Ben’s favourite projects 2018

Hi all, Ben here.

Since joining the core team as Developer Advocate last year it’s been quite a ride. One of the best things about the job is getting the chance to talk to so many people about their projects and what they would like to see happen in the matrix ecosystem. With so much going on, I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been so welcoming to me and share some of my personal highlights, as I recall them, from 2018!

Clients

Fractal was featured in the very first TWIM, announcing v1.26. Since then, the team have hosted two IRL hackfest events (Strasbourg and Seville – where to next, Stockholm? Salisbury?), engaged two GSOC students and continued to push out releases. At this point, Fractal is a full-featured Matrix client for GNOME.

Matrique became Spectral, and is generally awesome. Apparently the name “Matrique” was chosen because it sounds French, but those who speak the language well revealed that this name was not ideal! The project was re-named “Spectral”, and is going strong. I really appreciate the multi-user facility! It’s a great looking client, and runs great on macOS too (protip: get more attention from /me by providing a macOS build…)

On which subject, Seaglass is a native macOS client. First announced in June, this client supports E2EE rooms (via matrix-ios-sdk), and is also available on homebrew.

Ubuntu Touch has the most Matrix clients per-user of any platform. UT epitomises the resilience and collaborative spirit of Open Source. It’s a true community maintenance effort, and is as friendly a community as you might meet. uMatriks came first, but it’s FluffyChat that prompted me to install it on my battered old OnePlus One. FluffyChat is now extremely full-featured, with E2EE support being actively discussed.

In the command line, gomuks appeared and quickly became a competent client, but in terms of sheer enthusiasm and momentum, I must give commendation to matrix-client.el, a newly revived mode for Emacs which turns your editor/OS into a great Matrix Client. I enjoyed using it enough that it began to change my mind about using emacs. Laptops have more than 8mb memory these days anyway.

A culture of bots

There is a tendency in the community to build a bot for everything and anything. This has reached the point where there are multiple flairs available depending on what bots you like to make (silly vs serious.)

TravisR was perhaps the first person I saw to get the obsession, creating

and more…

Cadair even made twimbot, designed to make it easier to consume and produce This Week in Matrix itself.

In June tulir started maubot, a plugin-based bot system built in Python, which now also has a management UI.

All bridges lead to Matrix

Or from Matrix, depending on which way you want to send the message.

Around May, I started to notice another obsession brewing in the community. Bridging is a core part of the Matrix mission, but it was around this time I started seeing it in the wild.

Summer 2018 Half-Shot began working in the Matrix core team, and was hugely productive in maintaining and developing the bridge infrastructure for matrix.org. IRC bridging is far more stable and reliable now than it was a year ago. And yet there are still more bridges – too many to list, so I’m picking the ones I’ve used and enjoyed.

Discord is bridged by matrix-appservice-discord, handled by Half-Shot, aided and abetted by anoa but with a new maintainer this year, Sorunome. This bridge is now feature-rich and sits at v0.3.1.

tulir‘s suite of bridges including mautrix-telegram and mautrix-whatsapp are extremely stable and useful – big thank you to TravisR for maintaining t2bot.io and hosting the Telegram bridge too.

SMSMatrix, a phone-hosted bridge is simple and works great for SMS bridging.

Libraries, SDKs, Frameworks

I enjoyed using matrix-js-bot-sdk for building elizabot (more coverage needed for that!), and the SDK recently received support for application services.

In April, kitsune announced v0.2 of libqmatrixclient describing it as “the first one more or less functional and stable” – confidence! This library now powers both Quaternion and Spectral. QMatrixClient has continued to get updates, plus features including lazy loading and VoIP signalling.

There are a few libs I want to pay more attention to this year, starting with tulir‘s maubot now that it has been rewritten in Python. I’m also excited to see jmsdk, part of ma1uta‘s broader ecosystem of Matrix tooling – a Java-based SDK.

Ruma Resurrection

Until around June, Ruma was receiving regular updates. There was a pause as the team waited for Rust async/await to land, and also to get some stability in the Matrix Spec. Still waiting on Rust, but now that the Matrix Spec is stabilising, Ruma is showing signs of life too. I have also been watching other homeserver projects begin to restart, which makes for a great start to 2019.

DSN Traveller by Florian

Matrix was featured as part of a Master’s thesis by Florian Jacob.

DSN Traveller tries to get a rough overview of how the Matrix network is structured today. It records how many rooms it finds, how many users and servers take part in those rooms, and how they relate to each other, meaning how many users a server has and of how many rooms it is part of.

Florian’s thesis was handed in last August. Source code is available.

All details at https://dsn-traveller.dsn.scc.kit.edu/, room at #dsn-traveller:dsn-traveller.dsn.scc.kit.edu.

Still more

Synapse dominates the homeserver space right now, so if you want to host your own homeserver today it’s the obvious choice. Too great a variety of installation guides was doing more harm than good, so Stefan took the initiative to create a definitive community-driven Synapse installation guide, including a room to discuss and improve the text. Find the guide linked from here, and chat about the guide in #synapseguide:matrix.org.

I want to use Matrix, and I want to host my own homeserver. As such, matrix-docker-ansible-deploy is a project I absolutely love. It uses Synapse docker images from the Matrix core team, and combines them with Ansible playbooks written and organised by Slavi. It lets you quickly deploy everything needed for a Synapse homeserver, and it’s simple enough that even I can use it.

Construct, a homeserver implementation in C++ began successfully federating with Matrix, work progressed from around April/May.

Having a Matrix-native mode for shields.io (those counter/indicator images you often see at the top of repos) seems like something petty at first, but it’s actually a great indicator of the importance of Matrix from the outside. Plus, I love seeing the images at the top of different repos. Thanks Brendan for helping this along.

Two students worked on Matrix-related projects during GSOC 2018.

Something which came in super-helpful for me when testing homeserver installations was f0x’s fed-tester. Source code available (obv.)

Thanks for all the projects

Thanks for a great 2018. There was so much to learn about, so much to write about, and so many great community members to meet and chat to! If I didn’t mention your project, I’m sorry to have been either forgetful or to not be able to include everything.

If you think I’ve missed something, or if there’s a project I should have included rather than another, or even if you just disagree with my choices, let’s discuss it in #twim:matrix.org. See you there, and let’s all parade ahead to a productive, open, interoperable 2019!

Further details on Critical Security Update in Synapse affecting all versions prior to 0.34.1 (CVE-2019-5885)

On Thursday Jan 10th we released a Critical Security Update (Synapse 0.34.0.1/0.34.1.1), which fixes a serious security bug in Synapse 0.34.0 and earlier.  Many deployments have now upgraded to 0.34.0.1 or 0.34.1.1, and we now consider it appropriate to disclose more information about the issue, to provide context and encourage the remaining affected servers to upgrade as soon as possible.

In Synapse 0.11 (Nov 2015) we added a configuration parameter called “macaroon_secret_key” which relates to our use of macaroons in authentication. Macaroons are authentication tokens which must be signed by the server which generates them, to prevent them being forged by attackers. “macaroon_secret_key” defines the key which is used for this signature, and it must therefore be kept secret to preserve the security of the server.

If the option is not set, Synapse will attempt to derive a secret key from other secrets specified in the configuration file. However, in all versions of Synapse up to and including 0.34.0, this process was faulty and a predictable value was used instead.

So if, your homeserver.yaml does not contain a macaroon_secret_key, you need to upgrade to 0.34.1.1 or 0.34.0.1 or Debian 0.34.0-3~bpo9+2 immediately to prevent the risk of account hijacking.

The vulnerability affects any Synapse installation which does not have a macaroon_secret_key setting. For example, the Debian and Ubuntu packages from Matrix.org, Debian and Ubuntu include a configuration file without an explicit macaroon_secret_key and must upgrade. Anyone who hasn’t updated their config since Nov 2015 or who grandfathered their config from the Debian/Ubuntu packages will likely also be affected.

We are not aware of this vulnerability being exploited in the wild, but if you are running an affected server it may still be wise to check your synapse’s user_ips database table for any unexpected access to your server’s accounts. You could also check your accounts’ device lists (shown under Settings in Riot) for unexpected devices, although this is not as reliable as an attacker could cover their tracks to remove unexpected devices.

We’ll publish a full post-mortem of the issue once we are confident that most affected servers have been upgraded.

We’d like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by this – especially to folks who upgraded since Friday who were in practice not affected.  Due to the nature of the issue we wanted to minimise details about the issue until people had a chance to upgrade. We also did not follow a planned disclosure procedure because Synapse 0.34.1 already unintentionally disclosed the existence of the bug by fixing it (causing the logout bug for affected users which led us to pull the original Synapse 0.34.1 release).

On the plus side, we are approaching the end of beta for Synapse, and going forwards hope to see much better stability and security across the board.

Thanks again for your patience,

The Matrix.org Team

 

Critical Security Update: Synapse 0.34.0.1/Synapse 0.34.1.1

After releasing Synapse v0.34.1, we have become aware of a security vulnerability affecting all previous versions (CVE-2019-5885). v0.34.1 closed the vulnerability but, in some cases, caused users to be logged out of their clients, so we do not recommend 0.34.1 for production use.

Today we release two mitigating versions v0.34.0.1 and v0.34.1.1. Both versions close the vulnerability and will not cause users to be logged out. All installations should be upgraded to one or other immediately.

  • Admins who would otherwise upgrade to v0.34.1 (or those that have already done so) should upgrade to v0.34.1.1.
  • Admins on v0.34.0, who do not wish to bring in new non-security related behaviour, should upgrade to v0.34.0.1.

You can get the new updates for v0.34.0.1 and v0.34.1.1 here or any of the sources mentioned at https://github.com/matrix-org/synapse. Note, Synapse is now available from PyPI, pick it up here. See also our Synapse installation guide page.

We will publish more details of the vulnerability once admins have had a chance to upgrade. To our knowledge the vulnerability has not been exploited in the wild.

Many thanks for your patience, we are moving ever closer to Synapse reaching v1.0, and fixes like this one edge us ever closer.

Thanks also to the package maintainers who have coordinated with us to ensure distro packages are available for a speedy upgrade!

 

The 2018 Matrix Holiday Special!

Hi all,

It’s that time again where we break out the mince pies and brandy butter (at least for those of us in the UK) and look back on the year to see how far Matrix has come, as well as anticipate what 2019 may bring!

Overview

It’s fair to say that 2018 has been a pretty crazy year.  We have had one overriding goal: to take the funding we received in January, stabilise and freeze the protocol and get it and the reference implementations out of beta and to a 1.0 – to provide a genuinely open and decentralised mainstream alternative to the likes of Slack, Discord, WhatsApp etc.  What’s so crazy about that, you might ask?

Well, in parallel with this we’ve also seen adoption of Matrix accelerating ahead of our dev plan at an unprecedented speed: with France selecting Matrix to power the communication infrastructure of its whole public sector – first trialling over the summer, and now confirmed for full roll-out as of a few weeks ago.  Meanwhile there are several other similar-sized projects on the horizon which we can’t talk about yet.  We’ve had the growing pains of establishing New Vector as a startup in order to hire the core team and support these projects.  We’ve launched Modular to provide professional-quality SaaS Matrix hosting for the wider community and help fund the team.  And most importantly, we’ve also been establishing the non-profit Matrix.org Foundation to formalise the open governance of the Matrix protocol and protect and isolate it from any of the for-profit work.

However: things have just about come together.  Almost all the spec work for 1.0 is done and we are now aiming to get a 1.0 released in time by the end of January (in time for FOSDEM).  Meanwhile Synapse has improved massively in terms of performance and stability (not least having migrated over to Python 3); Riot’s spectacular redesign is now available for testing right now; E2E encryption is more stable than ever with the usability rework landing as we speak.  And we’ve even got a full rewrite of Riot/Android in the wings.

But it’s certainly been an interesting ride.  Longer-term spec work has been delayed by needing to apply band-aids to mitigate abuse of the outstanding issues.  Riot redesign was pushed back considerably due to prioritising Riot performance over UX. The E2E UX work has forced us to consider E2E holistically… which does not always interact well with structuring the dev work into bite-sized chunks.  Dendrite has generally been idling whilst we instead pour most of our effort into getting to 1.0 on Synapse (rather than diluting 1.0 work across both projects). These tradeoffs have been hard to make, but hopefully we have chosen the correct path in the end.

Overall, as we approach 1.0, the project is looking better than ever – hopefully everyone has seen both Riot and Synapse using less RAM and being more responsive and stable, E2E being more reliable, and anyone who has played with the Riot redesign beta should agree that it is light-years ahead of yesterday’s Riot and something which can genuinely surpass today’s centralised proprietary incumbents. And that is unbelievably exciting :D

We’d like to thank everyone for continuing to support Matrix – especially our Patreon & Liberapay supporters, whose donations continue to be critical for helping fund the core dev team, and also those who are supporting the project indirectly by hosting homeservers with Modular.  We are going to do everything humanly possible to ship 1.0 over the coming weeks, and then the sky will be the limit!

Before going into what else 2019 will hold, however, let’s take the opportunity to give a bit more detail on the various core team projects which landed in 2018…

France

DINSIC (France’s Ministry of Digital, IT & Comms) have been busy building out their massive cross-government Matrix deployment and custom Matrix client throughout most of the year.  After the announcement in April, this started off with an initial deployment over the summer, and is now moving towards the full production rollout, as confirmed at the Paris Open Source Summit a few weeks ago by Mounir Mahjoubi, the Secretary of State of Digital.  All the press coverage about this ended up in French, with the biggest writeup being at CIO Online, but the main mention of Matrix (badly translated from French) is:

Denouncing the use of tools such as WhatsApp; a practice that has become commonplace within ministerial offices, Mounir Mahjoubi announced the launch in production of Tchap, based on Matrix and Riot: an instant messaging tool that will be provided throughout the administrations. So, certainly, developing a product can have a certain cost. Integrating it too. “Free is not always cheaper but it’s always more transparent,” admitted the Secretary of State.

The project really shows off Matrix at its best, with up to 60 different deployments spread over different ministries and departments; multiple clusters per Ministry; end-to-end encryption enabled by default (complete with e2e-aware antivirus scanning); multiple networks for different classes of traffic; and the hope of federating with the public Matrix network once the S2S API is finalised and suitable border gateways are available.  It’s not really our project to talk about, but we’ll try to share as much info as we can as roll-out continues.

The Matrix Specification

A major theme throughout the year has been polishing the Matrix Spec itself for its first full stable release, having had more than enough time to see which bits work in practice now and which bits need rethinking.  This all kicked off with the creation of the Matrix Spec Change process back in May, which provides a formal process for reviewing and accepting contributions from anyone into the spec.  Getting the balance right between agility and robustness has been quite tough here, especially pre-1.0 where we’ve needed to move rapidly to resolve the remaining long-lived sticking points.  However, a process like this risks encouraging the classic “Perfect is the Enemy of Good” problem, as all and sundry jump in to apply their particular brand of perfectionism to the spec (and/or the process around it) and risk smothering it to death with enthusiasm.  So we’ve ended up iterating a few times on the process and hopefully now converged on an approach which will work for 1.0 and beyond. If you haven’t checked out the current proposals guide please give it a look, and feel free to marvel at all the MSCs in flight.  You can also see a quick and dirty timeline of all the MSC status changes since we introduced the process, to get an idea of how it’s all been progressing.

