The DJB legacy

Who is this DJB guy, and why is he so special anyway ?

Dan J. Bernstein is a cryptologist and a mathematician; he's also the author of a widely known and used MTA, qmail, as well as a few lesser known pieces of software.

For some time he was quite active in some Unix software-related Internet newsgroups and mailing-lists; he quickly became a controversial figure of the Unix programming community, mostly by being extremely vocal against well-known authors of "mainstream" Unix software and by suggesting designs so removed from traditional software design that a normal human reaction is to first view him as a complete nut.

I do not care for controversy. I am interested in the code. I was a sysadmin at the time, and still learning to program in C beyond what they teach you in school (i.e. not much). I had heard enough horror stories with sendmail; so I gave a shot at qmail, trying to understand its design principles and the way it was made. And then I fell down the rabbit hole.

Look, I don't care what you think of the guy, I don't know him anyway, and this is totally beside the point. The only thing that matters is that DJB's software is right in so many ways. This software works. DJB's design principles are sound and elegant; they are sound foundations to build reliable, secure, and low resource-consuming software. And the design, when you get used to it, feels so unix-ish: it's Unix the way it should have been from the start.

Studying DJB's software was the best course in C/Unix programming I ever had. Now I teach C/Unix; and I am really glad I learned from the best.

Building beyond DJB's works.

There's already a lot you can do with pristine DJB software and some brains.

However, I mostly see DJB as a pioneer. He showed it was possible to think Unix differently and build secure, reliable and efficient software without investing millions of dollars into it; now it is up to software architects and programmers to use the breakthrough and build upon it. There's a real demand for quality Unix software out there; it's time to supply. And I am not the only one thinking this way.

So, skalibs.

One of the "DJB philosophy" key points is to question the interfaces. You have a task to do; you have existing interfaces. What do you do?

Interfaces should be questioned right down to the libc. You cannot build strong software on flakey foundations. And from a system and network programmer's point of view, one thing is clear: most standard libc interfaces suck. There is no buffered asynchronous I/O. There is no timed I/O. There is no heap management helper. Even simple system calls are not always guaranteed to succeed!

That is where skalibs comes from. skalibs results from questioning the libc interfaces, and providing replacements or additions where the existing interfaces do not make it easy to write reliable, secure and efficient software. It is inspired by DJB's work. It is not a shrine or anything of the kind.


So, in short, DJB is not a guru, I'm not a mindless brainwashed fan, and the "DJB advocates" are not a cult. We just think DJB brought something to Unix and more generally to the software programming world; we learned from him, we write software following sound principles that he was one of the first to really apply, and we give credit where credit is due.

Use our software. You will never want to go back.