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published: Sunday 5 May 2019
modified: Monday 6 May 2019
author: Hales
markup: textile

Software release: Minisleep

A tiny wiki engine, designed out of frustration of the other options.

First: have a read of the release page in question.

I thought it would be easy to release. It took me 2.5 days of solid work just to write the documentation for. Initially I started writing a really in-depth tutorial, but I soon discovered that making a foolproof guide on how to setup a webapp on any webserver is an infinite problem. I ended up settling with some provided (working out of the box) example configs and some vaguer installation instructions.

I’d really appreciate feedback on how I’ve approached the security problem. I think it’s the most sane option, but I could be wrong.

Minisleep has diverged quite a bit from this website (Darksleep), but mainly in terms of fixes. I want to merge all of that back into here, but it’s going to take some effort.

One highlight from the code:


# minisleep_lessgreedy.cgi: a shim to make minisleep.cgi work with certain HTTP
# webservers that are very particular about CGI script read()s.

# There are many different HTTP servers out there that support CGI and they all
# have slight differences in how they do it.  One particularly problematic area
# is how they provide stdin (body content, eg POSTs) to your CGI scripts.
# --- Category 1: Sensible & forgiving ---
# Examples: apache, lighttpd
# - If you read too little stdin: no one minds
# - If you read too much stdin: your reads return nothing or fail, no one minds.
# --- Category 2: Pushy ---
# Examples: (Can't recall the name, encountered once on a shared host)
# - If you read too little stdin: the user is redirected to an error page.
# This is annoying, but I can maybe understand it.  If all of stdin has not 
# been read then perhaps your script crashed early.
# --- Category 3: Confused ---
# Examples: hiawatha, yaws
# - If you read too much stdin: your read calls hang forever.
# This doesn't make sense to me.  Why hang the read?  You know you have nothing
# more to provide, making the script hang forever seems impolite.  Worst of all
# you then kill the script for taking too long >:|
# In practice this leads to a couple problems:
# (1) Script authors can't use simple methods for storing POST'd content, eg:
#      cat > posteddata
# (2) Students & learners have harsh difficulty working out what is going on 
# when their scripts only hang with certain HTTP webservers and under certain
# conditions.  If they are not aware of what read calls or sockets are then
# they're SOL to identify and fix this problem.
# I'm really concerned about the student side of things.  I try to encourage the
# use of CGI as much as I can with students, because I see many of them get very
# confused with the abstractions many frameworks provide:
# https://lobste.rs/s/pdynxz/long_death_cgi_pm#c_lw4zci
# TL;DR: I've had students think templates are things sent to the web browser,
# and I typically find that teaching how HTTP works can be really beneficial.
# Anyway, enough of that.

# Solution: read exactly the number of bytes (not one more or one less) that we
# are told we can; and pipe it to minisleep.cgi in a way that lets excess read
# requests fail harmlessly.  This keeps boths sides happy.

# Find where this script (and therefore the website) is located
cd "$(dirname "$(readlink -f "$0")")"

if [ -z "$CONTENT_LENGTH" ]
    echo '' | ./minisleep.cgi
    head --bytes "$CONTENT_LENGTH" | ./minisleep.cgi

For now I’m going to get some sleep of my own.

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