Update notifications

This is an informational technical document about the update notification system in Snikket server.

Why are update notifications important?

It is now widely known that outdated software is one of the biggest risk factors in securing systems on the internet. Therefore the Snikket server will alert all admins to available updates and important notices from the Snikket team.

We believe it is up to you to decide when and how to update your service. But we will provide you with the tools you need to make that easy, fast and painless.

How are they implemented?

To preserve your privacy, private Snikket servers do not make requests directly to our servers. Instead we put the necessary information about current releases and security updates into our DNS records.

Why did you choose DNS?

The obvious choice was HTTP, and this is how most traffic on the internet is conveyed these days. But we opted for DNS due to the following advantages:

  • DNS is designed for serving small amounts of data from one place to many
  • Due to caching, and its connectionless nature, DNS is more scalable
  • Queries will often travel via an intermediate resolver, so we typically won’t have access to your server’s IP address
  • A DNS query contains very little information, whereas HTTP will always leak the IP address, and by default will often leak other headers.

But it also has some known downsides. In particular DNS is not secure by default. Intermediaries may observe or drop the query, or even modify the response.

The following conclusions were made about the downsides:

  • Observability: an intermediary seeing outbound queries to our DNS records may deduce that your server is running Snikket. This should not be a problem in itself - there are many ways to detect if a server is running Snikket (load up its web page for a start!).
  • Availability: an intermediary may block queries for our DNS records. This would prevent a server admin from receiving update notifications, which is bad (they may be tricked into thinking they are up to date). However using another protocol such as HTTP(S) would not prevent this focused attack.
  • Integrity: the data returned to the Snikket server may be modified or spoofed by an intermediary. This would allow them to trigger false update notifications. We have designed the system so that the risk is minimized - the update notifications will always include a link to the real announcement on snikket.org (if any). It is not possible to direct admins to arbitrary URLs.

It is possible that in the future we will add support for DNSSEC or manually sign the data provided in our DNS records.

It is also possible that we will move to another mechanism in the future, if a more suitable one can be found.

The details

Snikket releases are organized into ‘channels’, e.g. ‘dev’, ‘alpha’, ‘beta’, ‘stable’. Your server will work out the channel it belongs to, and make a DNS query to:

TXT _channel.update.snikket.net

The response will look like:


This response indicates that version ‘3’ is the latest, but version ‘2’ is the last release with no known security vulnerabilities is ‘2’. The msg field allows us to send important announcements that may not be included in a release.

A Snikket server will use the returned information to determine whether the administrators need to be notified, and generate a message if necessary. Since the server has no further information, the message will include a link to the relevant announcement on the snikket.org website by calculating the URL to use.

Disabling update checks

We strongly recommend you leave update notifications enabled so that you are notified promptly about important releases and announcements. However if you plan to receive these another way, you may disable them by adding to your snikket.conf: