Posts from 2023
As you may know, I am currently writing a series on BGP and how the Internet works, from my perspective as the operator of a small autonomous system, AS200351. While we haven’t really exhausted the theoretical material, I think I’ve covered enough to enable readers to set up their own basic autonomous system. Rather than forcing you to do your own research based on outdated and potentially incorrect information on the Internet, or allowing you to fall victim to scams, I think it would be wise to talk about the process of getting your own ASN.
For readers who haven’t read the previous parts of the series and are unfamiliar with why one might want an ASN, here’s a brief explanation:
An autonomous system (AS) is a constituent part of the Internet that can define its own routing to the remainder of the Internet, and ASes exchange routes with each other over Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to form the Internet itself. By receiving a globally unique identifier, an AS number (ASN), which in my case is 200351, I can exchange routes over BGP with other ASes, announce my own IP addresses to the Internet, and control how traffic flows in and out of my network, as opposed to simply exchanging traffic from a default gateway to reach the Internet with an IP address assigned by my ISP. This comes with several advantages, such as being able to switch upstream ISPs at will (or when such an ISP fails) without changing my IP addresses or breaking a single connection; or to advertise the same IP addresses from multiple locations (anycasting) to allow users to reach my services with lower latency than otherwise permissible by the speed of light with automatic failover.
I will now share what I wish I knew when I impulsively decided to apply for an ASN at 3 a.m. on a cold December night last year, now that I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ll walk through the process as objectively and thoroughly as possible, demystifying the role of any player in this space. I would like you to go into this with full knowledge of the risks and a full understanding of where your money is going. In the end, I will offer some subjective suggestions on providers, but those can be ignored if you would rather do your own research.
In the first part of this series, we had a brief overview of what BGP is. Then last time, we dived into what autonomous systems (ASes) are and the relationships that can exist between them, as well as the existence of Tier 1 networks and Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). That provided a broad overview of the Internet’s structure.
However, so far in this series, we’ve talked about IP addresses—or really, IP prefixes and CIDRs—as if they are something that just exists. This mental model is no longer sufficient. Before we can truly understand routing, we must first understand how IP addresses really work—how they are assigned and who is authorized to announce them.
Last time, we introduced BGP as a protocol, but introduced the concept of autonomous systems (AS for short) and gave some examples. This time, we’ll dive deeper into the concept, which hopefully will give you a better understanding of the various types of ASes and how the Internet is organized on a global level.
But first, let’s start with how the numerical identifiers—the autonomous system numbers (ASNs)—work.
Border Gateway Protocol (often abbreviated BGP) is a critical protocol that makes the modern Internet possible, yet remains one of its most poorly understood parts even among its long-time users. At the same time, it has played a significant role in several high-profile outages on the Internet. As someone who has been running my “own piece of the Internet”—AS200351—for half a year now, I think the time has come to write a piece explaining exactly what BGP is, what AS200351 is, and how the Internet truly functions behind the scenes. We’ll start with the basics.
To understand BGP, we must first understand why it is called the “Internet” in the first place. To simplify greatly, the Internet is called that because it’s an interconnected network of networks (more precisely, autonomous systems, or ASes) glued together by BGP. Since this sounds like a nonsensical sequence of words, let’s dive a bit deeper.
In January, I upgraded my home Internet connection to 3 Gbps symmetric, because, strangely enough, it was cheaper than the package I already had at the time (1500 Mbps down, 940 Mbps up). This was connected to the second port on my ConnectX-3, allowing my home server to achieve the full speed where 2.5 Gbps Ethernet would have failed. Unfortunately, nothing I was doing could have harnessed the full speed of this Internet connection, or anywhere near it, so I started thinking…
In February, I realized that I could run a mirroring service for open-source software to serve the community at basically no additional cost—I am already paying for this 3 Gbps Internet connection and I have some spare disk space on my SSD. So I decided to do exactly that.
Today, I am happy to announce that this mirror, mirror.quantum5.ca, has been tested for a few months and is fully ready for production. If you find the service helpful, please feel free to support me via GitHub Sponsors, Ko-fi, Liberapay, or directly with credit card or bank through Stripe (CAD), though this is of course strictly optional.
If you are interested in how it’s all set up, please read on:
Last time, I built a stratum 1 NTP server with a PPS signal from a GPS receiver, synchronizing my server’s clock to within 10 microseconds of UTC. However, NTP was designed to synchronize clocks within a few tens of milliseconds over the Internet, and I’d be lucky to achieve millisecond accuracy on a LAN. I mentioned that PTP was the alternative that could achieve accuracy in the sub-microsecond range. Well, this time I’ll be setting up PTP between my server and my PC with the hardware timestamping on the ConnectX-3s.
If you are following along at home, don’t despair if your hardware can’t do timestamping or PTP. I will also attempt to set up PTP with software timestamping later for my other devices.
Naturally, I first turned to the
gpsddocumentation, since that was a decent reference for setting up NTP with the PPS signal. Well, this is what it says for PTP with hardware timestamping:
Sadly, theory and practice diverge here. I have never succeeded in making hardware timestamping work. I have successfully trashed my host system clock. Tread carefully. If you make progress please pass on some clue.
That didn’t sound encouraging at all. “Oh well, I guess I am on my own here,” I thought to myself. “How bad could digging through a few
manpages and random online documentation be? Worst case, there is the source code, right?”
These days, it seems like everyone is posting about turning Raspberry Pis into a stratum 1 NTP server by hooking up a cheap GPS module, most often the GT-U7 u-blox 7 clone with a PPS (pulse-per-second) signal output, whose rising edge indicates exactly the start of a second.
While this seems like a cool idea, it suffers from one flaw—while the Raspberry Pi itself almost certainly has very accurate time, getting accurate time to the rest of the network would be problematic. This is because the Ethernet adapter on Raspberry Pis before the Pi 4 was hooked up via USB, and the polling nature of USB introduces jitter, preventing the accurate signal from reaching the rest of the network. Unfortunately, I only have a Raspberry Pi 3 model B in my possession, which suffers from the problem.
Now, I could have gotten a Raspberry Pi 4, but those aren’t priced sanely at the moment and it would be just an exercise in copying. Instead, I looked at the various alternatives. The traditional way of doing this kind of thing involves hooking up a GPS receiver into a serial port, which generates an interrupt. If the PPS signal is delivered to the DCD (data carrier detect) signal (as described in RFC 2783), then the in-tree Linux driver
pps_ldiscis able to do the timestamping in kernel mode for the highest possible accuracy.
I found out that my server’s X570 motherboard came with a serial port header (labelled
COM). This meant that I could buy some fancy GPS receiver with a serial port and hook it up. Unfortunately, those aren’t priced sanely either, so I decided to build my own with the GT-U7 module and a driver module for RS-232 (the common serial port standard).
This was late last year. I ordered the components on AliExpress and they all arrived in January, so I finally started this project.