Oren Eini

CEO of RavenDB

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time to read 3 min | 478 words

After running into a few hurdles, I managed to get rust openssl bindings to work, which means that this is now the time to actually wire things properly in my network protocol, let’s see how that works, shall we?

First, we have the OpenSSL setup:

As you can see, this is pretty easy and there isn’t really anything there that is of actual interest. It does feel a whole lot easier than dealing with OpenSSL directly in C, though.

That said, when I started actually dealing with the client certificate, things got a lot more complicated. The first thing that I wanted to do is to do my authentication, which is defined as:

  • Client present a client certificate (can be any client certificate).
  • If a client doesn’t give a certificate, we accept the connection, send a message (using the encrypted tunnel) and abort.
  • If the client provide an certificate, it must be one that was previously registered in the server. That is what allowed_certs_thumbprints is for. If it isn’t, we accept the connection, write an error and abort.
  • If the client certificate has expired or is not yet valid, accept, write error & abort.

You get the gist. Here is what I had to do to implement the first part:

Most of the code, actually, is about generating proper and clear error messages, more than anything else. I’m not sure how to get the friendly name from the certificate, but this seems to be a good enough stand-in for now.

We validate that we have a certificate, or send an error back. We validate that the certificate presented is known to us, or we send an error back.

The next part I wanted to implement was… really far too hard than it should be. I just wanted to verify that the certificate not before/not after dates are valid. And the problem is that the rust bindings for OpenSSL do not expose that information. Luckily, because it is using OpenSSL, I can just call to OpenSSL directly. That led me to some interesting search into how Rust calls out to C, how foreign types work and a lot of “fun” like that. Given that I’m doing this to learn, I suppose that this is a good thing, though.

Here is what I ended up with (take a deep breath):

Notice that I’m doing all of this (defining external function, defining helper functions) inside the authenticate_certificate function. Coming up with that was harder than expected, but I really liked the fact that it was possible, and that I can just shove this into a corner of my code and not have to make a Big Thing out of it.

And with that, I the authentication portion of my network protocol in Rust done.

The next stage is going to be implementing a server that can handle more than a single connection at a time Smile.

time to read 2 min | 274 words

After trying (and failing) to use rustls to handle client authentication, I tried to use rust-openssl bindings. It crapped out on me with a really scary link error. I spent some time trying to figure out what was going on, but given that it said that I wanted to write Rust code, not deal with link errors, I decided to see if the final alternative in the Rust eco system will work, native-tls package.

And… that is a no go as well. Which is sad, because the actual API was quite nice. The reason it isn’t going to work? The native-tls package just has no support for client certificate authentication when running as a server, so not usable for me.

That leaves me with strike three out of three:

  • rustls – native Rust API, easy to work with, but doesn’t allow to accept arbitrary client certificates, only ones from known issuers.
  • rust-openssl – I have build this on top of OpenSSL before, so I know it works. However, trying to build it on Windows resulted in link errors, so that was out.
  • native-tls – doesn’t have support for client certificates, so not usable.

I think that at this point, I have three paths available to me:

  • Give up and maybe try doing something else with Rust.
  • Fork rustls and add support for accepting arbitrary client certificates. I’m not happy with this because it requires changing not just rustls but also probably webpki package and I’m unsure if the changes I have in mind will not hurt the security of the system.
  • Try to fix the OpneSSL link issue.

I think that I’ll go with the third option, but this is really annoying.

time to read 6 min | 1017 words

The task that I have for now is to add client authentication via X509 client certificate. That is both obvious and non obvious, unfortunately. I’ll get to that, but before I do so, I want to go back to the previous post and discuss this piece of code:

I’ll admit that I’m enjoying exploring Rust features, so I don’t know how idiomatic this code is, but it is certainly dense. This basically does the setup for a TCP listener and setting up of the TLS details so we can accept a connection.

Rust allows us to define local functions (inside a parent function), this is mostly just a way to define a private function, since the nested function has no access to the parent scope. The open_cert_file function is just a way to avoid code duplication, but it is an interesting one. It is a generic function that accepts an open ended function of its own. Basically, it will open a file, read it and then pass it to the function it was provided. There is some error handling, but that is pretty much it.

The next fun part happens when we want to read the certs and key file. The certs file is easy, it can only ever appear in a single format, but the key may be either PKCS8 or RSA Private Key. And unlike the certs, where we expect to get a collection, we need to get just a single value. To handle that we have:


First, we try to open and read the file as a RSA Private Key, if that isn’t successful, we’ll attempt to read it as PKCS8 file. If either of those attempts was successful, we’ll try to get the first key, clone it and return.  However, if there was an error in any part of the process, we abort the whole thing (and exit the function with an error).