In August we had a big sprint to cut stable “r0” releases of all the APIs of the spec which had not yet reached a stable release (i.e. all apart from the Client-Server API, which has been stable since Dec 2015 – hence in part the large number of usable independent Matrix clients relative to the other bits of the ecosystem).  In practice, we managed to release 3 out of the 4 remaining APIs – but needed more time to solve the remaining blocking issues with the Server-Server API. So since August (modulo operational and project distractions) we’ve been plugging away on the S2S API.  

The main blocking issue for a stable S2S API has been State Resolution. This is the fundamental algorithm used to determine the state of a given room whenever a race or partition happens between the servers participating in it.  For instance: if Alice kicks Bob on her server at the same time as Charlie ops Bob on his server, who should win? It’s vital that all servers reach the same conclusion as to the state of the room, and we don’t want servers to have to replicate a full copy of the room’s history (which could be massive) to reach a consistent conclusion.  Matrix’s original state resolution algorithm dates back to the initial usable S2S implementation at the beginning of 2015 – but over time deficiencies in the algorithm became increasingly apparent. The most obvious issue is the “Hotel California” bug, where users can be spontaneously re-joined to a room they’ve previously left if the room’s current state is merged with an older copy of the room on another server and the ‘wrong’ version wins the conflict – a so-called state-reset.

After a lot of thought we ended up proposing an all new State Resolution algorithm in July 2018, nicknamed State Resolution Reloaded.  This extends the original algorithm to consider the ‘auth chain’ of state events when performing state resolution (i.e. the sequence of events that a given state event cites as evidence of its validity) – as well as addressing a bunch of other issues.  For those wishing to understand in more detail, there’s the MSC itself, the formal terse description of the algorithm now merged into the unstable S2S spec – or alternatively there’s an excellent step-by-step explanation and guided example from uhoreg (warning: contains Haskell :)  Or you can watch Erik and Matthew try to explain it all on Matrix Live back in July.

Since the initial proposal in July, the algorithm has been proofed out in a test jig, iterated on some more to better specify how to handle rejected events, implemented in Synapse, and is now ready to roll.  The only catch is that to upgrade to it we’ve had to introduce the concept of room versioning, and to flush out historical issues we require you to re-create rooms to upgrade them to the new resolution algorithm. Getting the logistics in place for this is a massive pain, but we’ve got an approach now which should be sufficient. Clients will be free to smooth over the transition in the UI as gracefully as possible (and in fact Riot has this already hooked up).  So: watch this space as v2 rooms with all-new state resolution in the coming weeks!

Otherwise, there are a bunch of other issues in the S2S API which we are still working through (e.g. changing event IDs to be hashes of event contents to avoid lying about IDs, switching to use normal X.509 certificates for federation and so resolve problems with Perspectives, etc).  

Once these land and are implemented in Synapse over the coming weeks, we will be able to finally declare a 1.0!

Also on the spec side of things, it’s worth noting that a lot of effort went into improving performance for clients in the form of the Lazy Loading Members MSC.  This ended up consuming a lot of time over the summer as we updated Synapse and the various matrix-*-sdks (and thus Riot) to only calculate and send details to the clients about members who are currently talking in a room, whereas previously we sent the entire state of the room to the client (even including users who had left). The end result however is a 3-5x reduction in RAM on Riot, and a 3-5x speedup on initial sync.  The current MSC is currently being merged as we speak into the main spec (thanks Kitsune!) for inclusion in upcoming CS API 0.5.

The Matrix.org Foundation (CIC!)

Alongside getting the open spec process up and running, we’ve been establishing The Matrix.org Foundation as an independent non-profit legal entity responsible for neutrally safeguarding the Matrix spec and evolution of the protocol.  This kicked off in June with the “Towards Open Governance” blog post, and continued with the formal incorporation of The Matrix.org Foundation in October.  Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time with the non-profit lawyers evolving MSC1318 into the final Articles of Association (and other guidelines) for the Foundation.  This work is basically solved now; it just needs MSC1318 to be updated with the conclusions (which we’re running late on, but is top of Matthew’s MSC todo list).

In other news, we have confirmation that the Community Interest Company (CIC) status for The Matrix.org Foundation has been approved – this means that the CIC Regulator has independently reviewed the initial Articles of Association and approved that they indeed lock the mission of the Foundation to be non-profit and to act solely for the good of the wider online community.  In practice, this means that the Foundation will be formally renamed The Matrix.org Foundation C.I.C, and provides a useful independent safeguard to ensure the Foundation remains on track.

The remaining work on the Foundation is:

  • Update and land MSC1318, particularly on clarifying the relationship between the legal Guardians (Directors) of the Foundation and the technical members of the core spec team, and how funds of the Foundation will be handled.
  • Update the Articles of Association of the Foundation based on the end result of MSC1318
  • Transfer any Matrix.org assets over from New Vector to the Foundation.  Given Matrix’s code is all open source, there isn’t much in the way of assets – we’re basically talking about the matrix.org domain and website itself.
  • Introduce the final Guardians for the Foundation.

We’ll keep you posted with progress as this lands over the coming months.

Riot

2018 has been a bit of a chrysalis year for Riot: the vast majority of work has been going into the massive redesign we started in May to improve usability & cosmetics, performance, stability, and E2E encryption usability improvements.  We’ve consciously spent most of the year feature frozen in order to polish what we already have, as we’ve certainly been guilty in the past of landing way too many features without necessarily applying the needed amount of UX polish.

However, as of today, we’re super-excited to announce that Riot’s redesign is at the point where the intrepid can start experimenting with it – in fact, internally most of the team has switched over to dogfooding (testing) the redesign as of a week or so ago.  Just shut down your current copy of Riot/Web or Desktop and go to https://riot.im/experimental instead if you want to experiment (we don’t recommend running both at the same time).  Please note that it is still work-in-progress and there’s a lot of polish still to land and some cosmetic bugs still hanging around, but it’s definitely at the point of feeling better than the old app.  Most importantly, please provide feedback (by hitting the lifesaver-ring button at the bottom left) to let us know how you get on. See the Riot blog for more details!

Meanwhile, on the performance and stability side of things – Lazy Loading (see above) made a massive difference to performance on all platforms; shrinking RAM usage by 3-5x and similarly speeding up launch and initial sync times.  Ironically, this ended up pushing back the redesign work, but hopefully the performance improvements will have been noticeable in the interim.  We also switched the entire rich text composer from using Facebook’s Draft.js library to instead use Slate.js (which has generally been a massive improvement for stability and maintainability, although took *ages* to land – huge thanks to t3chguy for getting it over the line). Meanwhile Travis has been blitzing through a massive list of key “First Impression” bugs to ensure that as many of Riot’s most glaring usability gotchas are solved.

We also welcomed ever-popular Stickers to the fold – the first instance of per-account rather than per-room widgets, which ended up requiring a lot of new infrastructure in both Riot and the underlying integration manager responsible for hosting the widgets.  But judging by how popular they are, the effort seems to be worth it – and paves the way for much more exciting interactive widgets and integrations in future!

An unexpectedly large detour/distraction came in the form of GDPR back in May – we spent a month or so running around ensuring that both Riot and Matrix are GDPR compliant (including the necessary legal legwork to establish how GDPR even applies to a decentralised technology like Matrix).  If you missed all that fun, you can read about it here.  Hopefully we won’t have to do anything like that again any time soon…

And finally: on the mobile side, much of the team has been distracted helping out France with their Matrix deployment.  However, we’ve been plugging away on Riot/Mobile, keeping pace with the development on Riot/Web – but most excitingly, we’ve also found time to experiment with a complete rewrite of Riot/Android in Kotlin, using Realm and Rx (currently nicknamed Riot X).  The rewrite was originally intended as a test-jig for experimenting with the redesign on mobile, but it’s increasingly becoming a fully fledged Matrix client… which launches and syncs over 5x faster than today’s Riot/Android.  If you’re particularly intrepid you should be able to run the app by checking out the project in Android Studio and hitting ‘run’. We expect the rewrite to land properly in the coming months – watch this space for progress!

