Using b43 firmware on Fedora Atomic Workstation

My Macbook Pro has a broadcom b43 wireless chipset. This is notorious for being one of the most annoying wireless adapters on linux. When you first install Fedora you don’t even see “wifi” as an option, and unless you poke around in dmesg, you won’t find how to enable b43 to work on your platform.


The b43 driver requires proprietary firmware to be loaded else the wifi chip will not run. There are a number of steps for this process found on the linux wireless page . You’ll note that one of the steps is:

export FIRMWARE_INSTALL_DIR="/lib/firmware"
sudo b43-fwcutter -w "$FIRMWARE_INSTALL_DIR" broadcom-wl-5.100.138/linux/wl_apsta.o

So we need to be able to write and extract our firmware to /usr/lib/firmware, and then reboot and out wifi works.

Fedora Atomic Workstation

Atomic WS is similar to atomic server, that it’s a read-only ostree based deployment of fedora. This comes with a number of unique challenges and quirks but for this issue:

sudo touch /usr/lib/firmware/test
/bin/touch: cannot touch '/usr/lib/firmware/test': Read-only file system

So we can’t extract our firmware!

Normally linux also supports reading from /usr/local/lib/firmware (which on atomic IS writeable ...) but for some reason fedora doesn’t allow this path.

Solution: Layered RPMs

Atomic has support for “rpm layering”. Ontop of the ostree image (which is composed of rpms) you can supply a supplemental list of packages that are “installed” at rpm-ostree update time.

This way you still have an atomic base platform, with read-only behaviours, but you gain the ability to customise your system. To achive it, it must be possible to write to locations in /usr during rpm install.

This means our problem has a simple solution: Create a b43 rpm package. Note, that you can make this for yourself privately, but you can’t distribute it for legal reasons.

Get setup on atomic to build the packages:

rpm-ostree install rpm-build createrepo

RPM specfile:

%define debug_package %{nil}
Summary: Allow b43 fw to install on ostree installs due to bz1512452
Name: b43-fw
Version: 1.0.0
Release: 1
Group: System Environment/Kernel

BuildRequires: b43-fwcutter


Broadcom firmware for b43 chips.

%setup -q -n broadcom-wl-5.100.138


mkdir -p %{buildroot}/usr/lib/firmware
b43-fwcutter -w %{buildroot}/usr/lib/firmware linux/wl_apsta.o

%dir %{_prefix}/lib/firmware/b43

* Fri Dec 22 2017 William Brown <william at> - 1.0.0
- Initial version

Now you can put this into a folder like so:

mkdir -p ~/rpmbuild/{SPECS,SOURCES}
<editor> ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/b43-fw.spec
wget -O ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/broadcom-wl-5.100.138.tar.bz2

We are now ready to build!

rpmbuild -bb ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/b43-fw.spec
createrepo ~/rpmbuild/RPMS/x86_64/

Finally, we can install this. Create a yum repos file:

baseurl=file:///home/<YOUR USERNAME HERE>/rpmbuild/RPMS/x86_64
rpm-ostree install b43-fw

Now reboot and enjoy wifi on your Fedora Atomic Macbook Pro!

Creating yubikey SSH and TLS certificates

Recently yubikeys were shown to have a hardware flaw in the way the generated private keys. This affects the use of them to provide PIV identies or SSH keys.

However, you can generate the keys externally, and load them to the key to prevent this issue.


First, we’ll create a new NSS DB on an airgapped secure machine (with disk encryption or in memory storage!)

certutil -N -d . -f pwdfile.txt

Now into this, we’ll create a self-signed cert valid for 10 years.

certutil -S -f pwdfile.txt -d . -t "C,," -x -n "SSH" -g 2048 -s "cn=william,O=ssh,L=Brisbane,ST=Queensland,C=AU" -v 120

We export this now to PKCS12 for our key to import.

pk12util -o ssh.p12 -d . -k pwdfile.txt -n SSH

Next we import the key and cert to the hardware in slot 9c

yubico-piv-tool -s9c -i ssh.p12 -K PKCS12 -aimport-key -aimport-certificate -k

Finally, we can display the ssh-key from the token.

ssh-keygen -D /usr/lib64/ -e

Note, we can make this always used by ssh client by adding the following into .ssh/config:

PKCS11Provider /usr/lib64/

TLS Identities

The process is almost identical for user certificates.

