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GNUnet's PEERINFO subsystem

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The PEERINFO subsystem is used to store verified (validated) information about known peers in a persistent way. It obtains these addresses for example from TRANSPORT service which is in charge of address validation. Validation means that the information in the HELLO message are checked by connecting to the addresses and performing a cryptographic handshake to authenticate the peer instance stating to be reachable with these addresses. Peerinfo does not validate the HELLO messages itself but only stores them and gives them to interested clients.

As future work, we think about moving from storing just HELLO messages to providing a generic persistent per-peer information store. More and more subsystems tend to need to store per-peer information in persistent way. To not duplicate this functionality we plan to provide a PEERSTORE service providing this functionality

Features

  • Persistent storage
  • Client notification mechanism on update
  • Periodic clean up for expired information
  • Differentiation between public and friend-only HELLO

Limitations

  • Does not perform HELLO validation

Peer Information

The PEERINFO subsystem stores these information in the form of HELLO messages you can think of as business cards. These HELLO messages contain the public key of a peer and the addresses a peer can be reached under. The addresses include an expiration date describing how long they are valid. This information is updated regularly by the TRANSPORT service by revalidating the address. If an address is expired and not renewed, it can be removed from the HELLO message.

Some peer do not want to have their HELLO messages distributed to other peers , especially when GNUnet's friend-to-friend modus is enabled. To prevent this undesired distribution. PEERINFO distinguishes between public and friend-only HELLO messages. Public HELLO messages can be freely distributed to other (possibly unknown) peers (for example using the hostlist, gossiping, broadcasting), whereas friend-only HELLO messages may not be distributed to other peers. Friend-only HELLO messages have an additional flag friend_only set internally. For public HELLO message this flag is not set. PEERINFO does and cannot not check if a client is allowed to obtain a specific HELLO type.

The HELLO messages can be managed using the GNUnet HELLO library. Other GNUnet systems can obtain these information from PEERINFO and use it for their purposes. Clients are for example the HOSTLIST component providing these information to other peers in form of a hostlist or the TRANSPORT subsystem using these information to maintain connections to other peers.

Startup

During startup the PEERINFO services loads persistent HELLOs from disk. First PEERINFO parses the directory configured in the HOSTS value of the PEERINFO configuration section to store PEERINFO information.
For all files found in this directory valid HELLO messages are extracted. In addition it loads HELLO messages shipped with the GNUnet distribution. These HELLOs are used to simplify network bootstrapping by providing valid peer information with the distribution. The use of these HELLOs can be prevented by setting the USE_INCLUDED_HELLOS in the PEERINFO configuration section to NO. Files containing invalid information are removed.

Managing Information

The PEERINFO services stores information about known PEERS and a single HELLO message for every peer. A peer does not need to have a HELLO if no information are available. HELLO information from different sources, for example a HELLO obtained from a remote HOSTLIST and a second HELLO stored on disk, are combined and merged into one single HELLO message per peer which will be given to clients. During this merge process the HELLO is immediately written to disk to ensure persistence.

PEERINFO in addition periodically scans the directory where information are stored for empty HELLO messages with expired TRANSPORT addresses.
This periodic task scans all files in the directory and recreates the HELLO messages it finds. Expired TRANSPORT addresses are removed from the HELLO and if the HELLO does not contain any valid addresses, it is discarded and removed from disk.

Obtaining Information

When a client requests information from PEERINFO, PEERINFO performs a lookup for the respective peer or all peers if desired and transmits this information to the client. The client can specify if friend-only HELLOs have to be included or not and PEERINFO filters the respective HELLO messages before transmitting information.

To notify clients about changes to PEERINFO information, PEERINFO maintains a list of clients interested in this notifications. Such a notification occurs if a HELLO for a peer was updated (due to a merge for example) or a new peer was added.