E2E Encryption

One of the biggest projects this year has been to get E2E encryption out of beta and turned on by default.  Now, whilst the encryption itself in Matrix has been cryptographically robust since 2016 – its usability has been minimal at best, and we’d been running around polishing the underlying implementation rather than addressing the UX.  However, this year that changed, as we opened a war on about 6 concurrent battlefronts to address the remaining issues. These are:

  • Holistic UX.  Designing a coherent, design-led UX across all of the encryption and key-management functionality.  Nad (who joined Matrix as a fulltime Lead UI/UX designer in August) has been leading the charge on this – you can see a preview of the end result here.  Meanwhile, Dave and Ryan are working through implementing it as we speak.
  • Decryption failures (UISIs).  Whenever something goes wrong with E2E encryption, the symptoms are generally the same: you find yourself unable to decrypt other people’s messages.  We’ve been plugging away chasing these down – for instance, switching from localStorage to IndexedDB in Riot/Web for storing encryption state (to make it harder for multiple tabs to collide and corrupt your encryption state); providing mechanisms to unwedge Olm sessions which have got corrupted (e.g. by restoring from backup); and many others.  We also added full telemetry to track the number of UISIs people are seeing in practice – and the good news is that over the course of the year their occurrence has been steadily reducing.  The bad news is that there are still some edge cases left: so please, whenever you fail to decrypt a message, please make sure you submit a bug report and debug logs from *both* the sender and receiving device.  The end is definitely in sight on these, however, and good news is other battlefronts will also help mitigate UISIs.
  • Incremental Key Backup.  Previously, if you only used one device (e.g. your phone) and you lost that phone, you would lose all your E2E history unless you were in the habit of explicitly manually backing up your keys.  Nowadays, we have the ability to optionally let users encrypt their keys with a passphrase (or recovery key) and constantly upload them to the server for safe keeping.  This was a significant chunk of work, but has actually landed already in Riot/Web and Riot/iOS, but is hidden behind a “Labs” feature flag in Settings whilst we test it and sort out the final UX.
  • Cross-signing Keys. Previously, the only way to check whether you were talking to a legitimate user or an imposter was to independently compare the fingerprints of the keys of the device they claim to be using.  In the near future, we will let users prove that they own their devices by signing them with a per-user identity key, so you only have to do this check once. We’ve actually already implemented one iteration of cross-signing, but this allowed arbitrary devices for a given user to attest each other (which creates a directed graph of attestations, and associated problems with revocations), hence switching to a simpler approach.
  • Improved Verification. Verifying keys by manually comparing elliptic key fingerprints is incredibly cumbersome and tedious.  Instead, we have proposals for using Short Authentication String comparisons and QR-code scanning to simplify the process.  uhoreg is currently implementing these as we speak :)
  • Search.  Solving encrypted search is Hard, but t3chguy did a lot of work earlier in the year to build out matrix-search: essentially a js-sdk bot which you can host, hand your keys to, and will archive your history using a golang full-text search engine (bleve) and expose a search interface that replaces Synapse’s default one.  Of all the battlefronts this one is progressing the least right now, but the hope is to integrate it into Riot/Desktop or other clients so that folks who want to index all their conversations have the means to do so.  On the plus side, all the necessary building blocks are available thanks to t3chguy’s hacking.

So, TL;DR: E2E is hard, but the end is in sight thanks to a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  It’s possible that we may have opened up too many battlefronts in finishing it off rather than landing stuff gradually.  But it should be transformative when it all lands – and we’ll finally be able to turn it on by default for private conversations.  Again, we’re aiming to pull this together by the end of January.

Separately, we’ve been keeping a close eye on MLS – the IETF’s activity around standardising scalable group E2E encryption.  MLS has a lot of potential and could provide algorithmic improvements over Olm & Megolm (whist paving the way for interop with other MLS-encrypted comms systems).  But it’s also quite complicated, and is at risk of designing out support of decentralised environments. For now, we’re obviously focusing on ensuring that Matrix is rock solid with Olm & Megolm, but once we hit that 1.0 we’ll certainly be experimenting a bit with MLS too.

Homeservers

The story of the Synapse team in 2018 has been one of alternating between solving scaling and performance issues to support the ever-growing network (especially the massive matrix.org server)… and dealing with S2S API issues; both in terms of fixing the design of State Resolution, Room Versioning etc (see the Spec section above) and doing stop-gap fixes to the current implementation.

Focusing on the performance side of things, the main wins have been:

  • Splitting yet more functionality out into worker processes which can scale independently of the master Synapse process.
  • Yet more profiling and optimisation (particularly caching).  Between this and the worker split-out we were able to resolve the performance ceiling that we hit over the summer, and as of right now matrix.org feels relatively snappy.
  • Lazy Loading Members.
  • Python 3.  As everyone should have seen by now, Synapse is now Python 3 by default as of 0.34, which provides significant RAM and CPU improvements across the board as well as a path forwards given Python 2’s planned demise at the end of 2019.  If you’re not running your Synapse on Python 3 today, you are officially doing it wrong.

There are also some major improvements which haven’t fully landed yet:

  • State compression.  We have a new algorithm for storing room state which is ~10x more efficient than the current one.  We’ll be migrating to it in by default in future. If you’re feeling particularly intrepid you can actually manually use it today (but we don’t recommend it yet).
  • Incremental state resolution.  Before we got sucked into redesigning state resolution in general, Erik came up with a proof that it’s possible to memoize state resolution and incrementally calculate it whenever state is resolved in a room rather than recalculate it from scratch each time (as is the current implementation).  This would be a significant performance improvement, given non-incremental state res can consume a lot of CPU (making everything slow down when there are lots of room extremities to resolve), and can consume a lot of RAM and has been one of the reasons that synapse’s RAM usage can sometimes spike badly. The good news is that the new state res algorithm was designed to also work in this manner.  The bad news is that we haven’t yet got back to implementing it yet, given the new algorithm is only just being rolled out now.
  • Chunks.  Currently, Synapse models all events in a room as being part of a single DAG, which can be problematic if you can see lots of disconnected sections of the DAG (e.g. due to intermittent connectivity somewhere in the network), as Synapse will frantically try to resolve all these disconnected sections of DAG together.  Instead, a better solution is to explicitly model these sections of DAG as separate entities called Chunks, and not try to resolve state between disconnected Chunks but instead consider them independent fragments of the room – and thus simplify state resolution calculations significantly. It also fixes an S2S API design flaw where previously we trusted the server to state the ordering (depth) of events they provided; with chunks, the receiving server can keep track of that itself by tracking a DAG of chunks (as well as the normal event DAG within the chunks).  Now, most of the work for this happened already, but is currently parked until new state res has landed.

Meanwhile, over on Dendrite, we made the conscious decision to get 1.0 out the door on Synapse first rather than trying to implement and iterate on the stuff needed for 1.0 on both Synapse & Dendrite simultaneously.  However, Dendrite has been ticking along thanks to work from Brendan, Anoa and APWhitehat – and the plan is to use it for more niche homeserver work at first; e.g. constrained resource devices (Dendrite uses 5-10x less RAM than Synapse on Py3), clientside homeservers, experimental routing deployments, etc.  In the longer term we expect it to grow into a fully fledged HS though!

