Rusty Russell's Coding Blog | Stealing From Smart People



ccan/io: revisited

There are numerous C async I/O libraries; tevent being the one I’m most familiar with.  Yet, tevent has a very wide API, and programs using it inevitably descend into “callback hell”.  So I wrote ccan/io.

The idea is that each I/O callback returns a “struct io_plan” which says what I/O to do next, and what callback to call.  Examples are “io_read(buf, len, next, next_arg)” to read a fixed number of bytes, and “io_read_partial(buf, lenp, next, next_arg)” to perform a single read.  You could also write your own, such as pettycoin’s “io_read_packet()” which read a length then allocated and read in the rest of the packet.

This should enable a convenient debug mode: you turn each io_read() etc. into synchronous operations and now you have a nice callchain showing what happened to a file descriptor.  In practice, however, debug was painful to use and a frequent source of bugs inside ccan/io, so I never used it for debugging.

And I became less happy when I used it in anger for pettycoin, but at some point you’ve got to stop procrastinating and start producing code, so I left it alone.

Now I’ve revisited it.   820 insertions(+), 1042 deletions(-) and the code is significantly less hairy, and the API a little simpler.  In particular, writing the normal “read-then-write” loops is still very nice, while doing full duplex I/O is possible, but more complex.  Let’s see if I’m still happy once I’ve merged it into pettycoin…

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Pettycoin Alpha01 Tagged

As all software, it took longer than I expected, but today I tagged the first version of pettycoin.  Now, lots more polish and features, but at least there’s something more than the git repo for others to look at!

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A “non-blocking” IPv6 connect() call was in fact, blocking.  Tracking that down made me realize the IPv6 address was mostly random garbage, which was caused by this function:

bool get_fd_addr(int fd, struct protocol_net_address *addr)
   union {
      struct sockaddr sa;
      struct sockaddr_in in;
      struct sockaddr_in6 in6;
   } u;
   socklen_t len = sizeof(len);
   if (getsockname(fd, &, &len) != 0)
      return false;

The bug: “sizeof(len)” should be “sizeof(u)”.  But when presented with a too-short length, getsockname() truncates, and otherwise “succeeds”; you have to check the resulting len value to see what you should have passed.

Obviously an error return would be better here, but the writable len arg is pretty useless: I don’t know of any callers who check the length return and do anything useful with it.  Provide getsocklen() for those who do care, and have getsockname() take a size_t as its third arg.

Oh, and the blocking?  That was because I was calling “fcntl(fd, F_SETFD, …)” instead of “F_SETFL”!

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I decided to use github for pettycoin, and tested out their blogging integration (summary: it’s not very integrated, but once set up, Jekyll is nice).  I’m keeping a blow-by-blow development blog over there.

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At I spoke about my pre-alpha implementation of Pettycoin, but progress since then has been slow.  That’s partially due to yak shaving (like rewriting ccan/io library), partially reimplementation of parts I didn’t like, and partially due to the birth of my son, but mainly because I have a day job which involves working on Power 8 KVM issues for IBM.  So Alex convinced me to take 6 months off from the day job, and work 4 days a week on pettycoin.

I’m going to be blogging my progress, so expect several updates a week.  The first few alpha releases will be useless for doing any actual transactions, but by the first beta the major pieces should be in place…

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Chris Fisher’s Jupiter Broadcasting pod/vodcasting started 8 years ago with the Linux Action Show: still their flagship show, and how I discovered them 3 years ago.  Shows like this give access to FOSS to those outside the LWN-reading crowd; community building can be a thankless task, and as a small shop Chris has had ups and downs along the way.  After listening to them for a few years, I feel a weird bond with this bunch of people I’ve never met.

I regularly listen to Techsnap for security news, Scibyte for science with my daughter, and Unfilter to get an insight into the NSA and what the US looks like from the inside.  I bugged Chris a while back to accept bitcoin donations, and when they did I subscribed to Unfilter for a year at 2 BTC.  To congratulate them on reaching the 100th Unfilter episode, I repeated that donation.

They’ve started doing new and ambitious things, like Linux HOWTO, so I know they’ll put the funds to good use!

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I was thinking about peer-to-peer networking (in the context of Pettycoin, of course) and I wondered if sending ~1420 bytes of data is really any slower than sending 1 byte on real networks.  Similarly, is it worth going to extremes to avoid crossing over into two TCP packets?

