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Using LillyDAP

LillyDAP is a highly efficient parser/packer stack for LDAP. It is meant for dynamic data handlers and middleware that manipulates queries on their way through. If you need flexibility in your LDAP solution, and it needs a bit of custom coding, LillyDAP is probably your best bet.

There is a standard sequence of parsing/packing stages, and you can intervene between any of them to take control of the data passing through. You may block, generate, redirect, fork and join as you please. The entire structure works through event-styled callbacks, and connectivity to remote peers can be easily integrated with an event loop.

The parser and, mirrorred to it, the packer for LillyDAP turn to their work in a number of stages. Parser routines link downwards and have names like lillyget_xxx() whereas packer routines link upwards and have names like lillyput_xxx().

Parsing and Packing -- a stack of mirrorred operations

The levels between the operations are good to understand, so as to get the control that you might desire over the LDAP passing through:

  • The event interface is meant for reporting an event worthy of the API; this might be an ability to read or to write.
  • The netbytes level processes a sequence of bytes and collects complete DER messages. As soon as one is found, it is passed on.
  • The dercursor level deals with one complete top-level DER message at a time. So, at this level, the stream of bytes has been broken into individual DER blobs.
  • The ldapmessage level has taken the top-level DER blob apart, and parsed much of the data inside it. This can be seen from the parameters passed at this level.
  • The opcode level (including opresp overrides for responses opcodes) has done only slightly more, namely parsed out the opcode. This can be used for handling strategies that vary (only) with the opcode. As an example, it can be used to pass authentication requests separately from data inquiries.
  • The operation level (including response overrides for responses) has further processed the LDAP message into an operation, and provides structures adapted to the operation at hand. These are switched to implementation routines.
  • Finally, the lowest level handles the furthest parsed messages.

This describes parsing the byte stream into individual operations; there is a mirrorred path up for packing operations back into a byte stream.

Flexible and Efficient

It is not always necessary to pass through the entire stack, and LillyDAP is designed to give full control of this. As a result, various operations on LDAP can be composed in a highly efficient manner.

Wild Compositions of LillyDAP layers are possible

This ability to take messages apart up to the level that is meaningful for a piece of middleware, and either recompose or further decompose it, provides a lot of flexibility and avoids too much zeal in processing LDAP. It may well be the most efficient approach to processing LDAP while in transit.

In addition to that, the techniques with which LillyDAP was programmed are very efficient. First, its use of Quick DER means that it is very conservative in its use of memory allocation and copying; second, its region-based memory allocator can be used to keep the memory management highly localised, for instance with a memory region for each query. This saves a lot of administration overhead and simplifies programs. (These techniques are very much in line with what makes Nginx great, and that is not a coincidence.)

Much of the pleasantness of using LillyDAP comes from overlay structures, that overlay simple arrays of the dercursor structures that the underlying Quick DER library uses. The overlay structures provide field names to route a C expression to the right dercursor to work on. It is possible to use Quick DER API calls and especially the pack syntax to work on the structures passed around by LDAP. Quick DER comes with the definitions for LDAP already built-in, and LillyDAP adds more details, such as operation descriptive tables. In fact, LillyDAP works hard to deliver you with types that fit the operation you are working on, so you will never notice that it is a really simple data structure with some typing cleverness overlaying it. You won't notice that, but your (embedded) code size will!

Setting up LillyDAP

LillyDAP tries to trim down binary sizes, so it can even be used in constrained embedded environments. This specifically means that it provides a number of components that are not linked up by default — so a NULL value in a pointer does not mean that a default will be substituted, because that would force linking default handling code. A NULL really means that an aspect of LillyDAP is not supported.

As a result, you need to setup a few things explicitly. This is not always a real concern; much of it can be done efficiently, in static data structures that you define in your program.

