A discussion thread I got pulled into on Mastodon had me suddenly nostalgic for something we once had on the Internet, and which was really nice while it lasted: the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, or XMPP, or sometimes referred to by its original name, Jabber.
What kicked off the discussion was somebody asking about a more modern "decentralized chat platform" known as Matrix (not the movie). A lot of people online talk about how they like Matrix, but I one time had a go at self-hosting my own Matrix node (which I feel I should rant about briefly, below), and the discussion turned back towards something that we used to have which was (in my opinion) loads better, XMPP.
So I haven't posted a good rant on my blog in quite some time - I had chilled out a lot in my older years, but I just have to tell this story about Safari and my struggles in getting it to work with my chat room I had built recently.
My chat room is a fairly basic app - it's open source and written "from scratch" using WebSockets to handle the client/server communication and they pass basic JSON messages around. All fairly standard stuff and shouldn't be a big ask for any modern web browser that supports modern web standards. It works flawlessly in Google Chrome as well as all other Chromium derivatives (including Edge, Brave, etc.), and it works flawlessly on Firefox, and when you run either browser on your Windows, Linux or Mac OS computer. It even works great on all Androids, too - using Chromium or Firefox browser engines.
But then there's Safari. Safari "supports" WebSockets but it doesn't do so very well and I've been fighting this for weeks now trying to chip away at this problem. Both when you run Safari on your Mac OS Ventura desktop or on your iPhone or iPad, Safari is very easy to overwhelm and it will disconnect from the chat room at the slightest hiccup of an issue.
My rant here actually is about three different problems that have made my life difficult trying to get Safari to work:
I don't own a Macbook or an iOS device and so would have no way to even debug or look into this problem, but at least there is an option to run Mac OS inside of a virtual machine (using something like OSX-KVM) so at least I can look into the desktop Safari browser and see what its deal is.
First - here is how my chat basically works: you connect, send your username to log in, the chat tells everyone you joined, sends everyone the new Who's Online roster, and sends some "welcome messages" to the one who joined where I can send my rules or new feature announcements to you.
What I would see when a Safari user logged in was: they'd connect, log in, receive all those welcome messages and then they would immediately hangup the connection and log off. On their side, the web browser gives a very unhelpful error message regarding the WebSocket:
That's it - it doesn't say what the error was. Even when I have a Safari browser in front of me, they give me no help at all to find out what's wrong!
Through trial and error, I found out:
...and that kind of thoroughly sucks. I can remove all the welcome messages so as to allow Safari to at least log on, but then just one user posting a paragraph of text will kick all the Safari users out of the chat room!
Chrome and Firefox don't experience this issue. A while ago I added picture sharing in chat - you send your picture over WebSocket and it echoes it as a
data: URL to all the chatters, passing those bytes directly back out; Firefox and Chrome can cope with this perfectly, but that would for sure kick Safari users off for too long of a message!
So, when it comes to Mac OS users I can tell them: Chrome and Firefox work better. But this advice does not fly on iPads or iPhones because, per Apple's rules, web browsers on iOS are not allowed to bring their own browser engines - they all are just custom wrappers around Mobile Safari.
And you guessed it: Mobile Safari doesn't like my WebSockets either!
I am hoping that with EU pressure placed on Apple to where they will allow competing browser engines to join their platform, that at least some of my iOS users will have a way to use my chat room. But how it stands currently is: iPads and iPhones simply can't use my chat room at all, or if they can get on (maybe it's the "too long of message" issue with them as well), they will be fragile and easy to boot offline just by writing too long of a message.
Apple will not innovate on Safari and make it support modern web standards, and they've made sure that nobody else can innovate either. The Blink engine from Chromium and Gecko from Firefox both work great with WebSockets and if only they were allowed to exist in their true forms on Apple mobiles, I wouldn't be ranting about this right now, I could just say "don't use Safari."
