the key still doesn’t exist and that table has a metatable with an __index, the process repeats.

With this, it’s easy to have several unrelated tables that act as a single table. Call the base table an object, fill the __index table with functions and call it a class, and you have half of an object system. You can even get prototypical inheritance by chaining __indexes together.

At this point things are a little confusing, since we have at least three tables going on, so here’s a diagram. Keep in mind that Lua doesn’t actually have anything called an “object”, “class”, or “method” — those are just convenient nicknames for a particular structure we might build with Lua’s primitives.

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                    ╔═══════════╗        ...
                    ║ metatable ║         ║
                    ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨───────────────────────┐
                    ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("superclass") │
                    ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├─────────────────────────────┤
  ╔═══════════╗         ║           │ some other method           ┼─── function() ... end
  ║ metatable ║         ║           └─────────────────────────────┘
  ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨──────────────────┐
  ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("class") │
  ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├────────────────────────┤
      ║           │ some method            ┼─── function() ... end
      ║           └────────────────────────┘
┌─────╨─────────────────┐
│ base table ("object") │
└───────────────────────┘

Note that a metatable is not the same as a class; it defines behavior, not methods. Conversely, if you try to use a class directly as a metatable, it will probably not do much. (This is pretty different from e.g. Python, where operator overloads are just methods with funny names. One nice thing about the Lua approach is that you can keep interface-like functionality separate from methods, and avoid clogging up arbitrary objects’ namespaces. You could even use a dummy table as a key and completely avoid name collisions.)

Anyway, code!

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local class = {
    foo = function(a)
        print("foo got", a)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
-- setmetatable returns its first argument, so this is nice shorthand
local obj1 = setmetatable({}, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({}, mt)
obj1.foo(7)  -- foo got 7
obj2.foo(9)  -- foo got 9

Wait, wait, hang on. Didn’t I call these methods? How do they get at the object? Maybe Lua has a magical this variable?

Methods, sort of

Not quite, but this is where the other key feature comes in: method-call syntax. It’s the lightest touch of sugar, just enough to have method invocation.

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-- note the colon!
a:b(c, d, ...)

-- exactly equivalent to this
-- (except that `a` is only evaluated once)
a.b(a, c, d, ...)

-- which of course is really this
a["b"](a, c, d, ...)

Now we can write methods that actually do something.

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local class = {
    bar = function(self)
        print("our score is", self.score)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
local obj1 = setmetatable({ score = 13 }, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({ score = 25 }, mt)
obj1:bar()  -- our score is 13
obj2:bar()  -- our score is 25

And that’s all you need. Much like Python, methods and data live in the same namespace, and Lua doesn’t care whether obj:method() finds a function on obj or gets one from the metatable’s __index. Unlike Python, the function will be passed self either way, because self comes from the use of : rather than from the lookup behavior.

(Aside: strictly speaking, any Lua value can have a metatable — and if you try to index a non-table, Lua will always consult the metatable’s __index. Strings all have the string library as a metatable, so you can call methods on them: try ("%s %s"):format(1, 2). I don’t think Lua lets user code set the metatable for non-tables, so this isn’t that interesting, but if you’re writing Lua bindings from C then you can wrap your pointers in metatables to give them methods implemented in C.)

Bringing it all together

Of course, writing all this stuff every time is a little tedious and error-prone, so instead you might want to wrap it all up inside a little function. No problem.

