Installing and using NeXT OPENSTEP in VirtualBox for Linux


Introduction and some history

My first micro computer was an Apple II+, which I used extensively both for work and leisure. In fact I liked it so much that I bought a //e when Apple Computer, Inc. released that model. I was not tempted by the Apple /// or Lisa when they were released, although I did quite fancy the IIGS but could not justify buying one. The //c was a nice portable, and a family member bought one on my recommendation. I was not at all tempted by the first Macintosh and subsequent models using the so-called Classic Mac OS, but I drooled when Steve Jobs founded NeXT, Inc. in 1985 and launched the magnesium-cased NeXT workstations: the cube-shaped NeXT Computer (Motorola 68030 CPU) in 1989 and in 1990 the second generation (Motorola 68040 CPU) NeXTcube and the NeXTstation (commonly referred to as ‘the slab’) running the NEXTSTEP operating system. The hardware build quality and aesthetic were fabulous, and the machines and NEXTSTEP were way ahead of their time. NEXTSTEP, which was built around Unix and therefore fully multi-tasking, looked amazing when compared to the competition and its performance was superior. Drooling was all I could do, though, because the price of any NeXT machine was totally out of my league.

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM.

By the way, Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, HTML and the first HTML browser using NEXTSTEP on a NeXTcube at CERN: see The Science Museum, London – The World Wide Web: A global information space.

Following Apple’s acquisition in 1997 of NeXT, which by then was only a software company (NeXT Software, Inc.), Apple developed Mac OS X based on OPENSTEP (the successor to NEXTSTEP). Even today some of the features in macOS are the same as in NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP: NeXTSTEP vs Mac OS X – System Demo and Comparison. The final release of NEXTSTEP was NEXTSTEP 3.3, succeeded by OPENSTEP, the final release of which was OPENSTEP 4.2. OPENSTEP was effectively NEXTSTEP 4.

So, even though the NeXT company only sold around 50,000 machines during its relatively short existence as a manufacturer between 1988 and 1993, its impact on modern computing has been significant. Below are a few links to interesting videos about the company and some of its products. You’ll find plenty more videos about NeXT on YouTube.

You can still find the occasional second-hand NeXT computer on eBay, but they are either incomplete or very expensive. As I write this there is a complete and pristine-looking NeXTcube system, including (non-working) NeXT laser printer, in Portugal listed on eBay at US$35,000 plus US$750 shipping! So I will never get to play with a real NeXT computer. But, thanks to VirtualBox, I can at least install the i386 release of OPENSTEP 4.2 in a VM (virtual machine) to try it out for fun. I decided to install the OS and the type of applications I would typically use (assuming I could find packages on the Web, that is). I wanted to find out how usable the OS was, how good the applications were, and whether I could access Unix easily from the GUI. As NeXT hardware and software are obsolete I had to spend a lot of time searching the Web for applications that would actually install and work. Some applications work in both NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP, but plenty of applications have different packages for the two versions of the OS, which made my searches more complicated. Some OPENSTEP packages are so-called ‘fat binaries’ containing executables for some or all the different CPU types that OPENSTEP supported, and I found a few such packages on the Web. I wanted to install and try to use at least a Web browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, an mp3 player and a video player. I also wanted to see if I could access files on a server on my home network using Samba.

There are quite a few tutorials and videos available on the Web explaining how to install OPENSTEP in a VM, but I did not find any on installing applications in OPENSTEP. Also, many of the OS installation tutorials I found are incomplete, for example not covering either audio or networking. I am not going to give a step-by-step explanation here of how I installed the OS and the applications, but I will explain what I installed, how I rated it, and any other information I found interesting or useful. Hopefully the tips I provide will be of some help if you fancy installing the OS and any applications yourself. I should also mention that you will have an advantage if you are a Unix and/or Linux user and are au fait with using the command line. OPENSTEP 4.2 provides the C Shell (csh). I did come across a package for the Bourne Again Shell (bash), but have not tried to install it. Sometimes I had to resort to the Unix command line to change ownership or permissions of a file and to move applications to folders owned by the root user. The pwd, cd, ls, su, cp, mv, chmod and chown commands came in handy a few times. By the way, unlike Linux the ls -la command does not display the group to which a file belongs, only its owner; you need to use the command ls -lag to show both. Also, the chown command accepts the notation owner.group but not owner:group when changing attributes.

Installation of OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for Intel i386 in VirtualBox

‘Mach’ refers to the Mach kernel, a microkernel developed at Carnegie Mellon University. OPENSTEP was available for Motorola 68k, Intel i386 and Sun SPARC CPUs. VirtualBox supports both 32-bit and 64-bit Intel CPUs, so the 32-bit OS can be installed in a VirtualBox 32-bit VM. NEXTSTEP also supported Hewlett-Packard’s PA-RISC CPU, but NeXT dropped support for that CPU in OPENSTEP.

Regarding the spelling of the two OSs, apparently the APIs are spelt ‘NeXTStep’ and ‘OpenStep’, and the OSs are spelt ‘NEXTSTEP’ and ‘OPENSTEP’. Confusing, or what? It’s no wonder these are used interchangeably all over the Web.

I found a reasonable tutorial on the installation of OPENSTEP 4.2, including links to download the image files of the CDROM and floppy disks required. Unlike many tutorials on the Web, it also explains how to get network access working, and I was able to ping other nodes on my home network and the Internet once I had completed the tutorial: ‘Installing NextStep OS (OPENSTEP) in VirtualBox‘. There were only one or two minor differences between the tutorial and what I saw on screen, and installation in VirtualBox for Linux was essentially painless. One of the packages that has to be installed (OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg) includes a Y2K patch for the OS. The tutorial tells you to use the command line to install that package, and I followed the instructions in the tutorial but, having now learned how to install packages via the OPENSTEP GUI by selecting a package and then ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ to launch the Installer, I could have used only the GUI instead of the command line to install OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg (which I have checked). No matter, though, because using the OPENSTEP command line in Terminal.app is a good learning exercise. The tutorial does not mention some other things I had to configure in VirtualBox. To get audio working I had to select ‘SoundBlaster 16’ for the Audio Controller, install a driver in OPENSTEP and reboot the VM (see details further on), and under ‘Network’ in VirtualBox Manager I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ with ‘Promiscuous Model: Allow All’. I also enabled ‘Serial Ports’ and disabled ‘USB Controller’ (USB had not yet been invented back then!).

The OS installer installs US English support and offers the option of installing support for any of five other languages too: Swedish, Spanish, Italian, German and French. I unticked all those and completed the installation. Later I decided it might be useful to have support for those additional languages, and I found it very easy to install them retrospectively: I simply loaded the OPENSTEP-Install-4.2.iso file into the VM’s ‘optical drive’, browsed the CDROM’s contents, selected Upgrader.app and then ‘Workspace’ > ‘File’ > ‘Open as Folder’. I found the language packages (SwedishEssentials.pkg etc.) in the folder ‘NextCD’ > ‘Packages’. I could then select each language package and use ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ and so on to install it, as explained earlier.

To get sound working in OPENSTEP running in VirtualBox the procedure given in a 2009 tutorial ‘Installation of OPENSTEP 4.2 in VMware 3.0 and VirtualBox‘ miraculously still worked for me:

Audio: Alejandro Diaz Infante (aka astroboy) managed to make the OPENSTEP Sound Blaster driver work under VMWare and VirtualBox.
The solution: use the drivers created by University of Glasgow (Thanks, developer(s) of them, wherever you are, for drivers you never imagined would be so useful in the future).

  1. Download SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz and SBMixer.I.tar.gz
  2. Install SBSoundMidi driver for either Vibra16Cpnp or AWE32pnp. Both work great! (I use the default irq and io, but the second DMA I put it on 7, ’cause it was the detected one when used VMWare to test Windoze. Anyway, I didn’t detect any failure when using the second DMA in its default of 5, so I guess it could be up to you. In VirtualBox I didn’t change any default setting, just select the driver “SoundBlaster 16” in VirtualBox audio setting before installing.
  3. Install SBMixer to have better control of your sound card.

That’s it. Put those audio CD’s and multimedia apps back!

After copying SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz to OPENSTEP I double-clicked on it to unpack it, and then double-clicked on SBSoundMidi.config to install the SoundBlaster 16 drivers. I then navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘Configure.app’, selected the loudspeaker icon and specified the driver ‘SBSoundMidi driver for SoundBlaster AWE32 PnP (v3.38)‘.

SBMixer works, and OPENSTEP’s Sound Inspector can play .snd files without having to install additional software, although I found that some .snd files would not play completely. TheNeXTSong.snd (16-bit Linear format) which I downloaded from one of the OPENSTEP software repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) plays perfectly (and is amusing), but the shorter Welcome-to-the-NeXT-world.snd (8-bit muLaw format) stalls. I did manage to install a couple of audio players (see further down).

The only minor problem that occurs every time you login if the floppy disk drive is empty is a pop-up window with the message ‘The floppy disk is unreadable’. You can just click on ‘Eject’ but, to stop this happening, you can change the boot order in VirtualBox Manager and load one of the OPENSTEP floppy disk image files in the VM’s floppy disk drive (‘Settings…’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Floppy Drive’ in VirtualBox Manager). Actually, I copied Driver_Floppy.img to Work_Floppy.img, loaded the latter in the VM’s floppy disk drive and I changed the Boot Order from ‘Floppy’|’Optical’|’Hard Disk’ to ‘Hard Disk’|’Optical’|’Floppy’ (‘Settings…’ > ‘System’ > ‘Motherboard’ > ‘Boot Order’ in the VirtualBox Manager). Furthermore, although not essential, I selected Work_Floppy in File Viewer, then in the Workspace menu I selected ‘Disk’ > ‘Initialize…’ and initialised (formatted) the floppy disk. Its icon disappears momentarily from File Viewer, then reappears after it has been formatted.

The command ifconfig on my VM host computer running Lubuntu 18.04 tells me that the IP address of the host machine is 192.168.1.74 (I had previous configured my router to always assign this address to this machine), the netmask is 255.255.255.0 and the broadcast IP address is 192.168.1.255. My router’s Management page in a Web browser has the DHCP network range configured as 192.168.1.64 – 192.168.1.253, so I decided the OPENSTEP VM would have a static IP address of 192.168.1.63. The router’s Management page also told me that the ISP’s Primary DNS IP address is 81.139.57.100 and the Secondary DNS IP address is 81.139.56.100. Therefore, in accordance with the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I followed, I edited the file /etc/hostconfig in OPENSTEP to have the following shell variables:

# /etc/hostconfig
#
# This file sets up shell variables used by the various rc scripts to
# configure the host.  Edit this file instead of rc.boot.
#
# Warning:  This is sourced by /bin/sh.  Make sure there are no spaces
#           on either side of the "=".
#
# There are some special keywords used by rc boot and the programs it
# calls:
#
#       -AUTOMATIC-     Configure automatically
#       -YES-           Turn a feature on
#       -NO-            Leave a feature off or do not configure
#
HOSTNAME=openstep
INETADDR=192.168.1.63
ROUTER=192.168.1.254
IPNETMASK=255.255.255.0
IPBROADCAST=192.168.1.255
YPDOMAIN=-NO-
NETMASTER=-NO-
TIME=-AUTOMATIC-

I also created the file /etc/resolv.conf as specified in the tutorial, containing the following two lines with the ISP’s nameserver IP addresses I found from my router:

nameserver 81.139.57.100
nameserver 81.139.56.100

It was not specified in the tutorial, but to get NFS working later I found it was necessary to edit the file /etc/hosts to comment out the list of IP addresses and to add the hostname I had chosen (openstep) for the OPENSTEP VM plus the IP address (192.168.1.74) and hostname (aspirexc600) of the VM host machine running Lubuntu 18.04:

#
# NOTE: This file is never consulted if NetInfo or Yellow Pages is running.
#
#
# To do anything on the network, you need to assign an address to your
# machine.  This default host table will get you started.  "myhost"
# can be used for the first machine on the network, and client[1-8]
# can be used for subsequent machines.  You must make sure that no two
# machines have the same address.  If you need to add more machines
# just keep adding entries.  Each digit in the four digit number must
# be between 1 and 254 inclusive.
#
#192.42.172.1	myhost
#192.42.172.2	client1
#192.42.172.3	client2
#192.42.172.4	client3
#192.42.172.5	client4
#192.42.172.6	client5
#192.42.172.7	client6
#192.42.172.8	client7
#192.42.172.9	client8
#
# This is the reserved address for the loopback interface.  Don't muck
# with it.
#
127.0.0.1       localhost       openstep
192.168.1.74    aspirexc600

While setting up networking in the VM I also temporarily disabled the firewall in the VM host to make sure the VM host was not interfering in any way with the network connection of the VM, then enabled it again once I was happy it was not causing any problems. Later, when I configured the VM host as an NFS server and the VM as an NFS client, I had to create the appropriate rules for NFS in the VM host’s firewall (see further down).

You will see NetInfo mentioned in the OPENSTEP networking apps. You should ignore NetInfo unless you are going to network a cluster of machines running NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, as it is an obsolete NeXT networking system configuration database and we don’t want to use it.

Installation of utilities and applications

After installing the OS neither the ‘me’ account nor the root account are password protected. You can use the OS like this if you wish, but I set up a password for the ‘me’ account by navigating to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextApps’ > Preferences.app and clicking on the padlock icon. Then I logged out and logged in to the root account and did the same to set up a password for the root user. If you want to save a bit of time during installation of applications, you could do this after installing all the packages.

OPENSTEP comes with quite a few utilities, such as Terminal.app, TextEdit.app, Draw.app, Sound.app (possibly useful if your host computer has a microphone socket and you enabled audio input in VirtualBox Manager), PhotoAlbum.app, CDPlayer.app, Webster.app (yes, a full dictionary), Librarian.app, PrintManager.app, Grab.app (to grab snapshots of all or parts of the screen and save them to .tiff files), Preview.app (an image file viewer), Mail.app, and others. You can try these and they are reasonably intuitive so I won’t dwell on them here, instead concentrating on how I installed third-party apps and utilities.

I had to trawl the Web to find packages and applications suitable for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for i386. I find the filenames of the files stored on these Web sites confusing. I think.s‘ in the filename of a compressed file means it contains source code, and ‘.b‘ means it contains binary code, i.e. executable. However, some filenames have ‘.bs‘ but only contain source code, so I could be wrong. Also, I’m not sure what the letters ‘N‘, ‘I‘, ‘H‘ and ‘S‘ represent in these filenames; NeXT (Motorola 68k), Intel, Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC and SPARC, presumably? Some OPENSTEP packages are called ‘fat binaries’ as they contain binaries for several or all the supported CPU types, thus enabling the package to be installed in OPENSTEP on different hardware. So my guess about the letters in the filenames could be correct.

Without a Web browser in OPENSTEP, the easiest way to copy files to the OPENSTEP VM initially is to use the Linux mkisofs command to create an ISO file and then to load it into the VM’s optical drive. For example, let’s say I want to copy the file OpenUp-1.01.tar to the VM, I would type the following on the host machine:

$ mkdir ~/ToCopy
$ cp ~/Downloads/OpenUp-1.01.tar ~/ToCopy
$ mkisofs -o ToCopy.iso ~/ToCopy

I then use the VirtualBox Manager GUI (‘Settings’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Choose Virtual Optical Disk File…’) to insert the ToCopy.iso file into the VM’s optical drive. OPENSTEP mounts the ‘CDROM’ automatically and it becomes visible in the OPENSTEP File Viewer window. When I click on the CDROM icon a window opens and I see it contains the file openup_1.tar which I can then drag to the Shelf or to another folder directly.

Packages for installation using the OPENSTEP Installer have a ‘.pkg‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.pkg) and are actually a folder, not a file. Applications have a ‘.app‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.app) and are also a folder, not a file. Some of the compressed files I found for OPENSTEP on the Web are tarballs of OPENSTEP packages (e.g. OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz contains OpenWrite.pkg), others are tarballs of OPENSTEP applications (e.g. mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz contains mpap.app) which require unpacking but no installation, just copying to a folder. The mkisofs command truncates filenames to the Short Filename format (a.k.a. DOS 8.3 format), so if I had any uncompressed .pkg files, .app files and indeed any other files (.pdf, .mp3 or whatever) to transfer to the VM, I compressed them first as .tar files before creating the .iso file. Even though the .tar filename is truncated to DOS 8.3 by mkisofs, the filenames of the packed files are not.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

a) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

b) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Once you get the hang of installing packages in OPENSTEP, it is actually simple. For example, to install the package ParaSheet.pkg, I drag the .tar file from the CDROM to the Shelf, and from there to the folder /me. I double-click on the .tar file which opens a window showing the ParaSheet.pkg inside. I drag that to the /me folder. Then I select the package, and select ‘Workspace’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ and the Installer GUI opens. I then click on ‘Set…’ to specify the folder into which I want to install the application (e.g. /LocalApps/Office, as I had created the Office folder beforehand using Terminal.app) and then ‘Install’, and the Installer takes care of the rest.

In the case of applications that are not packaged and are just .app folders, I do not need to use the Installer, I just copy the .app folder to the folder I wish (/LocalApps/, /me/LocalApps/ or just /me/).

I found that, as-installed, OPENSTEP 4.2 can unpack .tar files from the GUI but does not have a GUI app for unpacking .tar.gz files, so the first thing I did was to install the OpenUp utility: OpenUp-1.01.m.NI.b.tgz which can be found at http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Compression_Utilities/ and works very well. Of course, I could have instead unpacked .tar.gz files in the host machine first and copied the .tar files to OPENSTEP using the mkisofs method I explained above, which the OPENSTEP GUI can unpack when I double-click on the .tar file. But OpenUp is well worth installing. After I had installed OpenUp and the OmniWeb browser in OPENSTEP, I was also able to download .tar.gz files directly in OPENSTEP from the various file repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) and unpack them in OPENSTEP.

By the way, see the links at the end of this post for user documentation. The OPENSTEP GUI is intuitive but I didn’t realise I could rename files from the GUI by clicking on the filename below the icon to get a cursor and typing directly (just like macOS), and I also didn’t know that I could use the ‘shelf’ at the top of the File Viewer as a temporary place to put copies of files to copy files between folders as an alternative to opening another File Viewer window. I also wondered how to select multiple files in a window when they are not adjacent, since using the mouse to select the group of files is not feasible in that case. It turns out the you hold down the Shift key and click on each file you want to select, which is analogous to holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each file in Linux. I also found that I can copy a file between two File Viewer windows by clicking on it and holding down the Alt Gr key then dragging across to the other window.

Installation of a Web browser

This is where things start to get trickier. Bear in mind that NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP were created in the 1980s and 1990s when the Web was in its infancy. As I mentioned earlier, the first Web browser was written on a NeXTcube at CERN, and that machine was the first Web server in existence. The best Web browser I could find for the platform is OmniWeb 3.1 for OPENSTEP. Before installing it, you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. Also, the browser does not support HTTPS, Javascript and Flash out of the box and you have to install plugins. Unfortunately the plugins for these are very flaky, so you are severely limited in which sites and pages you can browse. Note that Netscape Communications created HTTPS in 1994, Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems released JavaScript in December 1995, and Macromedia released Flash in November 1996. I don’t know if the OmniWeb plugins for HTTPS, JavaScript and Flash for OPENSTEP that I found are the latest or best versions for this version of OmniWeb, but they are what I could find online. JavaScript in Web pages results in a lot of pop-up error messages and made opening pages even less likely to be successful, so in the OmniWeb menu I navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘User Preferences…’ > ‘JavaScript’ and unticked ‘Display panel for errors’. I also navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘Administrator Preferences’ > ‘HTTPS – SSL’ and ticked ‘Enable TLSv1’, which seemed to enable a few HTTPS Web pages to load, at least partially.

You have to install OpenSSL before installing the HTTPS plugin for OmniWeb. I installed the package OpenSSL.0.9.5a.m.NIS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Internet/WWW/Web%20Browsers/Omniweb/Plugins/. Then I installed the package HTTPS.1.09b.m.NIS.b.tar.gz from the same site, which installs the file (folder) HTTPS.plugin, which needs to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’).

Then I downloaded and installed the two packages JavaScript-OWPlugin-1999-07-20-OSM-NIS.tar.gz (installs JavaScript.plugin) and Flash-OWPlugin-19990621-OSM-NIS.tar (installs Flash.plugin) which also need to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’ in the File Viewer). I found these two packages via a BetaArchive post [offer] OmniGroup software (NeXTSTEP, OpenStep & Rhapsody), which has a link to a .rar file at http://www.mediafire.com/file/wzyon54l4dt/OmniGroup.rar/file.

Unfortunately, even with the HTTPS and JavaScript plugins installed, almost all Web pages fail to load in OmniWeb, one exception being https://www.google.com. Old HTTP Web sites do load providing they are simple, but any JavaScript seems to cause a problem.

Installation of a PDF file reader

The best PDF file reader I could find for the platform is OmniPDF 3 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

Installation of an image viewer

The best (supposedly) image file viewer I could find for the platform is OmniImage 4.0 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. However, according to the file /OmniImage.pkg/OmniImage.info it is a beta release and, in addition to Omni Frameworks, requires ‘Omni Plugins’:

Title OmniImage 4.0 beta for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2
Version 4.0 beta 4 (1-Oct-1998)
Description This package contains a beta version of OmniImage. This beta release only supports viewing of images, not saving them. This release will not run unless the the Omni Frameworks (version 1998G2) are installed, and will not be fully functional (e.g., images may not be rendered) unless the Omni PlugIns (version 3.0 beta 8) are also installed. This software requires OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2.

I found the file OmniPlugIns-3.0b8-OSM-NIS.pkg.tar.gz in the BetaArchive post mentioned earlier in this post. I downloaded the tarball, created an ISO file containing it, loaded the ISO file in the VM CDROM drive, unpacked the tarball to /me/OmniPlugIns.pkg and installed the package using the OPENSTEP GUI Installer using the procedure explained earlier in this post. The Omni PlugIns were installed in the folder /LocalLibrary/PlugIns/ and I then found that OmniImage can open JPG files, even a 3456×2304 pixel JPG file with the following properties (as reported by the file command in Linux):

JPEG image data, JFIF standard 1.01, resolution (DPI), density 300x300, segment length 16, Exif Standard: [TIFF image data, big-endian, direntries=4, manufacturer=Canon, model=Canon EOS 600D], baseline, precision 8, 3456x2304, frames 3

Installation of wordprocessor and spreadsheet apps

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use.

I created the folder /LocalApps/Office/ and installed OpenWrite from OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /OpenStep/Soft/misc/NEXTTOYOU/97.1-Fruehjahr/APPSTOYOU. If you have not already installed it, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

In the folder /LocalApps/Office/ I also installed ParaSheet from ParaSheet-1.7.pkg.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design/ParaSheet. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

The first time you launch OpenWrite and ParaSheet you will be notified that you cannot use the application until you enter a licence key. Exit the application and use ‘Open Sesame’ (see earlier) to launch the application as root user, and then you well be able to enter the licence. You will find a list of licences for these packages on the Web page Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design.

Installation of audio players

mpap and MMP audio players in action

mpap and MMP audio players in action.

The only audio players I could find that actually worked (partially) in OPENSTEP are mpap 1.0 (download mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz) and MMP 2 (download mmp2.I.b.tar.gz). mpap can play some, but not all, of the mp3 files I have, whereas I could not get MMP to play mp3 files at all, although it can play .snd files. MMP can also play MIDI files, but I had to download the Timidity patches instruments.tar.gz (not so easy to find!) and follow the instructions in the MMP Info Panel in order to install the instruments patch file. It works fine! mpap cannot play an mp3 file which the files command in Linux tells me is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v2.5, 32 kbps, 11.025 kHz, Stereo’ but it can play an mp3 file which is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v1, 192 kbps, 44.1 kHz, Stereo’. mpap has a basic playlist feature, but it is not as sophisticated as any of the modern audio players.

Installation of video players

MPLAY and Movie players in action

MPLAY and Movie players in action.

This is where OPENSTEP is severely lacking in comparison to any modern OS; apparently we’re talking 5.5 or 6 frames per second and e.g. 288×224 pixels on NeXT hardware, and no sound. I only managed to find a couple of basic video players, both at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/video/apps: MPlay 3.0 (MPlay.app unpacked from MPlay.3.0.NIHS.b.tar.gz) and Movie 3.0 (Movie3.0 folder unpacked from Movie.3.0.NIHS.bs.tar.gz). MPlay is only designed to play MPEG (.mpg and .mpeg) files, which I found it can do for the old, tiny MPEG files I downloaded from Web repositories of NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP files. I found that Movie can also only play MPEG files, despite the app’s README file stating it can play (without sound) MPEG, TIFF sequences, ‘QuickTime and other formats’. Movie comes with a couple of demo videos (no audio), the largest of which is hula_full.mpg in the mpeg1video format, consisting of 39 frames of 352×240 pixels, with a desired frame rate of 8 fps which actually plays at between 8 and 9 frames per second in OPENSTEP in the VM, i.e. it plays for around 4 to 5 seconds. In a video player in Linux on my desktop machine it plays for just over 2 seconds at 15 frames per second. These videos and players may have been state-of-the-art in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they certainly are not now!

I could not find an app package to play .avi files. The page I linked to above has a source-code tarball named VideoStreamV1.OSrc.tar.gz for an app named VideoStream, the README of which claims the app can play .avi files, but I have not found an executable package. Anyway, the README file states it cannot play videos with sound, so obviously I didn’t bother trying to install it.

Games

I am not particularly interested in computer games, but a few are installed by default with the OS: Chess.app, Billiards.app and BoinkOut.app (a clone of Breakout). More games for OPENSTEP can be found on the Web (for example at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/). The computer game Doom was originally developed in NEXTSTEP on NeXT computers, and a version for OPENSTEP can be downloaded from the Web, although I have not tried it.

