C-Kermit 8.0.212 Dev.28 ttptycmd() routine 20 Feb 2007

On and off since the last C-Kermit development upload (Dev.27) I've been trying to solve a particular problem that some of you may be familiar with: If you use C-Kermit to make a secure connection (SSL/TLS, Kerberos, or SRP) to another host and then attempt to transfer a file using an external protocol such as Zmodem, it doesn't work.

That's because as currently coded, C-Kermit simply starts the external protocol in a fork with its standard i/o redirected to the connection. But if the connection is secure, this completely bypasses the encryption and decryption that is done by Kermit itself.

In order to allow (say) Zmodem transfers on secure connections, it is necessary for C-Kermit to interpose itself between the Zmodem program and the connection, decrypting the incoming stream before feeding it to Zmodem and encrypting Zmodem's output before sending out the connection.

In principal, this is simple enough. We open a pseudoterminal pair, "master" and "slave", for Zmodem's i/o and we create a fork and start Zmodem in it; we read from the fork pty's standard output, encrypt, and send to the net; we read from the net, decrypt, and write to the fork pty's standard input.

In practice, it's not so simple. First of all, pseudoterminals (ptys) don't interface correctly with certain crucial APIs, at least not in the OS's I have tried (Mac OS X, Linux, NetBSD, etc), such as select(). i/o with the pty often -- perhaps always -- fails to indicate errors when they occur; for example, when the fork has exited.

But, even after coding around the apparent uselessness of select() for multiplexing pty and net, and using various tricks to detect when the external protocol exits and what its exit status is, I'm still left with a show-stopping problem: I just simply can not download (receive) a file with Zmodem. I can send files just fine, but not receive. But I can receive files just fine if I use Kermit itself (C-Kermit or G-Kermit) as the external protocol, but not Zmodem. The incoming stream is delivered to Zmodem (to the pty slave) but upon arrival to the Zmodem process itself, pieces are always missing and/or corrupt.

I can think of two reasons why this might be the case:

1. Zmodem sends all 8-bit bytes and control codes in the clear, and maybe the pty is choking on them because it thinks it is a real terminal.

But Zmodem puts its controlling terminal into raw mode. And C-Kermit puts the pty into raw mode too, just for good measure. If any 0xFF codes are in the Zmodem data stream, and it's a Telnet session, Kermit does any needed byte stuffing. Anyway, if I tell Zmodem to prefix everything, it makes no difference.

2. Zmodem is a streaming protocol and perhaps the pty driver can't keep up with a sustained stream of input at network speeds. What would be the method of flow control?

I can vary the size of the i/o buffers used for writing to the pty, and get different effects, but I am not able to get a clean transfer, no matter what buffer size I use. write()'ing to the pty does not return an error. It's as if the path between the pty slave and master lack flow control; I deliver a valid data stream to the pty slave and the master gets bits and pieces. This impression is bolstered somewhat by the "man 7 pty" page in HP-UX, which talks about some special modes for ptys that which turn off all termio processing and guarantee a flow-controlled reliable stream of bytes in both directions -- a feature that seems to be specific to HP-UX.

Well, in Pass One I used C-Kermit's existing pty routines from ckupty.[ch], which are well-proven in terms of portability and functionality. They are currently used by SET HOST /PTY (for making terminal connections to external processes). But these routines are written on the assumption that the pty is to be accessed interactively, and maybe they are setting the fork/pty arrangement up in such a way that that's not suitable for file transfer. The Pass One routine is called xttptycmd() in ckutio.c.

So in Pass Two I made a second copy of the routine, yttptycmd(), that manages the pty and fork itself, so all the code is in one place and it's simple and understandable. But it still doesn't work for Zmodem downloads. In this routine, I use openpty() to get the pty pair, which is not portable, so this version can be used only a platforms that have openpty(): Linux, Mac OS X, NetBSD, etc.

Finally in Pass Three, zttptycmd(), I tried using pipes instead of ptys, in case ptys are simply not up to this task (but that can't be the case, because if I make a Telnet or SSH connection into a host, I can send files to it with Zmodem, and the remote Zmodem receiver is, indeed, running on a pty). But this didn't work either.

Well, it's a much longer story. As the external protocol, I've tried rzsz, crzsz, and lrzsz. We know that some of these have quirks regarding standard i/o, etc, which is one of the reasons for using ptys in the first place, and i/o *does* work -- just not reliably. Anyway, the last 1100 lines or so of ckc212.txt, starting just below where it says "--- Dev.27 ---" tell the full story. This whole episode is making me feel stupid so I thought it might be more productive to let somebody else who has more experience with ptys take a look at it -- if indeed anyone still cares about being able to do Zmodem transfers over secure Telnet connections.

C-Kermit 8.0.212 Dev.28 contains the three new routines (and some auxilliary ones), but they are not compiled or called unless you build it specially:

make targetname KFLAGS=-DXTTPTYCMD (builds with xttptycmd()) make targetname KFLAGS=-DYTTPTYCMD (builds with yttptycmd()) make targetname KFLAGS=-DZTTPTYCMD (builds with zttptycmd())

These are all in ckutio.c. As noted, the second one works only for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Mac OS X, because it uses non-POSIX, non-portable openpty(). If you want to try it on some other platform that has openpty(), you can build it like this:


(and let me know, so I can define HAVE_OPENPTY automatically for that platform). The best strategy to get this working, I think, would be to concentrate on yttptycmd(), which is the simpler of the two pty-based routines. If it can be made to work, then we'll see if we can retrofit it to use the ckupty.c routines so it will be portable to non-BSD platforms.