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local function make_object(body)
    -- create a metatable
    local mt = { __index = body }
    -- create a base table to serve as the object itself
    local obj = setmetatable({}, mt)
    -- and, done
    return obj
end

-- you can leave off parens if you're only passing in 
local Dog = {
    -- this acts as a "default" value; if obj.barks is missing, __index will
    -- kick in and find this value on the class.  but if obj.barks is assigned
    -- to, it'll go in the object and shadow the value here.
    barks = 0,

    bark = function(self)
        self.barks = self.barks + 1
        print("woof!")
    end,
}

local mydog = make_object(Dog)
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
print(mydog.barks)  -- 3
print(Dog.barks)  -- 0

It works, but it’s fairly barebones. The nice thing is that you can extend it pretty much however you want. I won’t reproduce an entire serious object system here — lord knows there are enough of them floating around — but the implementation I have for my LÖVE games lets me do this:

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local Animal = Object:extend{
    cries = 0,
}

-- called automatically by Object
function Animal:init()
    print("whoops i couldn't think of anything interesting to put here")
end

-- this is just nice syntax for adding a first argument called 'self', then
-- assigning this function to Animal.cry
function Animal:cry()
    self.cries = self.cries + 1
end

local Cat = Animal:extend{}

function Cat:cry()
    print("meow!")
    Cat.__super.cry(self)
end

local cat = Cat()
cat:cry()  -- meow!
cat:cry()  -- meow!
print(cat.cries)  -- 2

When I say you can extend it however you want, I mean that. I could’ve implemented Python (2)-style super(Cat, self):cry() syntax; I just never got around to it. I could even make it work with multiple inheritance if I really wanted to — or I could go the complete opposite direction and only implement composition. I could implement descriptors, customizing the behavior of individual table keys. I could add pretty decent syntax for composition/proxying. I am trying very hard to end this section now.

The Lua philosophy

Lua’s philosophy is to… not have a philosophy? It gives you the bare minimum to make objects work, and you can do absolutely whatever you want from there. Lua does have something resembling prototypical inheritance, but it’s not so much a first-class feature as an emergent property of some very simple tools. And since you can make __index be a function, you could avoid the prototypical behavior and do something different entirely.

The very severe downside, of course, is that you have to find or build your own object system — which can get pretty confusing very quickly, what with the multiple small moving parts. Third-party code may also have its own object system with subtly different behavior. (Though, in my experience, third-party code tries very hard to avoid needing an object system at all.)

It’s hard to say what the Lua “culture” is like, since Lua is an embedded language that’s often a little different in each environment. I imagine it has a thousand millicultures, instead. I can say that the tedium of building my own object model has led me into something very “traditional”, with prototypical inheritance and whatnot. It’s partly what I’m used to, but it’s also just really dang easy to get working.

Likewise, while I love properties in Python and use them all the dang time, I’ve yet to use a single one in Lua. They wouldn’t be particularly hard to add to my object model, but having to add them myself (or shop around for an object model with them and also port all my code to use it) adds a huge amount of friction. I’ve thought about designing an interesting ECS with custom object behavior, too, but… is it really worth the effort? For all the power and flexibility Lua offers, the cost is that by the time I have something working at all, I’m too exhausted to actually use any of it.

JavaScript

JavaScript is notable for being preposterously heavily used, yet not having a class block.

Well. Okay. Yes. It has one now. It didn’t for a very long time, and even the one it has now is sugar.

Here’s a vector class again:

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class Vector {
    constructor(x, y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    }

    get magnitude() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    }

    dot(other) {
        return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
    }
}

In “classic” JavaScript, this would be written as:

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function Vector(x, y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;
}

Object.defineProperty(Vector.prototype, 'magnitude', {
    configurable: true,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    },
});


Vector.prototype.dot = function(other) {
    return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
};

Hm, yes. I can see why they added class.

The JavaScript model

In JavaScript, a new type is defined in terms of a function, which is its constructor.

Right away we get into trouble here. There is a very big difference between these two invocations, which I actually completely forgot about just now after spending four hours writing about Python and Lua:

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let vec = Vector(3, 4);
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);

The first calls the function Vector. It assigns some properties to this, which here is going to be window, so now you have a global x and y. It then returns nothing, so vec is undefined.

The second calls Vector with this set to a new empty object, then evaluates to that object. The result is what you’d actually expect.

(You can detect this situation with the strange new.target expression, but I have never once remembered to do so.)

