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Google Summer of Code 2020: Qubes Template Manager

(NOTE: This article may see significant changes until the final submission deadline.)

Table of Contents

Introduction

As one may see in my previous posts, I am a big fan of Qubes OS, leading me to have an inclination to work on it in the 2020 Google Summer of Code program.

My proposal, briefly speaking, was to design a new mechanism for TemplateVM distribution and a unified tool for template management.

As this article serves as the final submission for the project, it will focus on linking to the work I have done. If you are interested in the template manager itself, the design docs is a good place to start with.

Motivation

Previously, TemplateVMs were distributed by RPM packages and managed by yum/dnf. However, tracking inherently dynamic VM images with a package manager suited for static files creates some challenges. For example, users may accidentally update the images, overriding local changes (#996, #1647). (Or in the case of #2061, want to specifically override the changes.) Other operations that work well on normal VMs are also somewhat inconsistent on RPM-managed templates. This includes actions such as renaming (#839), removal (#5509) and backup/restore (#1385, #1453, discussion thread 1, discussion thread 2). In turn, this creates inconveniences and confusion for users (#1403, #4518). Also, the usage of RPM packages meant that installing a template results in arbitrary code execution, which is not ideal.

Besides distribution, users may also wish to have an integrated template management application (#2062, #2064, #2534, #3040), as opposed to the situation where multiple programs are required for different purposes, e.g., qubes-dom0-update, dnf, qvm-remove, qubes-manager.

To tackle these issues, qvm-template is created. It strives to provide not only a better mechanism for handling template installation but also a consistent user-facing interface to deal with template management.

GSoC Project Page

Proposal

Design Document

Contributions

Mailing List Discussions

Progress

During the initial discussion, it was determined that the GUI could be shifted later in favor of other features. As such, the component was delivered at a later stage compared to the initial proposal.

As of the end of August 2020, the project is in working shape, including the CLI and GUI tool. The main aspects remaining are the following:

  • Proper packaging of some scripts
  • Comprehensive test cases
  • Integration with the current system, e.g., Anaconda installer, salt management stack
  • Possible integration/merge with existing template manager (used for setting templates of AppVMs)

Acknowledgements

Huge thanks to my mentors Marek Marczykowski-Górecki and Wojtek Porczyk for their amazing assistance. Also, I greatly appreciate Andrew David Wong and Marta Marczykowska-Górecka for reviewing my pull requests. Last but foremost, I would like to thank the Qubes OS team for maintaining an awesome project and Google for giving me the opportunity to work on this proposal with such wonderful people.

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