Bridging

2018 was a bit of a renaissance for Bridging, largely thanks to Half-Shot coming on board in the Summer to work on IRC bridging and finally get to the bottom of the stability issues which plagued Freenode for the previous, uh, few years.  Meanwhile the Slack bridge got its first ever release – and more recently there’s some Really Exciting Stuff happening with matrix-appservice-purple; a properly usable bridge through to any protocol that libpurple can speak… and as of a few days ago also supports *native* XMPP bridging via XMPP.js.  There’ll probably be a dedicated blogpost about all of this in the new year, especially when we deploy it all on Matrix.org. Until then, the best bet is to learn more is to watch last week’s Matrix Live and hear it all first hand.

Modular

One of the biggest newcomers of 2018 was the launch of Modular.im in October – the world’s first commercial Matrix hosting service.  Whilst (like Riot), Modular isn’t strictly-speaking a Matrix.org project – it feels appropriate to mention it here, not least because it’s helping directly fund the core Matrix dev team.

So far Modular has seen a lot of interest from folks who want to spin up a super-speedy dedicated homeserver run by us rather than having to spend the time to build one themselves – or folks who have yet to migrate from IRC and want a better-than-IRC experience which still bridges well.  One of the nice bits is that the servers are still decentralised and completely operationally independent of one another, and there have been a bunch of really nice refinements since launch, including the ability to point your own DNS at the server; matrix->matrix migration tools; with custom branding and other goodness coming soon.  If you want one-click Matrix hosting, please give Modular a go :)

Right now we’re promoting Modular mainly to existing Matrix users, but once the Riot redesign is finished you should expect to see some very familiar names popping up on the platform :D

TWIM

Unless you were living under a rock, you’ll hopefully have also realised that 2018 was the year that brought us This Week In Matrix (TWIM) – our very own blog tracking all the action across the whole Matrix community on a weekly basis.  Thank you to everyone who contributes updates, and to Ben for editing it each week. Go flip through the archives to find out what’s been going on in the wider community over the course of the year!  (This blog post is already way too long without trying to cover the rest of the ecosystem too :)

Shapes of Things to Come

Finally, a little Easter egg (it is Christmas, after all) for anyone crazy enough to have read this far: The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that one of our accepted talks for FOSDEM 2019 is “Breaking the 100bps barrier with Matrix” in the Real Time Communications devroom.  We don’t want to spoil the full surprise, but here’s a quick preview of some of the more exotic skunkworks we’ve been doing on low-bandwidth routing and transports recently.  Right now it shamelessly assumes that you’re running within a trusted network, but once we solve that it will of course be be proposed as an MSC for Matrix proper.  A full write-up and code will follow, but for now, here’s a mysterious video…

(If you’re interested in running Matrix over low-bandwidth networks, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you…)

2019

So, what will 2019 bring?

In the short term, as should be obvious from the above, our focus is on:

  • r0 spec releases across the board (aka Matrix 1.0)
  • Implementing them in Synapse
  • Landing the Riot redesign
  • Landing all the new E2E encryption UX and features
  • Finalising the Matrix.org Foundation

However, beyond that, there’s a lot of possible options on the table in the medium term:

  • Reworking and improving Communities/Groups.
  • Reactions.
  • E2E-encrypted Search
  • Filtering. (empowering users to filter out rooms & content they’re not interested in).
  • Extensible events.
  • Editable messages.
  • Extensible Profiles (we’ve actually been experimenting with this already).
  • Threading.
  • Landing the Riot/Android rewrite
  • Scaling synapse via sharding the master process
  • Bridge UI for discovery of users/rooms and bridge status
  • Considering whether to do a similar overhaul of Riot/iOS
  • Bandwidth-efficient transports
  • Bandwidth-efficient routing
  • Getting Dendrite to production.
  • Inline widgets (polls etc)
  • Improving VoIP over Matrix.
  • Adding more bridges, and improving the current ones..
  • Account portability
  • Replacing MXIDs with public keys

In the longer term, options include:

  • Shared-code cross-platform client SDKs (e.g. sharing a native core library between matrix-{js,ios,android}-sdk)
  • Matrix daemons (e.g. running an always-on client as a background process in your OS which apps can connect to via a lightweight CS API)
  • Push notifications via Matrix (using a daemon-style architecture)
  • Clientside homeservers (i.e. p2p matrix) – e.g. compiling Dendrite to WASM and running it in a service worker.
  • Experimenting with MLS for E2E Encryption
  • Storing and querying more generic data structures in Matrix (e.g. object trees; scene graphs)
  • Alternate use cases for VR, IoT, etc.

Obviously we’re not remotely going to do all of that in 2019, but this serves to give a taste of the possibilities on the menu post-1.0; we’ll endeavour to publish a more solid roadmap when we get to that point.

And on that note, it’s time to call this blogpost to a close. Thanks to anyone who read this far, and thank you, as always, for flying Matrix and continuing to support the project.  The next few months should be particularly fun; all the preparation of 2018 will finally pay off :)

Happy holidays,

Matthew, Amandine & the whole Matrix.org team.

Porting Synapse to Python 3

Matrix’s reference homeserver, Synapse, is written in Python and uses the Twisted networking framework to power its bitslinging across the Internet. The Python version used has been strictly Python 2.7, the last supported version of Python 2, but as of this week that changes! Since Twisted and our other upstream dependencies now support the newest version of Python, Python 3, we are now able to finish the jump and port Synapse to use it by default. The port has been done in a backwards compatible way, written in a subset of Python that is usable in both Python 2 and Python 3, meaning your existing Synapse installs still work on Python 2, while preparing us for a Python 3 future.

Why port?

Porting Synapse to Python 3 prepares Synapse for a post-Python 2 world, currently scheduled for 2020. After the 1st of January in 2020, Python 2 will no longer be supported by the core Python developers and no bugfixes (even critical security ones) will be issued. As the security of software depends very much on the runtime and libraries it is running on top of, this means that by then all Python 2 software in use should have moved to Python 3 or other runtimes.

The Python 3 port has benefits other than just preparing for the End of Life of Python 2.7. Successive versions of Python 3 have improved the standard library, provided newer and clearer syntax for asynchronous code, added opt-in static typing to reduce bugs, and contained incremental performance and memory management improvements. These features, once Synapse stops supporting Python 2, can then be fully utilised to make Synapse’s codebase clearer and more performant. One bonus that we get immediately, though, is Python 3’s memory compaction of Unicode strings. Rather than storing as UCS-2/UTF-16 or UCS-4/UTF-32, it will instead store it in the smallest possible representation giving a 50%-75% memory improvement for strings only containing Latin-1 characters, such as nearly all dictionary keys, hashes, IDs, and a large proportion of messages being processed from English speaking countries. Non-English text will also see a memory improvement, as it can be commonly stored in only two bytes instead of the four in a UCS-4 “wide” Python 2 build.

Editor’s note: If you were wondering how this fits in with Dendrite (the next-gen golang homeserver): our plan is to use Synapse as the reference homeserver for all the current work going on with landing a 1.0 release of the Matrix spec: it makes no sense to try to iterate and converge on 1.0 on both Synapse and Dendrite in parallel. In order to prove that the 1.0 spec is indeed fit for purpose we then also need Synapse to exit beta and hit a 1.0 too, hence the investment to get it there. It’s worth noting that over the last year we’ve been plugging away solidly improving Synapse in general (especially given the increasing number of high-profile deployments out there), so we’re committed to getting Synapse to a formal production grade release and supporting it in the long term. Meanwhile, Dendrite development is still progressing – currently acting as a place to experiment with more radical blue-sky architectural changes, especially in low-footprint or even clientside homeservers. We expect it to catch up with Synapse once 1.0 is out the door; and meanwhile Synapse is increasingly benefiting from performance work inspired by Dendrite.