From my review of Rust code, it looks like this isn’t non idiomatic code, although I’m not sure I would call it idiomatic at this point.  The problem with this code is that it is pretty fun to write, when you read it is obvious what is going on, but it is really hard to actually debug this. There is too much going on in too little space and it is not easy to follow in a debugger.

The rest of the code is boring, so I’m going to skip that and start talking about why client authentication is going to be interesting. Here is the core of the problem:


In order to simplify my life, I’m using the rustls’ Stream to handle transparent encryption and decryption. This is similar to how I would do it when using C#, for example. However, the stream interface doesn’t have any way for me to handle this explicitly. Luckily, I was able to dive into the code and I think that given the architecture present, I can invoke the handshake manually on the ServerSession and then hand off the session as is to the stream.

What I actually had to do was to setup client authentication here:


And then manually complete the handshake first:


And this is when I run into a problem, when trying to connect via my a client certificate, I got the following error:


I’m assuming that this is because rustls is actually verifying the certificate against PKI, which is not something that I want. I don’t like to use PKI for this, instead, I want to register the allowed certificates thumbprints, but first I need to figure out how to make rustls accept any kind of client certificate. I’m afraid that this means that I have to break out the debugger again and dive into the code to figure out where we are being rejected and why…

After a short travel in the code, I got to something that looks promising:


This looks like something that I should be able to control to see if I like or dislike the certificate. Going inside it, it looks like I was right:


I think that I should be able to write an implementation of this that would do the validation without checking for the issuer. However, it looks like my plan run into a snag, see:


I’m not sure that I’m a good person to talk about the details of X509 certificate validation. In this case, I think that I could have done enough to validate that the cert is valid enough for my needs, but it seems like there isn’t an way to actually provide another implementation of the ClientCertVerifier, because the entire package is private. I guess that this is as far as I can use rustls, I’m going to move to the OpenSSL binding, which I’m more familiar with and see how that works for me.

Okay, I tried using the rust OpenSSL bindings, and here is what I got:


So this is some sort of link error, and I could spend half a day to try to resolve it, or just give up on this for now. Looking around, it looks like there is also something called native-tls for Rust, so I might take a peek at it tomorrow.

time to read 4 min | 757 words

The next interesting step in my Rust network protocol exercise is to implement TLS. I haven’t looked at that yet, so it is going to be interesting.

The first search for “Rust TLS” gives me the rustls project, which seems to provide a native Rust implementation. There are also native-tls, which uses the system TLS library and binding for OpenSSL. I’m not sure how trust worthy rustls is, but I’m building a network protocol that is meant as an exercise, so I don’t really care. The first thing that I wanted to write was pretty trivial. Just convert the current code to use TLS on the wire, nothing more.

I wrote the following code to set things up:

There is a lot going on and I spend some time figuring out exactly what needs to be done here. I’m kinda proud / kinda scared of this code. It is packed. But on the other hand, if you read it, it is fairly clear, it is just that it does a lot of stuff.

I then used this in the following way:


And that led to this error when using OpenSSL to connect to it:


On the rust side, it died with:


The good thing, both sides agree that there is a handshake issue, but I had no idea what was going on. The bad thing, I have no clue why this is failing. According to the docs, this is supposed to work. I tried debugging into rustls and it seems to be failing very early in the handshake process, but I’m not familiar enough with either Rust or TLS to really understand why. The core issues seems to be here:


Note that we get a payload of None, but when I’m debugging through the code in the read_version method, it seems like it returns properly.

Oh, I figured it out, the issue is here:


Note the highlighted section? If this returns a None, it will silently return from the method. It is easy to miss something like that. Digging (much) deeper, I found:


And deeper still, we have:


Go back a bit and see what kind of URL I gave to OpenSSL, it was, and it seems like rustls doesn’t support raw IPs, only hostnames. The limit seems to be the result of this code:


This seems to be a known error, it is opened since May 2017 and it is a completely deal breaker for me. I’m guessing that this isn’t a big issue in general because usually if you have a cert, it is for a hostname and certificates for IPs (which exists, but tend to be issued for private CAs) are far rarer.

I changed my cmd line to use:


And it started working, but at that point, I was debugging this issue for over an hour, so that is quite enough for today.

As an aside, I was able to attach to the rust process using Visual Studio and debug it fairly normally. There is some weirdness that I believe relates to the cleanup, where if you abort a method early it looks like it goes back in time until it exit the method. However, overall it works fairly nicely. I do have to point out that many of the nicer features in the language are making debugging much harder.

That said, once thing was absolutely amazing and it was the fact that I was so easily debug into my dependencies, in fact, I was changing the code of my dependencies and re-running it, to help me narrow down exactly where the error was. That was easy, obvious and worked. Very nice!


No future posts left, oh my!


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