File sharing

NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was designed to use NFS (Network File System). However I don’t use NFS in my home network; I use SMB and have a dedicated Linux SMB server which works well with all SMB clients (Linux, Windows and Android) on my home network. Unsurprisingly I could only find early versions of Samba packages for NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. I also came across ramba, a Unix clone of Samba later renamed to Sharity-Light. I downloaded them both and briefly tried to get OPENSTEP to connect to my network Samba server. I was unsuccessful, which does not surprise me as the version of Samba for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP I found is Version 2.0.7.1 from May 2000, and the obsolete version of rumba I found is Version 0.4 from February 1997. In NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP the Samba configuration file smb.conf is located in the directory /usr/samba/lib/ rather than /etc/samba/. I did not spend much time trying to get Samba/Rumba working as I assume there would be incompatibility between the early SMB protocol used by Samba V2.0.7.1 / Rumba V0.4 with Samba V4.* running in the Linux SMB server on my network. Perhaps I could have made it work, but I decided to try to make the VM’s host computer (192.168.1.74) a NFS server to see if I could get the VM (192.168.1.63) to access it as a NFS client. The Web page OpenStep on Microsoft Windows PC Emulators states the following, which indicates that NFS works:

Device: Network
OpenStep Configuration: AMD PCnet-32 PCI Ethernet Adapter
VirtualBox Configuration: Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II, Promiscuous Mode All
Observations: This works fine. Using SimpleNetworkStarter I was able to give OpenStep an IP address on my subnet, using my real router and real DNS servers. This allowed OpenStep to be ‘seen’ on the subnet. Standard networking facilities such as FTP and NFS work. It may help to run the a command such as the following from the VirtualBox installation directory, where “OpenStep” is whatever you name the virtual machine and “192.168.1.0” depends on your local subnet:

VBoxManage modifyvm OpenStep --natnet1 "192.168.1.0/24"

As I had named the VM ‘OPENSTEP4.2’ in VirtualBox Manager, I used the following command:

$ VBoxManage modifyvm OPENSTEP4.2 --natnet1 "192.168.1.0/24"

However I doubt this made any difference, because I had set the VM’s network adapter to ‘Bridged Adapter’ in the VirtualBox Manager, not ‘NAT’. I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter’ because I could not get the VM to connect to the network otherwise.

I also made sure the adapter in the VirtualBox Manager is set to ‘PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ and Promiscuous Mode is set to ‘Allow All’.

In addition to the network configuration notes in the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I mentioned earlier, for information only see the old tutorial ‘NeXTStep/OpenStep Ethernet-Based Network Configuration For Cable Modems, DSL, LANs, Etc…‘.

Anyway, below is what I did to get NFS working. The crucial thing to note is that OPENSTEP 4.2 uses NFSv2. I spent many hours unsuccessfully trying to get NFS working between the NFS server (a machine with IP address 192.168.1.74) and the NFS client (a VM with IP address 192.168.63) until I realised this. The NFS server is running Lubuntu 18.04, which uses NFSv4 by default. Therefore I had to configure the NFS server to use NFSv2 as well. Not only that, but I had to configure NFSv2 to use static ports, because the ports can change randomly in NFSv2 which would stop NFS working if there is a firewall enabled on the host machine.

In the NFS server (Lubuntu 18.04 running on a desktop machine)

N.B. My NFS server is running in Lubuntu 18.04 on a machine with an IP address of 192.168.1.74, and my NFS client is running in OPENSTEP 4.2 on a VM with IP address of 192.168.1.63. Change the IP addresses below to suit your situation.

1. Install the NFS server software

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install nfs-kernel-server

2. Create a mountpoint for the NFS shared directory

$ sudo mkdir /var/nfs
$ sudo chown nobody:nogroup /var/nfs
$ sudo chmod 777 /var/nfs

3. Configure the NFS export

$ sudo nano /etc/exports

3.1 Choose which of the following types of share you want to have

3.1.1 Less secure:

/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare 192.168.1.63(rw,sync,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check)

If ‘no_root_squash‘ is used, remote root users are able to change any file on the shared file system and leave trojaned applications for other users to inadvertently execute.

3.1.2 More secure:

/var/nfs 192.168.1.63(rw,sync,no_subtree_check)

3.2 Update the current table of exports for the NFS server

$ sudo exportfs -a

You can check the current table settings:

$ sudo exportfs -s
/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare  192.168.1.63(rw,wdelay,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check,sec=sys,rw,secure,no_root_squash,no_all_squash)
/var/nfs  192.168.1.63(rw,wdelay,root_squash,no_subtree_check,sec=sys,rw,secure,root_squash,no_all_squash)

If you wanted to clear the table (unexport the shared directories) you would do:

$ sudo exportfs -u 192.168.1.63:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare
$ sudo exportfs -u 192.168.1.63:/var/nfs
$ sudo exportfs -s
$

4. Load the NFSv2 kernel module

If lockd is built as a module (which it is in Lubuntu 18.04), create file /etc/modprobe.d/nfsv2.conf containing the following:

options lockd.nlm_udpport=4001 lockd.nlm_tcpport=4001
$ sudo modprobe nfsv2

If you want to make that permanent so it happens automatically when booting/rebooting add ‘nfsv2‘ (without the quotes) to the file /etc/modules-load.d/modules.conf (which in Lubuntu 18.04 is symlinked to /etc/modules).

5. Configure the NFS server

See ‘How can I make the nfs server support protocol version 2 in Ubuntu 17.10?‘.

Edit /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server to include NFSv2 and to specify static ports:

$ sudo nano /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server
# Number of servers to start up
RPCNFSDCOUNT=8

# Runtime priority of server (see nice(1))
RPCNFSDPRIORITY=0

# Options for rpc.mountd.
# If you have a port-based firewall, you might want to set up
# a fixed port here using the --port option. For more information, 
# see rpc.mountd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
# To disable NFSv4 on the server, specify '--no-nfs-version 4' here
RPCMOUNTDOPTS="--manage-gids -p 32767"
# -p 32767 above added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the svcgssd daemon? It is only required for Kerberos
# exports. Valid alternatives are "yes" and "no"; the default is "no".
NEED_SVCGSSD=""

# Options for rpc.svcgssd.
RPCSVCGSSDOPTS=""

# All options below this comment were added by Fitzcarraldo
#
# Options to pass to rpc.statd
# ex. RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
#
# Options to pass to rpc.rquotad
# ex. RPCRQUOTADOPTS="-p 32764"
RPCRQUOTADOPTS="-p 32764"
#
RPCNFSDOPTS="--nfs-version 2,3,4 --debug --syslog"
#
# To confirm above mods are in effect after service restart use
#    cat /run/sysconfig/nfs-utils
#  or 
#    service nfs-kernel-server status
#

Edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify static ports for rpc-statd:

# If you do not set values for the NEED_ options, they will be attempted
# autodetected; this should be sufficient for most people. Valid alternatives
# for the NEED_ options are "yes" and "no".


# Options for rpc.statd.
#   Should rpc.statd listen on a specific port? This is especially useful
#   when you have a port-based firewall. To use a fixed port, set this
#   this variable to a statd argument like: "--port 4000 --outgoing-port 4001".
#   For more information, see rpc.statd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
STATDOPTS="-o 32766 -p 32765"
# -o 32766 -p 32765 above were added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the gssd daemon? It is required for Kerberos mounts.
NEED_GSSD=

(I had to edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify the ports for rpc-statd in STATDOPTS because specifying the ports in RPCSTATDOPTS in /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server did not make the status ports static.)

Edit /etc/sysctl.conf to add a static port mapping for lockd:

$ sudo nano /etc/sysctl.conf
[...]
# All lines below added by Fitzcarraldo
# TCP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_tcpport = 4001
# UDP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_udpport = 4001

Modify the lockd kernel parameters now during runtime rather than having to reboot:

$ sudo sysctl -p

Note that it is necessary to specify static ports in the configuration files so that tight rules can be added to the firewall in the NFS server.

6. Start the NFS server

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service nfs-kernel-server start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

sudo systemctl start nfs-kernel-server

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable nfs-kernel-server

7. Start the NSM (Network Status Monitor) daemon

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service rpc-statd start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo systemctl start rpc-statd

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable rpc-statd

8. Check that NFSv2 is running and the ports are the ones specified in the config files

$ rpcinfo -p
   program vers proto   port  service
    100000    4   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    4   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   udp    111  portmapper
    100005    1   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    1   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   tcp  32767  mountd
    100003    2   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    4   tcp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   tcp   2049
    100227    3   tcp   2049
    100003    2   udp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   udp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   udp   2049
    100227    3   udp   2049
    100021    1   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    1   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100024    1   udp  32765  status
    100024    1   tcp  32765  status

9. Configure the firewall in Lubuntu 18.04

I used Gufw (LXDE Menu > ‘Preferences’ > ‘Firewall Configuration’) to add the following two UFW rules:

111,2049,4001,32765:32768/udp ALLOW IN 192.168.1.0/24
111,2049,4001,32765:32768/tcp ALLOW IN 192.168.1.0/24

The above rules permit NFSv2 to function consistently because I had configured the NFS ports to be static. If I had not done that the firewall would sometimes stop NFS from working because NFSv2 ports change randomly otherwise.

In OPENSTEP running in the VM

10. Make sure basic networking has been configured

I navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘SimpleNetworkStartup.app’ and did the following:

  • Unticked ‘Maintain the master copy of network administrative data.’
  • Selected ‘Use the network, but don’t share administrative data.’
  • Entered the Hostname ‘openstep‘ (no quotes) and IP address 192.168.1.63.
  • Clicked on ‘Network Options…’. In the window that opened I did the following:
    • Made sure router IP is set to 192.168.1.254
    • Made sure NIS Domain Name is set to ‘None’
    • Made sure Netmask is set to 255.255.255.0
    • Made sure Broadcast Address is set to 192.168.1.255
    • ‘Limit access to local NetInfo data to the local network’ is unticked.
    • Clicked on ‘Set’.
  • Clicked on ‘Configure’.

11. Create the shared NFS director[y,ies]

N.B. I could probably have created the directory /mnt/nfs/nfsshare and/or /mnt/nfs/var/nfs (whichever you chose to create — see 3.1 above) using ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘NFSManager.app’ instead of using the command line, but I opened a Terminal window in OPENSTEP and did the following:

openstep> su
openstep:1# mkdir /mnt
openstep:2# mkdir /mnt/nfs
openstep:3# mkdir /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:4# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var
openstep:5# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

12. Mount the NFS share(s)

openstep:6# mount 192.168.1.74:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:7# mount 192.168.1.74:/var/nfs /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

Use the df command to check they are mounted correctly:

openstep:8# df

13. Test the shared director[y,ies]

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, copy a file into /var/nfs/ (or /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/). You should see it appear in /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (or /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/) in OPENSTEP in the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘, copy a file into /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (not /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/, as that will not be allowed). You should see it appear in /var/nfs/ in Linux in the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /var/nfs/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

14. If you later want to unmount the NFS shared folder(s)

openstep:9# umount /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:10# umount /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

15. If you want OPENSTEP to mount the NFS shared folder(s) automatically when it boots

I was unable to get OPENSTEP to mount NFS shared folders automatically at boot by adding the appropriate lines in /etc/fstab, but OPENSTEP does mount them automatically if I add the mount commands to /etc/rc.local like so:

#!/bin/sh -u
#
# This script is for augmenting the standard system startup commands. It is 
# executed automatically by the system during boot up. 
#
# Copyright (C) 1993 by NeXT Computer, Inc.  All rights reserved.
#
# In its released form, this script does nothing. You may customize
# it as you wish.
#

fbshow -B -I "Starting local services" -z 92

# Read in configuration information
. /etc/hostconfig

# (echo -n 'local daemons:')                                    >/dev/console
#
# Run your own commands here
mount 192.168.1.74:/var/nfs /mnt/nfs/var/nfs
mount 192.168.1.74:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
#
# (echo '.')                                                    >/dev/console

File sharing: Summary

So, I managed to get NFS working, albeit not using OPENSTEP’s NFSManager.app tool. Had I known more about OPENSTEP networking I probably could have used the OPENSTEP GUI utilities to configure NFS, but at least I have proved it is possible to copy files to and from an NFS server (which happens to be the host machine of the VM) running Lubuntu 18.04 and the VM running OPENSTEP 4.2. Mind you, NFSv2 is old. NFSv4 would be the protocol to use had OPENSTEP supported it. Also, bear in mind that NFSv2 cannot encrypt the connection, so it is not secure. Another reason to have a good firewall enabled in the VirtualBox host machine and in my router too.

Conclusions

I have had fun installing and tinkering with OPENSTEP and its applications over the last few days. Getting file sharing to work was by far the most difficult part, but I got there in the end once I had discovered OPENSTEP only supports NFSv2. It is a pity OPENSTEP and the applications for it have not been developed for many years and are all obsolete. If development of OPENSTEP drivers, networking software, productivity applications and multimedia applications had continued, the OS itself would still have been perfectly usable on modern hardware, albeit not as straightforward to use as any of the main Desktop Environments in Linux. But the OS still feels quite modern; it was definitely ahead of its time. Tinkering with OPENSTEP 4.2 has given me a new respect for Steve Jobs, for the talented hardware and software engineers in the NeXT company, and indeed for Mac OS X and macOS. The choice of Unix for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was truely inspired.

In this blog post I have not covered the sophisticated development tools for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, which were also way ahead of their time. I’ll leave you to read the articles, documents and videos available on the Web about the development tools.

Please comment below if you notice any errors or omissions in this post, or if you know a better way of doing something in OPENSTEP, or you know of newer versions of the OPENSTEP software than the versions I have mentioned. I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who has a NeXT machine and/or is still using one; let me know what you have and how you’re using it.

Useful links

These are just a few of the many Web pages and sites I browsed when installing OPENSTEP 4.2 and looking for applications and ways to get various things to work.