From here, we have true, honest-to-god, first-class prototypical inheritance. The word “prototype” is even right there. When you write this:

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vec.dot(vec2)

JavaScript will look for dot on vec and (presumably) not find it. It then consults vecs prototype, an object you can see for yourself by using Object.getPrototypeOf(). Since vec is a Vector, its prototype is Vector.prototype.

I stress that Vector.prototype is not the prototype for Vector. It’s the prototype for instances of Vector.

(I say “instance”, but the true type of vec here is still just object. If you want to find Vector, it’s automatically assigned to the constructor property of its own prototype, so it’s available as vec.constructor.)

Of course, Vector.prototype can itself have a prototype, in which case the process would continue if dot were not found. A common (and, arguably, very bad) way to simulate single inheritance is to set Class.prototype to an instance of a superclass to get the prototype right, then tack on the methods for Class. Nowadays we can do Object.create(Superclass.prototype).

Now that I’ve been through Python and Lua, though, this isn’t particularly surprising. I kinda spoiled it.

I suppose one difference in JavaScript is that you can tack arbitrary attributes directly onto Vector all you like, and they will remain invisible to instances since they aren’t in the prototype chain. This is kind of backwards from Lua, where you can squirrel stuff away in the metatable.

Another difference is that every single object in JavaScript has a bunch of properties already tacked on — the ones in Object.prototype. Every object (and by “object” I mean any mapping) has a prototype, and that prototype defaults to Object.prototype, and it has a bunch of ancient junk like isPrototypeOf.

(Nit: it’s possible to explicitly create an object with no prototype via Object.create(null).)

Like Lua, and unlike Python, JavaScript doesn’t distinguish between keys found on an object and keys found via a prototype. Properties can be defined on prototypes with Object.defineProperty(), but that works just as well directly on an object, too. JavaScript doesn’t have a lot of operator overloading, but some things like Symbol.iterator also work on both objects and prototypes.

About this

You may, at this point, be wondering what this is. Unlike Lua and Python (and the last language below), this is a special built-in value — a context value, invisibly passed for every function call.

It’s determined by where the function came from. If the function was the result of an attribute lookup, then this is set to the object containing that attribute. Otherwise, this is set to the global object, window. (You can also set this to whatever you want via the call method on functions.)

This decision is made lexically, i.e. from the literal source code as written. There are no Python-style bound methods. In other words:

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// this = obj
obj.method()
// this = window
let meth = obj.method
meth()

Also, because this is reassigned on every function call, it cannot be meaningfully closed over, which makes using closures within methods incredibly annoying. The old approach was to assign this to some other regular name like self (which got syntax highlighting since it’s also a built-in name in browsers); then we got Function.bind, which produced a callable thing with a fixed context value, which was kind of nice; and now finally we have arrow functions, which explicitly close over the current this when they’re defined and don’t change it when called. Phew.

Class syntax

I already showed class syntax, and it’s really just one big macro for doing all the prototype stuff The Right Way. It even prevents you from calling the type without new. The underlying model is exactly the same, and you can inspect all the parts.

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class Vector { ... }

console.log(Vector.prototype);  // { dot: ..., magnitude: ..., ... }
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(vec));  // same as Vector.prototype

// i don't know why you would subclass vector but let's roll with it
class Vectest extends Vector { ... }

console.log(Vectest.prototype);  // { ... }
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(Vectest.prototype))  // same as Vector.prototype

Alas, class syntax has a couple shortcomings. You can’t use the class block to assign arbitrary data to either the type object or the prototype — apparently it was deemed too confusing that mutations would be shared among instances. Which… is… how prototypes work. How Python works. How JavaScript itself, one of the most popular languages of all time, has worked for twenty-two years. Argh.

You can still do whatever assignment you want outside of the class block, of course. It’s just a little ugly, and not something I’d think to look for with a sugary class.

