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Fast sandbox implementation for Python

Project description

Sandbox is a mechanism which provides a tighly-controlled set of resources for guest programs to run in. They are used for security and testing purposes.

There are many uses for a sandbox in package management:

1. In the build process, we dont want packages to modify host operating system while they are configuring or compiling. We want them to be constrained in their temporary build directory. Denying the write operations outside of this directory is most basic application of a sandbox here.

2. Instead of actually doing some operations like changing permission or ownership of files, we can just log them, and mark in the generated package. That way we dont need to be a root user in order to build a package with such properties.

3. We can log many build operations, and analyze them to see actual build dependencies of the package for example.

4. We can build package in a temporary directory, but let it think that in runs in root directory with everything out there is read only mapped inside. That can greatly simplify build scripts.

There are two ways to sandbox a build script within user context without resorting to special kernel modules:

1. We can override functions of glibc with LD_PRELOAD. Since this requires executing the script inside a new shell, passing Python variables between builder and scripts is hacky and cumbersome.

  1. We can intercept system calls with kernel ptrace interface.

We decided to go with the latter way. There is already a good ptrace sandbox framework for Python, called Subterfugue. Apart from a small C binding for ptrace call, it is completely written in Python. Unfortunately dealing with each system call with Python is quite slow for a build farm. There are over a thousand packages, and some of them like or kdebase takes a huge time to compile even on high end computers.

Thus we wrote catbox, a small sandboxing module for PiSi (the package manager for Pardus Linux). It is completely written in C, and it wont provide custom system call hooks or advanced modifications to the guest environment like Subterfugue.

Although, catbox started as a sandboxing module for PiSi, it is now a more generic sandbox module that can be used generically.

Event Hooks:

  • child_initialized(pid): Event hook is called on parent process but after child is initialized to be traced and before parent notifies child to continue. Pid of the child process is given as the only argument. (available in version 1.4+)
  • child_died_unexpectedly(pid): Event hook is called when we got a signal/event from a child but the child was already dead. Pid of the child process is given as the only argument. (available in version 1.4+)


  • pcre (OPTIONAL): If enabled path can be defined with regular expressions. Just append –enable-pcre to the command.
  • Testify: ( Testify is used for unittests only.

Project details

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