Updated jwhois.conf File for CentOS for New gTLDs

The whois command on CentOS 6.x and 7.x doesn’t handle queries for many domains in new Top Level Domains (TLDs) that were added by ICANN in the last few years.

Domains from many of these new TLDs are selling as cheap as $0.99 a pop, making them attractive to snowshoe spammers who create them in large numbers. As a spam researcher, I see lots of new spam domains from TLDs such as .xyz, .online, .top. .club, .services, .win, .site, .bid, .life and .trade.

WHOIS is an important tool for me to track the domain registrants. CentOS uses jwhois as its WHOIS client, which relies on a configuration file to tell it what servers to query for detailed information. The configuration file that comes with recent CentOS versions is woefully out of date.

I have gone through the currently existing TLDs and counted 466 of them that are not supported by jwhois but appear to have a valid WHOIS server. I have been able to verify for about half of these TLDs that the WHOIS server works and have added them to my configuraion file, which you can download here.

Many of the rest of the new TLDs are hosted on Neustar, which performs rate limiting on lookups. Because of that I didn’t fully verify functioning of all those hosts, but I verified that CNAMEs exist for the WHOIS hosts that redirect to Neustar WHOIS servers and tested a small sample of those TLDs.

Adding Free SSL Certificates for HTTPS To Your Websites

I recently received a warning email from Google:

“Starting October 2017, Chrome (version 62) will show a ‘NOT SECURE’ warning when users enter text in a form on an HTTP page, and for all HTTP pages in Incognito mode.

The recommended solution was to migrate the affected website(s) to HTTPS. This requires an SSL certificate. There are many companies selling those for hundreds of dollars. I didn’t really want to spend that money.

It turns out there is a free alternative: The Let’s Encrypt project (https://letsencrypt.org/) provides free SSL certificates with just enough functionality to run SSL with current browsers. It also provides automated tools that greatly assist you in obtaining and installing those certificates.

I had a default SSL host configured on my Apache 2.4 installation (inherited from a different server running Ubuntu) that I had to manually remove.

Then, when all virtual hosts only had port 80 (HTTP) enabled, I could run the certbot tool as root:

# certbot --apache

It enumerates all host names supported by your Apache installation. I ran it repeatedly, for each domain and the corresponding www. host name (e.g. joewein.net, www.joewein.net) in my installation and verified the results, one at a time. It will create a new virtual host file in /etc/httpd/hosts-enabled for those hosts for port 443 (HTTPS). I appended the content of that file to my existing port 80 (HTTP) virtual host file in /etc/httpd/hosts-available for that host name and deleted the new file created by certbot. That way I can track all configuration details for each website for both HTTP and HTTPS in a single file, but this purely a personal choice.

All it takes is an Apache restart to enable the new configuration.

You can test if SSL is working as expected by accessing the website with a browser using https:// instead of http:// at the start of the URI.

If you have iptables rules for port 80, you may want to replicate those for port 443 or the certificate generation / renewal may fail. Also, you want to make sure that SSLv3 is turned off on your Apache installation, to protect against the POODLE vulnerability. This required the following setting in ssl.conf:

/etc/httpd/conf.d/ssl.conf:SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3

The free certificates will expire in 90 days, but it’s recommended to add a daily cron job that requests renewals so that an updated key will be downloaded after 60 days, long before the old key expires. Once that is in place, maintenance of SSL keys will be totally automatic.

JWHOIS uses 100% of CPU on CentOS

Occasionally we hit a bug where the ‘whois’ command hangs on one of our CentOS servers and goes CPU-bound. This has been happening on several CentOS versions, including 6.8. Specifically, this is a problem in jwhois, the whois client included in CentOS.

Apparently, CentOS (and RHEL, on whose source code it’s based) is missing a number of fixes that have been added to other Linux versions including Fedora over the last couple of years. So the problem is actually known and a fix has been available for years, it’s just not included in the product.

Comparing the change logs for jwhois between CentOS and Fedora, everything matches up to and including build 4.0-18 in September 2009, but then the two diverge.

