Here in the UK we've had a bank holiday weekend. Usually I would have gone to Cambridge for the Debian BBQ, but this year I joined forces with Thomas Adam for some SmoothWall Express on Debian hacking.

There are several challenges involved in moving the SWE3 code from its native distribution to Debian; this weekend we worked around some of the permissions problems.

On SWE3, the web server and most of the service daemons run as the user 'nobody'. This means that the web server can write out configuration files as the same user as everything else; it can also read the system log files. When the web interface needs to run a privileged action (like setting firewall rules), it sends a command to 'smoothd', which is a daemon running as root. (Admin ssh access is always directly as the root user.)

However, web servers in Debian tend to run as user 'www-data', which does not have permission to read log files. Similarly, writing out configuration files as that user would mean that any cgi script (not just ones in the swe3 package) could modify them. I would prefer to run the swe3 cgi scripts as a separate user, and grant this user permission to view logs etc. This debian-webapps thread makes it sound very easy, but if you want to do that with cgi scripts rather than fastcgi, I think you have to run a separate web server for each user.

On Sunday afternoon, in a dramatic display of corner-cutting, I gave up on that approach and added www-data to the 'adm' and 'proxy' groups in the postinst. Thomas heroically patched all the cgis to call the "config writers" via smoothd, although I'm wondering whether some careful use of the chgrp command in the postinst might be better than running that code as root.

Another hack: in order to actually start a firewall, we needed to know which network card is the "RED" interface, in SWE3 terms; i.e. which one is meant to be the public-facing network device. It's also nice to know which one is "GREEN". So two debconf questions and some hardcoded magic numbers later, we have a basic firewall init script. Lovely.

Oh, and at some point I removed the htaccess file, so any user on your network can mess with your firewall. Should probably fix that.

Today I started some awful scripts which use Simple-CDD to build an iso containing all the packages we want. We are going to need to extend the networking configuration in the installer to set up multiple network cards. Then we need to figure out a nicer way of assigning IP addresses to devices; unlike on the proprietary version of the product, there seems to be no web configuration of network settings in Express. I've not figured all of this out yet.

So, in summary: we are deliberately trading some technical debt in order to quickly produce an initial release that might interest people. (But please note the disclaimer of warranty in the README file in that directory.) And in other news, I've been working at Smoothwall Ltd. for just over one year. Hmm. So this is what they call 'experience'.