[swift-evolution] [Pitch] Cross-platform Swift TLS library
gtaban at us.ibm.com
Thu Apr 6 11:16:51 CDT 2017
I’d like to pitch some of the ideas that have been discussed in the server
working group around security.
To get more information on the server API group and its goals, see
https://swift.org/server-apis/. (TL;DR version is to come up with a set of
foundational APIs that work cross-platform, on all platforms supported by
Swift, including Linux.)
For security, we have divided the scope into SSL/TLS support and crypto
support. Our first goal and the subject of this pitch is TLS. This current
pitch is the result of various discussions that have taken place over the
past several months over the server working group mailing list and several
projects by groups such as Vapor, IBM, Zewo, etc.
Our plan is to start with the main ideas presented here and work on a Swift
library that we prototype and iterate on before finalizing on a specific
interface. Hopefully the ideas in this pitch are non-controversial, aside
from the naming of the method and protocols (which is widely accepted as a
Since there is currently no standard Swift SSL/TLS library that is
compatible on both Apple and Linux, Swift projects use their TLS library of
choice (such as OpenSSL, LibreSSL, Security framework, etc). This results
- fragmentation of the space as well as incompatibility of project
dependencies if more than one security package is needed by different
modules (a project cannot have both OpenSSL and LibreSSL in its dependency
- insecurity (using an unpatched or deprecated library such as OpenSSL on
- unmaintainablity (using non-standard or non-native libraries)
- more complex code (using different APIs or code paths for each platform).
So we want to propose a standard set of protocols that define the behavior
of the TLS service and how the application and the server and networking
layers beneath it interact with the TLS service. What complicates this
pitch is that the Swift in server space is new and none of the interfaces
have yet been defined, so this is really a work in iteration.
# Design goals
We came up with the following design goals for a solution:
- Provide a consistent and unified Swift interface so that the developer
can write simple, cross-platform applications;
- Don't implement new crypto functionality and instead use existing
functions in underlying libraries;
- Plug-n-play architecture which allows the developer to decide on
underlying security library of choice, e.g., OpenSSL vs LibreSSL;
- Library should be agnostic of the transport mechanism (e.g., socket,
etc), whilst allowing for both blocking and non-blocking connections;
- Developers should be able to use the same TLS library for both client and
The proposed solution basically defines a number of protocols for each
- Transport management
- TLS management
A basic diagram that shows the relationship between the proposed protocols
is shown below:
(See attached file: TLSServiceArchitecture.png)
"Architecture of TLSService modules")
The transport management protocol essentially would be a combination of a
connection object (e.g., a socket pointer, a file descriptor, etc) and a
This is the connection object that gets passed to the implementation of the
TLS service protocol, which also handles the read and write callbacks to
the connection object.
The TLS service protocol would define a sets of methods that deal with TLS
setup (certificates, server/client, etc), and TLS events (such as receiving
data, encrypting and writing to connection object or reading from a
connection object, decrypting and returning the data).
These methods are implemented by the TLS service which in turn uses its
choice of underlying security library. As an example, the TLS service uses
SecureTransport library on Apple platform and OpenSSL on Linux.
## How this would work
If an application requires TLS for its use case, it creates a TLS service
object and configures it based on its requirements.
The application then passes the TLS service object to its lower level
frameworks that deal with networking and communication. Each lower level
framework maintains an optional instance variable of type TLS service
protocol. If the optional variable exists, it is further passed down until
it gets to the lowest level that deals with the Swift transport layer APIs
(in the diagram above, this is the HTTP Management layer). When this layer
creates the connection using the transport layer APIs, it assigns the TLS
service object to the transport layer delegate. The Swift socket layer is
then responsible for calling the TLS service protocol methods that handle
the TLS functionality at the appropriate times.
# Source Compatibility:
As mentioned, the Swift in server space is still new and the interfaces are
currently under discussion. Although the proposed protocols are designed to
be as non-breaking as possible, they do place several assumptions on the
rest of the transport/application stack.
- The application layer must import and instantiate a TLS service object
which implements the TLS service protocol if it wants to enable TLS
- Every framework layer above the transport management layer but below the
application layer (which includes HTTP and server frameworks) has an
optional object that implements the TLS service protocol. If the TLS object
exists, it is passed down to each layer below.
- The HTTP layer which sets up the transport management layer assigns the
TLS object to the transport management delegate if the object exists.
- The transport management layer which sets up the I/O communication
implements the transport management protocol.
- The transport management layer which sets up the I/O communication and
deals with the low level C system I/O, calls the appropriate TLS service
protocol methods whenever I/O data needs to be secured.
- The long term goal for the location of the TLS service protocol is within
the Foundation framework. In the short term, the protocol can live within
the transport management framework.
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