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Andrew Pollock

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Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Adventures in reverse engineering

This week has been fun. I've been reverse-engineering how a a Linux-based load balancing appliance works.

The appliance is an F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager.

Up until version 4.5, they used to be BSD-based, but they went to a new hardware platform, and decided to double 4.5 and came up with v9, which incidentally, appears to be Red Hat 9 based.

We want to be able to customise the build process so that we spit out a site-specific-configured BIG-IP. No problem I think, I'll just build an RPM containing all of our config files in it. I'd previously pulled to bits the installation process, and it was quite trivial to just grab the ISO, unpack it, chuck an extra RPM on, add that RPM's filename to a file, and rebuild the ISO. Hey presto, my "Hello, World" proof of concept RPM was being installed on a BIG-IP.

So then I tried to go for gold, and built a preliminary config RPM, with our password file in it and whatnot. This is where I got too clever for myself and forgot one minor problem. Half the files I'm trying to install in my RPM belong to other RPMs already installed, so of course RPM bleats, and the package doesn't install. Bummer. I need to find out if I can declare that one RPM overwrites bits of another one, otherwise I'll really have to hack to the installer so that it can force a specific bunch of RPMs in.

<rant> It would help if I could find a canonical, current source of documentation for the RPM spec file and RPM building in general. Google is useless. You put "rpm" and "spec" together, and you start finding all sorts of random spec files for packages, which is not what I want. www.rpm.org is grossly out of date, and not terribly in-depth, and the chapter of the Fedora Developer's Guide is a joke. </rant>

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