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RIPE Atlas Software Probes

Alun Davies — 12 Feb 2020
Contributors: Philip Homburg
RIPE Atlas probes are now available as software, offering future hosts a new way to help build the RIPE Atlas network. While not a replacement for their hardware counterparts, software probes will improve coverage by bringing RIPE Atlas to new and previously hard-to-reach places.

After several months of development and testing, we’re ready to start receiving applications from anyone interested in hosting the RIPE Atlas software probes. The new probes are software packages that work just like regular probes. As such, hosting one doesn’t involve plugging in any dedicated RIPE Atlas hardware. Instead, hosts will install the probes on their own bits of infrastructure – e.g. virtual machines, home routers, servers, and so on.

Apply to host a RIPE Atlas software probe

Software Where Hardware is Hard

Offering hosts the software option will help RIPE Atlas reach a wider audience. One reason for developing software probes is that they can go places hardware probes can’t. This includes places where it’s just very difficult to get items delivered, places where plugging devices in isn’t an option, or even places where hardware probes just don’t function very well (say, due to high temperatures or humidity).

More generally, software probes give people another way to get involved in RIPE Atlas. For some, running probes as software will be more appealing than plugging in a hardware probe. And there’s even the option for developers who are interested in doing so to add code to the existing software, allowing them to experiment with new types of measurements and, in doing so, help improve RIPE Atlas.

That said, the new probes won't be the best choice for all users. Given the technical requirements involved in installing and running software probes (see next section), we expect that many future hosts will find it easier to continue plugging in hardware probes. So, since we want to keep reaching all kinds of hosts at all kinds of locations, we don't plan to cease distribution of hardware probes. What's more, it's worth adding that we're not planning to get software probes running anywhere and everywhere, but will continue to give preference to applicants who can put probes in places we need them.

The bottom line here is that, giving people the choice or hosting probes as software will lend greater versatility to RIPE Atlas, which will help get RIPE Atlas into as many geographical locations and ASes as possible, which will help RIPE Atlas provide an ever more accurate understanding of the state of a still rapidly growing Internet.

Installation Options

Getting a software probe connected and keeping it connected calls for a certain degree of technical know-how. Exactly what you need to know depends on how you plan to install and run the package. Right now, there are several different platforms and operating systems you can use for this, each of which comes with its own level of support and ease of use. Current options for installation include: 

  • CentOS 7 - binary RPM package
  • CentOS 7 and 8 - source installation
  • Debian (9 and 10) and Raspbian - source installation
  • Docker - preliminary source installation
  • Turris Routers - official software package from Turris

Full details on getting your software probe up and running for all the approaches listed above are available on our website.

As usual, software probe hosts agree to make a best effort to keep the probe connected to the Internet at all times, which means hosts will also be expected to keep the version of their software up to date by upgrading to newer versions as they become available.

Feedback

When the testing for software probes began, we created a mailing list to collect feedback and to provide a place for people interested in the code and/or the packaging of it. We'd like to continue these efforts, so please sign up if you're interested in:

  1. Helping to port the software probes to different platforms or distributions
  2. Making distribution-supported, easily deployable packages of the software
  3. Developing or enhancing features of the measurement code.

Alternatively, feel free to leave other comments or questions below. 

6 Comments

Rinse Kloek says:
13 Feb, 2020 09:26 AM
It would be nice if you have a Debian / Ubuntu packacge install!
Philip Homburg says:
13 Feb, 2020 02:52 PM
We understand that it would be nice to have Debian / Unbuntu packages as well, but we currently have no plans to provide them.
Renny Leal says:
16 Feb, 2020 03:11 AM
Hi. In the application I need to fill in a RSA key, which key is that?
Philip Homburg says:
17 Feb, 2020 09:52 AM
The key is typically found in '/var/atlas-probe/etc/probe_key.pub' after installing the software probe.
Vladimír Čunát says:
17 Feb, 2020 05:58 PM
If you maintain source packages anyway, it might be worth to consider e.g. https://build.opensuse.org to provide corresponding binaries (and kind-of CI).
Robert Kisteleki says:
20 Feb, 2020 09:25 AM
Looks interesting, we'll check it out! In the meantime you can consider joining our sw probe mailing list: https://lists.ripe.net/mailman/listinfo/atlas-sw-probes
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