So I wrote a simple Linux TCP ping pong client and server: the client connects to the server then loops: reads until it gets a ‘1’ byte, then it responds with a single byte ack.  The server sends data ending in a 1 byte, then reads the response byte, printing out how long it took.  First 1 byte of data, then 101 bytes, all the way to 9901 bytes.  It does this 20 times, then closes the socket.

Here are the results on various networks (or download the source and result files for your own analysis):

On Our Gigabit Lan

Interestingly, we do win for tiny packets, but there’s no real penalty once we’re over a packet (until we get to three packets worth):

Over the Gigabit Lan

Over the Gigabit Lan


Over Gigabit LAN (closeup)

On Our Wireless Lan

Here we do see a significant decline as we enter the second packet, though extra bytes in the first packet aren’t completely free:

Wireless LAN (all results)

Wireless LAN (all results)

Wireless LAN (closeup)

Wireless LAN (closeup)

Via ADSL2 Over The Internet (Same Country)

Ignoring the occasional congestion from other uses of my home net connection, we see a big jump after the first packet, then another as we go from 3 to 4 packets:

ADSL over internet in same country

ADSL over internet in same country

ADSL over internet in same country (closeup)

ADSL over internet in same country (closeup)

Via ADSL2 Over The Internet (Australia <-> USA)

Here, packet size is completely lost in the noise; the carrier pidgins don’t even notice the extra weight:

Wifi + ADSL2 from Adelaide to US

Wifi + ADSL2 from Adelaide to US

Wifi + ADSL2 from Adelaide to US (closeup)

Wifi + ADSL2 from Adelaide to US (closeup)

Via 3G Cellular Network (HSPA)

I initially did this with Wifi tethering, but the results were weird enough that Joel wrote a little Java wrapper so I could run the test natively on the phone.  It didn’t change the resulting pattern much, but I don’t know if this regularity of delay is a 3G or an Android thing.  Here every packet costs, but you don’t win a prize for having a short packet:

3G network

3G network

3G network (closeup)

3G network (closeup)

Via 2G Network (EDGE)

This one actually gives you a penalty for short packets!  800 bytes to 2100 bytes is the sweet-spot:

2G (EDGE) network

2G (EDGE) network

2G (EDGE) network (closeup)

2G (EDGE) network (closeup)


So if you’re going to send one byte, what’s the penalty for sending more?  Eyeballing the minimum times from the graphs above:

Wired LAN Wireless ADSL 3G 2G
Penalty for filling packet 30%  15%  5%  0%  0%*
Penalty for second packet 30%  40%  15%  20%  0%
Penalty for fourth packet 60%  80%  25%  40%  25%

* Average for EDGE actually improves by about 35% if you fill packet

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I tested out, which lets you pay any BPAY bill (see explanation from reddit).  Since I’d never heard of the developer, I wasn’t going to send anything large through it, but it worked flawlessly.  At least the exposure is limited to the time between sending the BTC and seeing the BPAY receipt.  Exchange rate was fair, and it was a simple process.

Now I need to convince my wife we should buy some BTC for paying bills…

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As my previous post documented, I’ve experimented with  Following the arrest of two Miami men for trading on localbitcoins, I decided to seek legal advice on the sitation in Australia.

Online research led me to Nick Karagiannis of Kelly and Co, who was already familiar with Bitcoin: I guess it’s a rare opportunity for excitement in financial regulatory circles!  This set me back several thousand dollars (in fiat, unfortunately), but the result was reassuring.

They’ve released an excellent summary of the situation, derived from their research.  I hope that helps other bitcoin users in Australia, and I’ll post more in future should the legal situation change.

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Bitcoin Trading In Australia

I bought 10 BTC to play with back in 2011, and have been slowly spending them to support bitcoin adoption.  One thing which I couldn’t get reliable information on was how to buy and sell bitcoin within Australia, so over the last few months I decided to sell a few via different methods and report the results here (this also helps my budget, since I’m headed off on paternity leave imminently!).

All options listed here use two-factor authentication, otherwise I wouldn’t trust them with more than cents.  And obviously you shouldn’t leave your bitcoins in an exchange for any longer than necessary, since most exchanges over time have gone bankrupt.

Option 1: MtGox AUD

Yes, I transferred some BTC into MtGox and sold them.  This gave the best price, but after over two months of waiting the bank transfer to get my money hadn’t been completed.  So I gave up, bought back into bitcoins (fewer, since the price had jumped) and thus discovered that MtGox was issuing invalid BTC transactions so I couldn’t even get those out.  Then they halted transactions altogether blaming TX malleability.  Then they went bankrupt.  Then they leaked my personal data just for good measure.  The only way their failure could be more complete is if my MtGox Yubikey catches on fire and burns my home to the ground.