Memory Allocation Functions

The first thing one should do to setup LillyDAP, is provide it with memory handling routines. LillyDAP uses a pool-based memory handler, but you must provide one. (Another name is region-based handler). For convenience, a simple pool-based allocator called sillymem is provided, but you can also wire in your own. Note that you must wire in the allocator by hand; LillyDAP does not come with sillymem pre-configured.

The API that the memory handler follows is defined in mem.h, and consists of three functions: newpool (to create a new pool, or region), endpool (to release a pool, or region) and alloc (to allocate memory from a pool). Pools are allocated and released. Individual memory requests are allocated from a pool and not released -- that is done by releasing the entire pool. This reduces memory-management overhead in the processing pipeline.

To configure LillyDAP to use the memory allocator, assign function pointers to the three symbols provided. For example, to wire in sillymem (which provides functions called sillymem_newpool() and similar) to LillyDAP's memory handling:

lillymem_newpool_fun = sillymem_newpool;
lillymem_endpool_fun = sillymem_endpool;
lillymem_alloc_fun   = sillymem_alloc;

Within LillyDAP code (including middleware built on top of LillyDAP), use the LillyDAP memory-handling API instead of calling directly to the underlying memory handler. This ensures consistent memory usage (and in particular consistent allocations and releases).

When you want to allocate memory, you should start by allocating a pool to allocate from:

LillyPool *lipo = lillymem_newpool ();
if (lipo == NULL) {
    fprintf (stderr, "%s: Failed to allocate a memory pool\n", progname);
    exit (1);

Individual allocations are done from a pool by calling lillymem_alloc(), passing in the size of the allocation; or lillymem_alloc0() which will zero-fill the resulting memory.

void *p = lillymem_alloc (lipo);

You do not have to free() the individual allocations from a pool, but instead release the entire pool at once:

lillymem_endpool (lipo);

The idea is that you use this to simplify your programs; it is especially effective for short-lived storage requirements, such as per-query storage, possibly topped off with some per-connection storage. Cleaning up a pool can be done when a query is handled, or when a connection is closed. The cleanup of a query can in fact be delegated to the writing routines; the lillyget_xxx() routines pass a pool down the stack, and lillyput_xxx() pass it up, the idea being that the former creates the pools and the latter destroys them. You may intervene with this, and decide to pass on a fresh pool if you would like to retain data for longer than the called routines use it.

The lillymem_endpool function must handle NULL pointers (to a pool) safely.

Driving LillyDAP

LillyDAP fundamentally works on file descriptors, using read() and write() to get bytes and to send them away. These are indicated by the two calls in the input/output part of the diagram.

The entry points for driving LillyDAP are the functions lillyget_event() which reads data from the input-file descriptor, and lilltput_event() which writes to the output-file descriptor. Both functions use a LillyConnection* structure, which is comparable to the LDAP* structure used in most LDAP implementations.

Functions like this, as well as various other static settings, can be made in a structure of type LillyStructural. It can be stored in a static global variable, or any other form, as long as we keep in mind that it may be shared among LDAP connections:

/* structural information of the LillyDAP stack setup */
static struct LillyStructural lillydap;

To set up LillyDAP's drivers for a specific connection, allocate an LillyConnection structure, assign its static data in the def variable, and configure the file descriptors that it will read and write from:

/* lipo is a pool, such as allocated above in Memory Allocation Functions */
LillyConnection *lil;
lil = lillymem_alloc0 (lipo, sizeof (LillyConnection));
lil->def = &lillydap;  /* above, struct LillyStructural */

lil->get_fd = input_fd; /* e.g. a network socket, or 0 for stdin */
lil->put_fd = output_fd; /* e.g. 1 for stdout */

LillyDAP provides typedefs so that LDAP is a type alias for LillyConnection and LillyDAP is a type alias for LillyStructural; in particular the alias LDAP makes porting code that expects to work with another LDAP library a bit easier.

LillyDAP uses the standard read() and write() system calls to read those file descriptors. Call lillyget_event() to read from the input-file descriptor. The call will block until a complete DER-encoded message (an LDAP message) has been read from the input-file descriptor, at which point the processing stack is called to deal with the message.

By default the processing stack is not configured, and will return errors only -- see below, Operation Functions, for configuration information. When the file descriptors are set non-blocking, then any EAGAIN return value will be returned.

When the processing stack is configured, the message first flows down the stack to the netbytes, dercursor, ldapmessage, opcode and operation layers. Eventually one of those layers passes the message to the output side of the stack, from where the message flows back up until it hits the netbytes layer. Any output message(s) that the processing has created, will be queued for output until lillyput_event() is called, which writes to the output-file descriptor and completes the processing.

Typical code will loop on getting and putting LDAP events, something like this:

/* assume non-blocking file descriptors or one-shot operation */
while (1) {
  /* Skip all error handling here */
  lillyget_event(lil);  /* lil allocated above, configured below */

Note once more that the processing stack must be configured (see below) before any of the layers of the stack are connected; until then only errors will be returned.

A LillyConnection may keep pools ready for sending and receiving events. After processing, release the queue and connection pools:

lillymem_endpool(lil->get_qpool); /* Queue pool for lil */
lillymem_endpool(lil->cnxpool);   /* Connection pool for lil */
lillymem_endpool(lipo); /* Pool lil was allocated from */

Operation Functions

By default, the layers of the processing stack are not wired up. LillyDAP comes with default implementations that just pass the message on to the next layer in the stack. LillyDAP itself handles moving the message from the input (going down the stack) to the output (going up the stack) side of operations.

The operations are wired in to the LillyDAP processing stack by setting function pointers in the LillyStructural structure. It is legal to leave them set to NULL at some level if messages never reach that processing level (e.g. it is possible to do processing at the level of DER cursors only). When LillyDAP library functions do hit upon a NULL setting, they will return the ENOSYS error.

The function pointers that can be set are (all members of the LillyStructural structure:

  • lillyget_dercursor
  • lillyput_dercursor
  • lillyget_ldapmessage
  • lillyput_ldapmessage
  • lillyget_opcode
  • lillyput_opcode
  • lillyget_opresp
  • lillyput_opresp
  • lillyget_operation
  • lillyput_operation
  • lillyget_response
  • lillyput_response

These correspond to the steps of the processing stack as shown in the diagram.

There are default implementations available for use in all of these operations, with the exception of the overriding functions _opresp and _response, as these can be replaced with the non-overridden functions _opcode and _operation, respectively. The names of default operation functions are the same as the names of the function pointers that need to be set.

For a do-nothing processing stack that nonetheless goes through all the layers of the processing stack, assign all the function pointers with their corresponding default operation implementation:

/* Assuming lillydap allocated as above */
lillydap->lillyget_dercursor   = lillyget_dercursor;
lillydap->lillyput_dercursor   = lillyput_dercursor;
lillydap->lillyget_ldapmessage = lillyget_ldapmessage;
lillydap->lillyput_ldapmessage = lillyput_ldapmessage;
lillydap->lillyget_opcode      = lillyget_opcode;
lillydap->lillyput_opcode      = lillyput_opcode;
lillydap->lillyget_operation   = lillyget_operation;
lillydap->lillyput_operation   = lillyput_operation;

When lillydap is statically allocated as above, this may instead be done at compile time:

static LillyStructural lillydap = {
	.lillyget_dercursor   = lillyget_dercursor;
	.lillyput_dercursor   = lillyput_dercursor;
	.lillyget_ldapmessage = lillyget_ldapmessage;
	.lillyput_ldapmessage = lillyput_ldapmessage;
	.lillyget_opcode      = lillyget_opcode;
	.lillyput_opcode      = lillyput_opcode;
	.lillyget_operation   = lillyget_operation;
	.lillyput_operation   = lillyput_operation;

If it is desired to override response handling of _opcode, then add the corresponding _opresp function; if it is desired to override response handling of _operation, then add the corresponding _response function.

