Monitoring and quality assurance of open wifi networks out of client view (final evaluation)

Hi together,

now the time has come to explain the full Google Summer of Code Project. In both blog posts before I explained the work packages and structure of the Project [0][1]. In the first post I declare the three main subjects. Here is a short overview to remind of the project structure:


Mainline project

and seminars.

The sub-projects are background work for community projects.

The mainline Google Summer of Code project is to develop a new firmware for routers, based on LEDE [2]. The third point are seminars for enlightment of technical aspects of the Freifunk Community.


First I would like to list up all sub-projects and their status.

The first of the sub-projects is the hoodselector. For a final explanation of this construct I would like to explain the following points to give you a good understanding of this concept. On the Nordwest Freifunk community we had one big problem. Due to the batman-adv management traffic, the network setup is not really scalable. This problem also exists on many other communities where they have thousands of mesh routers inside one single network. If there are too many routers inside of one layer 2 network the batman-adv management traffic will flood this network and make it useless.


Therefore in the Nordwest Freifunk Community we decided to develop the concept of hood-networking. This concept consists of two main components: The hoodfile [3] and the hoodselector[4]. The hoodfile is a json file containing all informations necessary for a definition of a geobased hood. One hood is defined by a geostationary fixed quadrants, VPN-peering- and wireless configurations. Inside a hoodfile are multiple hoods defined[5]. Following an example of a definition of a hood:



     "name": "rastede",

     "bssid": "02:00:0A:12:A0:00",

     "defaulthood": false,

     "servers": [


             "host": "",

             "port": "10000",

             "publickey": "ca1b5487ffc20a1f90e0ac14e835d84ab9e52612b5ca62e073d0a13dad98775e"



     "boxes": [














A hood has the following definition:


– name

The name describes the region depending on its geo coordinates. For example, if you create a hood over the city Oldenburg(Oldb) (Germany), a good name could be Oldenburg or ol as short. Every name has to be unique inside a hoodfile. Redundant names are not allowed!


– bssid

The bssid will be set for the adhoc wireless interface. This is the main part of splitting the layer 2 network. Inside the bssid there is the IPv4 sub-network encoded which is in use inside the hood. In the above json part the following IPv4 sub-network is encoded “” dec to bin => “0000’1010 0001’0010 1010’0000 0000’0000” bin to hex => 0x0A 0x12 0xA0 0x00 hex to mac => 02:00:0A:12:A0:00. Therefore the bssid should also be unique.


– defaulthood

The defaulthood boolean is only true on the default hood. The default hood doesn't have coordinates and is the inverted form of all other hoods with geo coordinates.


– servers

Contains an array of VPN connection informations. These informations are:

VPN server address (host)

VPN port

VPN crypto key

One VPN server should be used for one hood only! If two hoods have the same VPN server, batman-adv will loop them over VPN.


- boxes

This 3 dimensional array describes the geographical size of the hood. The surface is rectangular. You just need two points per box to reconstruct it. Here is an example:




                                          8.09 #____________

                                                   |                  |

                                                   |                  |

                                                   |                  |


                                                                      # 53.36,




Each hood can have any number of rectangles inside the boxes array.


To make your life a little easier you can use the hoodgen[6] and source[7] to write your json with the required informations. This is a simple web visualization tool to plan hoods and generate the right json format for the hoodfile. This tool has been written by Eike Baran. Big Thanks to him for this helpful tool!


Now to the hoodselector.

It is a software that creates decentralized, semi automated ISO OSI layer 2 network segmentation for batman-adv layer 2 routing networks. This program reads the geobased sub-networks called hoods from the above mentioned hoodfile. The decision of choosing the right hood is made on following points: first, the hoodselector checks, if the router has a VPN connection. If it has, the hoodselector then checks, if a static geoposition was set on the router. If not, it tries to get a position using wireless based localization with the so called geolocator. The geolocator [8][9][10] is a software which makes it possible to receive a position based on wireless networks “seen” around. These informations will be sent to the openwifi map project [11]. Knowing the position of the router the hoodselector can find the right hood, because each hood is defined with geocoordinates. If the Router doesn't have a VPN connection e.g. as a mesh only router, the hoodselector triggers a WIFI scan and searches for neighboured mesh routers in other hoods. If there is an other router with a different BSSID but with the same mesh SSID, the router chooses it’s hood based on the neighboured BSSID. I got much positive feedback from many other Freifunk Communities. Someone even created a integration request issue for gluon [12]. Gluon is a framework based on openWRT[13] and is very popular in the Freifunk community [14]. Before I will send this as a patch to gluon there remains one last urgent issue [15]. The current hoodselector is not able to handle mesh on LAN or WAN connections. So there is still a potential point of failure. Because persons who are not familiar enough with the hood-networking concept can accidentally interconnect hoods over the mesh on cable functions. I plan to fix this problem up to mid of september. When this issue is closed I would like sending patches for integration to gluon. Other issues can be found here[16].


On the Nordwest Freifunk community we currently have 10 active hoods including a default hood. That is a special hood where all routers will connect to, if they are not able to choose a hood, including also routers there out of ranges from other real hoods. After the last 3 months we can safely say that the setup works. Commits can be found here[17] All currently active hoods can be see here in this picture.




As next I would like to tell you about the second sub-project as a prework for the mainline project. In that part I work on a proper workaround with the continuous-integration (CI) system of Gitlab[18]. As I explained in the midterm evaluation, on our Nordwest community we started automatically building of nightly testing firmware images for our community firmware. The CI works now with a dynamical multiple core build processes and auto generated architecture targets out of source. At the moment it is not possible for Gitlab to handle high verbose inside the web-engine while the build process. I discussed the problem with the gitlab team and open an issue [19]. The CI builder is very helpful for the developing process of the monitoring drone. Here you can see the result for the local community image[20] and for the monitoring-drone [21].


Mainline Project.

The mainline project was to create a new firmware for monitoring and quality assurance of open wireless networks. So I started reading of informatins about openWRT [13] and LEDE [2]. I decided to use LEDE as base system. I know there still no release to use this as a defined base structure (we are all looking forward to this moment) but since july 2016 I am on the developer list and the way where LEDE is growing looks good. Next I looked for a build management script. First I thought about using make and Makefiles but this was not my favourite, so I decided to use the buildscript from the Franken Freifunk community as base, which is written in bash. Now I'll explain the structure how to work with and use it. The following directories and files are important for basic work:


buildscript ← File

     BSP ← Dir

     Community ← Dir

     build_patches ← Dir

     modules ← File


The buildscript is mainly a bash script for a humanly working with this buildroot. In other words it is an abstraction from the LEDE build ENV.


Inside the BSP directory are all necessary architecture specific informations.

BSP means Board-Support-Package. Also inside this directory are default informations like the shell banner system configs and so on.


The community directory includes community specific configurations, similar like the gluon siteconf [22]. Currently there are only two config parameters inside: first the "AP SSID" to set a default SSID with witch WIFI network should the monitoring-drone connect and the second parameter, the "AP BSSID" to set a node specific BSSID in case if more than one router with the same SSID is present. Then the monitoring drone is pinned on one specific node. This config parameter will be dropped in the future because it is not really effectively if a default BSSID is set . In future I plan to configure thous parameters over an extra web interface[23].


In the build_patches directory you can put patches for LEDE or if you what you can also put patches for each package repository. Here is a schemata:




         0001-this is a patch.patch

         0002-this is another one.patch


         0001-this is a patch.patch

         0002-this is another one.patch


The last file is called modules. Inside this file you can add external package repositories and also select specific packages out of this repositories. Following an example:





OPENWRT_PKGS="libwlocate lwtrace ffnw-node-info hoodselector"


Clemens and I discussed about the API design[24] regarding the communication between the monitoring drone and the netmon core. So we met together. Here a picture:

Jan-Tarek Butt (left) and Clemens John (right)


At last point were the seminars. During the Google Summer of Code we started to gave seminars for technical aspects of Freifunk because we have not enough developers and system administrators. That is mostly a big problem in volunteer activities. On the hacking sessions we follow a simple structure:


– two lectures about Freifunk technical aspects.

– discus about the contend of the lectures

– work session on projects


On the first hacking session at the 28. may 2:00 PM we created video recordings of the two lectures, you can find them here[25]. The next hacking session were failures because of Clemens and my exams. In future there will follow other streams about tecnical aspects of Freifunk.


Last but not least, my future plans:

For the hoodselector, I plan to close up the last urgent issue[15] that I mentored in the above for the migration into gluon I also started prework on gluon for this. One part was the implementation of a sequential code minifying process at compile time [26]. Also some other issues are still open so I will continuing the work on the hoodselector[16].


For the monitoring firmware they currently is just configurable over ssh. A web interface should follow soon and also a plugin system for community specific monitoring data requests.


On the Kieler Linux information days[27] inside the Kieler Innovations- and technology center I will hold amongst others 4 presantations about Freifunk relevants themes:


    Hoodselector - Network segmentation for Layer 2 routing at 11:00 (16.09.2016)[28]

    Wireless-based localization ( project) at 13:00 (16.09.2016)[29]

    OpenWRT Embedded Linux distribution at 16:00 (16.09.2016)[30]

    Freifunk Kiel/Nordwest (2016) - year review at 16:00 (17.09.2016)[31]








[6] http://hood.ffnw/hoodgen.html#


























GSoC: The ECE configuration system - summary

The Google Summer of Code is almost over, so in this blog post I'll give a overview over the targets I've met (and those I haven't).

Code repositories

All code in the first two repositories has been developed by me during the GSoC. The third link shows the work I've done to integrate a ECE backend into libuci.

What is working

As described in earlier posts, my GSoC project was a configuration storage system for OpenWrt/LEDE, trying to solve various issues of the UCI config system. The principal points of this new system are

    • ubus-based config daemon maintaining a central storage database file
    • JSON-based configuration data model
    • Validation based on simplified JSON-Schema

The Wiki at gives a good overview of the design and the usage of ECE and describes many features in detail. The pkg-ece package feed can be used to build and install the different components of ECE on OpenWrt/LEDE easily.

If you've worked with OpenWrt/LEDE, you probably know the UCI config system. A UCI config file looks like this:

config system
        option hostname 'lede'
        option timezone 'UTC'

This format is very simple: Each file (called "package") has a number of sections (named or unnamed) of different types (this example from the "system" package has a single unnamed section of type "system"). These section contain options with single values or lists of values.

Unnamed sections are usually accessed using indices, for example a command to set the hostname would look like this:

uci set system.@system[0].hostname='betterhostname'

With the simplicity of UCI, there come various issues and missing features; these are only a few of them:

      • The fixed data model (package/section/option) makes some kinds of configuration very awkward: In the example above, the index 0 must be given for the system section, but having a second section of this kind would not make sense. In other cases, deeper configuration trees must be flattened to be stored in UCI, making the configuration harder to understand
      • All values in UCI are strings, which often causes inconsistencies (booleans are usually stored as '0'/'1', but several other pairs like 'false'/'true' and 'off'/'on' are supported as well; different users of UCI sometimes parse numbers differently)
      • UCI doesn't have built-in validation. Frontends like LuCI usually validate the entered data, but as soon as the CLI client is used, no validation is done.
      • UCI always stored the whole configuration file and not only changes from the defaults, making the storage inefficient on overlay-based filesystem setups as they are common on OpenWrt/LEDE
      • In some situations, upgrades to default values should also affect the effective values; but only if the user didn't change the values themselves. With UCI, this is not possible, as it doesn't store the information if a value was changed by a user.
      • UCI allows comments in config files, but they are lost as soon as libuci or the CLI tool is used to modify it

The configuration given above could be represented in ECE as this JSON document:

  "system": {
    "hostname": "lede",
    "timezone": "UCI"

Note that this is only the external representation of the configuration; internally, it is stored in a more efficient binary format.

JSON gives us a lot of features for free: arbitrary configuration trees with proper data types. Existing standards and standard drafts like JSON Pointer and JSON Schema can be used to reference and validate configuration (the JSON Schema specification is simplified for ECE a bit though to allow more efficient validation on embedded systems).

The command for changing the hostname would look like this in ECE:

ece set /system/hostname '"betterhostname"'

The quoting is currently necessary to make the string a valid JSON document; this may change in a future version.