First, create the request:

certutil -d . -R -a -o user.csr -f pwdfile.txt -g 4096 -Z SHA256 -v 24 \
--keyUsage digitalSignature,nonRepudiation,keyEncipherment,dataEncipherment --nsCertType sslClient --extKeyUsage clientAuth \
-s "CN=username,O=Testing,L=example,ST=Queensland,C=AU"

Once the request is signed, we should have a user.crt back. Import that to our database:

certutil -A -d . -f pwdfile.txt -i user.crt -a -n TLS -t ",,"

Import our CA certificate also. Next export this to p12:

pk12util -o user.p12 -d . -k pwdfile.txt -n TLS

Now import this to the yubikey - remember to use slot 9a this time!

yubico-piv-tool -s9a -i user.p12 -K PKCS12 -aimport-key -aimport-certificate -k


What’s the problem with NUMA anyway?

What is NUMA?

Non-Uniform Memory Architecture is a method of seperating ram and memory management units to be associated with CPU sockets. The reason for this is performance - if multiple sockets shared a MMU, they will cause each other to block, delaying your CPU.

To improve this, each NUMA region has it’s own MMU and RAM associated. If a CPU can access it’s local MMU and RAM, this is very fast, and does not prevent another CPU from accessing it’s own. For example:

CPU 0   <-- QPI --> CPU 1
  |                   |
  v                   v
MMU 0               MMU 1
  |                   |
  v                   v
RAM 1               RAM 2

For example, on the following system, we can see 1 numa region:

# numactl --hardware
available: 1 nodes (0)
node 0 cpus: 0 1 2 3
node 0 size: 12188 MB
node 0 free: 458 MB
node distances:
node   0
  0:  10

On this system, we can see two:

# numactl --hardware
available: 2 nodes (0-1)
node 0 cpus: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
node 0 size: 32733 MB
node 0 free: 245 MB
node 1 cpus: 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47
node 1 size: 32767 MB
node 1 free: 22793 MB
node distances:
node   0   1
  0:  10  20
  1:  20  10

This means that on the second system there is 32GB of ram per NUMA region which is accessible, but the system has total 64GB.

The problem

The problem arises when a process running on NUMA region 0 has to access memory from another NUMA region. Because there is no direct connection between CPU 0 and RAM 1, we must communicate with our neighbour CPU 1 to do this for us. IE:

CPU 0 --> CPU 1 --> MMU 1 --> RAM 1

Not only do we pay a time delay price for the QPI communication between CPU 0 and CPU 1, but now CPU 1’s processes are waiting on the MMU 1 because we are retrieving memory on behalf of CPU 0. This is very slow (and can be seen by the node distances in the numactl –hardware output).

Today’s work around

The work around today is to limit your Directory Server instance to a single NUMA region. So for our example above, we would limit the instance to NUMA region 0 or 1, and treat the instance as though it only has access to 32GB of local memory.

It’s possible to run two instances of DS on a single server, pinning them to their own regions and using replication between them to provide synchronisation. You’ll need a load balancer to fix up the TCP port changes, or you need multiple addresses on the system for listening.

The future

In the future, we’ll be adding support for better copy-on-write techniques that allow the cores to better cache content after a QPI negotiation - but we still have to pay the transit cost. We can minimise this as much as possible, but there is no way today to avoid this penalty. To use all your hardware on a single instance, there will always be a NUMA cost somewhere.

The best solution is as above: run an instance per NUMA region, and internally provide replication for them. Perhaps we’ll support an automatic configuration of this in the future.

GSoC 2017 - Mentor Report from 389 Project

This year I have had the pleasure of being a mentor for the Google Summer of Code program, as part of the Fedora Project organisation. I was representing the 389 Directory Server Project and offered students the oppurtunity to work on our command line tools written in python.


From the start we have a large number of really talented students apply to the project. This was one of the hardest parts of the process was to choose a student, given that I wanted to mentor all of them. Sadly I only have so many hours in the day, so we chose Ilias, a student from Greece. What really stood out was his interest in learning about the project, and his desire to really be part of the community after the project concluded.