Documentation

Software repositories

Sometimes differences between NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP may mean a NETSCAPE application cannot be installed in OPENSTEP or, if it can, may not work. Furthermore, be aware that different revisions of the same application/utility exist online, so you need to try and find the latest revisions.

Replacing the KDE Plasma widget ‘Thermal Monitor’ with ‘Kargos’ in Gentoo Linux

The KDE Plasma widget Thermal Monitor has not been working correctly in my Gentoo Linux installations for quite some time. I notice Thermal Monitor’s repository has not been updated for a couple of years, despite several new versions of KDE Plasma having been released. Perhaps that is the reason.

On my laptop running the Stable Branch of Gentoo Linux, Thermal Monitor displays the GPU and HDD temperatures automatically but CPU temperatures were only displayed if I right-clicked on the widget and selected ‘Reload Temperature Sources’. I managed to get the widget to display the CPU temperatures automatically by editing the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml and commenting out a line as shown in the file excerpt below:

[...]
        onSourceAdded: {

            if (source.indexOf(lmSensorsStart) === 0 || source.indexOf(acpiStart) === 0) {
/*
 *                systemmonitorAvailableSources.push(source)
 */
                var staIndex = systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.indexOf(source)
                if (staIndex > -1) {
                    addToSourcesOfDatasource(systemmonitorDS, source)
                    systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.splice(staIndex, 1)
                }

            }

        }
[...]

The above modification is suggested in a comment to Issue #53 in the widget’s repository.

However, the above-mentioned edit does not fix Thermal Monitor on my laptop running the Testing Branch of Gentoo Linux, and Thermal Monitor no longer displays the GPU temperature either. Actually, the CPU’s four core temperatures and the GPU temperature are no longer listed in the Thermal Monitor configuration window, only a single CPU temperature. Not surprisingly, none of the suggested changes to the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml that I found in Web searches made a difference. However, while researching the problem I came across a Manjaro Forums post by user bogdancovaciu about the Kargos Plasma widget, a KDE Plasma port of GNOME Argos and OSX BitBar. Kargos enables you to create a Plasma widget that runs your own script, which can be written in any language, providing its output adheres to a specified format. I also found a repository named k-argos-plugins containing further example scripts for Kargos. As none of the solutions suggested for Thermal Monitor in that Manjaro thread worked for me, I decided to try the Kargos widget instead. It works a treat.

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel of my Compal NBLB2 laptop

Below I explain what I did to install and configure the Kargos widget on my KDE Panel in Gentoo Linux (see screenshot). The packages lm-sensors and hddtemp were already installed in my case, but if they had not been, I would have needed to install and configure them, so I have included those steps below.

1. Install and configure lm-sensors

root # emerge lm-sensors
root # rc-update add lm_sensors default
root # sensors-detect

In my case sensors-detect created the file /etc/modules-load.d/lm_sensors.conf containing only the following:

# Generated by sensors-detect on Sun Oct 27 03:07:08 2019
coretemp

2. Start lm-sensors now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/lm_sensors start

3. I wanted to use the nc command in my shell script for Kargos, so I installed its package

root # emerge netcat

4. Install and configure hddtemp

root # emerge hddtemp
root # rc-update add hddtemp default

Specify in the config file /etc/conf.d/hddtemp which drives to check:

# Copyright 1999-2012 Gentoo Foundation
# Distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v2

# the hddtemp executable
HDDTEMP_EXEC=/usr/sbin/hddtemp

# various options to pass to the daemon
HDDTEMP_OPTS="--listen=127.0.0.1"

# a list of drives to check
HDDTEMP_DRIVES="/dev/sda"

5. Start hddtemp now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/hddtemp start

6. Install Kargos

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the ‘Desktop’ menu icon (the three horizontal lines in the top right corner of the Desktop) and select: ‘Unlock Widgets’ > ‘Add Widgets…’ > ‘Get New Widgets…’ > ‘Download New Plasma Widgets’. Search for, and install, ‘kargos’ widget.

7. Create the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh containing the following:

#!/bin/bash
temp=$(sensors | grep -oP 'Core.*?\+\K[0-9.]+')
temp0=$(sensors | grep 'Core 0' | cut -c '16-17')
temp1=$(sensors | grep 'Core 1' | cut -c '16-17')
temp2=$(sensors | grep 'Core 2' | cut -c '16-17')
temp3=$(sensors | grep 'Core 3' | cut -c '16-17')
hdd_temp=$(nc localhost 7634 | cut -c '33-34')
gpu_temp=$(sensors | grep -A 2 'radeon' | grep 'temp1' | cut -c '16-17')
echo "<br><font size='1'>CPU1&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU2&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU3&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU4&nbsp;&nbsp;GPU&nbsp;&nbsp;HDD</font><br>${temp0%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp1%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp2%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp3%%.*}°&nbsp;${gpu_temp}°&nbsp;${hdd_temp}°| font=Hack-Regular size=10"
# Uncomment the lines below if you want to be able to click on the kargos widget and display a pop-up TOP
#echo "---"
#TOP_OUTPUT=$(top -b -n 1 | head -n 20 | awk 1 ORS="\\\\n")
#echo "$TOP_OUTPUT | font=monospace iconName=htop"

The script above is specifically for the temperature sensors in my Clevo NBLB2 laptop. To find out which temperatures are available, and which characters to extract, use the following command:

root # sensors

Don’t forget to make the script executable:

user $ chmod +x ~/temperatures.3s.sh

Note that the ‘.3s‘ in the script name is optional but, if included, will override the kargos configuration (see further on) and run the script every 3 seconds. I could have specified another frequency, such as ‘.5s‘ or whatever.

8. Add the kargos widget to the KDE Panel.

9. Right-click on the kargos widget on the KDE Panel and select ‘Configure kargos…’.

10. Configure the kargos widget

In the first box in the configuration window, enter the full path of the script:

/home/fitzcarraldo/temperatures.3s.sh

In the second box leave ‘Interval in seconds’ as ‘1‘. This is overridden anyway if the script filename includes the interval.

In the third box leave ‘Rotation delay in seconds’ as ‘6‘.

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the Desktop menu icon (three horizontal lines) and select: ‘Lock Widgets’.

11. Depending on the font configuration for the KDE Desktop, it may be necessary to edit the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh to change the font name or size, the number of non-breaking spaces between the names displayed on the top line, and the number of non-breaking spaces between the temperature values displayed on the bottom line.

Creating a RAID of USB pendrives in Linux

USB hub and USB pendrives used as RAID10 with my laptop

USB hub and pendrives used as RAID10 with my laptop.

If you’re not familiar with the RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) concept and the different types of array, the article ‘RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10 Explained with Diagrams‘ gives a quick summary (and links to another article ‘RAID 2, RAID 3, RAID 4, RAID 6 Explained with Diagram‘). Another helpful article is ‘RAID Levels Explained‘.

A few years ago I came across a YouTube video by a Mac user, titled ‘Use a bunch of USB Flash drives in a RAID array‘. Purely out of interest he had experimented with creating RAIDs using USB pendrives (also known as ‘USB flash drives’ or ‘USB memory sticks’). The creation of a RAID using USB pendrives for his Apple Macs was very easy, and, since then, I had wanted to try this using one of my laptops running Linux, just to satisfy my curiosity. I have previously created software RAIDs in a Linux server using internal 3.5-inch HDDs, for the root, home and swap partitions, and for file storage partitions for a Cloud server and NAS. However, I had never created a RAID using external USB drives. This week I happened to have a spare four-port USB 3.0 hub and four old 4GB USB 2.0 pendrives, so I finally got the chance to create a RAID with USB pendrives (see photo). I decided to use my main laptop, which has Gentoo Linux with OpenRC, elogind, eudev and KDE installed. That installation does not have an initramfs so I did not need to rebuild an initramfs to assemble the RAID. Anyway, early assembly of a RAID by an initramfs would only be needed if the RAID were being used to hold the directories required by the OS (the root partition, for example). As my RAID would be pluggable external storage, I wanted to mount it manually rather than adding it to /etc/fstab to be mounted automatically at boot. As I had not used a RAID on this laptop before, I had not enabled the RAID drivers in the kernel configuration, so I needed to do that and rebuild the kernel. I opted to make the RAID drivers kernel modules rather than built into the kernel, so that I could load only the relevant module for whichever type of RAID I wished to create.

I had to decide which filesystem to use in the RAID. I have always used ext4 in my RAIDs using HDDs. However, F2FS is an interesting filesystem developed by Samsung for devices using flash memory, such as SD cards, USB pendrives and SSDs. So I decided to format the pendrives to use F2FS, and create an F2FS RAID. As I had not used F2FS previously on this laptop, I had not enabled the F2FS driver in the kernel configuration, so I enabled the F2FS driver in the kernel at the same time as I enabled the RAID drivers. As with the RAID drivers, I opted to make the F2FS driver a kernel module rather than built into the kernel, so that I could load it and unload it whenever I wanted.

Not only did it turn out to be easy to create a RAID using USB pendrives, I found that the Linux RAID module gets loaded automatically when I connect the USB hub. Furthermore the RAID is recognised by KDE and listed under ‘Places’ in the Dolphin file manager’s windows, which I can click on to mount and unmount the RAID. So I did not even need to configure the OS to load the RAID module at boot (the OS does not load the module automatically at boot if the hub is not connected).

DigitalOcean produced a good tutorial on creating RAIDs in Ubuntu: ‘How To Create RAID Arrays with mdadm on Ubuntu 16.04‘. The procedure is essentially the same in Gentoo Linux, the only differences being the path of the mdadm.conf file and the method of updating an initramfs (which I did not need to do anyway in this particular installation).

As I had four spare USB pendrives and a four-port hub, I decided to create a RAID10 array. Below is a summary of the steps I took.

1. I rebuilt the kernel in order to build the RAID and F2FS modules. The relevant kernel configuration parameters I set are shown below:

root # grep RAID /usr/src/linux/.config | grep -v "#"
CONFIG_MD_RAID0=m
CONFIG_MD_RAID1=m
CONFIG_MD_RAID10=m
CONFIG_MD_RAID456=m
CONFIG_ASYNC_RAID6_RECOV=m
CONFIG_RAID6_PQ=m
root # grep F2FS /usr/src/linux/.config | grep -v "#"
CONFIG_F2FS_FS=m
CONFIG_F2FS_STAT_FS=y
CONFIG_F2FS_FS_XATTR=y
CONFIG_F2FS_FS_POSIX_ACL=y
root # uname -a
Linux clevow230ss 4.19.72-gentoo #2 SMP Tue Oct 15 01:36:57 BST 2019 x86_64 Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4810MQ CPU @ 2.80GHz GenuineIntel GNU/Linux

2. I installed the mdadm tool:

root # eix -I mdadm
[I] sys-fs/mdadm
     Available versions:  4.1^t {static}
     Installed versions:  4.1^t(01:52:17 15/10/19)(-static)
     Homepage:            https://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/utils/mdadm/mdadm.git/
     Description:         Tool for running RAID systems - replacement for the raidtools

3. I installed the F2FS tools:

root # eix -I f2fs
[I] sys-fs/f2fs-tools
     Available versions:  1.10.0(0/4) 1.11.0-r1(0/5) 1.12.0-r1(0/6) ~1.13.0(0/6) {selinux}
     Installed versions:  1.12.0-r1(0/6)(02:05:17 15/10/19)(-selinux)
     Homepage:            https://git.kernel.org/cgit/linux/kernel/git/jaegeuk/f2fs-tools.git/about/
     Description:         Tools for Flash-Friendly File System (F2FS)

4. I rebooted the laptop.

5. The f2fs module was not loaded automatically, therefore I loaded it manually and edited /etc/conf.d/modules to add the module name so that it would be loaded automatically in future:

root # modprobe f2fs
root # lsmod | grep f2fs
f2fs                  466944  0
root # nano /etc/conf.d/modules
root # grep ^modules /etc/conf.d/modules
modules="fuse bnep rfcomm hidp uvcvideo cifs mmc_block snd-seq-midi iptable_raw xt_CT uinput f2fs"

6. I plugged the four USB pendrives into the USB hub, and connected the hub to the laptop.

7. I launched GParted, deleted the existing partition on each pendrive (three had been formatted as FAT32, one as exFAT), reformatted them individually as F2FS and gave them each a label (USBPD01 to USBPD04). I could have done all that from the command line but it is easier using GParted, and I like an easy life.

Note that the mdadm USE flag in Gentoo Linux needed to be set when GParted was merged, so GParted would need to be re-merged with USE="mdadm" if that is not the case. Furthermore, GParted will only include F2FS in the list of available filesystems if either the F2FS module is loaded or the F2FS driver has been built into the kernel.

8. I ascertained the names of the USB pendrives:

root # lsblk -o NAME,SIZE,FSTYPE,TYPE,MOUNTPOINT
NAME     SIZE FSTYPE TYPE MOUNTPOINT
sda    698.7G        disk
├─sda1   128M ext2   part
├─sda2    16G swap   part [SWAP]
├─sda5   128G ext4   part /
├─sda6   256G ext4   part /home
└─sda7 298.5G ntfs   part /media/NTFS
sdb      3.8G        disk
└─sdb1   3.8G f2fs   part
sdc      3.8G        disk
└─sdc1   3.8G f2fs   part
sdd      3.8G        disk
└─sdd1   3.8G f2fs   part
sde      3.8G        disk
└─sde1   3.8G f2fs   part

As you can see above, the four USB pendrives are sdb to sde.