On Jan 26, 2010, Fedora received a fix (“Use select to wait for input (patch by Joshua Roys <joshua.roys AT gtri.gatech.edu>)”) for a new 4.0-19 build that resolved bug #469412 for precisely this issue. There are many more changes in Fedora’s jwhois after that, unlike its RHEL and CentOS equivalent, which in all the years since then received only a single update. This is also called 4.0-19, but it was made on Jun 23, 2011 and it includes only two fixes for unrelated issues that were fixed in Fedora’s jwhois updates 4.0-24 (Dec 20, 2010) and 4.0-26 (Mar 15, 2011), but not the earlier select fix or fixes for any of the other issues. CentOS is missing the “jwhois-4.0-select.patch” and that’s why WHOIS hangs.

Upgrading to 14.04.1 LTS or If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it

I should have left my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS well alone. Yes, it is over 2 years old, but it worked rock solid and I’ve been good about installing updates on it.

I don’t know what devil rode me last Friday, but when the system informed me that an upgrade to 14.04.1 LTS was available, I went ahead and gave it a try. I should have known better.

When the upgrade finished many hours later, POP access to the dovecot server was no longer working and rsync using modules was broken (rsync daemon not running). I had accepted all the defaults to keep existing configuration files during the upgrade. It turned out that dovecot needed some changes for namespace inbox:

namespace inbox {

The rsync daemon needed to be manually enabled again via

sudo vi /etc/default/rsync


Hopefully I won’t stumble across more problems that will need fixing, but the experience was a reminder not to needlessly mess with a working system.

Adding sudo on Debian Linux

For a long time I had been using the sudo command on Ubuntu and other Linux versions, but my main server did not have it installed. I always had to use ‘su’ with the root password to do be able to do administrative jobs. It turns out it was really easy to fix. Simply follow these steps as root (using your actual user name in place of jsmith):

apt-get install sudo
adduser jsmith sudo

This installs the sudo package, creates a sudo user group and the /etc/sudoers configuration file. It then adds your user to the user group sudo, which per the default /etc/sudoers file is permitted to run sudo.

Note that these changes do not take effect for any ssh sessions already open. If you have a running session logged in as the user you just added to the sudoers list and you attempt to use sudo from there, it will ask for your password and then fail with this error message:

jsmith is not in the sudoers file. This incident will be reported.

The fix is simple: log out and log back in again. On the new login, the new configuration will be picked up and you will be able to use sudo as intended.

If you would like to do multiple commands from sudo like you could from su, it’s very easy. Simply use sudo to launch a copy of bash and exit after you’re done:

sudo bash

Acer One D260 system restore

The hard disk in my wife’s Acer One D260 netbook got damaged. A new hard disk is about a quarter the price of a new netbook, so I wanted to install a new drive. Like with most PCs these days there aren’t any Windows install DVDs included.

The netbook came with Windows 7 Starter, which we needed to somehow install on the new hard disk. Fortunately, the damaged hard disk was still limping along enough to use the Acer eRecovery system to create two Recovery DVDs. These should allow restoring the initial system state to a hard disk in the machine, wiping all the data on the drive.

To replace the hard disk, I had to undo seven clips around the edge of the keyboard, lift off the keyboard and disconnect the keyboard ribbon cable to the motherboard connector. Then I needed to undo 4 screws underneath and push through, to pop out the cover on the bottom of the machine. This opened access to the single memory slot and drive cage.

The 1 GB memory module on the motherboard can be replaced with a 2 GB PC3-8500 1066MHZ DDR3 module available for about $20. This is a wortwhile investment and I already have the module on order.

I replaced the damaged 250 GB WD Scorpio Blue drive with a spare 500 GB drive (available new for about $60-$80). Then I closed the cover and reinstalled the screws and then the keyboard.

With the new drive it was possible to boot off the first Recovery DVD using a USB DVD drive. The eRecovery software copied data from both DVDs to the hard disks and then rebooted. However, that reboot failed because the new drive did not yet have a Windows Master Boot record (MBR) on it. You can install an MBR from within Windows, but not from the bootable eRecovery DVD. So I had a chicken and egg problem.

I overcame this hurdle by booting off a Ubuntu Live DVD (32 bit), installing the ‘lilo’ package and telling it to install the Linux equivalent of Microsoft’s MBR code:

sudo apt-get install lilo
sudo lilo -M /dev/sda mbr

At the next attempt to boot off the hard disk, Windows started installing its components and drivers and launched into its initial configuration, just like the first time we had unboxed the machine more than two years ago. So we are back to a working Winmdows 7 machine!

