Today was a very frustrating day.

So, yesterday, I did a rollup of software on my main work machine. I performed an apt-get upgrade as I have done a thousand times before. Logged off, and went to bed.

This morning, when tried to log on, after I’d entered my details on the login screen, I was greeted by a blank screen for about 2 minutes, before being kicked back to the login screen.


This kind of thing had happened before, and in the past it was just a matter of installing the vendor NVidia drivers for my card. Sometime back in the day the distro provided nvidia drivers had stopped working, so using the vendor ones was the way to go (this has since changed).

No joy. So, I began diving in and pulling at the various ends in an attempt to unravel this knotted ball of string.

Watching the logs, I noticed that just before the login process got thrown back to lightdm, I got a bunch of…

…appearing in my syslog.

So, something was suddenly up with systemd, but I was nonthewiser.

My setup at home is that I have a server which has my home directory and users exported by NFS/NIS to various machines, so there was nothing actually on the work machine. Sod it I thought, nuke the site from orbit. So, I reinstalled, just in case I had bawked something up over the years.

The fresh install made me create a new user, fine. I installed all the graphics drivers, and was able to log in just fine. Great! So, installed the various bits of software, set up NIS/NFS, could log in on console… great! Logged in through gdm3… aaaand. Nothing. Same error. Switched to lightdm. Same thing.

But… the local user worked. Must be something in my user’s home dir, after all that. So, unmounted my home directory, and tried to log in as a fresh user… still no joy. But the local user could log in…



As a hunch, I copied the user line from my server’s /etc/passwd into my local machine’s /etc/passwd… and bingo, I was able to log in.

So, what looks like has happened is that a recent change (within the last week or so) has broken NIS user support for systemd/dbus. So, when the window manager was trying to start the services it needed to run, it wasn’t able to, since the user it was attempting to use couldn’t be found. Lightdm/Pam still functioned with NIS, so my thinking is that there’s something about the environment that’s looking directly at /etc/passwd for something, or to validate uids.. I’m not an expert.

So, if any of you are in a similar situation, hopefully this blog post will stop you from losing an entire day of work!

My askubuntu ticket is over here, and I’ll keep updated should I find a better solution than this rather crufty hack.

This weekend I attended the first Oxford Indieweb camp, kindly organised by Garrett.

Day 1

Due to an early start, and not enough coffee, I had left my phone at home, and so couldn’t log into anything. Two factor auth on things is great, but I think I’ve just spotted a flaw.


I didn’t go with much of a plan, except to meet some techy folk. So that much I achieved.

I had some thoughts about maybe looking into federalisation – cross user login, friend/follow etc. But I also sensed this was going to likely be more than was achievable in the time I had.

During introductions, I mentioned to folk that I was a contributor to Known and gave the project a bit of a shill, since I figured it might be interesting to folk by way of giving them a head start on a few things. So, spent the day helping one of the attendees write their first plugin for it.

After a day of discussion and coding, we retired to a local pub for some more relaxed conversation.

Day 2

Rain stopped play, which was a shame. Many folk decided to stay home. Nevertheless, had a pleasant morning chat over coffee and bagel with Beverley, hiding from the rain.

After braving the shops, and meeting up with a catch up with other friends, I went home and started sketching out some federation / Vouch ideas I had after some interesting discussions.

Great weekend of techy fun, more again soon, please!

I have previously talked about speeding up your site by using Squid as a reverse proxy to cache served pages. This is a great thing to do, but presents a problem now that all sites are moving over to HTTPS, since for various technical reasons reverse proxies can’t really handle HTTPS.

These days the standard way of doing this seems to be using Varnish as a cache, and Squid seems to be a little “old hat”, however I have several client estates which were set up before Varnish came on the scene, so I needed a solution I could get up and running very quickly.

Terminating HTTPS

Thankfully, the solution is very similar whatever reverse proxy you’re using. The solution is simple, you need to install something that terminates and handles the HTTPS session before sending it to your proxy. The simplest way to do this is to install NGINX and configure it to handle HTTPS sessions.

1) Disable Apache’s handling of HTTPS (if you’ve got an existing, un-cached, HTTPS server).

2) Install the basic nginx apt-get install nginx-light

3) Configure nginx to forward to your proxy (which you have previously configured to listen on port 80)

After restarting nginx, you should be able to see https requests coming in on your squid proxy logs.


The biggest gotcha that you’re going to hit is that if you’re checking whether a request is HTTPS in your app (e.g. for automatically forwarding from insecure to secure), you’re not going to be able to use the standard protocol checks. The reason being is that HTTPS is being terminated by nginx, so by the time the session hits your app, it will not be seen as secure!

To perform such a test, you’re instead going to have to check for the X-Forwarded-Proto header instead ($_SERVER['HTTP_X_FORWARDED_PROTO'] in PHP).