The project

The project was very deliberately “loose” in it’s specification. Rather than giving Ilias a fixed goal of you will implement X, Y and Z, I chose to set a “broad and vague” task. Initially I asked him to investigate a single area of the code (the MemberOf plugin). As he investigated this, he started to learn more about the server, ask questions, and open doors for himself to the next tasks of the project. As these smaller questions and self discoveries stacked up, I found myself watching Ilias start to become a really complete developer, who could be called a true part of our community.

Ilias’ work was exceptional, and he has documented it in his final report here .

Since his work is complete, he is now free to work on any task that takes his interest, and he has picked a good one! He has now started to dive deep into the server internals, looking at part of our backend internals and how we dump databases from id2entry to various output formats.

What next?

I will be participating next year - Sadly, I think the python project oppurtunities may be more limited as we have to finish many of these tasks to release our new CLI toolset. This is almost a shame as the python components are a great place to start as they ease a new contributor into the broader concepts of LDAP and the project structure as a whole.

Next year I really want to give this oppurtunity to an under-represented group in tech (female, poc, etc). I personally have been really inspired by Noriko and I hope to have the oppurtunity to pass on her lessons to another aspiring student. We need more engineers like her in the world, and I want to help create that future.

Advice for future mentors

Mentoring is not for everyone. It’s not a task which you can just send a couple of emails and be done every day.

Mentoring is a process that requires engagement with the student, and communication and the relationship is key to this. What worked well was meeting early in the project, and working out what community worked best for us. We found that email questions and responses worked (given we are on nearly opposite sides of the Earth) worked well, along with irc conversations to help fix up any other questions. It would not be uncommon for me to spend at least 1 or 2 hours a day working through emails from Ilias and discussions on IRC.

A really important aspect of this communication is how you do it. You have to balance positive communication and encouragement, along with critcism that is constructive and helpful. Empathy is a super important part of this equation.

My number one piece of advice would be that you need to create an environment where questions are encouraged and welcome. You can never be dismissive of questions. If ever you dismiss a question as “silly” or “dumb”, you will hinder a student from wanting to ask more questions. If you can’t answer the question immediately, send a response saying “hey I know this is important, but I’m really busy, I’ll answer you as soon as I can”.

Over time you can use these questions to help teach lessons for the student to make their own discoveries. For example, when Ilias would ask how something worked, I would send my response structured in the way I approached the problem. I would send back links to code, my thoughts, and how I arrived at the conclusion. This not only answered the question but gave a subtle lesson in how to research our codebase to arrive at your own solutions. After a few of these emails, I’m sure that Ilias has now become self sufficent in his research of the code base.

Another valuable skill is that overtime you can help to build confidence through these questions. To start with Ilias would ask “how to implement” something, and I would answer. Over time, he would start to provide ideas on how to implement a solution, and I would say “X is the right one”. As time went on I started to answer his question with “What do you think is the right solution and why?”. These exchanges and justifications have (I hope) helped him to become more confident in his ideas, the presentation of them, and justification of his solutions. It’s led to this excellent exchange on our mailing lists, where Ilias is discussing the solutions to a problem with the broader community, and working to a really great answer.

Final thoughts

This has been a great experience for myself and Ilias, and I really look forward to helping another student next year. I’m sure that Ilias will go on to do great things, and I’m happy to have been part of his journey.

So you want to script gdb with python ...

Gdb provides a python scripting interface. However the documentation is highly technical and not at a level that is easily accessible.

This post should read as a tutorial, to help you understand the interface and work toward creating your own python debuging tools to help make gdb usage somewhat “less” painful.

The problem

I have created a problem program called “naughty”. You can find it here .

You can compile this with the following command:

gcc -g -lpthread -o naughty naughty.c

When you run this program, your screen should be filled with:

thread ...
thread ...
thread ...
thread ...
thread ...
thread ...

It looks like we have a bug! Now, we could easily see the issue if we looked at the C code, but that’s not the point here - lets try to solve this with gdb.

gdb ./naughty
(gdb) run
[New Thread 0x7fffb9792700 (LWP 14467)]
thread ...

Uh oh! We have threads being created here. We need to find the problem thread. Lets look at all the threads backtraces then.