A more subtle result of this behavior is that a class block isn’t quite the same syntax as an object literal. The check for data isn’t a runtime thing; class Foo { x: 3 } fails to parse. So JavaScript now has two largely but not entirely identical styles of key/value block.

Attribute access

Here’s where things start to come apart at the seams, just a little bit.

JavaScript doesn’t really have an attribute protocol. Instead, it has two… extension points, I suppose.

One is Object.defineProperty, seen above. For common cases, there’s also the get syntax inside a property literal, which does the same thing. But unlike Python’s @property, these aren’t wrappers around some simple primitives; they are the primitives. JavaScript is the only language of these four to have “property that runs code on access” as a completely separate first-class concept.

If you want to intercept arbitrary attribute access (and some kinds of operators), there’s a completely different primitive: the Proxy type. It doesn’t let you intercept attribute access or operators; instead, it produces a wrapper object that supports interception and defers to the wrapped object by default.

It’s cool to see composition used in this way, but also, extremely weird. If you want to make your own type that overloads in or calling, you have to return a Proxy that wraps your own type, rather than actually returning your own type. And (unlike the other three languages in this post) you can’t return a different type from a constructor, so you have to throw that away and produce objects only from a factory. And instanceof would be broken, but you can at least fix that with Symbol.hasInstance — which is really operator overloading, implement yet another completely different way.

I know the design here is a result of legacy and speed — if any object could intercept all attribute access, then all attribute access would be slowed down everywhere. Fair enough. It still leaves the surface area of the language a bit… bumpy?

The JavaScript philosophy

It’s a little hard to tell. The original idea of prototypes was interesting, but it was hidden behind some very awkward syntax. Since then, we’ve gotten a bunch of extra features awkwardly bolted on to reflect the wildly varied things the built-in types and DOM API were already doing. We have class syntax, but it’s been explicitly designed to avoid exposing the prototype parts of the model.

I admit I don’t do a lot of heavy JavaScript, so I might just be overlooking it, but I’ve seen virtually no code that makes use of any of the recent advances in object capabilities. Forget about custom iterators or overloading call; I can’t remember seeing any JavaScript in the wild that even uses properties yet. I don’t know if everyone’s waiting for sufficient browser support, nobody knows about them, or nobody cares.

The model has advanced recently, but I suspect JavaScript is still shackled to its legacy of “something about prototypes, I don’t really get it, just copy the other code that’s there” as an object model. Alas! Prototypes are so good. Hopefully class syntax will make it a bit more accessible, as it has in Python.

Perl 5

Perl 5 also doesn’t have an object system and expects you to build your own. But where Lua gives you two simple, powerful tools for building one, Perl 5 feels more like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. Clearly they were going for something, but they only gave you half of it.

In brief, a Perl object is a reference that has been blessed with a package.

I need to explain a few things. Honestly, one of the biggest problems with the original Perl object setup was how many strange corners and unique jargon you had to understand just to get off the ground.

(If you want to try running any of this code, you should stick a use v5.26; as the first line. Perl is very big on backwards compatibility, so you need to opt into breaking changes, and even the mundane say builtin is behind a feature gate.)

References

A reference in Perl is sort of like a pointer, but its main use is very different. See, Perl has the strange property that its data structures try very hard to spill their contents all over the place. Despite having dedicated syntax for arrays — @foo is an array variable, distinct from the single scalar variable $foo — it’s actually impossible to nest arrays.

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my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (@foo, @foo);
# @bar is now a flat list of eight items: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4

The idea, I guess, is that an array is not one thing. It’s not a container, which happens to hold multiple things; it is multiple things. Anywhere that expects a single value, such as an array element, cannot contain an array, because an array fundamentally is not a single value.

And so we have “references”, which are a form of indirection, but also have the nice property that they’re single values. They add containment around arrays, and in general they make working with most of Perl’s primitive types much more sensible. A reference to a variable can be taken with the \ operator, or you can use [ ... ] and { ... } to directly create references to anonymous arrays or hashes.

