Reïmplementing PirateBox

A PirateBox alike, with nginx and XMPP on LEDE

After using Piratebox for a while, I decided I could do the same thing in a way I liked better.

The PirateBox install is rather complicated, and I still don’t understand how it is all laid out, with various disk image files, scripts in different places, services started from a piratebox init script, or their own scripts… Fundamentally what it is doing is pretty simple, so I decided it would be easier just to reïmplement it myself in a simpler way. Perhaps unusally for such a project, I was right - it was easy to do and the end result I like much more - simpler, easier to understand. I don’t want to say anything bad about the developer of the project - he has other constraints that may make the system he has make more sense. For example, he is supporting several platforms including raspberry pi, and has to spend time supporting the thing too.

To start with, I decided to upgrade to LEDE. LEDE seems to basically be the latest version of OpenWRT. I don’t know all the details or politics, but my impression is OpenWRT has stalled and basically you should move to LEDE. There was a version of this compiled and ready to go for my router, but later I compiled my own anyway, because I wanted to compile a custom nginx and it was easy enough to do the whole thing.

So, I started with a plain install of the latest LEDE. I setup an overlay filesystem on a disk image file on a USB drive, which would also host the PirateBox files.

Then there is basic network config to do, setup access point, etc. Fairly standard stuff for LEDE. I did some other stuff to make the system more usable for me, switched ssh to OpenSSH, installed bash and some other packages I like.

First design change I made from PirateBox was to use nginx instead of lighttpd for the main web server. It’s much faster - I really noticed in the page load time. Also, PirateBox copies header and footer files into every directory, which is a nasty mess. Instead, I used nginx’s fancy_index module, which does this in the reasonably expected fashion - specify the header and footers to include in the config file. I had to compile this module for mips, but it was not hard and worked fine.

Next thing was to redirect http to the PirateBox page. You can do this just by intercepting traffic to port 80, or with making your DNS server always return the IP of the PirateBox whatever is asked for. Just the http redirect works fine, and avoids messing up DNS for other purposes, so I recommend sticking with that.

Optionally (TODO for me): Implement RFC 7710 - advertise captive portal login page with a DHCP option.

I wanted to move away from droopy - it just feels a bit dodgy, so looked into getting nginx to do as much as possible. There are various ways to upload files with nginx, but it looks like I would need to do at least a bit of scripting myself which I couldn’t be bothered with at the moment, so I stuck to Droopy for now.

I did not include the image board. This is really dodgy looking and I even noted complaints in the PirateBox forum that it linked to porn. Not to my taste.

The original chat box never worked properly for me - it was very slow. I decided to try and move to something based on XMPP (Jabber). Prosody was easy to set up, and to use from normal XMPP clients. Getting a working chat box though I’ve not sorted out. I tried to use converse.js, and got it working in the end, but it was so slow as to be unusable, I decided, locking up a browser on a laptop for long enough to be considered broken. I don’t have a solution yet. Maybe if no web XMPP client works, something based on IRC could, but that’s not so good for using on phones.

So, what I ended up with was not as feautureful as the original, but it was faster, easier to understand and modify, and more “secure”, if such a thing can be said of a system which allows arbitrary anonymous uploads. I’ve not checked exactly what or where droopy is going to allow uploads…

A picture of River MacLeod.

River is a humanoid based on the planet Earth. It likes computering, adventures through time and space, and being a cat.