Another Side Project: NSF SFTP File Store

Nov 5, 2019 4:12 PM

When I Know Some Guys kicked off, we bought a couple of Transporter devices to handle our file-syncing needs without having to rely on Dropbox or another hosted service. Unfortunately, Nexsan killed off Transporters a couple years back, and, though they still kind of work, it's been a back-burnered project for us to find a good replacement.

Ideally, we'd find something that would handle syncing data from our various locations transparently while also allowing for normal file access through some common protocol. Aside from the various hosted commercial services, there are various software packages you can run locally, like OwnCloud and NextCloud. I even got a Raspberry Pi with a USB hard drive to tinker with those, though I never got around to actually doing so.

Yesterday, though, I realized that we already have a fleet of privately-owned servers that replicate seamlessly in the form of our Domino domain. They also, conveniently, have nice capabilities for blob storage, shared user authentication, and fine-grained access control. What they didn't have, though, was any good form of file protocol. I'm pretty sure that Domino still has WebDAV built-in, but that's just for design elements. Years ago, Stephan Wissel created a project that works with file attachments, but that didn't cover all the bases I wanted and I didn't want to adopt the code base to extend it myself. There's also Karsten Lehmann's Mindoo FTP Server from around the same time, but that was non-SSH FTP and targeted at the local filesystem.

So that meant it was time for a new project!

The Plan

I initially looked at WebDAV, since it's commonly supported, but it's also very long in the tooth, and that has led to all of the projects implementing that being pretty old and cumbersome as well.

Then, I found the Apache Mina project, which implements a number of server protocols, SSH included, and is actively maintained. Looking into how its SFTP support works, I found that it's shockingly simple and well-designed. All of the filesystem access is based on the Java NIO packages added in Java 7, which is a pluggable system for making arbitrary filesystems.

Using SFTP and SCP means that it'll work with common tools like Transmit and - critically - rsync. That means that, even in the absence of an custom app like Dropbox, mobile access and syncing with a local filesystem come "for free".

The Project

So out of this was born a new project, NSF File Server. Thanks to how good Mina is, I was able to get a NIO filesystem implementation and SFTP+SCP server up and running in very little time:

Screen shot of the SFTP server in Transmit

In its current form, there aren't a lot of tricks: the files are stored as attachments to normal documents in a "filestore.nsf" database with two views, which allow for directory-contents and individual-file lookup while also being pretty self-explanatory to a Notes client. I have some ideas about other ways to structure this, but there's an advantage to having it be pretty basic:

Screen shot of the File Store NSF

Similarly simple are the authentication mechanisms, which allow for both password and public-key authentication based on the HTTPPassword and sshPublicKey fields in a person document, respectively (and maybe via LDAP in directory assistance? I never remember the mechanics of @NameLookup).

The App

Because this is a scratch-our-itch project and I'm personally tired of dealing with Domino's OSGi environment, the app itself is implemented as a WAR file, expected to be deployed to a modern Jakarta EE server like my precious Open Liberty. Conveniently, I have just the project for that as well, making deploying NSF-accessing WARs to Domino a bit more reasonable.

For now, the app is faceless: the only "web app" bits are some listeners that initialize the Notes environment and then spawn the SSH server. I plan to add at least a basic web UI, though.

Future Plans

My immediate plan is to kick the tires on this enough to get it to a point where it can serve as its original goal of a syncing SFTP server. I do have other potential ideas in mind for the future, though, if I feel so inspired. Most of my current logged issues are optional enhancements like POSIX attribute support, more-efficient handling with the C API, and better security handling.

It's also a good foundation for any number of other interfaces. A normal web UI is the natural next step, but it could easily provide, for example, S3 API compatibility.

For now, though I haven't gotten around to uploading a build to OpenNTF yet, feel free to poke around the code and let me know if any ideas strike your fancy.

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Fredrik Norling - Nov 6, 2019 12:17 PM

Very interesting project, I guess that it's lots of work to get it to run on a plain domino? Also interesting because it could be used fot filestorage in a git server implementation.

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Jesse Gallagher - Nov 6, 2019 1:55 PM

It's a medium amount of work, but it's work I'd rather avoid doing. It'd be a combination of little things (like not having MicroProfile Config available) and larger things (writing a web UI, and the general difficulty of dealing with OSGi). Deploying to Liberty on Domino keeps Notes access while breaking the shackles.

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