And side rant: the reason Apple won't allow Chrome or Firefox to compete with them is because they are scared shitless about Progressive Web Apps, which could compete with their native app store. They won't innovate on Safari at all until their feet are held to the fire (thanks for that as well, EU!), their web browser sucks (as this WebSockets thing illustrates), they're holding everybody back - the new Internet Explorer 6.0!
Even if I owned an iPad, it wouldn't help - you can't get to the browser logs on an iPad browser to even see what kind of error message it's throwing. Though I imagine the error message would be just as helpful as desktop Safari, anyway: "Protocol error."
In order to get logs off an iOS web browser, you need to pair it with a Macbook computer -- the only kind of device that is allowed to run the iOS development kits and is the only way to debug anything that happens on your iPad.
With Mac OS, at least there is a way I can spin up a virtual machine and get my hands on Safari. There is no way to do this for iOS. There's no virtual machine where I can run the genuine Mobile Safari app and have a look at this issue myself. I wish Apple weren't so closed in their ecosystem - comparing it to Android for example, you can debug an Android app using any kind of computer: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, even another Android, even on-device on the same Android.
I am not an iOS developer, I don't care to be an iOS developer, and I don't own any Apple hardware, and it really sucks when I run into a web app issue that should have nothing to do with Apple specific software, and I simply can not even get in and look at the error messages.
I'd been chipping away at this for weeks, basically blindly trying things and throwing shit at the walls and hoping one of my Apple using friends tries my chat room once in a while to see if any of my efforts have worked (spoiler: they haven't worked).
I've also tried reaching out to developers on Mastodon and other social media: my chat room is open source, could somebody with Apple hardware help me debug and see if they can find out what I can do better to get Safari to like my chat room. Maybe I didn't reach the right ears because I've gotten only crickets in response. Meanwhile about a third of my users still can not get onto my chat room at all.
Where I've landed so far is: it seems Safari can connect, but that < 500 character limit issue seems horribly broken and I don't want Safari users getting kicked off left and right by surprise, it's a bad user experience.
If I wait it out long enough (and if the EU is successful), Apple may permit actually good web browser engines on their platform and then my chat will work perfectly on them. It may just take a couple of years though - first Apple would have to be successfully sued into submission, and then Google/Mozilla would have to port their browser engines over which could be its own long tail of development work.
Maybe as a consequence of that regulation, Apple will actually put some new work into Safari instead of just neglecting it and they'll fix their shit. Currently it seems like my WebSocket messages need to be smaller than a tweet on Twitter, and it honestly won't be worth all the effort it would take me to reimagine my whole chat room and come up with a clever protocol to break messages apart into tiny bite sized chunks when it's only one, non-standards compliant web browser, which drags its stick thru the mud as badly as Internet Explorer ever did, that has the issue here.
So are they the new Internet Explorer, or somehow even worse?
I have sometimes had people visit my blog because they were Googling around in general about Apple and they like to fight me in the comments because I dissed their favorite brand. If this is you, at least say something constructive in the comments: have you ever built a WebSockets app and do you have experience to share in how to get Safari to behave? If you're simply an end user fanboy and never installed Xcode in your life, save your comments, please.
I have just released a new toy program on my website: Error Message Generator 2.0, or ErrorGen for short.
ErrorGen is a simple program that lets a user configure customized error dialog pop-ups, with a custom icon, message and buttons, to prank their friends with or to put to good use by shell scripts if you want to ask the user a quick question from your external program.
My original ErrorGen was inspired by a web tool called "Atom Smasher's Error Message Generator" which would produce images of error dialogs that you could save to disk. My program, however, created "real" dialogs on your desktop PC that you could drag around the screen and interact with. The original version was written using Perl/Tk in 2006 and hasn't been updated a lot since - with the latest release built in 2008 for Windows XP and it hasn't aged well and doesn't run as easily on modern Windows anymore.