9. I loaded the raid10 module:

root # modprobe raid10
root # lsmod | grep raid
raid10                 57344  1

10. I created the RAID10 array:

root # mdadm --create --verbose /dev/md0 --level=10 --raid-devices=4 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd /dev/sde
mdadm: layout defaults to n2
mdadm: layout defaults to n2
mdadm: chunk size defaults to 512K
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdb
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdb but will be lost or
       meaningless after creating array
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdc
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdc but will be lost or
       meaningless after creating array
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdd
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sdd but will be lost or
       meaningless after creating array
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sde
mdadm: partition table exists on /dev/sde but will be lost or
       meaningless after creating array
mdadm: size set to 3913728K
Continue creating array? y
mdadm: Defaulting to version 1.2 metadata
mdadm: array /dev/md0 started.

It takes a while for the RAID to be created, so I checked progress periodically as follows:

root # cat /proc/mdstat
Personalities : [raid10]
md0 : active raid10 sde[3] sdd[2] sdc[1] sdb[0]
      7827456 blocks super 1.2 512K chunks 2 near-copies [4/4] [UUUU]
      [>....................]  resync =  2.8% (222272/7827456) finish=23.8min speed=5308K/sec
      
unused devices: <none>
root # cat /proc/mdstat
Personalities : [raid10]
md0 : active raid10 sde[3] sdd[2] sdc[1] sdb[0]
      7827456 blocks super 1.2 512K chunks 2 near-copies [4/4] [UUUU]
      [========>............]  resync = 44.0% (3449856/7827456) finish=12.9min speed=5637K/sec
      
unused devices: <none>
root # cat /proc/mdstat
Personalities : [raid10]
md0 : active raid10 sde[3] sdd[2] sdc[1] sdb[0]
      7827456 blocks super 1.2 512K chunks 2 near-copies [4/4] [UUUU]
      [==============>......]  resync = 74.0% (5797760/7827456) finish=5.9min speed=5698K/sec
      
unused devices: <none>
root # cat /proc/mdstat
Personalities : [raid10]
md0 : active raid10 sde[3] sdd[2] sdc[1] sdb[0]
      7827456 blocks super 1.2 512K chunks 2 near-copies [4/4] [UUUU]
      
unused devices: <none>

11. I formatted the RAID:

root # sudo mkfs.f2fs -f /dev/md0

        F2FS-tools: mkfs.f2fs Ver: 1.12.0 (2018-11-12)

Info: Disable heap-based policy
Info: Debug level = 0
Info: Trim is enabled
Info: Segments per section = 1
Info: Sections per zone = 1
Info: sector size = 512
Info: total sectors = 15654912 (7644 MB)
Info: zone aligned segment0 blkaddr: 512
Info: format version with
  "Linux version 4.19.72-gentoo (root@clevow230ss) (gcc version 8.3.0 (Gentoo 8.3.0-r1 p1.1)) #2 SMP Tue Oct 15 01:36:57 BST 2019"
Info: [/dev/md0] Discarding device
Info: This device doesn't support BLKSECDISCARD
Info: This device doesn't support BLKDISCARD
Info: Overprovision ratio = 2.300%
Info: Overprovision segments = 179 (GC reserved = 94)
Info: format successful

The option ‘-f‘ forces mkfs to overwrite any existing filesystem. (I believe the same option is ‘-F‘ in Ubuntu, rather than ‘-f‘.)

12. I created a mount point so I could mount the RAID from the command line if I wanted:

root # mkdir -p /mnt/md0

13. I mounted the RAID from the command line and checked its size. In the case of RAID10 I would expect the size to be double the size of one of the formatted USB pendrives, i.e. approximtely 2 x 3.8GB = 7.6GB):

root # mount /dev/md0 /mnt/md0
root # df -h -x devtmpfs -x tmpfs
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/root       126G   36G   84G  31% /
/dev/sda6       252G  137G  103G  57% /home
/dev/sda7       299G  257G   43G  86% /media/NTFS
/dev/md0        7.5G  419M  7.1G   6% /mnt/md0
root # blkid | grep -v sda
/dev/md0: UUID="d565c117-37e0-48eb-b635-a2fe70b83272" TYPE="f2fs"
/dev/sdb: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="45a488a0-5126-0b95-0c28-eb1f743f77c7" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/sdc: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="ef7de228-cf4d-c6bf-c74a-462a0e27f8bd" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/sdd: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="b5dd5c41-3ab2-fa38-bd28-0b965883775c" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/sde: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="16149e7e-5a96-ece6-65ba-25721bcee49f" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"

So /dev/md0 looked correct.

14. I checked that nothing was already configured in mdadm.conf and added the array’s details to it:

root # grep -v "#" /etc/mdadm.conf
root # mdadm --detail --scan | sudo tee -a /etc/mdadm.conf
ARRAY /dev/md0 metadata=1.2 name=clevow230ss:0 UUID=d1288120:a1614809:3e89bb5f:967df69b
root # grep -v "#" /etc/mdadm.conf
ARRAY /dev/md0 metadata=1.2 name=clevow230ss:0 UUID=d1288120:a1614809:3e89bb5f:967df69b

15. As the RAID will have only a partition for file storage, and as the RAID array will not always be connected to the laptop, it does not need to be assembled automatically early during boot, so there is no need to add mdadm.conf to an initramfs (which this laptop does not have anyway) and no need to specify /dev/md0 in /etc/fstab to be mounted at boot.

16. I left the USB hub connected to the laptop and rebooted.

17. I checked that the modules were loaded at boot:

root # lsmod | grep raid
raid10                 57344  1
root # lsmod | grep f2fs
f2fs                  466944  0

18. I checked that the RAID had been assembled correctly at boot:

root # blkid | grep -v sda
/dev/sdb: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="45a488a0-5126-0b95-0c28-eb1f743f77c7" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/sdc: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="ef7de228-cf4d-c6bf-c74a-462a0e27f8bd" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/sdd: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="b5dd5c41-3ab2-fa38-bd28-0b965883775c" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"
/dev/md0: UUID="d565c117-37e0-48eb-b635-a2fe70b83272" TYPE="f2fs"
/dev/sde: UUID="d1288120-a161-4809-3e89-bb5f967df69b" UUID_SUB="16149e7e-5a96-ece6-65ba-25721bcee49f" LABEL="clevow230ss:0" TYPE="linux_raid_member"

19. I rebooted a few times with and without the USB hub connected. The module raid10 only gets loaded if the USB hub is connected. If I reboot without the hub connected, raid10 is no longer loaded automatically at boot. If I plug in the hub after the laptop has booted, raid10 gets loaded and the RAID array is recognised by the OS.

20. I mounted the RAID from the command line and copied a file to it as root user:

root # mount /dev/md0 /mnt/md0
root # ls -la /mnt/md0
total 8
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 15 07:40 .
drwxr-xr-x 7 root root 4096 Oct 15 07:42 ..
root # cp ./Paper_sheet_sizes.png /mnt/md0
root # ls -la /mnt/md0
total 268
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root   4096 Oct 15 08:07 .
drwxr-xr-x 7 root root   4096 Oct 15 07:42 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 265760 Oct 15 08:07 Paper_sheet_sizes.png
root # umount /dev/md0
root # ls -la /mnt/md0
total 8
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 15 07:42 .
drwxr-xr-x 7 root root 4096 Oct 15 07:42 ..

However, /mnt/md0/ is owned by the root user, so user fitzcarraldo cannot copy files into it. Therefore I changed the ownership:

root # mount /dev/md0 /mnt/md0
root # ls -la /mnt/
total 28
drwxr-xr-x  7 root root 4096 Oct 15 07:42 .
drwxr-xr-x 22 root root 4096 Oct  6 08:31 ..
-rw-r--r--  1 root root    0 Apr  9  2015 .keep
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Apr 19  2015 cdrom
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Jan 16  2017 floppy
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Oct 15 08:07 md0
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Apr 17  2015 pendrive
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Mar 18  2016 usbstick
root # chown fitzcarraldo:fitzcarraldo /mnt/md0
root # ls -la /mnt/
total 28
drwxr-xr-x  7 root         root         4096 Oct 15 07:42 .
drwxr-xr-x 22 root         root         4096 Oct  6 08:31 ..
-rw-r--r--  1 root         root            0 Apr  9  2015 .keep
drwxr-xr-x  2 root         root         4096 Apr 19  2015 cdrom
drwxr-xr-x  2 root         root         4096 Jan 16  2017 floppy
drwxr-xr-x  2 fitzcarraldo fitzcarraldo 4096 Oct 15 08:07 md0
drwxr-xr-x  2 root         root         4096 Apr 17  2015 pendrive
drwxr-xr-x  2 root         root         4096 Mar 18  2016 usbstick
root # umount /dev/md0

21. ‘Places’ in Dolphin shows /mnt/md0 as ‘7.5 GiB Hard Drive’.

22. I can still mount the RAID from the command line:

root # mount /dev/md0 /mnt/md0
root # df -h /dev/md0
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/md0        7.5G  420M  7.1G   6% /mnt/md0
root # umount /dev/md0

23. If I want to use the RAID in KDE I must use Dolphin to mount it, not mount it from the command line. To do this I click on the RAID ‘7.5 GiB Hard Drive’ listed under ‘Places’, and a window pop-ups prompting me to enter the root user’s password.

If I mount /dev/md0 via Dolphin instead of via the command line, KDE mounts it on a different directory:

root # df -h /run/media/fitzcarraldo/d565c117-37e0-48eb-b635-a2fe70b83272/
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/md0        7.5G  420M  7.1G   6% /run/media/fitzcarraldo/d565c117-37e0-48eb-b635-a2fe70b83272

If I want to unmount it, I right-click on the RAID in ‘Places’ and select ‘Unmount’ in the right-click menu. Once it has been unmounted, I can unplug the hub from the laptop. If I plug the hub back into the laptop, the RAID is detected and can be mounted as usual.

So, it works! A USB hub and pendrives are a handy way to:

  • experiment with creating the various types of RAID;
  • compare the capacity of the RAID with the capacity of the USB pendrives used;
  • measure the time to write and read a large file to/from the RAID and compare those times with the time to write and read the same file to/from a single USB pendrive of the same model.

Preventing Lubuntu 18.04 from leaving a user process running after the user logs out

My family’s desktop machine has Lubuntu 18.04 installed, which uses systemd and the LXDE desktop environment. Each family member has their own user account, thus the installation is a single-seat, multi-user installation. For each user’s account I set up the virus-checking scheme described in an earlier post, suitably modified to take into account the differences between Lubuntu 18.04 and Gentoo Linux running KDE. For example, the monitorDownloadsGUI script in Lubuntu 18.04 uses zenity rather than kdialog, and, as Lubuntu 18.04 uses systemd, the ClamAV daemon’s service file in Lubuntu 18.04 is /lib/systemd/system/clamav-daemon.service rather than the OpenRC init file /etc/init.d/clamd used in my Gentoo Linux installations.

The virus-checking script ~/.monitorDownloadGUI in each user’s home directory is launched automatically by LXDE at login because I created a Desktop Configuration File ~/.config/autostart/monitorDownloadsGUI.desktop in each user’s account. For example, the contents of the file in my account are as follows:

[Desktop Entry]
Type=Application
Exec=/home/fitzcarraldo/.monitorDownloadsGUI

However, I recently noticed that Lubuntu 18.04 does not terminate the monitorDownloadsGUI process when the user logs out. I do not see this behaviour on my laptops running Gentoo Linux with OpenRC and KDE, so I am not sure why this is happening in Lubuntu 18.04 with systemd and LXDE. The output of the ‘ps -ef‘ command after each of the three example steps shown below illustrates the behaviour.

Step 1. george is the only user who is logged-in.

$ ps -ef | grep bash | grep -v grep
george    1410     1  0 02:05 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    1597  1358  0 02:05 pts/0    00:00:00 /bin/bash

Step 2. ringo uses ‘Logout’ > ‘Switch User’ to login to his account.

$ ps -ef | grep bash | grep -v grep
george    1410     1  0 02:05 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    1597  1358  0 02:05 pts/0    00:00:00 /bin/bash
ringo     2382     1  0 02:06 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/ringo/.monitorDownloadsGUI

Step 3. ringo logs out of his account.

$ ps -ef | grep bash | grep -v grep
george    1410     1  0 02:05 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    1597  1358  0 02:05 pts/0    00:00:00 /bin/bash
ringo     2382     1  0 02:06 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/ringo/.monitorDownloadsGUI

Notice that the process with PID 2382 is still running, even though user ringo is no longer logged in.

If a user logs out and logs in again, or if users switch between sessions using ‘Logout’ > ‘Switch User’, it is also possible for multiple instances of the script per user to be running. For example:

$ ps -ef | grep bash | grep -v grep
george    1564     1  0 11:14 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
ringo     2522     1  0 11:16 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/ringo/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    3803     1  0 11:17 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    5997     1  0 11:19 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    6054  5881  0 11:19 pts/0    00:00:00 /bin/bash

Notice that several instances of the script are running for user george. There should only be one instance.

