Miscellaneous Linux ideas

Table of Contents

All of this should be usable without privileges. Most of this will require getting rid of the setuid bit as a prerequisite.

1 filesystems as dirfds

1.1 replace chroot with explicitly passing in a root dirfd

You would need to disallow ".." for this to work.

1.2 replace cwd with explicitly passing in a cwd dirfd

1.3 replace mount with two syscalls: one creating a dirfd, one mounting it

This way we can start a filesystem and access it, and keep it private without creating a mount namespace

1.4 or, replace kernel mount with per-process userspace mount tables

Instead of mounting in the kernel, just let a process multiplex between a set of dirfds that it has access to.

This allows doing very fancy policy, without paying the cost of that policy in the kernel.

2 FD passing of dirfds as an IPC mechanism

Sending a file descriptor isn't composable or self-describing But if you send a directory file descriptor, you can freely add more files in that directory, and extend your IPC interface

You can also piggy-back on the structured-ness of filesystems, to get structure for your IPC mechanism for free

2.1 prerequisite: lightweight userspace implementation of dirfds

FUSE can allow this already, but it's too heavyweight.

With filesystems as dirfds, this would also allow a more composable/lightweight/minimal alternative to FUSE.

3 file descriptors backed by uploaded in-kernel eBPF programs

So you can do IPC/privilege isolation, without the cost of switching address spaces

They should be able to own other file descriptors as well and arbitrate access

3.1 revocability of arbitrary file descriptors through proxying

If a file descriptor is proxied by an eBPF program, that program can hold some extra FD which it monitors for shutdown commands; this gives us revocability

This would also work if userspace processes were able to emulate arbitrary file descriptors, but an extra roundtrip to userspace for every file access is pretty heavyweight.

4 remove setuid dependence in userspace

the filesystem setuid bit is a big limiting factor, we should get userspace ready for a world without the setuid bit.

4.1 IPC-based sudo replacement

ssh can work for this purpose

4.2 alternatives for mutating inherited environment in privileged ways

How do we inherit our current environment, while mutating it in some way that requires privs? This currently uses setuid

example: unshare

4.2.1 expose the environment for external mutation by privileged programs

Traditionally on Unix you mutate your current environment, relying on fork() to allow you to isolate changes.

If you could mutate environments from the outside, that would "work".

Could be done with CRIU

4.2.2 setuid without persistence

Maybe we could declare that setuid executables can't exist in the filesystem, but still allow them to be created and passed via IPC.

Then you can create these capabilities on the fly.

though they won't be revocable

4.3 set NO_NEW_PRIVS prctl on important components

5 file-descriptor API for processes

I should be able to start a process and get an FD back, signal that process through the FD without races, and when I close that FD the process exits.

see clone_fd, pdfork

5.1 decent, unprivileged process groups

We have cgroups but 1. the API sucks, 2. they're privileged

I still hold out hope for something integrated with the traditional process tree, or at least something informed by a FD-api for processes

5.2 process supervisor which can function as bash, gdb, systemd, tmux, etc.

Having separate process supervisors hurts flexibility; I want to be able to start debugging a program started in my shell, or access stdin/stdout of a program started by my init system, or so on. Attaching to pids is not a solution; a sane model for ownership of processes is needed.

Perhaps they should be a single program.

5.3 or, composable process supervision

Better yet, perhaps an FD api would allow sharing ownership; or even borrowing, and revocability.

Or possibly it should be possible to move/share process ownership between the programs; an FD API could allow that.

6 enhanced interactive shell

shell/command line interface is still best. it works remotely and can be detach'd from. it has trivial scriptability (just press up to do your last action again, possibly modified! and that's just the start.),

however it needs some cleanup

6.1 reimplement coreutils to take file descriptors rather than filenames


6.2 integrate with copy-on-write

Python-notebook-style revision of commands and idempotency

6.3 clean up weird language

traditional sh/bash is just not a good language

this might be difficult to do at the same time as adding new features; maybe backwards compatibility is useful, and tolerable if new features are added in a clean way?

