establish trust in community repositories, cryptographically signed by library authors
OCaml Shell
Latest commit cbeddde Feb 20, 2017 @hannesm README: link to testrepo

Conex - establish trust in community repositories


Conex is a library to verify and attest release integrity and authenticity of a community repository through the use of cryptographic signatures.

NOTE: This is still work in progress, to be deployed with opam 2.0 and the opam repository. A getting started with conex article is online.


Packages are collected in a community repository to provide an index and allowing cross-references. Authors submit their packages to the repository. which is curated by a team of janitors. Information about a package stored in a repository includes: license, author, releases, their dependencies, build instructions, url, tarball checksum. When someone publishes a new package, the janitors integrate it into the repository, if it compiles and passes some validity checks. For example, its name must not be misleading, nor may it be too general.

Janitors keep an eye on the repository and fix emergent failures. A new compiler release, or a release of a package on which other packages depend, might break the compilation of a package. Janitors usually fix these problems by adding a patch to the build script, or introducing a version constraint in the repository.

Conex ensures that every release of each package has been approved by its author or a quorum of janitors. A conex-aware client initially verifies the repository using janitor key fingerprints as anchor. Afterwards, the on-disk repository is trusted, and every update is verified (as a patch) individually. This incremental verification is accomplished by ensuring all resources that the patch modifies result in a valid repository with sufficient approvals. Additionally, monotonicity is preserved by embedding counters in each resource, and enforcing a counter increment after modification. This mechanism avoids rollback attacks, when an attacker presents you an old version of the repository.

Opam2 has support for a repository validation command which conex_verify is supposed to be in the future.

A timestamping service (NYI) will periodically approve a global view of the verified repository, together with a timestamp. This is then used by the client to prevent mix-and-match attacks, where an attacker mixes some old packages and some new ones. Also, the client is able to detect freeze attacks, since at least every day there should be a new signature done by the timestamping service.

The trust is rooted in digital signatures by package authors. The server which hosts the repository does not need to be trusted. Neither does the host serving release tarballs.

If a single janitor would be powerful enough to approve a key for any author, compromising one janitor would be sufficient to enroll any new identities, modify dependencies, build scripts, etc. In conex, a quorum of janitors (let's say 3) have to approve such changes. This is different from current workflows, where a single janitor with access to the repository can merge fixes.

Conex adds metadata, in form of resources, to the repository to ensure integrity and authenticity. There are different kinds of resources:

  • Authors, consisting of a unique identifier, public key(s), accounts.
  • Teams, sharing the same namespace as authors, containing a set of members.
  • Authorisation, one for each package, describing which identities are authorised for the package.
  • Package index, for each package, listing all releases.
  • Release, for each release, listing checksums of all data files.

Modifications to identities and authorisations need to be approved by a quorum of janitors, package index and release files can be modified either by an authorised id or by a quorum of janitors.


API documentation is available online, also a coverage report.

We presented an abstract at OCaml 2016 about an earlier design.

Another article on an earlier design (from 2015) is also available.

Conex is inspired by the update framework, especially on their CCS 2010 paper, and adapted to the opam repository.

The TUF spec has a good overview of attacks and threat model, both of which are shared by conex.


opam instal conex will install this library and tool, once you have installed OCaml (>= 4.03.0) and opam (>= 2.0.0beta).

A small test repository with two janitors (their private keys), an empty package foo owned by c and valid signatures is here including transcripts of how it was setup, and how to setup opams repo validation hook.