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How I Ruptured my Cerebrum Implementing Activity Pub
Programming
Blog
Elixir
Ruby
Pleroma
Activitypub
Mastodon
Thu, 26 Dec, 2019 16:18

I spent a few months on and off, that is to say, not very consistently, attempting to get this blog Activity Pub Sensitive. There were many false starts, many moments where I gave up, many spilled comestibles and one or two plagues of sentient lice. In the end, my implementation is far from perfect or finished, but it does what I need it to do for now.

I’m in metaphysical debt to the following:

My code is here: https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir

Martenblog is a single user federated app, so, unlike #mastodon or Pleroma. This single user is the manifestation of the blog, perhaps, were it sentient. Perhaps it is. I’m not sure. Whereas Actors on Mastodon are indicated by https://instance/users/username (I’m https://sonomu.club/users/flavigula on Mastodon), my singular actor is https://flavigula.net/ap/actor. I didn’t come up with this genericism myself, but by stealing the idea from … well, it seems I cannot find the repository any longer. I am also in metaphysical debt to this human who did a Node.js implementation for his own blog.

curl -k https://flavigula.net/ap/actor will show you my actor.

Backtracking slightly, I found it necessary to implement webfinger so that other servers could see me. My initial testing goal was to be able to type @martenblog@flavigula.net into the search field on Mastodon and find the manifestation of Martenblog.

  def webfinger do
    json = %{
      aliases: [
        "https://#{@domain}/ap/actor"
      ],
      links: [
        %{
          href: "https://#{@domain}/ap/actor",
          rel: "self",
          type: "application/activity+json"
        }
      ],
      subject: "acct:martenblog@#{@domain}"
    }
    json
  end

I suppose that’s pretty self explanatory. You can see the result at https://flavigula.net/.well-known/webfinger

While I was at it, I added the https://flavigula.net/.well-known/host-meta endpoint:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<XRD xmlns="http://docs.oasis-open.org/ns/xri/xrd-1.0">
  <Link rel="lrdd" template="https://flavigula.net/.well-known/webfinger?resource={uri}" type="application/xrd+xml"/>
</XRD>

Also, the https://flavigula.net/.well-known/nodeinfo endpoint:

{
  "links": [
    {
      "rel": "https://nodeinfo.diaspora.software/ns/schema/2.0",
      "href": "https://flavigula.net/.well-known/nodeinfo/2.0.json"
    },
    {
      "rel": "https://nodeinfo.diaspora.software/ns/schema/2.1",
      "href": "https://flavigula.net/.well-known/nodeinfo/2.1.json"
    }
  ]
}

And the two endpoints referenced within nodeinfo:

{
  "version": "2.0",
  "usage": {
    "users": {
      "total": 1,
      "activeMonth": 1,
      "activeHalfyear": 1
    },
    "localPosts": 419
  },
  "software": {
    "version": "1.0.0",
    "name": "Martenblog"
  },
  "services": {
    "outbound": [],
    "inbound": []
  },
  "protocols": [
    "activitypub"
  ],
  "openRegistrations": false
}
{
  "version": "2.1",
  "usage": {
    "users": {
      "total": 1,
      "activeMonth": 1,
      "activeHalfyear": 1
    },
    "localPosts": 419
  },
  "software": {
    "version": "1.0.0",
    "repository": "https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir.git",
    "name": "Martenblog"
  },
  "services": {
    "outbound": [],
    "inbound": []
  },
  "protocols": [
    "activitypub"
  ],
  "openRegistrations": false
}

The code for those are in https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir/blob/master/lib/martenblog/router.ex along with every endpoint of my website.

I only want to federate blog entries to people who follow me from other regions of the Fediverse. An api endpoint exists for this, appropriately named followers. (https://flavigula.net/ap/actor/followers) Though I implemented the endpoint and find it likely that it is required to do so to have a functioning server, the resulting collection didn’t serve as I thought it should according to my interpretation of the specifications. I’ll come back to that later, however.