7 Improved terminal/GUI

shell is still best interface, no buttons are needed but it could still have a better display engine: display of completions, inline docs, incremental results, etc., will all enhance the shell

also display of graphics would not hurt

7.1 notebook style shell/terminal

Python (and other languages) notebooks are very powerful interactive workspaces

seems like a natural design to steal for improved shells

7.2 give up and use the browser as the display engine

It will make a lot of the work easy since it's already done, and it's already got built-in remote support.

but it is controversial.

7.3 determine how to sanely output graphics from Unixy tools

Possibly support a new convention for a passed-in FD, "stddisplay" or "stdgui", on which a tool can send and receive GUI information?

Of course this is just the same as DISPLAY in X or WAYLANDDISPLAY in Wayland.

7.4 pass in dirfd to extensibly provide new interfaces to command line tools

8 better Linux-native scripting language

I want something that makes advanced Linux primitives natively available. It should have the syntactic sugar of the shell, but updated for what is available in modern Linux, not just Unix.

I want to e.g. easily poll/epoll on a set of FDs, or pass FDs/credentials over Unix domain sockets or set up nested epoll structures, or pipe together programs with socketpairs, etc.

It should be GC'd and type-safe.

8.1 expressive library for using Linux features in existing scripting language

Python? C++? OCaml?

I want something with the fluidity of Go, which achieves it through using Linux kernel APIs and syscalls to the maximum degree possible.

9 forkat(), file-descriptor API for distributed computing

Doesn't make sense that I can fork() and start competing to consume more of a global resource Instead I should have to forkat() some passed-in reference to a scheduler timeslice And that scheduler might be remote, or it might be a timeslice provided by my parent from subdividing their own

9.1 generalized ssh which returns an fd for use with forkat

Likewise with containe

9.2 shell that understands running on remote systems through this mechanism

10 remove the implicit authority of the UID

Any process with my UID can screw with any of my other processes, that's not good

10.1 dynamically allocated users?

A userspace daemon accessible over IPC, which responds to requests by returning a setuid executable owned by an unused UID which does nothing but execvp its arguments

The holder of one of these executables can then switch into that UID. The executable is basically the capability to switch in the UID, reified.

This means the setuid bit will stay around. Maybe restrict it to root?

How to garbage collect these users?

10.2 or, subusers?

The old standby that everyone seems to want. Some new kernel capability which lets an arbitrary user subusers which they can su to.

It's easier with users being defined by strings rather than UID numbers; you can just allow a user to append "/anystringlikethis" to their username

Kind of like Kerberos. Is it possible for principals to create subprincipals? I don't think so, but maybe it could be added

10.3 or, just a simple prctl to relinquish your UID-based authority?

Users are a stupid concept anyway, we want an object-capability system. So just a prctl which lets you relinquish the authority of your UID?

10.4 filesystem usage without UIDs

How can you use the fileystem without a UID?

Maybe just pass 777 dirfds around?

And pass subdirs around if you need to give access out?

Reconstructing an ACL system in the absence of UIDs would be helpful for user expectations. Maybe if UIDs were reified into a capability you could use to access the filesystem? that's kind of like the setuid idea

11 get Capsicum into Linux

Capsicum is great

12 distributed federated shared community Unix cluster

A distributed compute system which can be freely joined. Like the community Unix clusters of old, but over the net at large.

Same foundations and technologies as large academic or corporate systems, but making it as easy as possible for boxes to federate in and pool resources (while restricting which users they permit access to).

12.1 cert chains/web of trust for authentication

Kerberos won't work, it requires trusting each box. We want a box to be able to join without everyone having to trust that box.

Trusted community/university computing organizations can have certs, which can sign certs of new users to give them access to the cluster

12.2 allocate box-local UID when a user appears for the first time on a box

LDAP sucks, and it's centralized anyway, and hopefully we'll get rid of UIDs eventually anyway

12.3 automated onboarding/administration

It should be possible to bridge a machine into the network automatically, without requiring any human intervention.

Continuing administration should also be as small as possible.

12.4 denylist/allowlist/decentralized authorization/accounting

Each box can do authorization and accounting in its own way. Not sure about this though

12.5 all users unprivileged

It only makes sense if this is the case. This excludes the admins.

There's lots of stuff possible unprivileged, you can even run KVM-accelerated VMs unprivileged.

Created: 2021-03-22 Mon 20:49