In 2022, Atom Smasher's page went offline and I have seen an uptick of interest in my old ErrorGen program ever since: it is recently the #1 most requested page on my website!
So, on January 21, 2023 I decided to reinvent my ErrorGen program from scratch, this time programming it in Go and to explore the Fyne UI toolkit which I had seen around but hadn't played with before. ErrorGen 2.0 has equivalent features to what my original Perl version had, but with a fresh and modern look based on Material Design that comes with Fyne and built for the modern era. I also have some plans to extend ErrorGen 2.0 with new features and especially make it more useful for command line interfaces, to make something on par with GNOME's Zenity tool.
Is Zenmsg a virus? asks:
It only opened a command box, and nothing else happened. Is this a virus?
No, it's not. 😊 ZenMsg is a command-line program (so it opens your DOS prompt if double-clicked on), but it requires command-line options to tell it what to do. When run without any options, it prints its usage information to the terminal and then exits; so when double-clicked on, your DOS prompt appeared and then closed because ZenMsg exited.
You'll want to run it from a PowerShell or Command Prompt window first (so that the console sticks around after the program exits), and you can see it just prints its usage information:
C:\Users\Noah\Downloads> ZenMsg.exe Usage: ZenMsg [--error --alert --info --question] [--title] [--text] [--button label] [--icon name_or_file] [--default label] [--cancel label] [--disabled n] [--version] [--help] Use the "--help" option for more help. (and it goes into detail on all the options)
If you call it with
ZenMsg --help it goes into full detail (the same documentation that's in the ZenMsg.html page the program ships with), including all the names of built-in icons. Every icon available on the Error Message Generator is built in to ZenMsg, and you can point it to a custom image on disk to use your own icon:
BUILT-IN ICONS Here is a list of all the built-in icons that you can use by name: aim_guy - Blue AIM guy icon aol_icon - Blue AOL icon attention - Yellow triangle around an exclamation mark bomb - Round black bomb icon bomb_dynamite - Icon of a bundle of dynamite and a trigger bomb_grenade - Icon of a grenade bulb - White light bulb butterfly - MSN Butterfly icon cake - Slice of pink cake on a blue plate circularsaw - Icon of a handheld circular saw control_panel - Generic control panel icon cow - Icon of a cow and a computer tower defrag - Disk Defragmenter icon disk_blue - Generic blue floppy disk icon disk_blue_label - Blue floppy disk with a label disk_orange - Generic orange floppy disk disk_red - Generic red floppy disk disk_red_label - Red floppy disk with a label disk_skull - Gray floppy disk with skull and crossbones disk_yellow - Generic yellow floppy disk error - Old-school X in a red circle error dialog icon error2 - Modern, shiny incarnation of an error dialog icon error3 - Beveled error dialog icon (like Windows XP) error4 - A red X icon file_cabinet - File cabinet icon find - Find Files icon floppy_drive - Generic floppy drive icon fortunecookie - Icon of a fortune cookie garbage_empty - Empty garbage can garbage_full - Bloated garabage can gun - Icon of a revolver pistol hammer - Icon of a hammer heart - Icon of a shiny red heart help - Old-school Windows Help icon hub - Icon of a hardware hub of sorts (networking?) hwinfo - Icon of a PCI device with blue "i" bubble above it ie5 - Icon of old-school Internet Explorer info - Speech bubble with an "i" inside keys - Generic icon of keys keys2 - Old Windows key icon keys3 - Generic key and padlock icon labtec - Icon of a server or something? mac - Striped colorful Apple logo mail - Generic icon of an envelope mail_deleted - Same envelope with a red X emblem in the corner. mailbox - Mailbox with the flag down mouth - Smiling mouth icon msdos - MS-DOS icon mycomputer - A "My Computer" icon mycomputer2 - A "My Computer" icon mycomputer3 - A "My Computer" icon newspaper - Generic newspaper icon peripheral - Generic computer peripheral icon plant_leaf - A certain green leafy plant pocketknife - A swiss army pocket knife question - Icon of a speech bubble with a "?" inside radiation - Yellow and black radiation symbol ram - Icon of a couple sticks of RAM recycle - Green recycle arrows logo recycle2 - Recycle arrows enveloping a globe of Earth scanner - Generic scanner icon screw - Golden screw icon screw2 - Gray screw icon setup - Generic icon for "setup.exe" type programs skull - Black skull and crossbones skull2 - Picture of a skull skull3 - White skull and crossbones tux - Icon of our favorite Linux mascot tux_config - Tux dressed up like a repairman ups - Icon of an uninterruptible power supply zipdisk - Icon of a single zip disk zipdisks - Icon of numerous zipdisks