One must accrue followers. That is, I’m not going to send blog entries arbitrarily out to fediverse entities. So, when someone follows Martenblog, it receives something along these lines to the inbox (that’s https://flavigula.net/ap/actor/inbox):

{
  "type": "Follow",
  "object": "https://flavigula.net/ap/actor",
  "id": "https://sonomu.club/94904728-1d32-4a51-b422-0373323ec61c",
  "actor": "https://sonomu.club/users/flavigula",
  "@context": "https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams"
  }

The code takes this json and wraps it in an accept activity:

{
  "type": "Accept",
  "object": {
    "type": "Follow",
    "object": "https://flavigula.net/ap/actor",
    "id": "https://sonomu.club/94904728-1d32-4a51-b422-0373323ec61c",
    "actor": "https://sonomu.club/users/flavigula",
    "@context": "https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams"
  },
  "id": "https://flavigula.net/ap/48394fc9-114a-4849-86e4-3b78226915d9",
  "actor": "https://flavigula.net/ap/actor",
  "@context": "https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams"
}

and sends it on its way, which will be explained next, as it is the most complex bit. The inbox endpoint in https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir/blob/master/lib/martenblog/router.ex sends the follow activity to the inbox function in https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir/blob/master/lib/martenblog/activitypub.ex, which calls the accept function in the same file.

Implementing the sending an activity to another Fediverse server part was like excoriating myself with a rusty spanner, mainly because I couldn’t find a clear way to test during development, so I was, as it were, programming blind, deaf, motionless and possibly without appendages whatsoever.

def sign_and_send(activity, inbox) do
  target_domain = Fuzzyurl.from_string(inbox).hostname
  inbox_fragment = String.replace(inbox, "https://#{target_domain}", "")
  date_str = Utils.rfc2616_now 
  Logger.info "Reading private key..."
  {:ok, priv_key} = File.read("/home/polaris/keys/martenblog.pem")
  Logger.info "priv_key: #{priv_key}"
  string_to_sign = "(request-target): post #{inbox_fragment}\nhost: #{target_domain}\ndate: #{date_str}"
  [ rsa_entry | _ ] = :public_key.pem_decode(priv_key)
  decoded_key = :public_key.pem_entry_decode(rsa_entry)
  sign_me = :public_key.sign(string_to_sign, :sha256, decoded_key)
  signature = :base64.encode(sign_me)
  sig_header = "keyId=\"https://#{@domain}/ap/actor#main-key\",headers=\"(request-target) host date\",algorithm=\"rsa-sha256\",signature=\"#{signature}\""
  case Poison.encode activity do
    {:ok, json_activity} -> 
      Logger.info "sign_and_send -> activity: #{json_activity}"
      Logger.info "string_to_sign: #{string_to_sign}"
      Logger.info "signature header: #{sig_header}"
      Logger.info "date_str: #{date_str}"
      case :hackney.post(inbox, [
          Host: target_domain, 
          Date: date_str, 
          Signature: sig_header, 
          "Content-Type": "application/ld+json; profile=\"https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams\"",
          Accept: "application/activity+json, application/ld+json" 
        ], json_activity) do
        {:ok, res} -> res
        error -> error
      end
    error -> error
  end 
end

This function is invoked with the activity to be sent and the inbox of its recipient. In this case, said recipient would be the actor from another federated site that sent me a follow activity. I extract the inbox of the actor who wants to follow me by grabbing the actor and extracting its inbox field. The remote_actor and fetch_actor functions do this. You may want to take a look at https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir/blob/master/lib/martenblog/ap_resolver.ex, also, which handles actors cached in the database.

I diverged from the main point a bit. sign_and_send receives the activity to send and the inbox of the remote actor to send it to. First, it calculates the inbox_fragment from the remote inbox. That’d be, say /users/flavigula/inbox. Next, the date, which HAS to be in this format: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 15:25:21 GMT - the rfc2616 format. If you do not use that format, you will instantly be beheaded.

It seems that Pleroma is more flexible concerning the format of the date it receives. Mastodon is not. It must be RFC2616. Take a look at the function rfc2616_now at https://github.com/inhortte/martenblog-elixir/blob/master/lib/martenblog/utils.ex. Notice that I manually append GMT at the end. Since I use DateTime.utc_now, the time zone is not relevant, but be warned that if you use a conversion tool that gives you UTC as the time zone, your signature will be rejected by Mastodon servers. Tacking on GMT is my solution.

Mastodon uses this bit of Ruby to verify the date:

def matches_time_window?
  begin
    time_sent = Time.httpdate(request.headers['Date'])
  rescue ArgumentError
    return false
  end
  (Time.now.utc - time_sent).abs <= 12.hours
end

I recall reading that the window for submitting a response is +/- 30 seconds. Obviously, Mastodon thinks otherwise.

Sometime before you get to this point, you need to have generated a public / private key pair. If you don’t know how to perform these duties, check out the following url: https://blog.joinmastodon.org/2018/06/how-to-implement-a-basic-activitypub-server/. It also complements several processes I’ve already described, so is generally helpful.

So, Herr sign_and_send fetches my private key and constructs the so called string_to_sign, which his this aspect:

(request-target): post /users/flavigula/inbox
host: sonomu.club
date: Thu, 26 Dec 2019 15:25:21 GMT

The function continues by decoding my private key, signing the key via sha256, and encoding the result via base64. Of course, the tools you use to perform these three steps will vary depending on your language. I’m hanging out with Elixir at the moment and the procedure is carried out by functions from the underlying Erlang system (note they all start with :). The aforementioned blog.joinmastodon.org url details the same steps in Ruby.

The sig_header, an amalgam of the preceeding steps, comes out similar to this:

keyId="https://flavigula.net/ap/actor#main-key",headers="(request-target) host date",algorithm="rsa-sha256",signature="VHYpjLbjhxwsVwOQTPzsbzzSkqCHXRtnhUp3CYYJsXRcdosKAeSHKShm3OuwCLlyx7iLvsU7y+jN2i4zrf2nLfAi6ujXqUBxsfrtHXBaLkjMyypRZ6eYwprZvZsDgWQ0v+M1E2KsWowlLINpAWGG9Nydh4wCa37RB7sAhqv/Ccdp57FACT5O9DQFUccgko93Yns4Amo7ZWtKth0QAR4H5bILe8lLGa0E6IfgyX1SSuitXRMqVsd8RDPY9ARKUl7arge6mPNl9WFtxPjNzhfXIiEYn7VHIt1WA82ungMnNUy6+aOOrBwJWu8BDYOlZT+Sl5/qN91ggjjtgq7vT+qjrA==

Now, you can POST the activity to the foreign inbox. Again, I’m using Erlang - hackney to be exact. Set the Content-Type to be application/ld+json; profile=\"https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams\" or be beheaded once again.

On to sending actual blog entries.

Wrapping an entry into an article, I get the following:

%{
  "@context": ["https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams"],
  attributedTo: "https://flavigula.net/ap/actor",
  cc: [],
  content: "<p>Strange how these days remind me...</p>\n",
  id: "https://flavigula.net/entry/by-id/4",
  name: "Winter eve",
  published: "Thu, 26 Dec 2019 15:25:21 GMT",
  to: ["https://sonomu.club/users/flavigula"],
  type: "Article",
  url: "https://flavigula.net/#/blog/2006/12/8"
}

… constructed by the article function in activitypub.ex. Though I didn’t find reference to it in documentation anywhere (but I honestly didn’t look for more than twenty six seconds), the url field provides a nice link using the name at the beginning of an article federated to Pleroma. Mastodon ends up with the contents of the name field followed by the url.

The Elixir map (that’s the construction you see above that begins with %{ and ends with } which is certaily not json yet) is piped through the create_activity function and another map emerges:

%{
  "@context": "https://www.w3.org/ns/activitystreams",
  actor: "https://flavigula.net/ap/actor",
  cc: [],
  id: "https://flavigula.net/ap/20a8f2d0-8f14-42bf-ab4f-c4d5a98c7c5a",
  object: %{
    # The article above
  },
  published: "Thu, 26 Dec 2019 15:25:21 GMT",
  to: ["https://sonomu.club/users/flavigula"],
  type: "Create"
}

As I noted earlier, and also to prevent yourself from being beheaded a third time, make sure the published field in the article (represented in the object field in the create activity), the published field in the create activity itself and the date that goes into the sign_and_send apparatus are all within thirty seconds of each other. Edit: The Ruby code I quoted above and which comes straight from the Mastodon source seems to think 12 hours is good enough. Regardless, playing it safe is better.

Identical to sending the accept activity previously, this create activity, along with every follower’s inbox goes to sign_and_send. I loop through each inbox, calling sign_and_send repeatedly, and certainly realize this is not particularly efficient. I’ll get around to improving this and other laxnesses soon.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this spiel, though, I could not get the send to followers functionality of Activitypub to work. Therefore, instead of having https://flavigula.net/ap/actor/followers in the to or cc fields, I directly add an array of the followers’ inboxes. The issue needs more investigation.

So, there you have it. I possibly missed a few steps and / or parts are misaligned and inexact. Having stated that caveat, I hope what I’ve written is of help to some of those humans I keep hearing about who are ostensibly wandering around on the face of the planet. If so, said humans should relax, celebrate, take some ketamine or whatever suits their fancy. I know I would were I a human instead of a mere mustelid.

Along with martens, goulish goats and the rippling fen -
these writings 1993-2021 by Bob Murry Shelton are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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