In order to prevent these multiple instances, I added the shell script lines below to the existing LightDM session-cleanup-script that I had created previously to solve a different problem in the Lubuntu 18.04 installation (see an earlier blog post).

# Get rid of duplicate instances (if any) per user of the virus-checker script's process
who -u | grep -v "\." > /tmp/logged-in_users
while IFS=: read -r f1 f2 f3 f4 f5 f6 f7
# $f1 is username
# $f2 is password ('x')
# $f3 is UID
# $f4 is GID
# $f5 is UID info
# $f6 is home directory
# $f7 is command/shell
do
    match=0
    while read a b c d e f g h # Use this if this script is launched by LightDM in Lubuntu 18.04
#    while read a b c d e f g # Use this if you launch this script from a terminal in Lubuntu 18.04
    #
    # If this script is launched by a user, 'who -u' returns the following fields:
    # "john     tty7         2019-08-31 17:08 00:01        1624 (:0)"
    # If this script is launched by LightDM, 'who -u' returns the following fields:
    # "john     tty7        Aug 31 17:08 00:01        1624 (:0)"
    #
    do
        if [[ $f6 == *"/home/"* ]] && [[ $f7 == "/bin/bash" ]] && [[ $a == $f1 ]]; then
            match=1
            user=$f1
            tty=$b
        fi
    done < /tmp/logged-in_users
    if [[ $match -eq 1 ]] && [[ $(echo $tty | sed 's/[^0-9]*//g') -gt 6 ]]; then
        if [[ `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$user" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | wc -l` -gt 1 ]]; then
            kill `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$user" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | tail -n +2`
        fi
    elif [[ $match -ne 1 ]]; then
        if [[ $f6 == *"/home/"* ]] && [[ $f7 == "/bin/bash" ]] && [[ `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$f1" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | wc -l` -gt 1 ]]; then
            kill `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$f1" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | tail -n +2`
        elif [[ $f6 == *"/home/"* ]] && [[ $f7 == "/bin/bash" ]] && [[ `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$f1" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | wc -l` -eq 1 ]]; then
            kill `ps -ef | grep bash | grep "$f1" | grep monitorDownloadsGUI | awk -F' ' '{print $2}'`
        fi
    fi
done < /etc/passwd
rm /tmp/logged-in_users

The above lines of Bash script kill additional instances of monitorDownloadGUI on a per-user basis when a user session ends. If LightDM’s session-cleanup-script does this, there will be no more than one instance of a monitorDownloadsGUI process per logged-in user, and no instances of a monitorDownloadGUI process for users who have logged out:

$ ps -ef | grep bash | grep -v grep
george    1473     1  0 12:32 ?        00:00:00 /bin/bash /home/george/.monitorDownloadsGUI
george    1693  1412  0 12:32 pts/0    00:00:00 /bin/bash

Problem solved. Well, worked around. I would like to know what causes the problem to happen in the first place. I assume it is either systemd or LXDE.

How to run KDE Dolphin, Kate and KWrite as root user

When using KDE I occasionally wish to launch KWrite or Kate as root user in order to edit system files more easily than using a TUI editor in a terminal window (either launched as root user or by using the sudoedit command). Being able to browse using Dolphin as the root user occasionally is also useful. These all used to be possible by launching the application with the kdesu command, but in 2017 KDE developer Martin Gräßlin removed this option on security grounds (see his blog post ‘Editing files as root‘). Attempting to launch e.g. Kate using the sudo command results in the following message:

$ sudo kate
Executing Kate with sudo is not possible due to unfixable security vulnerabilities.

Attempting to launch e.g. Kate using the kdesu command results in a pop-up window prompting me to enter the root user’s password, but then does not launch Kate:

$ kdesu kate
$

I am willing to accept a small risk despite the ‘unfixable security vulnerabilities’ , and a 2018 Kubuntu Forums post by KDE user Rog131 provided me with a solution. It is possible to launch Dolphin, Kate and KWrite as root from your user account by using the pkexec command. For example, to launch Dolphin you can enter:

$ pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true dolphin

Dolphin first displays an orange-coloured box with the warning message ‘Running Dolphin as root can be dangerous. Please be careful.’ and you can then browse and open root-owned directories and files.

You can also launch Kate and KWrite as root from your user account in the same way:

$ pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true kate
$ pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true kwrite

To make it easy to launch them as root user from e.g. Konsole or Yakuake you could set aliases for the three commands in your ~/.bashrc file:

$ tail -n 3 ~/.bashrc
alias dolroot="pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true dolphin"
alias kateroot="pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true kate"
alias kwriteroot="pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true kwrite"

Then all you would need to type in a terminal window would be:

$ dolroot
$ kateroot
$ kwriteroot

which are no more difficult than having to type:

$ kdesu dolphin
$ kdesu kate
$ kdesu kwrite

If an alias is used, rooted-Dolphin/Kate/KWrite can be launched from the command line but cannot be launched via KDE’s Application Launcher menu or KRunner. On the other hand, if a wrapper script is used, rooted-Dolphin/Kate?KWrite can be launched from the user’s command line and via KDE’s Application Launcher menu (and therefore via KRunner too). For example, I created three tiny Bash scripts dolroot, kateroot and kwriteroot. The scripts simply contain the aforementioned pkexec command. For example, dolroot contains:

#!/bin/bash
pkexec env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY XAUTHORITY=$XAUTHORITY KDE_SESSION_VERSION=5 KDE_FULL_SESSION=true dolphin

Don’t forget to make them executable:

$ chmod 700 dolroot
$ chmod 700 kateroot
$ chmod 700 kwriteroot
$ ls -la *root
-rwx------ 1 fitzcarraldo fitzcarraldo 115 Jul 30 15:33 dolroot
-rwx------ 1 fitzcarraldo fitzcarraldo 112 Jul 30 15:34 kateroot
-rwx------ 1 fitzcarraldo fitzcarraldo 114 Jul 30 15:34 kwriteroot	

After adding entries for dolroot, kateroot and kwriteroot to the KDE Application Launcher’s menu, you can press Alt+F2 as usual to display the KRunner launcher then enter ‘dolroot’, ‘kateroot’ or ‘kwriteroot’ (without the quotes, obviously) in the KRunner window to launch Dolphin/Kate/KWrite as root user. A window will pop-up for you to enter the root user’s password. Once you have entered the root user’s password, the application will be launched.

Thankfully KDE’s Nathaniel Graham is pragmatic:

D12795 – Re-allow running Dolphin as the root user (but still not using sudo)
D12732 – Show a warning when running as the root user

How to change the height of the Kickoff Application Launcher menu in KDE Plasma

The height of the KDE Plasma Kickoff Application Launcher menu is not user-configurable, which is odd in a Desktop Environment with a reputation for being highly user-configurable.

It turns out that the height and width of the pop-up menu are hard-coded in the ASCII file /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml:

root # grep -E "Layout.minimumHeight.*units.gridUnit" /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml
    Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit * 34
root # grep -E "Layout.minimumWidth.*units.gridUnit" /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml
    Layout.minimumWidth: units.gridUnit * 26

Now, I was a bit fed up having to scroll up and down the launcher menu to see all fourteen entries in my Favourites list, so I decided to increase the height of the menu, which I did by editing /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml as root user:

root # nano /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml
root # grep -E "Layout.minimumHeight.*units.gridUnit" /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml
    Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit * 44

The only downside to this is that the file will be overwritten when the package kde-plasma/plasma-desktop is upgraded.

The following command would allow me to make sure the file contains the height value of ’44’ that I want:

root # sed -i '/Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit/ c\    Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit * 44' /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml

Therefore, to automate the editing of the file in my Gentoo installations that use OpenRC I created a shell script /etc/local.d/50-set_Kickoff_height.start with the following contents:

#!/bin/bash
if [ -e /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml ]; then
    sed -i '/Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit/ c\    Layout.minimumHeight: units.gridUnit * 44' /usr/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.plasma.kickoff/contents/ui/FullRepresentation.qml
fi

The FullRepresentation.qml file will then be edited every time the machine boots, which is a tad inefficient but not a big overhead.

This is not a perfect solution because the menu will revert to its default height following an upgrade to the package kde-plasma/plasma-desktop until I reboot the machine, but it is good enough for me.

How to stop inactive user sessions triggering Suspend to RAM in a single-seat, multi-user installation of Lubuntu 18.04

In my previous post I mentioned a problem that I had still not been able to fix in a single-seat, multi-user installation of Lubuntu 18.04: Xfce Power Manager in each user’s account can cause the installation to suspend to RAM if a user has not logged out of his/her session and another user is using a different session. Each user account in Lubuntu 18.04 has its own XfcePower Manager settings, stored in the file ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml. If the property /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac has a value of 15 (minutes) or higher, that session can cause the machine to suspend to RAM even if the session is not active while someone else’s session is active. The example below illustrates the effect.

Consider five users mick, christine, john, stevie and lindsey with the following settings for the number of minutes of inactivity that will trigger suspension to RAM:

mick@aspirexc600:~$ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
30
christine@aspirexc600:~$ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
25
john@aspirexc600:~$ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
45
stevie@aspirexc600:~$ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
15
lindsey@aspirexc600:~$ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
30

Now, suppose that john boots the machine, logs in to his account to check his e-mail, leaves the e-mail client open and goes off to grab lunch without logging out. Then stevie comes along and clicks on ‘Logout’ > ‘Switch User’ to display the LightDM greeter screen (or the greeter screen is already displayed because john‘s session has already been locked), logs in to her account and begins to use, say, LibreOffice Writer. Even though stevie is busy typing, the machine will suspend to RAM after 45 minutes of inactivity by john. This can be very annoying.

In addition to the individual users’ Xfce Power Manager configuration files in Lubuntu 18.04, I found the following Xfce Power Manager configuration files which appear to be system-wide:

/etc/xdg/xdg-Lubuntu/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml
/etc/xdg/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml

First attempt at fixing the problem

I asked all the users to configure their accounts to never cause the machine to suspend, by using the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI in their session and selecting ‘Never’. I noticed this caused each user’s /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac property to become ‘14‘:

user $ xfconf-query -c xfce4-power-manager -p /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac
14

Note that users must not edit their file ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml; if they do, the settings shown in the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI will not be updated. Users must either use the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI or xfconf-query commands as explained on the askubuntu Web page ‘Change xfce4-power-manager option from terminal‘.

Then I edited the file /etc/xdg/xdg-Lubuntu/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml to make its contents the same as the previous contents of the individual users’ settings when Suspend to RAM was enabled individually):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<channel name="xfce4-power-manager" version="1.0">
  <property name="xfce4-power-manager" type="empty">
    <property name="power-button-action" type="uint" value="3"/>
    <property name="show-tray-icon" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="brightness-switch-restore-on-exit" type="int" value="1"/>
    <property name="brightness-switch" type="int" value="0"/>
    <property name="presentation-mode" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="inactivity-on-ac" type="uint" value="30"/>
    <property name="blank-on-ac" type="int" value="10"/>
    <property name="dpms-on-ac-sleep" type="uint" value="0"/>
    <property name="dpms-on-ac-off" type="uint" value="0"/>
    <property name="brightness-on-ac" type="uint" value="9"/>
    <property name="lock-screen-suspend-hibernate" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="logind-handle-lid-switch" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="dpms-enabled" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="general-notification" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="sleep-button-action" type="uint" value="0"/>
    <property name="hibernate-button-action" type="uint" value="0"/>
  </property>
</channel>

After rebooting, leaving one or more users logged in without any activity did not cause the installation to suspend to RAM after 30 minutes of no activity in any session.

So I then edited the file /etc/xdg/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml to make its contents the same as the above. After rebooting, leaving one or more users logged in without any activity did not cause the installation to suspend to RAM after 30 minutes of no activity in any session.

I therefore assume that the above two files are ignored by Xfce Power Manager during normal operation.

Second attempt at fixing the problem

I used the procedure given in the Xfce4-power-manager FAQs to check if Xfce Power Manager in Lubuntu 18.04 uses systemd-logind to suspend the installation, and indeed it does:

TRACE[xfpm-polkit.c:366] xfpm_polkit_check_auth_intern(): Action=org.freedesktop.login1.suspend is authorized=TRUE

Therefore I edited /etc/systemd/logind.conf to add IdleAction=suspend and IdleActionSec=30min, and rebooted. However, this had no discernable effect either. Leaving one or more users logged in without any activity did not cause the installation to suspend to RAM after 30 minutes of no activity in any session.

