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Is Portslave Still Useful?

Portslave is a project that was started in the 90′s to listen to a serial port and launch a PPP or SLIP session after a user has been authenticated, I describe it as a “project” not a “program” because a large part of it’s operation is via a shared object that hooks into pppd, so if you connect to a Portslave terminal server and just start sending PPP data then the pppd will be launched and use the Portslave shared object for authentication. This dual mode of operation makes it a little tricky to develop and maintain, every significant update to pppd requires that Portslave be recompiled at the minimum, and sometimes code changes in Portslave have been required to match changes in pppd. CHAP authentication was broken in a pppd update in 2004 and I never fixed it, as an aside the last significant code change I made was to disable CHAP support, so I haven’t been actively working on it for 9 years.

I took over the Portslave project in 2000, at the time there were three separate forks of the project with different version numbering schemes. I used the release date as the only version number for my Portslave releases so that it would be easy for users to determine which version was the latest. Getting the latest version was very important given the ties to pppd.

When I started maintaining Portslave I had a couple of clients that maintained banks of modems for ISP service and for their staff to connect to the Internet. Also multi-port serial devices were quite common and modems where the standard way of connecting to the Internet.

Since that time all my clients have ceased running modems. Most people connect to the Internet via ADSL or Cable, and when people travel they use 3G net access via their phone which is usually cheaper, faster, and more convenient than using a modem. The last code changes I made to Portslave were in 2010, since then I’ve made one upload to Debian for the sole purpose of compiling against a new version of pppd.

I have no real interest in maintaining Portslave, it’s no longer a fun project for me, I don’t have enough spare time for such things, and no-one is paying me to work on it.

Currently Portslave has two Debian bugs, one is from a CMU project to scan programs for crashes that might indicate security flaws, it seems that Portslave crashes if standard input isn’t a terminal device [1]. That one shouldn’t be difficult to solve.

The other Debian bug is due to Portslave being compiled against an obsolete RADIUS client library [2]. It also shouldn’t be that difficult to fix, when I made it use libradius1 that wasn’t a difficult task and it should be even easier to convert from one RADIUS library to another.

But the question is whether it’s worth bothering. Is anyone using Portslave? Is anyone prepared to maintain it in Debian? Should I just file a bug report requesting that Portslave be removed from Debian?

2 comments to Is Portslave Still Useful?

  • Shoot it in the head before it respawns.

  • etbe

    I’d be happy if it respawned with someone else maintaining it. I wouldn’t be quite so happy if once again we had three widely divergent forks, but if the differences were made clear and there were real technical benefits in the differences then it wouldn’t be so bad.

    It’s up to the general Linux population, if no-one is interested in writing it for fun or paying for it then it will die.

    I’ll keep the source on my web site though, it should still remain usable for some years. I don’t think that pppd is changing much nowadays.

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