Note the "short circuit" arrows from the downwards (input) stack to the upwards (output) stack. It is possible to jump more quickly to the output stack by calling or setting a short-circuit function. The most simple do-nothing processing stack will therefore configure the stack differently:

lillydap->lillyget_dercursor =
lillydap->lillyput_dercursor = lillyput_dercursor;  /* Short-circuit on get */
/* The remaining pointers may be set to NULL */

In the static form setup at compile time, this would be:

static LillyStructural lillydap = {
	.lillyget_dercursor = lillyput_dercursor;  /* Short-circuit on get */
	.lillyput_dercursor = lillyput_dercursor;

An operation function is always passed an LillyConnection* structure, and an operation which works at a specific level should always call either the short-circuit function (via the structure) or pass the message(s) it has on to the next layer in the stack (again, by calling indirectly via the function pointer in the structure).

See the file lillypass.c for an extended example of configuring the LillyDAP operations stack.

LDAP Functions

If you want to parse operations into individual operations and data structures, then this too needs to be wired in to the processing stack.

To wire LDAP functions in to the stack, create a structure of type LillyOpRegistry and set the function pointers in that structure to point to the functions that should be called to process messages corresponding to those LDAP message types.

static const LillyOpRegistry opregistry = {
    .by_name = {
        .BindRequest = lillyput_BindRequest,
        .BindResponse = lillyput_BindResponse,
        .UnbindRequest = lillyput_UnbindRequest,
        .SearchRequest = lillyput_SearchRequest,
        .SearchResultEntry = lillyput_SearchResultEntry,
        .SearchResultReference = lillyput_SearchResultReference,
        .SearchResultDone = lillyput_SearchResultDone,

Once the function pointers in the LillyOpRegistry structure are filled in, wire the LDAP operations functions in to the processing stack with:

lillydap->opregistry = &opregistry;

When lillydap is statically allocated as above, this may instead be done at compile time:

static LillyStructural lillydap = {
	.opregistry = &opregistry,

An implementation of an LDAP operation function may call lillyput_operation() to pass the message on to the output-side of the processing stack, including for responses (which are merely an override with no default function implementation). Of course, it is also possible to invoke API functions that are closer to the network representation.

For a complete and up-to-date example, please see test programs

Use with Event Loops

The LDAP protocol consists of asynchronous messages, meaning that request and response are independent messages; in fact, some requests are answered with multiple responses, so there is not even a one-to-one relation between requests and responses.

Each incoming message translates to a callback to a lillyget_xxx() routine setup in the calling scheme. And each outgoing message is created by calling a lillyput_xxx() routine.

Near the network socket, the model is geared towards an event loop. So, the lillyget_event() and lillyput_event() routines are defined to trigger treatment of an event for reading and writing, respectively. The file descriptors to be used are part of the LillyDAP structure that is passed along with the event callbacks.

Use with Threads

The LillyDAP routines are thread-safe, as long as each LillyConnection structure's events are processed in one thread. Meaning, only one thread should call lillyget_event() and one (possibly other) thread should call lillyput_event(). More precisely, the functions are not re-entrant and they want to see a continuous byte sequence on their input or output connection.

Note that it is possible to initiate (worker) threads for the other calls. So, a call to lillyget_dercursor() or any of the other functions can be bypassed and a worker thread selected to get the work assigned. This is possible because the event handler in lillyget_event() allocates its own memory region pool and is therefore completely detached from the rest of processing.

The same is true for the lillyput_xxx() routines. However, given that we can split and join data, sometimes threads do come together. This is the case in the queue of data standing by to be written out. The queue mechanism has been setup with lock-free mechanisms, so you should be able to use any number of threads you like and you should not see them slow down noticably on locks because there are no locks.

LillyDAP contains a stress test for multi-threading, namely stampede, that initiates a large number of threads and makes them line up for massive writes. If any program would bring down the concurrency model, then this is it.