A peer to peer microstatus system written in 30 lines of pure python.
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README.md
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README.md

TinyStatus

A P2P short-status network you can fit in your email signature.

Copyright 2013 Cathal Garvey, License: GNU Affero General Public License v3

Dedication

Pat Rabbitte: You won't prevent us from speaking, only yourself from hearing.

What is TinyStatus?

TinyStatus is a peer to peer microstatus server/client script written in pure python, in as few 80-character lines as I could manage.

TinyStatus is heavily inspired by E.W. Felten's TinyP2P, code for which is included (as per its CC-BY-NC-SA license) for reference.

Like TinyP2P, TinyStatus establishes a (small, poorly scaleable) network of servers hosting content that clients can poll and fetch from. Unlike TinyP2P, the content in this case is clients' short status messages, which consist of a username, up to 150 characters of text, and a timestamp and cryptographic proof-of-work to deter spamming.

Unlike TinyP2P, TinyStatus is not only a fetching network, but a posting network; users can connect to arbitrary servers and post their statuses, which will be distributed among other servers as transactions occur between the servers in the course of normal activity.

Unfortunately, TinyStatus is also a lot larger than TinyP2P; I attribute this to:

  • TinyP2P can take advantage of OS-level functions for management of locally served files.
  • TinyP2P doesn't contain multiline try:catch statements to prevent crashes due to bad server data (which would make attacking the network trivial).
  • TinyStatus includes anti-flood/anti-spam features not required in TinyP2P.

How do I use TinyStatus?

There are several modes of use in TinyStatus. One is for hosting a node/server, three are for posting/fetching from servers, and two are to directly add/remove "follows" from the local database.

  • Serve: python3 TinyStatus.py serve (hostname) (portnumber) (otherservers)
  • Post: python3 TinyStatus.py post (server) (username)
  • Update: python3 TinyStatus.py update (server)
  • Find: python3 TinyStatus.py find (server) (findstring(s))
  • Follow: python3 TinyStatus.py addfollow (follow(s))
  • Remove: python3 TinyStatus.py remove (follow(s))

You can follow any search string (technically a regex string, for the geeks), whether a username, hashtag, time, date, whatever. To see anything written by a user or said about that user, follow "@user". To see only stuff posted by that user, use "^@user".

To search, use the find command with one or more search strings, which have the same format as "follow". To update follows, just specify the server.

To post, specify the target host server and your desired username. There is no account control in this network, so anyone can impersonate anyone else. Sorry! You will be presented with a prompt for your message, which can be up to 150 characters long.

Servers always host on localhost, but the terminal command "hostname" is what is sent to remote servers as the hostname by which to look the local server up. So, when starting a server, use a hostname and port number that is publicly visible. The only rule is: Don't host a node and use posting/fetching in the same folder, or database conflicts may occur. If you want to host a node, copy the script into a new folder first, optionally with your database file "D" that may contain a list of known peers.

Why did you write this?

TinyP2P was written in response to government proposals in the US to illegalise file-sharing protocols. The aim of the script was to demonstrate that, with P2P filesharing reduced down to 15 lines of code which will fit nicely in an email signature, there was little hope that any level of regulation would work. Big servers might die, but a thousand TinyP2Ps or their equivalents would bloom.

When TinyStatus was written, there was a nasty political campaign in Ireland to attack free speech online under the guise of "protecting children". Consultations were opened to tackle the constructed problem of "unfettered commentary", also known as "Freedom of Speech". Twitter, in particular, came under fire from public figures dissatisfied with receiving criticism through the medium.

Like TinyP2P, I wrote TinyStatus so that it would be small enough to disseminate trivially in fora, emails and even printed on paper. It was my "submission" to the aforementioned public consultation.

Nobody took any notice of TinyStatus, of course, but it was a fun project, and for me it was part of my maturation to realising the innately political nature of our ability to program our own computers. Programming allows us to write our way out of some forms of oppression. It should be seen as a key democratic skill in the modern era.

That code is HIDEOUS

You think it's bad now? Look back through the commits to when I was trying to horseshoe in some object oriented programming. At the time I didn't even know how to use type to create dynamically generated classes, and in the best case Python's extremely limited lambda expressions made things complicated, so my approach was pretty farcical. I fell back to functional pretty quickly and never looked back.

In the interest of fitting as much useful code into 80 characters as is humanly possible, I compromised a great deal on code readability. Sorry! You can always use the "readable" version.

Spam?

TinyP2P had a hmaccing system for using a password to authenticate to small networks, which was really clever (but vulnerable to replay attacks, and didn't encrypt traffic at all).

I decided to hack that out, because a password isn't much use to a microstatus network in my opinion. However, because TinyStatus allows posting to remote servers of new data, it has a problem TinyP2P didn't: Spammers!

To counter spammers, TinyStatus servers will reject any message that doesn't have a suitable proof-of-work token. This is a small numeric value attached to the time, name and message values of the message, which modifies the hash value of the message so that it appears "pleasing" to the server; literally, that it has at least three leading zero characters. Because of the magic of cryptographic hash functions, there is no practical way to generate a proof-of-work token except iterating over thousands of potential numbers until one of them works. With three leading zeroes, generating a useful token requires a few seconds, varying randomly between messages.

This means that someone wanting to send a hundred new messages will need to spend about five hundred seconds generating useful tokens. It's doable, but it's more far costly to the spammer than it would be without tokens! In the absence of valid tokens, recipient nodes simply discard messages.

Platforms?

TinyStatus is written in pure Python 3, so it should run on all major platforms provided they have Python 3 installed including Android. It only uses modules and functions distributed as part of the Python 3 core (this is deliberate, though limiting).

Improvements?

For the purposes of this section, let's pretend code brevity is no longer a concern.

A lot of improvements can be made with third-party modules, but "politically", TinyStatus must be standalone, so only native library code or ubiquitous addons should be considered.

Still, here are some immediate and obvious improvements:

  • Use of SQLite3 for databasing instead of the flat file.
  • Storing known servers, scoring of servers by reliability.
  • Adding a TOFU (trust-on-first-use) public-key system for authentication.
  • Use of a simple federation protocol or DHT for servers to minimise traffic.
  • Expiry of old data.
  • Rewrite in RPython for potential native compilation

If we ignore avoiding third-party code or code that won't compile easily on embedded:

  • PyNaCl for authentication and encryption of private messages.
  • JSON-RPC instead of XMLRPC, or Flask mini-webapps hosted through Pagekite/similar
  • Wordpress "supernode" plugin!