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A Fediverse/Mastodon bot for DNS queries

First publication of this article on 25 April 2018
Last update on of 3 May 2018


I created a bot to answer DNS queries over the fediverse (decentralized social network, best known implementation being Mastodon). What for? Well, mostly for the fun, a bit to learn about Mastodon bots, and a bit because, in these times of censorship, filtering, lying DNS resolvers and so on, offering to the users a way to make DNS requests to the outside can be useful. This article is to document this project.

First, how to use it. Once you have a Fediverse account (for Mastodon, see https://joinmastodon.org/), you write to @DNSresolver@mammout.bzh. You just tell it the domain name you want to resolve. Here is an example, with the answer: fediverse-dns-bot-1.png

If you want, you can specify the DNS query type after the name (the defaut is A, for IPv4 adresses): fediverse-dns-bot-2.png

The bot replies with the same level of confidentiality as the query. So, if you want the request to be private, use the "direct" mode. Note that the bot itself is very indiscreet: it logs everything, and I read it. So, it will be only privacy against third parties.

And, yes IDN do work. This is 2018, we now know that not everyone on Earth use the latin alphabet: fediverse-dns-bot-3.png

Last, but not least, when the bot sees an IP address, it automatically does a "reverse" query: fediverse-dns-bot-4.png

If you are a command-line fan, you can use the madonctl tool to send the query to the bot:

% madonctl toot "@DNSresolver@mammout.bzh framapiaf.org"

You can even make a shell function:

# Function definition
dnsfediverse() {
    madonctl toot --visibility direct "@DNSresolver@mammout.bzh $1"
}

# Function usages
% dnsfediverse www.face-cachee-internet.fr 

% dnsfediverse societegenerale.com\ NS    

To do DNS when normal access is blocked or otherwise unavailable, you have other solutions. You can use DNS looking glasses, public DNS resolver over the Web, the Twitter bot @1111Resolver, email auto-responder resolver@lookup.email

Now, the implementation. (You can get all the files at https://framagit.org/bortzmeyer/mastodon-DNS-bot/.) Mastodon provides a documented API. (Note that it is the client-to-server API, and it is not standard in any way, unlike the ActivityPub protocol used for the server-to-server communication. Not all fediverse programs use this API, for instance GNU Social has a different one.) You can write your own client over the raw API but it is a bit harsh, so I wanted to use an existing library. There were two techniques to write a bot that I considered, madonctl with the shell and Mastodon.py with Python. I choosed the second one because a lof of nice people recommended it, and because madonctl required more text parsing, with the associated risks when you get data from unknown actors.

Mastodon.py has a very good documentation. I first create two files with the credentials to connect to the Mastodon instance of the bot. I choosed the Mastodon instance https://mammout.bzh because it is managed by nice people, and because it is technically up-to-date (IPv6, DNSSEC, DANE…). Note there is one Mastodon instance dedicated to bots. I created the account DNSresolver. Then, first file to create, DNSresolver_clientcred.secret is to register the application, with this Python code:

Mastodon.create_app(
     'DNSresolverapp',
     api_base_url = 'https://mammout.bzh/',
     to_file = 'DNSresolver_clientcred.secret'
)

Second file, DNSresolver_usercred.secret, is after you logged in:

mastodon = Mastodon(
    client_id = 'DNSresolver_clientcred.secret',
    api_base_url = 'https://mammout.bzh/'
)
mastodon.log_in(
    'the-email-address@the-domain',
    'the secret password',
    to_file = 'DNSresolver_usercred.secret'
)
    

Then we can connect to the instance of the bot and listen to incoming requests with the streaming API:

mastodon = Mastodon(
    client_id = 'DNSresolver_clientcred.secret',
    access_token = 'DNSresolver_usercred.secret',
    api_base_url = 'https://mammout.bzh')
listener = myListener()
mastodon.stream_user(listener)
    

And everything else is event-based. When an incoming request comes in, the program will "immediately" call listener. Use of the streaming API (instead of polling) makes the bot very responsive.

But what is listener? It has to be an instance of the class StreamListener from Mastodon.py, and to provide routines to act when a given event takes place. Here, I'm only interested in notifications (when people mention the bot in a message, a toot):

    
class myListener(StreamListener):
    def on_notification(self, notification):
       if notification['type'] == 'mention':
            # Parse the request, find out domain name and possibly query type     
            # Perform the DNS query
	    # Post the result on the fediverse

The routine on_notification will receive the toot as a dictionary in the parameter notification. The fields of this dictionary are documented.

For the first step, parsing the request, Mastodon unfortunately returns the content of the toot in HTML. We have to extract the text with lxml:

doc = html.document_fromstring(notification['status']['content'])
body = doc.text_content()

We can then get the parameters of the query with a regular expression (remember all the files are at https://framagit.org/bortzmeyer/mastodon-DNS-bot/).

Second thing to do, perform the actual DNS query. We use dnspython which is very simple to use, sending the request to the local resolver (an Unbound) with just one function call:

msg = self.resolver.query(qname, qtype)
for data in msg:
    answers = answers + str(data) + "\n"
  

Finally, we send the reply through the Mastodon API:

id = notification['status']['id']
visibility = notification['status']['visibility']
mastodon.status_post(answers, in_reply_to_id = id, 
                     visibility = visibility) 
  

We retrieve the visibility (public/private/etc) from the original message, and we mention the original identifier of the toot, to let Mastodon keep both query and reply in the same thread.

That's it, you now have a Mastodon bot! Of course, the real code is more complicated. You have to guard against code injection (for instance, using a call to the shell to call dig for DNS resolution would be dangerous if there were semicolons in the domain name), that's why we keep only the text from the HTML. And, of course, because the sender of the original message can be wrong (or malicious), you have to consider many possible failures and guard accordingly. The exception handlers are therefore longer than the "real" code. Remember the Internet is a jungle!

One last problem: when you open a streaming connection to Mastodon, sometimes the network is down, or the server restarted, or closed the connection violently, and you won't be notified. (A bit like a TCP connection with no traffic: you have no way of knowing if it is broken or simply idle, besides sending a message.) The streaming API solves this problem by sending "heartbeats" every fifteen seconds. You need to handle these heartbeats, and do something if they stop arriving. Here, we record the time of the last heartbeat in a file:

def handle_heartbeat(self):
        self.heartbeat_file = open(self.hb_filename, 'w')
        print(time.time(), file=self.heartbeat_file)
        self.heartbeat_file.close()
  

We run the Mastodon listener in a separate process, with Python's multiprocessing module:

proc = multiprocessing.Process(target=driver,
    args=(log, tmp_hb_filename[1],tmp_pid_filename[1]))
proc.start()
  

And we have a timer that checks the timestamps written in the heartbeats file, and kills the listener process if the last heartbeat is too old:

h = open(tmp_hb_filename[1], 'r')
last_heartbeat = float(h.read(128))
if time.time() - last_heartbeat > MAXIMUM_HEARTBEAT_DELAY:
                    log.error("No more heartbeats, kill %s" % proc.pid)
                    proc.terminate()
  

We use multiprocessing and not threading because threads in Python have some annoying limitations. For instance, there is no way to kill them (no equivalent of the terminate() we use. Here is the log file when running with "debug" verbosity. Note the times:

2018-05-02 18:01:25,745 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:01:40,746 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:01:55,758 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:02:10,757 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:02:25,770 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:02:40,769 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:03:38,473 - ERROR - No more heartbeats, kill 28070
2018-05-02 18:03:38,482 - DEBUG - Done, it exited with code -15
2018-05-02 18:03:38,484 - DEBUG - Creating a new process
2018-05-02 18:03:38,659 - INFO - Driver/listener starts, PID 20396
2018-05-02 18:03:53,838 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
2018-05-02 18:04:08,837 - DEBUG - HEARTBEAT
  

The second possibility that I considered for writing the bot, but discarded, is the use of madonctl. It is a very powerful command-line tool. You can listen to the stream of toots:

  
% madonctl stream --command "command.sh"

Where command.sh is a program that will parse the message (the toot) and act. A more detailed example is:

%  madonctl stream --notifications-only --notification-types mentions --command "dosomething.sh"

where dosomething.sh has the content:

#!/bin/sh                                                                                                                      

echo "A notification !!!"
echo Args: $*
cat

echo ""

If you write to the account used by madonctl, the script dosomething.sh will display:

Command output: A notification !!!
Args:
- Notification ID: 3907
  Type: mention
  Timestamp: 2018-04-09 13:43:34.746 +0200 CEST
  - Account: (8) @bortzmeyer@mastodon.gougere.fr - S. Bortzmeyer  ✅
  - Status ID: 99829298934602015
    From: bortzmeyer@mastodon.gougere.fr (S. Bortzmeyer  ✅)
    Timestamp: 2018-04-09 13:43:34.704 +0200 CEST
    Contents: @DNSresolver Test 1
Test 2
    URL: https://mastodon.gougere.fr/@bortzmeyer/99829297476510997
  

You then have to parse it. For my DNS bot, it was not ideal, that's why I choosed Mastodon.py.

Other resources about bot implementation on the fediverse:

Thanks a lot to Alarig for the server and the good ideas.

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