Thank you, Linux — you saved my day again! ๐Ÿ™‚

Western Digital 4 KB sector drive alignment for Windows XP and 2003 server

If your existing Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server machine needs a new C: drive, there are ways of upgrading to one of the latest drives without a complete software reinstall, but you may encounter some stumbling blocks due to the new Advanced Format technology, which uses 4 KB sectors.

When one of my PCs developed hard disk problems and I had to upgrade one of its drives, I also checked out my other machines. I found the C: drive of a Windows 2003 Server machine was about to fail. Windows 2003 is basically the server version of Windows XP, with which it shares most components. I opted for a 1 TB WD Red drive (WD10EFRX) by Western Digital, since these drives are designed for 24/7 operation, primarily for use in Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances (desktop drives are only designed for an 8 hours on, 16 hours off use pattern).

I did not want to reinstall everything from scratch on that machine, so I used a Linux boot DVD and the GNU dd utility to mirror the failing drive onto the new WD Red drive (“sudo dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb”). As a result, all the partitions were in the same place and the same size as on the old drive, a Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 320 GB. The partitions on the old drive had not been aligned on 4 KB boundaries as is recommended to get decent performance on modern Advanced Format drives, so I needed to run an align tool to move the partition to the proper place. Western Digital offers one free to its customers, so that should be easy then, right?

No quite. I encountered all the troubles described by others in this thread: Basically, the download link for the WD Align tool (AcronisAlignTool_s_e_2_0_111.exe) takes you back to the same page, over and over, without error message. It turns out that you need to be registered and logged in to the WD site for the download link to do anything. You need to register both your contact details (name, e-mail address, postal address, phone number) and your hard disk’s serial number. For the latter I had to shut down the machine again and take out the drive once more to take a look, because the number is not printed on the cardboard box, only on the drive itself.

Once I registered my new drive, a download link did appear next to the registered product, but from it I found I could only download Acronis True Image and not the Acronis Align Tool (Advanced Format Software, WD Align). The WD Red series drives are all Advanced Format Drives, as is pretty much every drive made since 2011, but WD say it is designed for NAS use and hence don’t see the need for a fix for what they see as a Windows XP problem.

Various people online recommended a download site in Ukraine that apparently offers a copy of that program, but if you’re downloading from sites like that you risk installing malware on your computer. Beware!

There is a safer solution. I had to register another Western Digital drive, an old WD10EARS to get a usable download link for Advanced Format Software. If you don’t happen to have one lying around, a Google image search for WD10EARS will show you many photographs of disk drives with clearly readable serial numbers on the label. And apparently, these serial numbers will do the trick! ๐Ÿ˜‰

After I downloaded the software, I ran it to make a bootable CD (it also seems to be Linux-based), booted and ran it and 1 hour and 30 minutes later my C: partition was showing up as properly aligned.

I can understand that Western Digital wants to restrict the use of licensed Acronis software to its own customers, denying other brands a free ride. However, the hoops it is making people jump through to be able to use one of their new drives as an upgrade to an existing Windows XP machine is just ridiculous. If a login is required to do the download, it should clearly say so. And if a drive uses 4 KB sectors (Advanced Format), its serial number should qualify you for the download. There are millions of existing XP users out there still and many will need new hard disks before they need a new computer.

Upgrading to a Western Digital WD20EFRX hard disk

All hard disks will die, sooner or later. They only way to avoid that is to retire a drive early enough. Often I upgrade drives because I run out of disk space, and migrate the data to a bigger drive. However, this times it looks like one of my drives is about to die.

Over the last couple of months, one of my PCs that is processing data 24/7 has been seizing up periodically, so I was starting to get suspicious about its hard drives (it has two of them). This week the Windows 7 event viewer reported that NTFS had encountered write errors on the secondary drive. It’s a Samsung SpinPoint F2 EG (Samsung HD154UI, 1.5 TB) which basically has been busy non stop for over three years.

I installed smartmontools for Windows and it showed errors:

1 Raw_Read_Error_Rate 0x000f 099 065 051 Pre-fail Always - 5230
13 Read_Soft_Error_Rate 0x000e 099 065 000 Old_age Always - 5223
187 Reported_Uncorrect 0x0032 100 100 000 Old_age Always - 12379
197 Current_Pending_Sector 0x0012 099 099 000 Old_age Always - 24

“Reported_Uncorrect” are fatal errors and “Current_Pending_Sector” are bad sectors the drive wants to replace with spare sectors as soon as it can. Neither is a good sign. So I have ordered a new drive, started a backup to another machine and will replace the drive with a new disk that I have ordered from Amazon.

The new drive is a 2 TB Western Digital WD20EFRX, which is part of WD’s “Red” series. These drives are specifically designed for 24/7 operation (as opposed for 8/5 office computers). The drive is 0.5 GB bigger, which is just as well as the old drive was getting close to filling up. Gradually I will be moving my processing to an Ubuntu server, which I already use as my main archive machine with a RAID6 drive array.

Good bye, Dennis Ritchie!

Back in the early 1980s I learnt programming in C by reading “Kernighan and Ritchie”, as everyone around me called this book then: “The C programming language” by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie.

It is no exaggeration to say that C and its derivatives are to computers what hydrogen is to the universe.

Dennis Ritchie, who passed away today at the age of 70, was a co-creator of both the C programming language and of the Unix operating system, after which open source Linux is modelled today. Mac OS X and iOS are direct descendants of Unix (NetBSD), while Android, which runs on millions of smart phones, is based on Linux. Virtually every operating system that matters these days (including all versions of Microsoft Windows) is written in C or C++ or another C-derived language.

Dennis Ritchie may not have become as much of a household name as Steve Jobs, but the software he created probably brought about much more fundamental changes than anything Steve Jobs did, and in fact most of what Jobs created would have been unthinkable without either C or Unix.

See also:

strcpy data corruption on Core i7 with Linux 64bit

If you’re C programmer, does this code look OK to you?

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

int main(int argc, char* argv[])
  char szBuffer[80];
  strcpy(szBuffer, "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz");
  printf("Before: %s\n", szBuffer);
  strcpy(szBuffer, szBuffer+2);
  printf(" After: **%s\n", szBuffer);

  return 0;

Here is the output on my server, a Core i7 running Debian 6:

Before: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
After: **cdefghijklmnopqrstuvwzyz

What the program does is dropping two characters from a text string in a buffer, moving the rest of it left by two characters. You expect the moved characters to stay in sequence, but if you compare the last three characters of the output you see that that isn’t the case. The ‘x’ has been obliterated by a duplicate ‘z’. The code is broken.

It’s a bug, and not a straightforward one, as I’ll explain.

I first came across it a couple of months ago, as I was moving some code of mine from an Athlon 64 Linux server to a new Intel Core i7 server. Subsequently I observed strange corruption in data it produced. I tracked it down to strcpy() calls that looked perfectly innocent to me, but when I recoded them as in-line loops doing the same job the bug went away.

Yesterday I came across the same problem on a CentOS 6 server (also a Core i7, x86_64) and figured out what the problem really was.

Most C programmers are aware that overlapping block moves using strcpy or memcpy can cause problems, but assume they’re OK as long as the destination lies outside (e.g. below) the source block. If you read the small print in the strcpy documentation, it warns that results for overlapping moves are unpredicable, but most of us don’t take that at face value and think we’ll get away with it as long as we observe the above caveat.

That is no longer the case with the current version of the GNU C compiler on 64-bit Linux and the latest CPUs. The current strcpy implementation uses super-fast SSE block operation that only reliably work as expected if the source and destination don’t overlap at all. Depending on alignment and block length they may still work in some cases, but you can’t rely on it any more. The same caveat theoretically applies to memcpy (which is subject to the same warnings and technically very similar), though I haven’t observed the problem with it yet.

If you do need to remove characters from the middle of a NUL terminated char array, instead of strcpy use your own function based on the memmove and strlen library functions, for example something like this:

void myStrCpy(char* d, const char* s)
  memmove(d, s, strlen(s)+1);
  char szBuffer[80];
  // remove n characters i characters into the buffer:
  myStrCpy(szBuffer+i, szBuffer+i+n);

I don’t know how much existing code the “optimzed” strcpy library function broke in the name of performance, but I imagine there are many programmers out there that got caught by it like I was.

See also: