22 Jun 2011 dan   » (Master)

Openwrt "backfire" first impressions

Some notes on my first impressions of Openwrt 10.03 “Backfire”

Having happily run a Draytek Vigor 2600 in my last home for 2-3 years, the obvious thing to do when my exchange was upgraded to 21CN (that’s ADSL2+ to readers outside the UK) was to buy the same brand again and this time go for a model that supports the newer standard. I bought a 2700 on ebay on the basis that comparing the model numbers indicated it should be better by at least 64 (octal, right?). It wasn’t. Although I can’t prove that it’s the router’s fault it drops out twice a week (we also moved house at about the same time, it could be the line), I can say it’s not a mark of quality that when I access its web interface (e.g. to force a redial) I get an HTTP timeout on at least one of the three frames in the frameset – if you’re going to use framesets for your router admin interface, it would probably be smart to give it a web server that can answer more than two queries at the same time. And its syslog client has an approach to the standards which is most charitably described as “improvisational”, . And I’ve talked before about the missing options for second subnet support that aren’t really missing.

Push eventually came to shove last month when my OfflineIMAP process decided that 2GB a day was a reasonable amount of traffic to incur checking my email (I disagree, for the record) and I hit my ISP monthly download allowance, and the router offered absolutely no help whatever in finding the source of the problem (between one wired computer, three wireless laptops, assorted smartphones and ipod, and a wifi-enabled weighing scale it could really have been anywhere). So it was time to shove it, preferably in favour of something that would run Linux. Like an early WRT-54G won on ebay, coupled with a lightly hacked BT Voyager 220V left behind in a previous flat by a previous previous tenant and configured in bridge mode for the ADSL hookup.

Openwrt seems to be the most Debian-like of the popular Linux-based router firmwares (that’s intended as a compliment), in that it has a package manager, and it likes to be configured from the command line by editing files. My observations based on about 4 hours playing with it:

  • the documentation is fragmented and lacks any clear sense of order or editorial control. This is listed first not because it’s most important (it isn’t) but because it’s the first thing I noticed. Seriously, a Wiki is not a substitute for a user manual, and I say that as someone who’s written one. When resorting to Google you will find that a lot of what you read there is out of date. For example, there is no longer an ipkg command, but opkg seems to replace it.
  • It has a web interface called Luci. It’s a bit slow and clunky - though still better than the Vigor router’s was – but it’s helpful for getting started. I was confused by the interaction between the various ‘Save’, ‘Apply’, ‘Save and Apply’ buttons at the bottom of the page and the ‘Unsaved Changes’ link in the menu bar at the top: on the ‘Firewall’ page, for example, clicking ‘Save’ at the bottom causes the status at the top to go from ‘Changes: 0’ to ‘Unsaved Changes: 1’. To my way of thinking, clicking Save should reduce the number of unsaved changes not increase them, but this is probably just bad labelling.
  • I say it likes to be configured by editing files: it is however fussy about which files. If there’s a file under /etc/config with a relevant-looking setting in it, edit that in preference to whatever the upstream app’s usual config file would be, then run uci commit - although actually you might not need to run uci commit – see this lovely thread for the full confusing detail – then run the relevant /etc/init.d/foo scripts to restart services as needed. I am not sure if there’s a clear rule for gets overridden or overwritten if you edit config files directly and conflict with UCI, but I suspect it’s pretty ad hoc.
  • the hardware doesn’t speak ADSL, hence the need for a separate box to do that. I set the Voyager up to do PPPoE and the WRT likewise: in Luci look for Network → Interfaces → WAN and set the Protocol to PPPoE: this should get you Username and Password boxes in which you put whatever your ISP told you to.
  • the wifi did not work no matter what I did in Luci, but eventually I found the problem was in /etc/config/wireless which had an entirely bogus mac address in its definition of radio1: I replaced it with the address printed by ifconfig wlan0 and suddenly everything started working.
  • it runs an ssh daemon, which is nice. Although it will authenticate using keys, it won’t look at /root/.ssh/authorized_keys as openssh does. I used the web interface to add my key, which worked fine.

Summary: although not currently suitable for the non-technical end user, if you have some Linux experience and a few hours to screw around with Google, it all eventually works fine. And I can run tcpdump on it, which more than makes up for all these minor problems 64 times over. Get in.

More on the BT Voyager in a later blog entry, but I leave you with some instructions for unlocking it which you may need if you are sensible enough to use an ISP that isn’t BT Retail.

Syndicated 2011-06-22 10:22:56 from diary at Telent Netowrks

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