Thread 129 (Thread 0x7fffb3786700 (LWP 14616)):
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004007bc in lazy_thread (arg=0x7fffffffdfb0) at naughty.c:19
#2  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/

Thread 128 (Thread 0x7fffb3f87700 (LWP 14615)):
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004007bc in lazy_thread (arg=0x7fffffffdfb0) at naughty.c:19
#2  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/

Thread 127 (Thread 0x7fffb4788700 (LWP 14614)):
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004007bc in lazy_thread (arg=0x7fffffffdfb0) at naughty.c:19
#2  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/


We have 129 threads! Anyone of them could be the problem. We could just read these traces forever, but that’s a waste of time. Let’s try and script this with python to make our lives a bit easier.

Python in gdb

Python in gdb works by bringing in a copy of the python and injecting a special “gdb” module into the python run time. You can only access the gdb module from within python if you are using gdb. You can not have this work from a standard interpretter session.

We can access a dynamic python runtime from within gdb by simply calling python.

(gdb) python
>print("hello world")
>hello world

The python code only runs when you press Control D.

Another way to run your script is to import them as “new gdb commands”. This is the most useful way to use python for gdb, but it does require some boilerplate to start.

import gdb

class SimpleCommand(gdb.Command):
    def __init__(self):
        # This registers our class as "simple_command"
        super(SimpleCommand, self).__init__("simple_command", gdb.COMMAND_DATA)

    def invoke(self, arg, from_tty):
        # When we call "simple_command" from gdb, this is the method
        # that will be called.
        print("Hello from simple_command!")

# This registers our class to the gdb runtime at "source" time.

We can run the command as follows:

(gdb) source
(gdb) simple_command
Hello from simple_command!

Solving the problem with python

So we need a way to find the “idle threads”. We want to fold all the threads with the same frame signature into one, so that we can view anomalies.

First, let’s make a “stackfold” command, and get it to list the current program.

class StackFold(gdb.Command):
def __init__(self):
    super(StackFold, self).__init__("stackfold", gdb.COMMAND_DATA)

def invoke(self, arg, from_tty):
    # An inferior is the 'currently running applications'. In this case we only
    # have one.
    inferiors = gdb.inferiors()
    for inferior in inferiors:


To reload this in the gdb runtime, just run “source” again. Try running this: Note that we dumped a heap of output? Python has a neat trick that dir and help can both return strings for printing. This will help us to explore gdb’s internals inside of our program.

We can see from the inferiors that we have threads available for us to interact with:

class Inferior(builtins.object)
 |  GDB inferior object
 |  threads(...)
 |      Return all the threads of this inferior.

Given we want to fold the stacks from all our threads, we probably need to look at this! So lets get one thread from this, and have a look at it’s help.

inferiors = gdb.inferiors()
for inferior in inferiors:
    thread_iter = iter(inferior.threads())
    head_thread = next(thread_iter)

Now we can run this by re-running “source” on our script, and calling stackfold again, we see help for our threads in the system.

At this point it get’s a little bit less obvious. Gdb’s python integration relates closely to how a human would interact with gdb. In order to access the content of a thread, we need to change the gdb context to access the backtrace. If we were doing this by hand it would look like this:

(gdb) thread 121
[Switching to thread 121 (Thread 0x7fffb778e700 (LWP 14608))]
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
(gdb) bt
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004007bc in lazy_thread (arg=0x7fffffffdfb0) at naughty.c:19
#2  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/

We need to emulate this behaviour with our python calls. We can swap to the thread’s context with:

class InferiorThread(builtins.object)
 |  GDB thread object
 |  switch(...)
 |      switch ()
 |      Makes this the GDB selected thread.

Then once we are in the context, we need to take a different approach to explore the stack frames. We need to explore the “gdb” modules raw context.

inferiors = gdb.inferiors()
for inferior in inferiors:
    thread_iter = iter(inferior.threads())
    head_thread = next(thread_iter)
    # Move our gdb context to the selected thread here.

Now that we have selected our thread’s context, we can start to explore here. gdb can do a lot within the selected context - as a result, the help output from this call is really large, but it’s worth reading so you can understand what is possible to achieve. In our case we need to start to look at the stack frames.