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my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (\@foo, \@foo);
# @bar is now a nested list of two items: [1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, 3, 4]

(Incidentally, this is the sole reason I initially abandoned Perl for Python. Non-trivial software kinda requires nesting a lot of data structures, so you end up with references everywhere, and the syntax for going back and forth between a reference and its contents is tedious and ugly.)

A Perl object must be a reference. Perl doesn’t care what kind of reference — it’s usually a hash reference, since hashes are a convenient place to store arbitrary properties, but it could just as well be a reference to an array, a scalar, or even a sub (i.e. function) or filehandle.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, the other half: blessing and packages.

Packages and blessing

Perl packages are just namespaces. A package looks like this:

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package Foo::Bar;

sub quux {
    say "hi from quux!";
}

# now Foo::Bar::quux() can be called from anywhere

Nothing shocking, right? It’s just a named container. A lot of the details are kind of weird, like how a package exists in some liminal quasi-value space, but the basic idea is a Bag Of Stuff.

The final piece is “blessing,” which is Perl’s funny name for binding a package to a reference. A very basic class might look like this:

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package Vector;

# the name 'new' is convention, not special
sub new {
    # perl argument passing is weird, don't ask
    my ($class, $x, $y) = @_;

    # create the object itself -- here, unusually, an array reference makes sense
    my $self = [ $x, $y ];

    # associate the package with that reference
    # note that $class here is just the regular string, 'Vector'
    bless $self, $class;

    return $self;
}

sub x {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[0];
}

sub y {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[1];
}

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

# switch back to the "default" package
package main;

# -> is method call syntax, which passes the invocant as the first argument;
# for a package, that's just the package name
my $vec = Vector->new(3, 4);
say $vec->magnitude;  # 5

A few things of note here. First, $self->[0] has nothing to do with objects; it’s normal syntax for getting the value of a index 0 out of an array reference called $self. (Most classes are based on hashrefs and would use $self->{value} instead.) A blessed reference is still a reference and can be treated like one.

In general, -> is Perl’s dereferencey operator, but its exact behavior depends on what follows. If it’s followed by brackets, then it’ll apply the brackets to the thing in the reference: ->{} to index a hash reference, ->[] to index an array reference, and ->() to call a function reference.

But if -> is followed by an identifier, then it’s a method call. For packages, that means calling a function in the package and passing the package name as the first argument. For objects — blessed references — that means calling a function in the associated package and passing the object as the first argument.

This is a little weird! A blessed reference is a superposition of two things: its normal reference behavior, and some completely orthogonal object behavior. Also, object behavior has no notion of methods vs data; it only knows about methods. Perl lets you omit parentheses in a lot of places, including when calling a method with no arguments, so $vec->magnitude is really $vec->magnitude().

Perl’s blessing bears some similarities to Lua’s metatables, but ultimately Perl is much closer to Ruby’s “message passing” approach than the above three languages’ approaches of “get me something and maybe it’ll be callable”. (But this is no surprise — Ruby is a spiritual successor to Perl 5.)

All of this leads to one little wrinkle: how do you actually expose data? Above, I had to write x and y methods. Am I supposed to do that for every single attribute on my type?

Yes! But don’t worry, there are third-party modules to help with this incredibly fundamental task. Take Class::Accessor::Fast, so named because it’s faster than Class::Accessor:

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package Foo;
use base qw(Class::Accessor::Fast);
__PACKAGE__->mk_accessors(qw(fred wilma barney));

(__PACKAGE__ is the lexical name of the current package; qw(...) is a list literal that splits its contents on whitespace.)

This assumes you’re using a hashref with keys of the same names as the attributes. $obj->fred will return the fred key from your hashref, and $obj->fred(4) will change it to 4.

You also, somewhat bizarrely, have to inherit from Class::Accessor::Fast. Speaking of which,

Inheritance

Inheritance is done by populating the package-global @ISA array with some number of (string) names of parent packages. Most code instead opts to write use base ...;, which does the same thing. Or, more commonly, use parent ...;, which… also… does the same thing.