You can call ZenMsg from a batch file or any other program (e.g. a Python or Perl script could call ZenMsg.exe and send it parameters). For example, open Notepad and save the following as "example.bat" (with quotes, ensuring that it gets a .bat extension and not .bat.txt) and place it in the same folder next to ZenMsg.exe:
@echo off ZenMsg --alert --title "Critical Error" --text "Now you've done it." ^ --button "Ok" --button "Cancel" --button "Accept blame" ^ --disabled 1 --disabled 2 > zenmsg-answer.txt echo The user had selected: type zenmsg-answer.txt del zenmsg-answer.txt
Double-clicking your example.bat file would then pop up that alert box. ZenMsg prints the user's selected button to its standard output, which we captured above by piping it into zenmsg-answer.txt (it's possible to get output from commands in e.g. Perl scripts too, so your program can ask the user a question and then have branching behavior depending on which button the user clicked on).
On forums like r/privacy people often discuss the role of open source software when it comes to privacy and end-to-end encrypted messaging applications. The general consensus is: a privacy focused app must be open source so that people can get their eyes on the source code and audit it for security vulnerabilities, verify it's doing what it says in the tin and without any secret government backdoors built in that would undermine the security and reveal peoples' private chats.
These are all well and good: if the source code is not open, you can't verify the code isn't doing something sneaky like uploading your encryption keys to the service provider or whatever. But, open source alone isn't a silver bullet to help guarantee the security of the app:
In this post I'll address a few common tired things I hear people on r/privacy say in regards to this topic and how it's never quite that simple.
Note that this primarily focused on the back-end side of things, and won't cover all the craziness that has evolved in the front-end space (leading up to React.js, Vue, Webpack, and so on). Plenty has been said elsewhere on the Internet about the evolution of front-end development.
I first started writing websites when I was twelve years old back around the year 1999. HTML 4.0 was a brand new specification and the common back-end languages at the time were Perl, PHP, Coldfusion and Apache Server Side Includes.
I added a new feature to my Go blog app that sort of automates a Tumblr-style "Ask Me" feature, which I found useful for other blogs I run on this codebase.
So Kirsle.net has gained an ask me anything page. It's like a Contact Me form except your question will become a blog post with my answer attached and you might receive a notification e-mail if you want.
The Go codebase is a little rough around the edges and I'll be refactoring it over time. This is the first blog post on the new platform, so let me tell you about my open source Go blog!
I was reading this ACLU blog post about how DreamHost was served with a warrant to hand over IP addresses of some 1.3 million visitors to a website they host, and it got me thinking: do websites really need to store IP addresses of their visitors?
There are a lot of VPN companies such as Private Internet Access that advertise far and wide that they explicitly chose not to keep any logs. The idea is that if the VPN provider is served with a warrant for user activity, they would have no data to hand over, because they never stored anything in the first place. Why don't websites do that?
This is going to be yet another blog post in the "tabs vs. spaces" holy war that software developers like to fight about. I generally prefer tabs over spaces, but for certain types of programming languages I do use spaces instead of tabs.
People have strong opinions on this and I don't expect to be able to convince anyone, but this is how I indent my code: