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Published on Feb 23, 2016
Hannes Mehnert Jackline, a secure instant messaging application, functional from the ground up
A huge amount of communication is done via instant messaging (IM) these days. An IM protocol which is open and extensible is XMPP, based on XML. A lot of XMPP clients use unsafe languages, and need regular security updates because flaws are found in some of the dependent libraries. The advantage of IM over store-and-forward communication (eMail) is that online end-to-end key exchanges are used (such as authenticated Diffie-Hellman) to provide end-to-end security with forward secrecy.
In this talk, I will present Jackline, a terminal-based XMPP client. Jackline is developed full stack in OCaml, running as a MirageOS unikernel on a Xen hypervisor (as well as a native UNIX binary). This unikernel does not include a standard C library, but executes the OCaml runtime directly on Xen. All required protocols, TCP/IP, TLS, XML, XMPP, SASL, and OTR, are implemented in OCaml in a purely functional style. Unicode is supported. The trusted computing base of Jackline is two orders of magnitude smaller than similar systems on UNIX (relying on libxml2, libpurple, OpenSSL, libotr, …).
Jackline is still under heavy development, it already has a solid user base. It is a concrete application on top of the cryptographic libraries (TLS and OTR) we developed over the last two years. Jackline provides evidence that OCaml is suitable as a systems programming language: low-level network layers, bit-twiddling symmetric cryptography, complex cryptographic protocols, user interfaces – all in OCaml using functional goodness (purely functional protocols, functional reactive programming). Hannes Mehnert
Hannes Mehnert researches in several engineering areas: from programming languages (such as visualisation of compiler optimisations, type systems) over full functional correctness proofs of object-oriented code, development environments for dependently typed languages, to network protocols (TCP/IP) and security protocols (TLS, OTR). He feels safe in a garbage collected environment, and appreciates purely functional goodness.
He is currently doing a postdoc at University of Cambridge working with the semantics, systems, and security group.