Every package implicitly inherits from UNIVERSAL, which can be freely modified by Perl code.

A method can call its superclass method with the SUPER:: pseudo-package:

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sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->SUPER::foo;
}

However, this does a depth-first search, which means it almost certainly does the wrong thing when faced with multiple inheritance. For a while the accepted solution involved a third-party module, but Perl eventually grew an alternative you have to opt into: C3, which may be more familiar to you as the order Python uses.

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use mro 'c3';

sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->next::method;
}

Offhand, I’m not actually sure how next::method works, seeing as it was originally implemented in pure Perl code. I suspect it involves peeking at the caller’s stack frame. If so, then this is a very different style of customizability from e.g. Python — the MRO was never intended to be pluggable, and the use of a special pseudo-package means it isn’t really, but someone was determined enough to make it happen anyway.

Operator overloading and whatnot

Operator overloading looks a little weird, though really it’s pretty standard Perl.

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package MyClass;

use overload '+' => \&_add;

sub _add {
    my ($self, $other, $swap) = @_;
    ...
}

use overload here is a pragma, where “pragma” means “regular-ass module that does some wizardry when imported”.

\&_add is how you get a reference to the _add sub so you can pass it to the overload module. If you just said &_add or _add, that would call it.

And that’s it; you just pass a map of operators to functions to this built-in module. No worry about name clashes or pollution, which is pretty nice. You don’t even have to give references to functions that live in the package, if you don’t want them to clog your namespace; you could put them in another package, or even inline them anonymously.

One especially interesting thing is that Perl lets you overload every operator. Perl has a lot of operators. It considers some math builtins like sqrt and trig functions to be operators, or at least operator-y enough that you can overload them. You can also overload the “file text” operators, such as -e $path to test whether a file exists. You can overload conversions, including implicit conversion to a regex. And most fascinating to me, you can overload dereferencing — that is, the thing Perl does when you say $hashref->{key} to get at the underlying hash. So a single object could pretend to be references of multiple different types, including a subref to implement callability. Neat.

Somewhat related: you can overload basic operators (indexing, etc.) on basic types (not references!) with the tie function, which is designed completely differently and looks for methods with fixed names. Go figure.

You can intercept calls to nonexistent methods by implementing a function called AUTOLOAD, within which the $AUTOLOAD global will contain the name of the method being called. Originally this feature was, I think, intended for loading binary components or large libraries on-the-fly only when needed, hence the name. Offhand I’m not sure I ever saw it used the way __getattr__ is used in Python.

Is there a way to intercept all method calls? I don’t think so, but it is Perl, so I must be forgetting something.

Actually no one does this any more

Like a decade ago, a council of elder sages sat down and put together a whole whizbang system that covers all of it: Moose.

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package Vector;
use Moose;

has x => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');
has y => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

Moose has its own way to do pretty much everything, and it’s all built on the same primitives. Moose also adds metaclasses, somehow, despite that the underlying model doesn’t actually support them? I’m not entirely sure how they managed that, but I do remember doing some class introspection with Moose and it was much nicer than the built-in way.

(If you’re wondering, the built-in way begins with looking at the hash called %Vector::. No, that’s not a typo.)

I really cannot stress enough just how much stuff Moose does, but I don’t want to delve into it here since Moose itself is not actually the language model.

The Perl philosophy

I hope you can see what I meant with what I first said about Perl, now. It has multiple inheritance with an MRO, but uses the wrong one by default. It has extensive operator overloading, which looks nothing like how inheritance works, and also some of it uses a totally different mechanism with special method names instead. It only understands methods, not data, leaving you to figure out accessors by hand.

There’s 70% of an object system here with a clear general design it was gunning for, but none of the pieces really look anything like each other. It’s weird, in a distinctly Perl way.