The whole configuration is saved in a single JSON document, but the specific format is not defined by a single schema; instead, each package can provide a schema, and the configuration tree is validated against a merged schema definition.

The schemas also provide default values for the configuration. Adding documentation for the configuration options to the schemas is planned as a future addition and might be used to support the user in configuration utilities and automatically generate web-based or other interfaces.

This gives only a small example for the usage of ECE, the abovementioned ECE Wiki contains much more information about the usage of ECE and the ideas behind it.

In addition to the daemon and a simple CLI utility, I've developed libraries for C, Lua and Shell which allow to access the configuration. While there are still some features missing (some points for future work are given in ), I think most of the missing pieces can be added in the near future.

The UCI/ECE bridge

When I proposed my project for the GSoC, I didn't aim at making it a full replacement for the current UCI system, at least not in the near future. While the possibility to move some of UCI config files into the ECE config database had been my plan from the beginning, my ideas for backwards compatibility didn't go further than a one-time import from UCI to ECE, and one-way generation of UCI config files from ECE.

After talking to a few LEDE developers and package maintainers, it became clear to me and my mentors that many people are interested in replacing UCI with a better system in the not-too-far future. But for ECE to become this replacement, a real two-way binding between UCI and ECE would be necessary to allow gradual migration, so configuration utilities like LuCI (and many other utilities somehow interacting with UCI) don't need to be adjusted in a flag-day change.

An incomplete design draft for this UCI/ECE bridge has been outlined in . The code found in the UCI ECE backend repository linked above implements a part of this bridge (it can load "static" and "named" bindings from ECE into UCI, and commit "static" bindings back to ECE) and has been implemented as an API- and ABI-compatible extension to libuci. The development of this bridge has taken a lot of time (much more time than I had originally scheduled for UCI compatibility features), as the data models of UCI and ECE are very different.

Future work

Of all points given in , finalizing the database format is the most important, as any future change in the storage format will either break compatibility or involve some kind of conversion. When it is clear the format won't be changed anymore, ECE should be added to the OpenWrt community package repository to make it easily accessible to all OpenWrt and LEDE users.

After that, other points given in the TODO should be dealt with, but none of those seem too pressing to prevent actually using ECE for some software (but some of the points given in the first section of the TODO page would need to be addressed to properly support software that requires more complex configuration).

Last, but no least, I'd like to express my gratitude to my mentors and all people in the OpenWrt, LEDE and Freifunk communities who have helped me develop ECE by giving guidance and lots of useful feedback, and to Google, who allowed me to focus on this project throughout this summer.

Monitoring and quality assurance of open wifi networks out of client view (midterm evaluation)

Hey everyone,
Now we are on the midterm evaluation. I would like to tell you what I have done so far and what will come next. In the first post [0] I explained the work packages. In this post I will come back to the work packages  and show you what I have done for each package.
The first sub-project was the hoodselector. At the beginning of the work period I did some bugfixing for the hoodselector so that we where able to deploy the hoodselector in our live environment. The hoodselector creates decentralized, semi automated ISO OSI layer 2 network segmentations. You can find a detailed discription here [0]. Retrospective I can say that the deploymend of the hoodsystem went without any major problems opposed to my first expectations. Currently we have 4 hoods active. Around Oldenburg(Oldb), Ibbenbüren, Osnabrück and Friesland. More hoods will follow in future. Open Issues can be find here [1].
The second sub-project was to create a propper workaround for building images with the continuous-integration (CI) system of Gitlab using make on multiple cores.
The Freifunk Nordwest firmware now has automatically built testing images that are not only build on a single core but can be built on multiple cores. And the architecture targets are also autogenerated out of the sourcecode. This makes it possible to generate images dynamically for all targets also including new targets that may come in the future. I implemented a small algorithm that manages the thread counter of make commands. I use the number of CPUs out of /proc/cpuinfo * 2 this means for each logic core will follow two threads. In example our server has 8 cores so the CI build process will automatically build with 16 Threads [2]. Here is an example of a passed buildprocess with our CI builder[3]. Actually it is not possible to build images with a high verbose output, because the CI logfiles will get to big. That makes it impossible to use the webfrontend for analyzing the buildprocesses. I opened an issues for this and discussed the problem with the gitlab developers [4].
The CI builder is very helpful for the developing process of the monitoring drone.
Following I would like to report about our first hacking seminar.
The first hacking seminar was on 28.05.2016. We started with two presentations. One about Wireless Geo Location and the second one about the Hoodselector. We recorded the presentation with our new recording equipment [7] bought using some of the money for the mentoring organisation and uploaded the recordings to youtube [5].
The first presentation was about geolocating with wireles technologies.
Based on the Nordwest Freifunk geolocator [6]