To look through the frames we need to tell gdb to rewind to the “newest” frame (ie, frame 0). We can then step down through progressively older frames until we exhaust. From this we can print a rudimentary trace:


# Reset the gdb frame context to the "latest" frame.
# Now, work down the frames.
cur_frame = gdb.selected_frame()
while cur_frame is not None:
    # get the next frame down ....
    cur_frame = cur_frame.older()
(gdb) stackfold

Great! Now we just need some extra metadata from the thread to know what thread id it is so the user can go to the correct thread context. So lets display that too:


# These are the OS pid references.
(tpid, lwpid, tid) = head_thread.ptid
# This is the gdb thread number
gtid = head_thread.num
print("tpid %s, lwpid %s, tid %s, gtid %s" % (tpid, lwpid, tid, gtid))
# Reset the gdb frame context to the "latest" frame.
(gdb) stackfold
tpid 14485, lwpid 14616, tid 0, gtid 129

At this point we have enough information to fold identical stacks. We’ll iterate over every thread, and if we have seen the “pattern” before, we’ll just add the gdb thread id to the list. If we haven’t seen the pattern yet, we’ll add it. The final command looks like:

def invoke(self, arg, from_tty):
    # An inferior is the 'currently running applications'. In this case we only
    # have one.
    stack_maps = {}
    # This creates a dict where each element is keyed by backtrace.
    # Then each backtrace contains an array of "frames"
    inferiors = gdb.inferiors()
    for inferior in inferiors:
        for thread in inferior.threads():
            # Change to our threads context
            # Get the thread IDS
            (tpid, lwpid, tid) = thread.ptid
            gtid = thread.num
            # Take a human readable copy of the backtrace, we'll need this for display later.
            o = gdb.execute('bt', to_string=True)
            # Build the backtrace for comparison
            backtrace = []
            cur_frame = gdb.selected_frame()
            while cur_frame is not None:
                cur_frame = cur_frame.older()
            # Now we have a backtrace like ['pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2', 'lazy_thread', 'start_thread', 'clone']
            # dicts can't use lists as keys because they are non-hashable, so we turn this into a string.
            # Remember, C functions can't have spaces in them ...
            s_backtrace = ' '.join(backtrace)
            # Let's see if it exists in the stack_maps
            if s_backtrace not in stack_maps:
                stack_maps[s_backtrace] = []
            # Now lets add this thread to the map.
            stack_maps[s_backtrace].append({'gtid': gtid, 'tpid' : tpid, 'bt': o} )
    # Now at this point we have a dict of traces, and each trace has a "list" of pids that match. Let's display them
    for smap in stack_maps:
        # Get our human readable form out.
        o = stack_maps[smap][0]['bt']
        for t in stack_maps[smap]:
            # For each thread we recorded
            print("Thread %s (LWP %s))" % (t['gtid'], t['tpid']))

Here is the final output.

(gdb) stackfold
Thread 129 (LWP 14485))
Thread 128 (LWP 14485))
Thread 127 (LWP 14485))
Thread 10 (LWP 14485))
Thread 9 (LWP 14485))
Thread 8 (LWP 14485))
Thread 7 (LWP 14485))
Thread 6 (LWP 14485))
Thread 5 (LWP 14485))
Thread 4 (LWP 14485))
Thread 3 (LWP 14485))
#0  0x00007ffff7bc38eb in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004007bc in lazy_thread (arg=0x7fffffffdfb0) at naughty.c:19
#2  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/

Thread 2 (LWP 14485))
#0  0x00007ffff78d835b in write () from /lib64/
#1  0x00007ffff78524fd in _IO_new_file_write () from /lib64/
#2  0x00007ffff7854271 in __GI__IO_do_write () from /lib64/
#3  0x00007ffff7854723 in __GI__IO_file_overflow () from /lib64/
#4  0x00007ffff7847fa2 in puts () from /lib64/
#5  0x00000000004007e9 in naughty_thread (arg=0x0) at naughty.c:27
#6  0x00007ffff7bbd3a9 in start_thread () from /lib64/
#7  0x00007ffff78e936f in clone () from /lib64/

Thread 1 (LWP 14485))
#0  0x00007ffff7bbe90d in pthread_join () from /lib64/
#1  0x00000000004008d1 in main (argc=1, argv=0x7fffffffe508) at naughty.c:51

With our stackfold command we can easily see that threads 129 through 3 have the same stack, and are idle. We can see that tread 1 is the main process waiting on the threads to join, and finally we can see that thread 2 is the culprit writing to our display.

My solution

You can find my solution to this problem as a reference implementation here .