When will the port be released?

The port is has been released in a “production ready” form in Synapse 0.34.0, supporting Python 3.5, 3.6, and 3.7. This will work on installations with and without workers.

What’s it like in the real world?

Beta testers of the Python 3 port have reported lower memory usage, including lower memory “spikes” and slower memory growth. You can see this demonstrated on matrix.org:

See 10/15, ~20:00 for the Python 3 migration. This is on some of the Synchrotrons on matrix.org.

See ~11/8 for the Python 3 migration. This is on the Synapse master on matrix.org.

We have also noticed some better CPU utilisation:


See 21:30 for the migration of federation reader 1, and 21:55 for the others. The federation reader is a particular pathological case, where the replacement of lists with iterators internally on Python 3 has given us some big boosts.

See 10/15, 4:00.The CPU utilisation has gone down on synchrotron 1 after the Python 3 migration, but not as dramatically as the federation reader. Synchrotron 3 was migrated a few days later.

As some extra data-points, my personal HS consumes about 300MB now at initial start, and grows to approximately 800MB — under Python 2 the growth would be near-immediate to roughly 1.4GB.

Where to from here?

Python 2 is still a supported platform for running Synapse for the time being. We plan on ending mainstream support on 1st April 2019, where upon Python 3.5+ will be the only officially supported platform. Additionally, we will give notice ahead of time once we are ready to remove Python 2.7 compatibility from the codebase (which will be no sooner than 1st April). Although slightly inconvenient, we hope that this gives our users and integrators adequate time to migrate, whilst giving us the flexibility to use modern Python features and make Synapse a better piece of software to help power the Matrix community.

How can I try it?

The port is compatible with existing homeservers and configurations, so if you install Synapse inside a Python 3 virtualenv, you can run it from there. Of course, this differs based on your installation method, operating system, and what version of Python 3 you wish to use. Full upgrade notes live here but if you’re having problems or want to discuss specific packagings of Synapse please come ask in #synapse:matrix.org.

Thanks

Many thanks go to fellow Synapse developers Erik and Rich for code review, as well as community contributors such as notafile and krombel for laying the foundations many months ago allowing this port to happen. Without them, this wouldn’t have happened.

Happy Matrixing,

Amber Brown (hawkowl)

Synapse 0.34.0 released!

Folks this is a big day for us at Matrix Towers, because today we release 0.34.0.

The big news for 0.34.0 is that we now recommend Python 3 for production use and have been running matrix.org under Python 3 for the past month.

Performance improvements have been marked, in some contexts we have seen 50% reductions in RAM and CPU usage. Here are some illustrative graphs to get you going but look out for a dedicated post delving into much more detail on the port. You can also see a Matrix Live interview with the project lead Amber (hawkowl) here.

Matrix.org federation reader workers, the big drops signify roll over to python 3

Synapse master on matrix.org, again the drop in RAM signifies the roll over to python 3

Many thanks to Amber for leading the effort, Rich and Erik for providing support as well as Notafile and Krombel from the community for pushing this effort right from the early days of the project.

If that wasn’t enough, 0.34.0 also all the usual bug fixes and perf improvements. In particular the media repository now no longer fails to decode UTF-8 filenames when downloading remote media and auto joining rooms now work on servers with consent requirements enabled.

As ever, you can get the new update here or any of the sources mentioned at https://github.com/matrix-org/synapse. Note, Synapse is now available from PyPI, pick it up here. Also, check out our new Synapse installation guide page.

In particular, if you want to run Synapse 0.34.0 on Python 3 take a look at the upgrade notes.

 

Synapse 0.34.0 changelog

Synapse 0.34.0 is the first release to fully support Python 3. Synapse will now run on Python versions 3.5 or 3.6 (as well as 2.7). Support for Python 3.7 remains experimental.

We recommend upgrading to Python 3, but make sure to read the upgrade notes when doing so.

Features

  • Add ‘sandbox’ to CSP for media reprository (#4284)
  • Make the new landing page prettier. (#4294)
  • Fix deleting E2E room keys when using old SQLite versions. (#4295)
  • Add a welcome page for the client API port. Credit to @krombel! (#4289)
  • Remove Matrix console from the default distribution (#4290)
  • Add option to track MAU stats (but not limit people) (#3830)
  • Add an option to enable recording IPs for appservice users (#3831)
  • Rename login type m.login.cas to m.login.sso (#4220)
  • Add an option to disable search for homeservers that may not be interested in it. (#4230)

Bugfixes

  • Pushrules can now again be made with non-ASCII rule IDs. (#4165)
  • The media repository now no longer fails to decode UTF-8 filenames when downloading remote media. (#4176)
  • URL previews now correctly decode non-UTF-8 text if the header contains a <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" header. (#4183)
  • Fix an issue where public consent URLs had two slashes. (#4192)
  • Fallback auth now accepts the session parameter on Python 3. (#4197)
  • Remove riot.im from the list of trusted Identity Servers in the default configuration (#4207)
  • fix start up failure when mau_limit_reserved_threepids set and db is postgres (#4211)
  • Fix auto join failures for servers that require user consent (#4223)
  • Fix exception caused by non-ascii event IDs (#4241)
  • Pushers can now be unsubscribed from on Python 3. (#4250)
  • Fix UnicodeDecodeError when postgres is configured to give non-English errors (#4253)

Internal Changes

  • Debian packages utilising a virtualenv with bundled dependencies can now be built. (#4212)
  • Disable pager when running git-show in CI (#4291)
  • A coveragerc file has been added. (#4180)
  • Add a GitHub pull request template and add multiple issue templates (#4182)
  • Update README to reflect the fact that #1491 is fixed (#4188)
  • Run the AS senders as background processes to fix warnings (#4189)
  • Add some diagnostics to the tests to detect logcontext problems (#4190)
  • Add missing jpeg package prerequisite for OpenBSD in README. (#4193)
  • Add a note saying you need to manually reclaim disk space after using the Purge History API (#4200)
  • More logcontext checking in unittests (#4205)
  • Ignore __pycache__ directories in the database schema folder (#4214)
  • Add note to UPGRADE.rst about removing riot.im from list of trusted identity servers (#4224)
  • Added automated coverage reporting to CI. (#4225)
  • Garbage-collect after each unit test to fix logcontext leaks (#4227)
  • add more detail to logging regarding “More than one row matched” error (#4234)
  • Drop sent_transactions table (#4244)
  • Add a basic .editorconfig (#4257)
  • Update README.rst and UPGRADE.rst for Python 3. (#4260)
  • Remove obsolete verbose and log_file settings from homeserver.yaml for Docker image. (#4261)

Synapse 0.33.9 is here!

Well here you are then, the 9th episode in the Synapse 0.33.x series.

Features wise, 0.33.9 contains a change to the way that GDPR consent works under the hood. It is now plumbed in to the login flow (rather than following immediately afterwards) such that it does not inadvertently break on-boarding. This is part of a broader set of changes that span Synapse and Riot to improve initial first impressions of using matrix.

Separately we now have support for room version upgrades which is pre-requisite for rolling out the new state resolution algorithm, come and join us in #teststateresv2:jki.re if you would like to help us test.

Finally we’ve spent a bunch of time further improving perf especially in and around reducing device ids federation traffic.

I know I say it every time, but full python 3 support is really really close now, matrix.org is now running entirely on py3 and seeing some amazing perf improvements – the remaining blocker is getting py3 deb packages ready and then we’ll ship an official python 3 release. There will also be a blog post to explain what we’ve been up to and what to expect perf wise.

As ever, you can get the new update here or any of the sources mentioned at https://github.com/matrix-org/synapse. Note, Synapse is now available from PyPI, pick it up here. Also, check out our new Synapse installation guide page.
 

Synapse 0.33.9 changelog

Features

  • Include flags to optionally add m.login.terms to the registration flow when consent tracking is enabled. (#4004#4133#4142#4184)
  • Support for replacing rooms with new ones (#4091#4099#4100#4101)

Bugfixes

  • Fix exceptions when using the email mailer on Python 3. (#4095)
  • Fix e2e key backup with more than 9 backup versions (#4113)
  • Searches that request profile info now no longer fail with a 500. (#4122)
  • fix return code of empty key backups (#4123)
  • If the typing stream ID goes backwards (as on a worker when the master restarts), the worker’s typing handler will no longer erroneously report rooms containing new typing events. (#4127)
  • Fix table lock of device_lists_remote_cache which could freeze the application (#4132)
  • Fix exception when using state res v2 algorithm (#4135)
  • Generating the user consent URI no longer fails on Python 3. (#4140#4163)
  • Loading URL previews from the DB cache on Postgres will no longer cause Unicode type errors when responding to the request, and URL previews will no longer fail if the remote server returns a Content-Type header with the chartype in quotes. (#4157)
  • The hash_password script now works on Python 3. (#4161)
  • Fix noop checks when updating device keys, reducing spurious device list update notifications. (#4164)

Deprecations and Removals

  • The disused and un-specced identicon generator has been removed. (#4106)
  • The obsolete and non-functional /pull federation endpoint has been removed. (#4118)
  • The deprecated v1 key exchange endpoints have been removed. (#4119)
  • Synapse will no longer fetch keys using the fallback deprecated v1 key exchange method and will now always use v2. (#4120)

Internal Changes

  • Fix build of Docker image with docker-compose (#3778)
  • Delete unreferenced state groups during history purge (#4006)
  • The “Received rdata” log messages on workers is now logged at DEBUG, not INFO. (#4108)
  • Reduce replication traffic for device lists (#4109)
  • Fix synapse_replication_tcp_protocol_*_commands metric label to be full command name, rather than just the first character (#4110)
  • Log some bits about room creation (#4121)
  • Fix tox failure on old systems (#4124)
  • Add STATE_V2_TEST room version (#4128)
  • Clean up event accesses and tests (#4137)
  • The default logging config will now set an explicit log file encoding of UTF-8. (#4138)
  • Add helpers functions for getting prev and auth events of an event (#4139)
  • Add some tests for the HTTP pusher. (#4149)
  • add purge_history.sh and purge_remote_media.sh scripts to contrib/ (#4155)
  • HTTP tests have been refactored to contain less boilerplate. (#4156)
  • Drop incoming events from federation for unknown rooms (#4165)

User Experience Preview: End-to-end encryption

It’s been a long-standing goal to enable end-to-end encryption by default for private communication in Matrix. The technical effort so far has included our libolm library, an independent cryptographic review and a massive backlog of feature development and bug fixes. Today, instead I’d like to focus on some of the User Experience challenges and goals we’re facing.

I should also introduce myself—I’m Nad Chishtie (@nadonomy:matrix.org) and I recently joined the Matrix core team (at New Vector) as Lead Designer, most recently focusing on end-to-end encryption.

When using encrypted messages, most existing services fall short in one or all of the following:

  • They don’t allow you to use multiple devices independently. For example, a web session might be locally tethered to a mobile device.
  • They don’t support a way to restore or temporarily access message history. For example, if you don’t have physical access to your main device because it’s broken or has been stolen.
  • They don’t allow you to verify that devices are controlled by their owners rather than eavesdroppers, and persist that trust across multiple devices, sessions or rooms.

Modern users, even those we talk to at security and privacy-led organisations, expect these features to ‘just work’ by default out of the box. Before enabling end-to-end encryption by default, we’ve been hard at work figuring out how we can deliver these features without compromising security or usability.

(For some users, restrictions such as limiting the number of places encryption keys reside, and not having a synchronised message history may be desirable security features. We’ll support these cases, but just not as the default behaviour.)

Let’s dive in to some of the fundamental concepts we’ll be putting forward to deliver a default end-to-end encryption experience that makes sense for most modern users. In this post we’ll look at an overview of work-in-progress wireframes, in the spirit of designing in the open and gathering feedback from the wider Matrix community. Please note that these don’t represent the actual interface design.

Cross-signing personal devices

When logging in to a new device, you’ll be able to use an existing device to verify your new one. Verification is done by scanning a QR code on whichever device has the most convenient camera to use, or by comparing a short text string. You only have to complete this process once to mutually verify both devices.

Verifying your new device by cross-signing transfers encryption keys, giving it access to your encrypted messages, and also signals to other users that the new device is trustworthy.

Secure Message Recovery

To the end user, Secure Message Recovery works a lot like setting up disk encryption or a password manager. A user can optionally secure their message history using a recovery passphrase and/or key. If logged out, or using another device, the user can use the recovery passphrase or key to access their encrypted message history.

In practise, this incrementally encrypts and backs up encryption keys to a user’s homeserver, kept secure by the homeserver never having access to the passphrase or key. Like cross-signing, using a recovery passphrase or key will also signal to other users that a device is trustworthy.

We think that in most cases users will cross-sign personal devices, but as a safety net (for example, if a user’s devices are broken or lost) Secure Message Recovery is an invaluable tool for users to minimise the chance of them losing their encrypted message history.

People should trust people

With both cross-signing and Secure Message Recovery in place, we think that people should trust people, instead of individual devices. Now, when you verify a device, it’ll mark all of that users trusted devices as trusted.

Gone are the days of every person you talk to having to independently verify your new device upgrade. Like cross-signing, you can verify a device by scanning a QR code or comparing a short text string.

Sensible and extensible

In Riot, we’re implementing these features with a sensible default experience that strikes a balance between usability and security. We think most people would prefer to trust cross-signed devices, and that user trust shouldn’t block encryption. However, if you aren’t most people, you’ll be free to configure whatever level of security you need.

In Summary

With all of the above in place, and after resolving any remaining technical issues, users will be able to:

  • Use end-to-end encryption by default in private rooms.
  • Use an existing device or Secure Message Recovery to access their encrypted message history on multiple devices, and to signal device trust to other users.
  • Access their encrypted message history using Secure Message Recovery, by storing encrypted message keys on their homeserver.
  • Mark a user as trusted by verifying one of their devices, persisting across all rooms and devices.
  • Keep their encrypted messages out of the hands of eavesdroppers.
  • Opt out, or further configure if they have more specific security requirements.

There’s more nuance to making all this work than we can cover in this overview post; things like recovery key management and immutable security notifications are all important pieces of the puzzle. For further reading, we’re filling up more detail in UX reference documentation, interactive wireframes, GitHub issues and a work-in-progress threat model.

Over the coming days we’re polishing wireframes, nomenclature, iconography and microcopy as we dig deeper into development and implementation, as well as designing these features for the upcoming Riot redesign. Cryptography needn’t be intimidating, and we’re excited to iterate on these advanced features to make them work for everyone.

We’d love to hear your feedback! Let us know your thoughts here or in #e2e-dev:matrix.org.

 

Synapse v0.33.8 is here!

Wowzers – our 8th dot release for v0.33!

This time we have a bunch of bug fixes and db performance improvements as well as better support for auto-join rooms and the ability for admins to limit who can create rooms aliases.

v0.33.8 also contains more python 3 fixes: we are running most of matrix.org on python 3 as of right now and seeing some pretty impressive performance improvements. Look out for Hawkowl’s write up coming soon.

For those interested in what we are working on right now, take a look at our task board.

As ever, you can get the new update here or any of the sources mentioned at https://github.com/matrix-org/synapse. Note, Synapse is now available from PyPI, pick it up here.