The second presentation was about the function of the Hoodselector

After this two presentations we had a smal disscussion about the presentation topics and than we started o
ur hacking session where the developers started coding on their projects.
Now all sub-Projects are finnisched and I will continue with the Monitoring Drone Project after I finish my Study exams. Also the date of next hacking seminar is set for 9th of Juli 2016. Again we will have two presentations. One on Gitlab CI and one about how to use our new Puppet Git repositories including the submodule feature. The presentations will be recorded and after the presentation we will have a coding session like last time.
23. May: Community Bonding (3 weeks)
test and deploy hoodselector  <- Done
16. May 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble  <- Done
Refine the roadmap  <- Done
23. May – 20. June: Work period 1 (4 weeks) <- Done
28. May 2:00 PM: hacker-session  <- Done
  1. Presentation about the hoodselector <- Done
  2. Presentation about the project[4] and the geolocator <- Done
13. June 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble  <- Done
Tarek & Clemens exams!!!
20. June – 15. August: Work period 2 (8 weeks)
9. July 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. Presentation about workaround with git CI processes.
  2. Presentation about puppet deployment system
13. June 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble
25. June 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. Presentation about workaround with git CI processes.
  2. Presentation about puppet deployment system
18. July 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble
30. July 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. actual unknown
  2. actual unknown
15. August 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble

Monitoring and quality assurance of open wifi networks out of client view

Hey everyone,
My name is Jan-Tarek Butt and I am in my second term of computer science at Emden University in Lower Saxony (Germany). I am one of the students that are participating for Freifunk in the Google Summer of Code 2016. In the following post I would like to introduce you to my Google Summer of Code project. I split up the project into 3 main subjects: Mainline project, sub-projects and seminars.
Before I explain the three mentioned subjects I would like to give you some background information about the project in general. My project mentor is Clemens John. He studies computer science at University Osnabrück in Lower Saxony (Germany) and recently started to write his bachelor thesis. As part of his bachelor thesis he will build a monitoring and administration software for open wireless networks called "Netmon-SC" based on a previosly existing software that will be rewritten to follow a decentralised idea. The coarse structure of Netmon-SC will consist of a core module as a data storage backend that can be queried by using a REST API based on NetJSON. In addition to the REST API the core module will include a plug-In system which developers can use to easily extend the core module to build data storages for creating visualisation tools, quality assurance metrics or any other community specific tools like special administration applications.
My mainline GSoC project is to develop a new firmware for routers based on openWRT or LEDE. This firmware will  be the basis for an application to monitor the clients view onto an open wireless network. From now on we will call this firmware the "Monitoring-Drone". This monitoring firmware will gather quality assurance metrics and send them to Netmon-SC. This metrics will help developers and administrators to enhance the quality of open wireless networks and find bugs more easier. The firmware will include an API package to communicate with Netmon-SC. It will also contain a small LUCI web-interface for basic configuration e.g. wireless network settings etc. Additionally to the basic settings it should be possible to integrate small plugins in form of  .sh or .lua files witch contain custom commands.This will allow communities to gather network specifics metrics without compiling community specific firmware images. The API for communication with Netmon-SC, the web-interface and the plugin system will embedded into a package bases structure. The git repository for this project can be found here.
Now to the sub-projects. Sub-projects are small projects adjacent to the mainline project. The first sub-project is the so called hoodselector that I finished reviewing on Mai 21th. The hoodselector creates decentralized, semi automated ISO OSI layer 2 network segmentations based on geostationary fixed quadrants for batman-adv mesh networks. It detects in which quadrant the node is in by using wireless location services and configurates the router using the settings that have been stored for this quadrant. In conclusion the hoodselector enables us to build scaled decentralised mesh-networks. It is a small program on open wireless routers on the Nordwest-Freifunk community network.
The second sub-project is, to create a proper workaround for building images on a multicore system instead of a single core system by using Gitlabs continuous-integration (CI) feature. This will fully automate the firmware image building process for the Monitoring-Drone and also for the open wireless firmware images from the local community.
The third sub-project are regular seminars. The idea of this seminars is to give earned knowledge to the public and also acquire new developers for open wireless projects. The seminars should have one or two short presentations about technical processes from open wireless networks, for instance how the hoodselector works or how batman-adv works. The Presentations will be video recorded and uploaded to the internet. After thous presentations on the seminars I plan short discussions about the contend of the presentations. Afterwards hack-sessions should do force forward the developing processes for the Google Summer of Code project and illuminate the opensource software development scene of the open wireless project.
Last but not least we created a project timeline. Clemens and I, will have regular Mumble meetings during the GSoC, at the middle of every month. On this meetings we will discuss the work already done and what should happen next. Beside the work on the main project we will also use the meetings to plan the next seminar that will always follow at the end of each month.
23. May: Community Bonding (3 weeks)
test and deploy hoodselector  ← Done
16. May 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble ← Done
Refine the roadmap ← Done
23. May – 20. June: Work period 1 (4 weeks)
28. May 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. Presentation about the hoodselector
  2. Presentation about the project and the geolocator
20. June – 15. August: Work period 2 (8 weeks)
Tarek & Clemens exams!!!
13. June 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble
25. June 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. Presentation about workaround with git CI processes.
  2. actual unknown
18. July 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble
30. July 2:00 PM: hacker-session
  1. actual unknown
  2. actual unknown
15. August 6:00 PM: GSoC Mumble

Jan-Tarek Butt

GSoC: Work on Freifunk API Query Client will go on

This is the final blogpost for my GSoC project for the Freifunk-API Query Client.

We want a comfortable tool to query all the Freifunk API files as there are nearly 100 communities all over Germany providing their data. There are already several applications like our community map, a common calendar, our feed aggrator or the community podcast collector. But it's still hard to find communities by properties like routing protocols or focus topics.
When we began this project we only planned to query the generated JSON data for the community in a browser and additionally provide query results via a webservice. But then we talked to several people and we heard about DeepaMehta with features like connectors to OpenStreetmap. So we did something what you don't do normally: We changed our project goals before the midterm evaluations.
DeepaMehta is not just another database product, it provides a different way to store and handle data. It uses a graph to store connections between items and allows to modex complex datatypes and associations between them. We had to change our mind and had to learn a new kind of thinking. The API data is constantly evolving and changing and there a lot of cross-references in the data e.g. links to various nodemaps. We think the switch to DeepaMehta is useful because we can query the graph and add new relations and data without problems.

It's difficult to handle different spec versions if you want to query all API files, because some fields changed, other fields were added to the specs or got another meaning. In an ideal world all communities update their files as soon as possible. But we all know, it will never happen like that. As a workaround we first focused on less fields, available in all versions.
What we got
We're able to import communities from the API directory as a base entity. We also tried some different ways to import and store the specs, but we need some improvements here. By using the summarized API file, the import of our payload can be done via the DeepaMehta REST API.

The switch to DeepaMehta brought a lot of complexity to the project and I'm personally not happy my results at this point because I had trouble to spend enough time for the project. Additionally some basic problems like dealing with changing schema and data import are not really solved well at this point. The data is in DeepaMehta and can be queries with the included client but it's not in a state where it's usable for the community.

Overall the GSoC was an interesting experience for me. Through I've failed to set aside enough time for the tasks. The timely overlap with university lectures does not make it easier. So I can only recommend to know beforehand that you'll have enough time to accomplish your goals. But the support from the Freifunk community was always great and helpful! As the project is not a state that can be considered 'ready' I'm continuing working on it.
Future Plans

I definitly want to finish the work at least to point where it can be used by the wider Freifunk community.

The default DeepaMehta client isn't designated to query a lot of fields like our API provides. Here we need a new web based client to provide users an interface to select fields and get a proper response.

Work will continue on integrating the API data and DeepaMehta.


GSoC: Retroshare social network plugin review and future

During Google Summer of Code i did these things:
- learn what users expect from a social network. Figure out who should receive which messages.
- map social network functions on the existing Retroshare General Exchange System
- build a backend with basic features
- build a frontend with basic features
- started a new programming interface on top of libretroshare: a JSON over http interface

The Secushare homepage says: "RetroShare should provide more social functionality" Indeed! Every country is spying on their citizens. Storage, computing power and bandwidth became cheap. These are good conditions to build a distributed social network. The first step was already started a while ago with the General Exchange System for Retroshare v0.6. This project is the second step in this direction. One thing is missing: a release for normal users.

The backend and frontend made during GSoC can display a wall with avatar image and profile text. It is possible to create posts and reference them on walls. Posts can be commented. Read more details in the previous blog post. Still it is not suitable for daily use. There was not enough time to implement a scalable user interface architecture. The web interface can't handle more than 100 posts, because pagination is missing. Whats more the UI is filled iterative. This causes many updates to the html tree with high cpu load. It would be better to send all information to the browser in one piece. The browser would then only have to update the HTML tree once. The design and layout should be improved to highlight the content and to get the date label out the way. (See the this screenshot.)


Wt is nice because it allows to make a web interface without touching HTML JavaScript and CSS. But this is only the half truth. There where issues:
- completely destroyed layout by setting the image size
- menu bar was horizontal instead of vertical, this required to manual set a style class from C++
- WTimer stops working. I had to build my own server side timer

These issues where solvable. A real pain with Wt is the layout and UI design testing. You first have to go through the complete compile and start cycle to see changes. What if you missed a closing tag in a HTML template? You have to recompile and restart. Now i saw that with real web technologies you can see a live preview while you type. I think when doing layout and design it is important to immediately see the result. This is not possible with Wt. Conclusion: you can build a web interface with C++. But hard coding CSS class names and embedding HTML snippets in C++ is a pain that should be avoided.

On the other hand there exist advanced tools and frameworks for web development. AngularJS is a very nice JavaScript library. It offers data binding from JavaScript to HTML: you update a JavaScript object, and Angular updates the HTML. JavaScript objects are more flexible than C++ objects. You can even make a JavaScript object out of a JSON file. Angular makes handling of button clicks easy. AngularJS makes  Bootstrap offers a set of widgets with HTML example code and style sheets. Now i want to use other web frameworks instead of Wt.

I did not know about these web technologies when starting the project. This is some sort of a chicken-egg problem: Retroshare does not have web developers, because it doesn't have a web interface. And there will be no web interface until a web developer can show how it can be done. Gladly there is now a web developer who can teach me how to make a web interface.

The new idea: make a web interface using web technologies

The next goal is to make a clean and easy to use JSON over HTTP api for Retroshare. Then web developers are free to make a nice web interface using their favorite frameworks. This api is not only useful for web interfaces, but also for scripting. You could then send a chat message from a shell script using curl:

curl -X PUT -d '{"msg":"hi all<br/>(send from bash)"}' http://localhost:9090/api/chatlobbies/<id>

What i will do now
I will do more research for a JSON over HTTP interface for Retroshare and rssocialnet. If this stays a good idea i want to implements it. Maybe i will try to start a new web interface. But i hope someone else is faster than me. I prefer to work on the rssocialnet backend and libretroshare. Whats more a web interface is a perfect place for new contributors. If i would make a clearly documented JSON over HTTP api, then a web developer would not need C++ knowledge or experience with libretroshare.

A dream is to bring Retroshare to Android. This is possible, but we have to make a new touch-friendly user interface and we have to optimize Retroshare to make it more battery friendly. I currently see two ways to build a GUI for Android: with QML/QtQuick or HTML based with the Ionic Framework. There is already a QML prototype.

To get rssocialnet ready for daily use, i need your help. Unfortunately I’m again in a research/planning phase. This means I’m not sure how the JSON over HTTP interface will look at the end. It also means if you tell me "i want to help coding", i have to disappoint you because i don't know what we have to code and how to code it. Anyway, here are some things you can think about:

- which features are important for a social network? read some ideas
- can you make a better gui mockup than me?
- which frontend technologie should be used? QML/QtQuick or Bootstrap and AngularJS?
- what are the requirements for a first release?
- how can you use your skills to help?

Thank you Freifunk and other mesh network communities for donating one GSoC slot to Retroshare. This was a good decision, it made it possible to start a mesh friendly social network application.

GSoC: Features of the Retroshare social network plugin

Content is obviously the most important element of a social network. Currently only support for plain text is implemented. The content can have an author, but this is not required.

Future: It would be nice to have support for images. This is very easy on the backend side, but it needs a frontend which scales the image to fit on the screen. With Retroshares file transfer capabilities it would also be possible to publish large files like audio and video files. It would be nice to restrict access to content to a set of people. Retroshare is prepared for this and it only needs small changes in the social network backend. Of course this requires a user interface to sort people into circles and to select circles.

Content alone is useless without a place where it gets displayed. As explained in a previous blog post, every piece of content is stored for its own. To make content visible it has to get referenced on a wall. This happens automatically on the own wall when creating a new post. It also gets triggered by clicking the share button. A reference always has an author.

Future: maybe allow to reference content from other services. For example if Retroshare gets a Photo Share service, allow to reference a picture or photo album on the wall.

A Wall is a place where a profile text, an avatar image and references to content are stored. A user subscribes to another user to download all posts referenced on the wall. The wall owner and others can reference content on a wall.

All new posts are collected and displayed in the news feed. A news feed shows the new content, the comments and how others interact with the content. Who commented this post? Who shared this post? Currently the news feed displays posts in the order in which they where received.

Future: it is probably desired to have a more advanced logic to sort news feed entries. Imagine a user comes online after a week and gets bombed by hundred new posts. It would be possible to sort news in two dimensions: topics and rating. Example: have one tab for content from close friends, and one tab for other content. Then calculate a score to display more important content at the top. This requires a bit of backend work, but it is doable.

Users can interact with content in two different ways: they can comment it, and they can share it. Sharing creates a reference to the content on the own wall, and thus forwards the content to friends. Comments are stored with the content, so everyone who received the content will also receive the comments.

Future: one can think of other ways to interact with content. Examples are like, bookmark, vote and hide. In general these interactions are each a form of tagging. For the backend it does not make a difference if content is tagged with "GSoC14" or "like" or 3.1415. This is more a matter on the frontend side: which meaning does the tag have for the user? How does the frontend show different tags? (star, heart, thumbs up, plus sign, text, ...) How can the user filter posts with specific tags?

There has to be an entry point to let the user see the people around him. If the user recognizes a known person he might want to subscribe to this person. For now there is a widget to display all identities with their name and avatar image. Of course later this list should get filtered to fit on the screen. Retroshare circles could be used to make friends lists accessible to friends. This would allow automatic circle intersection to search for people the user probably knows.

Below is screenshot of the Retroshare social network plugin.

GSoC 2014 Updates - OpenWrt: IEEE 802.1ad VLAN support

As promised I have been working hard on the proposal. Thanks to community help I have already almost completed all deliverables and in fact some patches got merged in netifd [10-13] and OpenWrt [15] already and development branch of libre-mesh is already taking advantage of them [14] :)
Working on this project gave me more conviction that community collaboration is fundamental, community helped me to understand the problem and what to modify to fix it, moreover someone went beyond that submitting patches too [16-17] !
Here it goes a small resume of how I did it:
    - Talk multiple time with OpenWRT [0] folks via retroshare openwrt lobby, they gave me some indication on what I had to do
    - Get netifd code [18]
    - Create a vlandev netifd device
    - Implement routines to add and remove 802.1ad/802.1q vlan in Linux via netlink
    - Talk with OpenWRT folks for quality check and patch merging
    - Code cleaning and testing
    - Patches get merged in netifd and OpenWRT
Now who need to use 802.1ad is not unfortunately constrained to private software anymore, because it is now supported in OpenWRT [0] :D
More updates [6] soon, and don’t forget the best is yet to come! 
Syndicate content