The result is certainly flexible, at least! It’s especially cool that you can use whatever kind of reference you want for storage, though even as I say that, I acknowledge it’s no different from simply subclassing list or something in Python. It feels different in Perl, but maybe only because it looks so different.

I haven’t written much Perl in a long time, so I don’t know what the community is like any more. Moose was already ubiquitous when I left, which you’d think would let me say “the community mostly focuses on the stuff Moose can do” — but even a decade ago, Moose could already do far more than I had ever seen done by hand in Perl. It’s always made a big deal out of roles (read: interfaces), for instance, despite that I’d never seen anyone care about them in Perl before Moose came along. Maybe their presence in Moose has made them more popular? Who knows.

Also, I wrote Perl seriously, but in the intervening years I’ve only encountered people who only ever used Perl for one-offs. Maybe it’ll come as a surprise to a lot of readers that Perl has an object model at all.

End

Well, that was fun! I hope any of that made sense.

Special mention goes to Rust, which doesn’t have an object model you can fiddle with at runtime, but does do things a little differently.

It’s been really interesting thinking about how tiny differences make a huge impact on what people do in practice. Take the choice of storage in Perl versus Python. Perl’s massively common URI class uses a string as the storage, nothing else; I haven’t seen anything like that in Python aside from markupsafe, which is specifically designed as a string type. I would guess this is partly because Perl makes you choose — using a hashref is an obvious default, but you have to make that choice one way or the other. In Python (especially 3), inheriting from object and getting dict-based storage is the obvious thing to do; the ability to use another type isn’t quite so obvious, and doing it “right” involves a tiny bit of extra work.

Or, consider that Lua could have descriptors, but the extra bit of work (especially design work) has been enough of an impediment that I’ve never implemented them. I don’t think the object implementations I’ve looked at have included them, either. Super weird!

In that light, it’s only natural that objects would be so strongly associated with the features Java and C++ attach to them. I think that makes it all the more important to play around! Look at what Moose has done. No, really, you should bear in mind my description of how Perl does stuff and flip through the Moose documentation. It’s amazing what they’ve built.

Introducing AWS AppSync – Build data-driven apps with real-time and off-line capabilities

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/introducing-amazon-appsync/

In this day and age, it is almost impossible to do without our mobile devices and the applications that help make our lives easier. As our dependency on our mobile phone grows, the mobile application market has exploded with millions of apps vying for our attention. For mobile developers, this means that we must ensure that we build applications that provide the quality, real-time experiences that app users desire.  Therefore, it has become essential that mobile applications are developed to include features such as multi-user data synchronization, offline network support, and data discovery, just to name a few.  According to several articles, I read recently about mobile development trends on publications like InfoQ, DZone, and the mobile development blog AlleviateTech, one of the key elements in of delivering the aforementioned capabilities is with cloud-driven mobile applications.  It seems that this is especially true, as it related to mobile data synchronization and data storage.

That being the case, it is a perfect time for me to announce a new service for building innovative mobile applications that are driven by data-intensive services in the cloud; AWS AppSync. AWS AppSync is a fully managed serverless GraphQL service for real-time data queries, synchronization, communications and offline programming features. For those not familiar, let me briefly share some information about the open GraphQL specification. GraphQL is a responsive data query language and server-side runtime for querying data sources that allow for real-time data retrieval and dynamic query execution. You can use GraphQL to build a responsive API for use in when building client applications. GraphQL works at the application layer and provides a type system for defining schemas. These schemas serve as specifications to define how operations should be performed on the data and how the data should be structured when retrieved. Additionally, GraphQL has a declarative coding model which is supported by many client libraries and frameworks including React, React Native, iOS, and Android.

Now the power of the GraphQL open standard query language is being brought to you in a rich managed service with AWS AppSync.  With AppSync developers can simplify the retrieval and manipulation of data across multiple data sources with ease, allowing them to quickly prototype, build and create robust, collaborative, multi-user applications. AppSync keeps data updated when devices are connected, but enables developers to build solutions that work offline by caching data locally and synchronizing local data when connections become available.

Let’s discuss some key concepts of AWS AppSync and how the service works.

AppSync Concepts

  • AWS AppSync Client: service client that defines operations, wraps authorization details of requests, and manage offline logic.
  • Data Source: the data storage system or a trigger housing data
  • Identity: a set of credentials with permissions and identification context provided with requests to GraphQL proxy
  • GraphQL Proxy: the GraphQL engine component for processing and mapping requests, handling conflict resolution, and managing Fine Grained Access Control
  • Operation: one of three GraphQL operations supported in AppSync
    • Query: a read-only fetch call to the data
    • Mutation: a write of the data followed by a fetch,
    • Subscription: long-lived connections that receive data in response to events.
  • Action: a notification to connected subscribers from a GraphQL subscription.
  • Resolver: function using request and response mapping templates that converts and executes payload against data source

How It Works

A schema is created to define types and capabilities of the desired GraphQL API and tied to a Resolver function.  The schema can be created to mirror existing data sources or AWS AppSync can create tables automatically based the schema definition. Developers can also use GraphQL features for data discovery without having knowledge of the backend data sources. After a schema definition is established, an AWS AppSync client can be configured with an operation request, like a Query operation. The client submits the operation request to GraphQL Proxy along with an identity context and credentials. The GraphQL Proxy passes this request to the Resolver which maps and executes the request payload against pre-configured AWS data services like an Amazon DynamoDB table, an AWS Lambda function, or a search capability using Amazon Elasticsearch. The Resolver executes calls to one or all of these services within a single network call minimizing CPU cycles and bandwidth needs and returns the response to the client. Additionally, the client application can change data requirements in code on demand and the AppSync GraphQL API will dynamically map requests for data accordingly, allowing prototyping and faster development.

In order to take a quick peek at the service, I’ll go to the AWS AppSync console. I’ll click the Create API button to get started.

 

When the Create new API screen opens, I’ll give my new API a name, TarasTestApp, and since I am just exploring the new service I will select the Sample schema option.  You may notice from the informational dialog box on the screen that in using the sample schema, AWS AppSync will automatically create the DynamoDB tables and the IAM roles for me.It will also deploy the TarasTestApp API on my behalf.  After review of the sample schema provided by the console, I’ll click the Create button to create my test API.

After the TaraTestApp API has been created and the associated AWS resources provisioned on my behalf, I can make updates to the schema, data source, or connect my data source(s) to a resolver. I also can integrate my GraphQL API into an iOS, Android, Web, or React Native application by cloning the sample repo from GitHub and downloading the accompanying GraphQL schema.  These application samples are great to help get you started and they are pre-configured to function in offline scenarios.

If I select the Schema menu option on the console, I can update and view the TarasTestApp GraphQL API schema.


Additionally, if I select the Data Sources menu option in the console, I can see the existing data sources.  Within this screen, I can update, delete, or add data sources if I so desire.

Next, I will select the Query menu option which takes me to the console tool for writing and testing queries. Since I chose the sample schema and the AWS AppSync service did most of the heavy lifting for me, I’ll try a query against my new GraphQL API.

I’ll use a mutation to add data for the event type in my schema. Since this is a mutation and it first writes data and then does a read of the data, I want the query to return values for name and where.

If I go to the DynamoDB table created for the event type in the schema, I will see that the values from my query have been successfully written into the table. Now that was a pretty simple task to write and retrieve data based on a GraphQL API schema from a data source, don’t you think.


 Summary

AWS AppSync is currently in AWS AppSync is in Public Preview and you can sign up today. It supports development for iOS, Android, and JavaScript applications. You can take advantage of this managed GraphQL service by going to the AWS AppSync console or learn more by reviewing more details about the service by reading a tutorial in the AWS documentation for the service or checking out our AWS AppSync Developer Guide.

Tara