 

Synapse 0.33.8 changelog

Features

  • Servers with auto-join rooms will now automatically create those rooms when the first user registers (#3975)
  • Add config option to control alias creation (#4051)
  • The register_new_matrix_user script is now ported to Python 3. (#4085)
  • Configure Docker image to listen on both ipv4 and ipv6. (#4089)

Bugfixes

  • Fix HTTP error response codes for federated group requests. (#3969)
  • Fix issue where Python 3 users couldn’t paginate /publicRooms (#4046)
  • Fix URL previewing to work in Python 3.7 (#4050)
  • synctl will use the right python executable to run worker processes (#4057)
  • Manhole now works again on Python 3, instead of failing with a “couldn’t match all kex parts” when connecting. (#4060#4067)
  • Fix some metrics being racy and causing exceptions when polled by Prometheus. (#4061)
  • Fix bug which prevented email notifications from being sent unless an absolute path was given for email_templates. (#4068)
  • Correctly account for cpu usage by background threads (#4074)
  • Fix race condition where config defined reserved users were not being added to
    the monthly active user list prior to the homeserver reactor firing up (#4081)
  • Fix bug which prevented backslashes being used in event field filters (#4083)

Internal Changes

  • Add information about the matrix-docker-ansible-deploy playbook (#3698)
  • Add initial implementation of new state resolution algorithm (#3786)
  • Reduce database load when fetching state groups (#4011)
  • Various cleanups in the federation client code (#4031)
  • Run the CircleCI builds in docker containers (#4041)
  • Only colourise synctl output when attached to tty (#4049)
  • Refactor room alias creation code (#4063)
  • Make the Python scripts in the top-level scripts folders meet pep8 and pass flake8. (#4068)
  • The README now contains example for the Caddy web server. Contributed by steamp0rt. (#4072)
  • Add psutil as an explicit dependency (#4073)
  • Clean up threading and logcontexts in pushers (#4075)
  • Correctly manage logcontexts during startup to fix some “Unexpected logging context” warnings (#4076)
  • Give some more things logcontexts (#4077)
  • Clean up some bits of code which were flagged by the linter (#4082)

Introducing the Matrix.org Foundation (Part 1 of 2)

Hi all,

Back in June we blogged about the plan of action to establish a formal open governance system for the Matrix protocol: introducing both the idea of the Spec Core Team to act as the neutral technical custodian of the Matrix Spec, as well as confirming the plan to incorporate the Matrix.org Foundation to act as a neutral non-profit legal entity which can act as the legal Guardian for Matrix’s intellectual property, gather donations to fund Matrix work, and be legally responsible for maintaining and evolving the spec in a manner which benefits the whole ecosystem without privileging any individual commercial concerns.  We published a draft proposal for the new governance model at MSC1318: a proposal for open governance of the Matrix.org Spec to gather feedback and to trial during the day-to-day development of the spec. Otherwise, we refocused on getting a 1.0 release of the Spec out the door, given there’s not much point in having a fancy legal governance process to safeguard the evolution of the Spec when we don’t even have a stable initial release!

We were originally aiming for end of August to publish a stable release of all Matrix APIs (and thus a so-called 1.0 of the overall standard) – and in the end we managed to publish stable releases of 4 of the 5 APIs (Client-Server, Application Service, Identity Service and Push APIs) as well as a major overhaul of the Server-Server (SS) API.  However, the SS API work has run on much longer than expected, as we’ve ended up both redesigning and needing to implement many major changes to to the protocol: the new State Resolution algorithm (State Resolution Reloaded) to fix state resets; versioned rooms (in order to upgrade to the new algorithm); changing event IDs to be hashes; and fixing a myriad federation bugs in Synapse.  Now, the remaining work is progressing steadily (you can see the progress over at https://github.com/orgs/matrix-org/projects/2 – although some of the cards are redacted because they refer to non-spec consulting work) – and the end is in sight!

So, in preparation for the upcoming Matrix 1.0 release, we’ve been moving ahead with the rest of the open governance plan – and we’re happy to announce that as of a few hours ago, the initial incarnation of The Matrix.org Foundation exists!Now, it’s important to understand that this process is not finished – what we’ve done is to set up a solid initial basis for the Foundation in order to finish refining MSC1318 and turning it into the full Articles of Association of the Foundation (i.e. the legal framework which governs the remit of the Foundation), which we’ll be working on over the coming weeks.

In practice, what this means is that in the first phase, today’s Foundation gives us:

  • A UK non-profit company – technically incorporated as a private company, limited by guarantee.
  • Guardians, whose role is to be legally responsible for ensuring that the Foundation (and by extension the Spec Core Team) keeps on mission and neutrally protects the development of Matrix.  Matrix’s Guardians form the Board of Directors of the Foundation, and will provide a ‘checks and balances’ mechanism between each other to ensure that all Guardians act in the best interests of the protocol and ecosystem.

    For the purposes of initially setting up the Foundation, the initial Guardians are Matthew & Amandine – but in the coming weeks we’re expecting to appoint at least three independent Guardians in order to ensure that the current team form a minority on the board and ensure the neutrality of the Foundation relative to Matthew & Amandine’s day jobs at New Vector.The profile we’re looking for in Guardians are: folks who are independent of the commercial Matrix ecosystem (and especially independent from New Vector), and may even not be members of today’s Matrix community, but who are deeply aligned with the mission of the project, and who are respected and trusted by the wider community to uphold the guiding principles of the Foundation and keep the other Guardians honest.

  • An immutable asset lock, to protect the intellectual property of the Foundation and prevent it from ever being sold or transferred elsewhere.
  • An immutable mission lock, which defines the Foundation’s mission as a non-profit neutral guardian of the Matrix standard, with an initial formal goal of finalising the open governance process.  To quote article 4 from the initial Articles of Association:
    • 4. The objects of the Foundation are for the benefit of the community as a whole to:

      4.1.1  empower users to control their communication data and have freedom over their communications infrastructure by creating, maintaining and promoting Matrix as an openly standardised secure decentralised communication protocol and network, open to all, and available to the public for no charge;

      4.1.2  build and develop an appropriate governance model for Matrix through the Foundation, in order to drive the adoption of Matrix as a single global federation, an open standard unencumbered from any proprietary intellectual property and/or software patents, minimising fragmentation (whilst encouraging experimentation), maximising speed of development, and prioritising the long-term success and growth of the overall network over the commercial concerns of an individual person or persons.

  • You can read the initial Articles of Association here (although all the rest of it is fairly generic legal boilerplate for a non-profit company at this point which hasn’t yet been tuned; the Matrix-specific stuff is Article 4 as quoted above).  You can also see the initial details of the Foundation straight from the horse’s mouth over at https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/11648710.

Then, in the next and final phase, what remains is to:

  • Appoint 3+ more Guardians (see above).
  • Finalise MSC1318 and incorporate the appropriate bits into the Articles of Associations (AoA).  (We might literally edit MSC1318 directly into the final AoA, to incorporate as much input as possible from the full community)
  • Tune the boilerplate bits of the AoA to incorporate the conclusions of MSC1318.
  • Register the Foundation as a Community Interest Company, to further anchor the Foundation as being for the benefit of the wider community.
  • Perform an Asset Transfer of any and all Matrix.org property from New Vector to the Foundation (especially the Matrix.org domain and branding, and donations directed to Matrix.org).

So there you have it! It’s been a long time in coming, and huge thanks to everyone for their patience and support in getting to this point, but finally The Matrix.org Foundation exists.  Watch this space over the coming weeks as we announce the Guardians and finish bootstrapping the Foundation into its final long-term form!  Meanwhile, any questions: come ask in #matrix-spec-process:matrix.org or in the blog comments here.

thanks,

Matthew, Amandine, and the forthcoming Guardians of [the] Matrix!