Volume: Great (5M AUD/month)
Price Premium: $25 – $50 / BTC
Charge: 0.65%
Hassle: Infinite
Summary: 0/10

Option 2:

According to, localbitcoins is the largest volume method for AUD exchange.  It’s not an exchange, so much as a matching and escrow service, though there are a number of professional traders active on the site.  The bulk of AUD trades are online, though I sold face to face (and I’ll be blogging about the range of people I met doing that). is a great place for online BTC buyers, since they have been around for quite a while and have an excellent reputation with no previous security issues, and they hold bitcoins in escrow as soon as you hit “buy”.  It’s a bit more work than an exchange, since you have to choose the counter-party yourself.

For online sellers, transfers from stolen bank accounts is a real issue.  Electronic Funds Transfer (aka “Pay Anyone”) is reversible, so when the real bank account owner realizes their money is missing, the bank tends to freeze the receiving (ie. BTC seller’s) bank account to make sure they can’t remove the disputed funds.  This process can take weeks or months, and banks’ anti-fraud departments generally treat bitcoin sellers who get defrauded with hostility (ANZ is reported to be the exception here).  A less common scam is fraudsters impersonating the Australian Tax Office and telling the victim to EFT to the localbitcoins seller.

Mitigations for sellers include any combination of:

  1. Only accepting old-fashioned cash deposits via a branch (though I’m aware of one US report where a fraudster convinced the teller to reverse the deposit, I haven’t heard of that in Australia)
  2. Insisting on “” in the transfer message (to avoid the ATO fraud problem)
  3. Only dealing with buyers with significant reputation (100+ trades with over 150 BTC is the Gold Standard)
  4. Insisting on real ID checking (eg. Skype chat of buyer with drivers’ license)
  5. Only dealing with buyers whose accounts are older than two weeks (most fraudsters are in and out before then, though their reputation can be very good until they get caught)
  6. Only allowing internal transfers between the same bank (eg. Commonwealth), relying on the bank’s use of two factor authentication to reduce fraud.

Many buyers on are newcomers, so anticipate honest mistakes for the most part.  The golden rule always applies: if someone is offering an unrealistic price, it’s because they’re trying to cheat you.

Volume: Good (1M AUD/month)
Price Premium: $5 – $20 / BTC
Charge: 1% (selling), 0% (buying)
Hassle: Medium
Summary: 7/10

Option 3:

You’ll need to get your bank account checked to use this fairly low-volume exchange, but it’s reasonably painless.  Their issues are their lack of exposure (I found out about them through and lack of volume (about a quarter of the volume), but they also trade litecoin if you’re into that.  You can leave standing orders, or just manually place one which is going to be matched instantly.

They seem like a small operation, based in Sydney, but my interactions with them have been friendly and fast.

Volume: Low (300k AUD/month)
Price Premium: $0 / BTC
Charge: 1%
Hassle: Low
Summary: 7/10

Option 4:

I heard about this site from a well-circulated blog post on Commonwealth Bank closing their bank account last year.  I didn’t originally consider them since they don’t promote themselves as an exchange, but you can use their filler to sell them bitcoins at a spot rate.  It’s limited to $4000 per day according to their FAQ.

They have an online ID check, using the usual sources which didn’t quite work for me due to out-of-date electoral information, but they cleared that manually within a day.  They deposit 1c into your bank account to verify it, but that hasn’t worked for me, so I’ve no way to withdraw my money and they haven’t responded to my query 5 days ago leaving me feeling nervous.  A search of reddit points to common delays, and founder’s links to the hacked-and-failed Bitcoinica give me a distinct “magical gathering” feel. [Edit: they apparently tried and failed four times to transfer the 1c verification to my ING account; with 1-2 business day support response, this took quite a while.  They never explained why this was failing.  Using my wife’s CBA account worked however, and I got my funds the next day.  Upgraded their score from 4/10 to 5/10.]

Volume: Unknown (self-reports indicate ~250k/month?)
Price Premium: $0 / BTC
Charge: 1.1% (selling) 2% (buying)
Hassle: Medium
Summary: 5/10

If you trade, I’d love to hear corrections, comments etc. or email me on

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