Third attempt (successful) at fixing the problem

So, what to do?! In my previous post I explained how I had fixed the problem of not being able to suspend to RAM automatically from the LightDM greeter screen. I decided to keep the scripts from that post and add a new script sessions_sleep.sh to the root crontab. The contents of all the files and the crontab are shown below.

user $ cd /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/
user $ cat 10_lubuntu.conf 
[Seat:*]
greeter-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_sleep.sh
session-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
session-cleanup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh
user $ ls
05_lubuntu.conf  lightdm_kill_sleep.sh       sessions_sleep.sh
10_lubuntu.conf  lightdm_sleep.sh            unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh
user $ cat lightdm_sleep.sh 
#!/bin/bash
# This forms part of the scheme to provide automatic suspension while the greeter screen is displayed
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
(while true; do sleep 30m; systemctl suspend; done) &
echo $! > $file
user $ cat lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
#!/bin/bash
# This forms part of the scheme to provide automatic suspension while the greeter screen is displayed
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
if [ -f "$file" ]; then
    kill `cat $file`
    rm $file
fi
user $ tail -n 11 unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh
#----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# This forms part of the scheme to provide automatic suspension while the greeter screen is displayed
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
if [ -f "$file" ]; then
    kill `cat $file`
    rm $file
fi
#
#----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
exit 0

If the machine did not already have a permanently-connected external USB HDD (LABEL=”FREECOM HDD”) then it would have sufficed to specify a script named, for example, lightdm_kill_sleep2.sh instead of unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh:

user $ cat 10_lubuntu.conf 
[Seat:*]
greeter-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_sleep.sh
session-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
session-cleanup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep2.sh
user $ cat lightdm_kill_sleep2.sh
#!/bin/bash
# This forms part of the scheme to provide automatic suspension while the greeter screen is displayed
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
if [ -f "$file" ]; then
    kill `cat $file`
    rm $file
fi
user $ sudo nano sessions_sleep.sh
user $ sudo chmod +x sessions_sleep.sh
user $ cat sessions_sleep.sh 
#!/bin/bash
date +%s > /tmp/datetime_suspended # Initialise variable
while true
do
    # Only monitor idle time and suspend after specified inactivity if lightdm_sleep.sh is not taking care of those
    if [[ `ps -ef | grep bash | grep lightdm_sleep.sh | wc -l` -eq 0 ]]; then
        #-------------------------------STAGE 1: FIND OUT WHO IS THE ACTIVE USER--------------------------------------
        #
        while IFS=: read -r f1 f2 f3 f4 f5 f6 f7
        # $f1 is username
        # $f2 is password ('x')
        # $f3 is UID
        # $f4 is GID
        # $f5 is UID info
        # $f6 is home directory
        # $f7 is command/shell
        do
            if [[ $f6 == *"/home/"* ]] && [[ $f7 == "/bin/bash" ]]; then
                if `loginctl list-users | grep -ve '^$\|USER\|listed' | awk -F' ' '{print $2}' | grep -q $f1`; then
                    state=`loginctl show-user $f3 | grep State | awk -F'=' '{print $2}'`
                    if [[ $state != "active" ]]; then
                        inactive_user=$f1
                    elif [[ $state == "active" ]]; then
                        active_user=$f1
                    fi
                fi
            fi
        done < /etc/passwd
        #
        #-------------------------------STAGE 2: ASCERTAIN USER SESSIONS---------------------------------------------
        #
        # Find idle time for each X Windows session and suspend to RAM if the active user has been idle for >=30min.
        #
        who -u | grep -v "\." > /tmp/logged-in_users
        #
        while read a b c d e f g
        # $a is username
        # $b is the tty (tty1 to tty12)
        # $c is the date (yyyy-mm-dd)
        # $d is the time (hh:mm)
        # $e is the idle time (hh:mm) which does not reflect reality in this installation, for some reason
        # $f is the PID
        # $g is the display e.g. "(:1)"
        # Example: "john     tty7         2019-08-31 17:08 00:01        1624 (:0)"
        do
            if [[ $(echo $b | sed 's/[^0-9]*//g') -gt 6 ]]; then
                display=$(echo $g | sed 's/[^0-9]*//g')
                idle_millisecs=$(env DISPLAY=:$display sudo -u $a xprintidle)
                let idle_minutes=$idle_millisecs/60000
                if [[ $idle_minutes -ge 30 ]] && [[ $a == "$active_user" ]]; then
                    datetime_now=$(date +%s)
                    diffsecs=$(expr $datetime_now - $(cat /tmp/datetime_suspended))
                    # Prevent suspending immediately after resuming
                    if [ $diffsecs -gt 180 ]; then
                        date +%s > /tmp/datetime_suspended
                        systemctl suspend
                    fi
                fi
            fi
        done < /tmp/logged-in_users
        rm /tmp/logged-in_users
        #
        #------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        sleep 10 # Frequency to repeat check
    fi
done

I installed the utility xprintidle via the Linux distribution’s package manager. As the name of the utility suggests, it returns the time (in milliseconds) that an X Windows session has been idle. Nice utility, by the way.

user $ sudo crontab -e
user $ sudo crontab -l | grep -v ^#
@reboot sudo /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/sessions_sleep.sh

Note that, despite its name, ‘@reboot‘ in the cron job will run the script after a cold boot as well as after a warm boot (reboot). Also note that the use of ‘sudo‘ in the root cron job is not an error; it makes the root cron job use the root user’s environment variables.

Remember that the property /xfce4-power-manager/inactivity-on-ac has to be configured to have a value of 14 (which corresponds to ‘Never’ in the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI) for every user. This should be done by each user using the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI in their own session.

Basically, the scheme works as follows: At boot, Lubuntu 18.04 launches the looping Bash script sessions_sleep.sh, which remains running but does nothing because no X Windows users are logged in. When LightDM runs the greeter-setup-script (lightdm_sleep.sh) and displays the greeter screen, sessions_sleep.sh still does nothing while lightdm_sleep.sh is running and taking care of managing suspension. When an X Windows user logs in and LightDM’s session-setup-script (lightdm_kill_sleep.sh) kills the running script lightdm_sleep.sh, the script sessions_sleep.sh then takes over monitoring users’ activity in X Windows and triggers suspension if the active user has not used his/her session for 30 minutes. If an X Windows user logs out, LightDM’s session-cleanup-script (unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh) also kills lightdm_sleep.sh if it is running. When LightDM again runs its greeter-setup-script (lightdm_sleep.sh) and displays the greeter screen, that again inhibits sessions_sleep.sh from taking any action if no X Windows user is logged in. This all sounds convoluted, but it seems to work fine so far.

Because Xfce Power Manager is no longer used to monitor idle time and trigger suspension, ‘Presentation mode’ in Xfce Power Manager can no longer prevent the system from suspending after 30 minutes of inactivity while someone is watching a long video or playing music, for example. However this is not a problem; to temporarily inhibit suspension the user can use the method given in my earlier post ‘How to move a mouse pointer automatically in Linux to simulate user activity‘.

The Lubuntu 18.04 architecture

I suspect most Lubuntu 18.04 installations are on laptops or desktop machines with a single user, i.e. single-seat, single-user installations. In such a case, unless the user has created multiple user accounts that he/she logs into concurrently (by using ‘Switch User’, for example), the machine will never suspend unexpectedly while the user is logged in and using the session. I think the way LightDM, light-locker, systemd-logind and Xfce Power Manager have been bundled in Lubuntu 18.04 to manage suspending to RAM is a dog’s breakfast. The design apparently does not take into consideration that different people could be logged in concurrently in a single-seat installation. Try forcing people to log off so that only one person is ever logged in — it won’t happen! To be interrupted by Suspend to RAM triggered by Xfce Power Manager due to inactivity in a different session is illogical; the system should not suspend when someone is actively using the system. Therefore, in my opinion, management of suspension (and hibernation) ought to be configured and managed system-wide, not on a per-user basis, and a design should not require users to hack the installation to the extent I have described above. I was ‘scratching an itch’, but users should not have to jump through hoops to get an installation to function in a sensible manner. For all I know there may be a simpler way of achieving the functionality in Lubuntu 18.04 that I have described in this post and my previous post, but, if there is, it is not obvious. LightDM, light-locker, systemd and Xfce Power Manager are developed by different people, and functionality such as suspension and hibernation does not seem to have been considered using ‘helicopter vision’. Designing disparate applications developed separately to work together holistically is not a trivial task.

Anyway, hopefully I have fixed the problem and also ‘scratched my itch’. No more unexpected suspensions while I am using the family desktop machine!

How to make LightDM suspend to RAM automatically from the login screen and lock screen in Lubuntu 18.04

My family’s desktop machine has Lubuntu 18.04 installed, which generally works well. Each family member has their own account, therefore the installation is a single-seat, multi-user system. Lubuntu 18.04 uses LightDM for the display manager, light-locker (which uses LightDM) for the screen locker, and Xfce Power Manager for power management. Xfce Power Manager enables each user to specify for their session that the machine will suspend to RAM, and to configure the duration of inactivity in their session that will trigger suspension.

However, a couple of things about this arrangement are annoying. Firstly, if two or more users happen to be logged-in simultaneously because a family member does not bother to log out, Xfce Power Manager in an inactive session will eventually suspend the machine even when another user is actively using a different session. Secondly, if nobody is logged-in and the LightDM greeter screen is displayed, the machine will not suspend to RAM automatically after a period of inactivity. The only way to get the machine to suspend to RAM if nobody is logged-in is to click on the power indicator in the greeter’s system tray and select ‘Suspend’ from the drop-down menu.

I still have not figured out how to fix the first of the above-mentioned problems, but a Web search finally turned up a fix for the second problem: a post by Linux user boyi in Arch Linux Forums thread ‘need lightdm to suspend system‘. Below I explain how I implemented this in my family’s Lubuntu 18.04 installation. Basically, when the LightDM greeter screen is displayed LightDM runs a looping shell script (lightdm_sleep.sh) that will suspend the machine after a specified time has elapsed, and either logging in or unlocking the screen will run another shell script (lightdm_kill_sleep.sh) that kills the first script. Once a user has either logged in or unlocked the screen, Xfce Power Manager in that user’s session takes over monitoring activity.

1. Pre-existing situation
When I originally installed Lubuntu 18.04 I made sure each user used the Xfce Power Manager GUI to configure suspension to RAM. Each user’s own settings are shown below:

user $ cat ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<channel name="xfce4-power-manager" version="1.0">
  <property name="xfce4-power-manager" type="empty">
    <property name="power-button-action" type="uint" value="3"/>
    <property name="show-tray-icon" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="brightness-switch-restore-on-exit" type="int" value="1"/>
    <property name="brightness-switch" type="int" value="0"/>
    <property name="presentation-mode" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="inactivity-on-ac" type="uint" value="30"/>
    <property name="blank-on-ac" type="int" value="10"/>
    <property name="dpms-on-ac-sleep" type="uint" value="0"/>
    <property name="dpms-on-ac-off" type="uint" value="0"/>
    <property name="brightness-on-ac" type="uint" value="9"/>
    <property name="lock-screen-suspend-hibernate" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="logind-handle-lid-switch" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="dpms-enabled" type="bool" value="false"/>
    <property name="general-notification" type="bool" value="true"/>
    <property name="sleep-button-action" type="uint" value="3"/>
    <property name="hibernate-button-action" type="uint" value="3"/>
  </property>
</channel>

Note that each user must not edit their file ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-power-manager.xml directly, as the properties in the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI will not be updated if they do. Users must either use the Xfce Power Manager settings GUI or use xfconf-query commands on the command line as explained on the askubuntu Web page ‘Change xfce4-power-manager option from terminal‘.

The LightDM configuration files in /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/ were as follows:

user $ ls /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/
05_lubuntu.conf  10_lubuntu.conf  unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh

The file 05_lubuntu.conf was installed when I installed Lubuntu 18.04. The two files 10_lubuntu.conf and unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh were previously created by me in order to unmount a permanently-connected external USB HDD when a user logs out, to avoid an access problem when another user logs in (see an earlier blog post).

user $ cat /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/10_lubuntu.conf
[Seat:*]
session-cleanup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh

2. Modifications to enable installation to suspend when no user is logged in

2.1 Specify the scripts

user $ cd /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/
user $ sudo nano 10_lubuntu.conf
user $ cat 10_lubuntu.conf 
[Seat:*]
greeter-setup-script =/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_sleep.sh
session-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
session-cleanup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh

2.2 Create the two scripts

user $ sudo nano lightdm_sleep.sh
user $ sudo chmod +x lightdm_sleep.sh
user $ cat lightdm_sleep.sh 
#!/bin/sh
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
(while true; do sleep 30m; systemctl suspend; done) &
echo $! > $file
user $ sudo nano lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
user $ sudo chmod +x lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
user $ cat lightdm_kill_sleep.sh 
#!/bin/sh
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
if [ -f "$file" ]
then
    kill `cat $file`
    rm $file
fi

2.3 Modify the existing session cleanup script to include the lightdm_kill_sleep.sh code

user $ tail -n 11 unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh
################################################
# Code below copied from lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
file="/tmp/unique_identifier"
if [ -f "$file" ]
then
    kill `cat $file`
    rm $file
fi
# End of code copied from lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
################################################
exit 0

Of course, specifying lightdm_kill_sleep.sh would have sufficed if the installation did not already have a session cleanup script:

user $ cat 10_lubuntu.conf
[Seat:*]
greeter-setup-script =/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_sleep.sh
session-setup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep.sh
session-cleanup-script=/etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/lightdm_kill_sleep.sh

3. Summary
Thus the file situation is now as follows:

user $ ls /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/
05_lubuntu.conf  10_lubuntu.conf  lightdm_kill_sleep.sh  lightdm_sleep.sh  unmount_FREECOM_HDD.sh
  • If nobody logs in after booting the machine, the machine will suspend to RAM after 30 minutes* due to greeter-setup-script.
  • If a user logs in, session-setup-script ensures only Xfce Power Manager controls suspension to RAM while the LightDM greeter screen is not displayed.
  • If a user logs out and no other user is logged in, the machine will suspend to RAM after 30 minutes* due to greeter-setup-script.
  • If a user locks the screen, the machine will suspend to RAM after 30 minutes* due to greeter-setup-script.

*Obviously the period of inactivity to trigger suspension to RAM can be configured by changing the time specified in the lightdm_sleep.sh script.

KDE Device Notifier work-around

KDE Device Notifier can be annoying sometimes. The problem is that clicking on the Eject icon in Device Notifier (tooltip ‘Click to safely remove this device’) both unmounts and ejects the device (two separate commands). Of course, in the case of a USB device the device remains physically connected until you pull out the USB plug. You cannot re-mount the device in KDE Device Notifier until you unplug it and plug it in again. However, there is a hack that can help somewhat, as I explain below.

Firstly, note that it is possible to mount and unmount drives by using the ‘udisksctl’ command. For example, consider one of my USB HDDs which has the label ‘USBHDD01’ (I assign a label to all HDD partitions, be they on internal HDDs or on external HDDs/pendrives). It is possible to unmount the specific USB device and remount it by using the following commands:

fitzcarraldo@clevow230ss ~ $ udisksctl unmount -b /dev/disk/by-label/USBHDD01
Unmounted /dev/sdb1.
fitzcarraldo@clevow230ss ~ $ udisksctl mount -b /dev/disk/by-label/USBHDD01
Mounted /dev/sdb1 at /run/media/fitzcarraldo/USBHDD01.

In both the above cases the USB device remains visible in Device Notifier. I have created a couple of executable Desktop Configuration Files in the directory ~/Desktop/ which I can double-click to run each of the above commands. I have given each of them an appropriate icon:

The file ~/Desktop/Mount_USBHDD01.desktop contains the following:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_GB]=Mount USB HDD with label USBHDD01
Comment=Mount USB HDD with label USBHDD01
Exec=udisksctl mount -b /dev/disk/by-label/USBHDD01
GenericName[en_GB]=Mount_USBHDD01
GenericName=Mount_USBHDD01
Icon=media-mount
MimeType=
Name[en_GB]=Mount_USBHDD01
Name=Mount_USBHDD01
Path=
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=false
TerminalOptions=
Type=Application
X-DBUS-ServiceName=
X-DBUS-StartupType=none
X-KDE-SubstituteUID=false
X-KDE-Username=fitzcarraldo

The file ~/Desktop/Unmount_USBHDD01.desktop contains the following:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_GB]=Unmount USB HDD with label USBHDD01
Comment=Unmount USB HDD with label USBHDD01
Exec=udisksctl unmount -b /dev/disk/by-label/USBHDD01
GenericName[en_GB]=Unmount_USBHDD01
GenericName=Unmount_USBHDD01
Icon=media-eject
MimeType=
Name[en_GB]=Unmount_USBHDD01
Name=Unmount_USBHDD01
Path=
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=false
TerminalOptions=
Type=Application
X-DBUS-ServiceName=
X-DBUS-StartupType=none
X-KDE-SubstituteUID=false
X-KDE-Username=fitzcarraldo

(N.B. Since I could not find a media-unmount icon, I have used the media-eject icon to represent Unmount.)

This is not perfect in the sense that the device will still disappear from Device Notifier if you click on the Eject icon in Device Notifier. But at least I can avoid doing that until I really do want to unplug the device from my laptop. In other cases I simply double-click on the Mount_USBHDD01 icon and Unmount_USBHDD01 icon on my Desktop to mount and unmount the USB device as many times as I need to.

HEIC image files in Linux

I was at an event recently where the attendees were asked to upload their camera and smartphone photos and videos to a shared Google Drive folder. Some of the uploaded photo files have a .HEIC (High Efficiency Image Container) extension, which I had not come across before. I have since learnt that these HEIC files were produced by iPhones running iOS 11, encoded using the HEIF (High Efficiency Image File) format. Apparently the HEIF format is superior to the JPEG format in a number of ways (see the links at the end of my post, especially the image examples given by Nokia), although it is subject to patents and therefore I believe there are certain constraints to coding image files in HEIC format. Anyway, I’ll leave you to read the fine print. My interest was simply because I wanted to be able to download the above-mentioned photo files and view them all in the file managers and image-viewing applications in Linux and Android on my various devices.

Now, I can browse and view the above-mentioned shared HEIC images in Google Drive in the Firefox and Chrome browsers in Linux, although an ownCloud site viewed using the same browsers displays the HEIC files as grey icons that can only be downloaded, not opened and viewed in the browser. I also found that Cirrus, the Android app for ownCloud that I use on my Galaxy Note 8 phone, cannot display HEIC photos either.

I downloaded the HEIC files to a machine running Lubuntu 18.04 and to a machine running Gentoo Linux. The file manager PCManFM in Lubuntu 18.04 displays grey icons rather than thumbnails for these HEIC files, and KDE’s Dolphin 18.08.3 file manager in Gentoo Linux displays green image icons rather than thumbnails for them. As far as Linux image viewers go, in Lubuntu 18.04 I find that GPicView 0.2.5 and Geeqie 1.4 cannot display HEIC images, and in Gentoo Linux KDE I find that GQview 2.1.5-r1, Okular 18.08.3 and Gwenview 18.08.3 cannot display HEIC images. So I set about converting all the HEIC files to JPG files. I managed to do this but needed to use a range of tools, as illustrated by a couple of examples below for Lubuntu 18.04 and Gentoo Linux. This post might seem long-winded but perhaps may be of help to Linux users coming across .HEIC files for the first time.

From the .HEIC files I had downloaded I picked one at random to try and convert to a JPG file: IMG_3706.HEIC. Its EXIF data confirms it is an HEIC file:

user $ exiftool IMG_3706.HEIC | grep "File Type"
File Type                       : HEIC
File Type Extension             : heic
user $ exiftool IMG_3706.HEIC | grep "Camera Model"
Camera Model Name               : iPhone 7 Plus

Several of the files with the .HEIC suffix that I downloaded were not real HEIC files according to their EXIF data:

user $ exiftool IMG_9474.HEIC | grep "File Type"
File Type                       : JPEG
File Type Extension             : jpg
user $ exiftool IMG_9474.HEIC | grep "Camera Model"
Camera Model Name               : iPhone 8

Those files were apparently treated as JPEG files by the tools I mention below, so I have omitted the results for those ‘false’ HEIC files.

Lubuntu 18.04

1. I installed the libheif example tools:

user $ sudo apt install libheif-examples

2. I used the heif-info command to check the file:

user $ heif-info IMG_3706.HEIC 
image: 3024x4032 (id=49), primary
  thumbnail: 240x320
  alpha channel: no
  depth channel: no

3. I tried to convert the file using the heif-convert command:

user $ heif-convert IMG_3706.HEIC IMG_3706.jpg
File contains 1 images
Written to IMG_3706.jpg

4. Apparently Imagemagick >=7.0.7-22 compiled with --with-libheif is supposed to be able to convert HEIC files to JPG. Anyway, I tried to convert the file using the current version of Imagemagick in Lubuntu 18.04 (the current package version is 8:6.9.7.4+dfsg-16ubuntu6.4):

user $ convert IMG_3706.HEIC IMG_3706a.jpg
convert-im6.q16: no decode delegate for this image format `HEIC' @ error/constitute.c/ReadImage/504.
convert-im6.q16: no images defined `IMG_3706a.jpg' @ error/convert.c/ConvertImageCommand/3258.

5. Apparently the GIMP >=2.10.2 supports HEIF by using heif-gimp-plugin. Anyway, I tried to open the file with the current version of the GIMP in Lubuntu 18.04 (the current package version is 2.8.22-1). The GIMP launches and pops-up a window with the title ‘GIMP Message’ containing the following message and an ‘OK’ button:

GIMP Message
Opening /home/fitzcarraldo/IMG_3706.HEIC’ failed: Unknown file type

6. I used the online tool ‘libheif decoder demo’ (https://strukturag.github.io/libheif/) in a browser window. This can load the file IMG_3706.HEIC (‘Browse…’ button) and convert it (‘Save image…’ button) to IMG_3706.jpeg.

Gentoo Linux with KDE 5

1. I installed the libheif example tools implicitly by re-merging Imagemagick with USE="heif", which installs libheif.

root # cat /etc/portage/package.use/imagemagick 
media-gfx/imagemagick heif
root # emerge imagemagick

2. I used the heif-info command to check the file:

user $ heif-info IMG_3706.HEIC  
image: 3024x4032 (id=49), primary
  thumbnail: 240x320
  alpha channel: no
  depth channel: no

3. I tried to convert the file using the heif-convert command:

user $ heif-convert IMG_3706.HEIC IMG_3706.jpg
File contains 1 images
Written to IMG_3706.jpg

4. I tried to convert the file using Imagemagick >=7.0.7-22 compiled with --with-libheif (Imagemagick merged with USE="heif"):

user $ convert IMG_3706.HEIC IMG_3706a.jpg
user $

So Imagemagick 7.0.8.16 in Gentoo has no trouble with the file IMG_3706.HEIC.

5. I tried to open the file with the GIMP >=2.10.2, which supports HEIF using heif-gimp-plugin (GIMP >=2.10.6-r1 with USE="heif" in the case of Gentoo Linux)

First I re-merged the GIMP with the heif USE flag:

root # cat /etc/portage/package.accept_keywords/gimp
=media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1 ~amd64
# required by media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1::gentoo
=media-libs/libmypaint-1.3.0 ~amd64
# required by media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1::gentoo
=media-gfx/mypaint-brushes-1.3.0-r1 ~amd64
# required by media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1::gentoo
=media-libs/gegl-0.4.12 ~amd64
# required by media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1::gentoo
=media-libs/babl-0.1.60 ~amd64
root # cat /etc/portage/package.use/gimp
media-gfx/gimp heif
root # emerge -1vp gimp

These are the packages that would be merged, in order:

Calculating dependencies... done!
[ebuild  N    ~] media-gfx/mypaint-brushes-1.3.0-r1:1.0::gentoo  2,390 KiB
[ebuild     U ~] media-libs/babl-0.1.60::gentoo [0.1.38::gentoo] USE="(-altivec)" CPU_FLAGS_X86="mmx sse sse2 sse3%* sse4_1 -f16c" 670 KiB
[ebuild  N     ] media-libs/gexiv2-0.10.8::gentoo  USE="-introspection -python -static-libs -test -vala" PYTHON_TARGETS="python2_7 python3_6 -python3_4 -python3_5" 620 KiB
[ebuild  NS   ~] media-libs/gegl-0.4.12:0.4::gentoo [0.2.0-r5:0::gentoo] USE="cairo ffmpeg introspection lcms openexr sdl svg tiff v4l -debug -jpeg2k -lensfun -libav -raw -test -umfpack -vala -webp" CPU_FLAGS_X86="mmx sse" 6,900 KiB
[ebuild  NS    ] media-libs/gegl-0.3.26:0.3::gentoo [0.2.0-r5:0::gentoo] USE="cairo ffmpeg introspection lcms openexr sdl svg tiff v4l -debug -jpeg2k -lensfun -raw -test -umfpack -vala -webp" CPU_FLAGS_X86="mmx sse" 6,378 KiB
[ebuild  N    ~] media-libs/libmypaint-1.3.0::gentoo  USE="gegl nls openmp -introspection" 428 KiB
[ebuild     U ~] media-gfx/gimp-2.10.8-r1:2::gentoo [2.8.22-r1:2::gentoo] USE="alsa heif%* mng openexr%* udev wmf -aalib (-altivec) (-aqua) -debug -doc -gnome -jpeg2k -postscript -python -smp -test -unwind% -vector-icons% -webp% -xpm (-bzip2%*) (-curl%) (-dbus%*) (-exif%*) (-jpeg%*) (-lcms%*) (-pdf%*) (-png%*) (-svg%*) (-tiff%*)" CPU_FLAGS_X86="mmx sse" PYTHON_TARGETS="python2_7" 31,206 KiB

Total: 7 packages (2 upgrades, 3 new, 2 in new slots), Size of downloads: 48,591 KiB

I then launched the GIMP and successfully opened the file IMG_3706.HEIC, and I was able to export it as IMG_3706.jpg.

6. As would be expected, the online tool ‘libheif decoder demo’ (https://strukturag.github.io/libheif/) behaves exactly the same in Gentoo Linux as it does in Lubuntu 18.04 (see earlier).

Summary

So there you have it; if the Linux file manager and/or image viewing applications you use cannot already handle HEIC files, the tools in Linux that I found may work are as follows:

  • heif-convert (from the package libheif-examples in Ubuntu/Lubuntu, or from from the package libheif in Gentoo).
  • Imagemagick (not every version).
  • The GIMP (not every version).
  • the online tool ‘libheif decoder demo’ (https://strukturag.github.io/libheif/).

I have not tried the copyright open-source code from Nokia (see link under Further Reading below), qt-heif-image-plugin and tifig (not in active development). If you have had success using another tool to convert HEIC files, please post a comment below for the benefit of other users, giving the name of the tool, the package name and version, and the Linux distribution (including release number, if not a rolling distribution).

Further reading

  1. Wikipedia – High Efficiency Image File Format
  2. Lifewire – What Are HEIF and HEIC, and Why Is Apple Using Them?
  3. Nokia – High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF)
  4. libheif – a ISO/IEC 23008-12:2017 HEIF file format decoder and encoder
  5. askubuntu – Any app on Ubuntu to open HEIF (.heic, High Efficiency Image File Format) pictures?