bookmark_borderCustom iCalendar data in Kronolith & Nag

The iCalendar exchange format is everywhere in Horde’s calendar (kronolith) and tasks (nag) apps. It is offered for manual import/export. It is the centerpiece of the CalDAV synchronisation protocol and various APIs of these apps. The format also plays a role in email invitiations and updates sent via iTip. It is a very powerful and well-accepted format. This is, unfortunately, a little bit of a problem. Fortunately, we also have a solution

The iCalendar format was originally defined by the IETF. They released RFC 2445 back in 1998. While Horde still understands that format, a newer version 2.0 was defined in RFC 5545 in 2009. An extension to the 2.0 standard was released in 2016: RFC 7986 defines additional attributes needed to describe related conferencing software resources or other technical aspects.

Server and client software has always been free to add custom attributes to the different components of the standard. For example, Horde Kronolith stores and reads a special attribute X-HORDE-ATTENDEE to mark event attendees who have a horde user attached. Mozilla uses attributes like X-MOZ-LASTACK and MS Exchange comes with a long list of custom attributes, among them X-CALEND. Understanding these attributes when processing a icalendar file is optional. However, servers are expected not to silently drop attributes they do not understand.

Up until now, both Kronolith and Nag did support a wide range of attributes, but far from all. Events are reconstructed from calendar backend contents. Unsupported data simply gets lost. As it is technically impossible to know all attributes anybody out there may use, the opposite definition was needed: An attribute is an “other” attribute if it is not in the list of attributes the app already handles. Both apps got a catalog of attributes they understand and a property for storing everything else. Support for actually storing and retrieving this data is currently limited to the SQL backend. I do not currently invest time in Kolab support, maybe I will never do that.

Also, while I took care to ensure that normal editing via the UI will not break the “other” data, I did not cross check with scenarios where ActiveSync is involved. Please report bugs as you find them.

CalDAV event Storage

For kronolith, an optional storage of unmodified caldav events as received has been added during development. I am not sure if I will keep this or remove it again. It is useful for debugging various support scenarios but under normal operation, it is not required. It may be useful for creating a cache of external caldav calendars though.

Extend to Turba Addressbook

Turba Addressbook uses a similar data format vcard and implements the sister protocol CardDAV. Things are indeed a little more complicated. There are three relevant versions of vcard 2.1, 3.0 and 4.0 and multiple extension RFCs with additional contact attributes exist. Worse, there is a host of X- attributes from popular desktop addressbook vendors, Evolution, Kontact, Thunderbird, Android, MS Exchange/Outlook… There are at least two different ways to represent contact groups and the whole thing is a little messy. But the real problem lies with Turba’s highly configurable nature. At least two backends need to be upgraded: Both SQL storage and LDAP play a key role in typical Turba use cases. The exact layout of each addressbook can be different even inside the same installation. The list of vcard attributes considered as natively supported needs to be calculated for each addressbook and additional attributes maybe need to be stored outside of the specific backend. This will take some time and consideration.

Still, Turba’s tendency to forget what it does not care for needs to be addressed. Otherwise users risk losing attributes on sync.

bookmark_borderDAVx5 CalDAV may break with Unicode symbols in Horde/Kronolith syncs.

If you get user complaints about broken CalDAV syncs with Horde, there’s many places to look at. In one particular instance, an event was created from travelling app Transportr into the stock android Calendar app. Through the DAVx5 sync app, the user wanted to push these events to Horde’s SabreDAV interface – and from there, also sync it to his desktop email solution, Mozilla Thunderbird.

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However, his sync application told him about an error. The server administrator saw a 500 status code in the server log. - user [24/Jan/2021:18:48:26 +0000] "PUT /horde/rpc/calendars/user/calendar~KL14jYhCMpbet4ecYzAg1bn/2bace303-f0d8-4df6-9652-baa5fb9e86c4.ics HTTP/1.1" 500 892 "-" "DAVx5/3.3.8-ose (2021/01/13; dav4jvm; okhttp/4.9.0) Android/11

The root cause was actually not in the software code but in the MariaDB database configuration. The calendar entry from Transportr included some Unicode icon characters like a fast train and some arrows. These characters are part of the standard unicode encoding, utf-8.

Now you might wonder: New installations of mysql and MariaDB default to a character set they call utf-8 since 2010 or so. This shouldn’t be an issue. However, what they call utf-8 is not what you would expect.

Some years ago, TV sets which did not support the full HD resolution were marketed as “HD ready”. In some sense, the default character set is “unicode ready” at best. The default data type saves on disk space by encoding a subset of utf-8 into up to three bytes. While this supports most natural language characters, it is only a fraction of what Unicode can offer. Database manufacturers are well aware that this is not something you should run nowadays that unicode icons like the hamburger are all over the place is user generated content. The mysql manual even says:

“Please use utf8mb4 instead. Although utf8 is currently an alias for utf8mb3, at some point utf8 is expected to become a reference to utf8mb4. To avoid ambiguity about the meaning of utf8, consider specifying utf8mb4 explicitly for character set references instead of utf8.”

Now that’s what I did. First I changed horde’s database encoding to utf8mb4 in conf.php:

$conf['sql']['protocol'] = 'tcp';
$conf['sql']['charset'] = 'utf8mb4';

Then I changed the mysql server’s and client’s default charset:

cat /etc/mysql/my.cnf
character-set-client-handshake = FALSE
character-set-server = utf8mb4
collation-server = utf8mb4_unicode_ci
default-character-set = utf8mb4
default-character-set = utf8mb4
character-set-server = utf8mb4
collation-server = utf8mb4_unicode_ci

I have obviously stripped a lot of file content not relevant to our story. After reloading the database, all new connections should use the real utf8 encoding and new tables should be created with the new standard. But what about existing content? We need to convert all tables and all their text-like columns, varchars, mediumtexts etc.

First, it’s backup time – better safe than sorry.

Then, let’s find all tables in our db server and feed them conversion commands.

mysql --database=horde -B -N -e "SHOW TABLES" | awk '{print "ALTER TABLE", $1, "CONVERT TO CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;"}' | mysql --database=horde

Do this in a downtime or ensure HA some way or other. It will take some time. Some sources suggest it might be sensible to also rebuild the tables with the optimize command. I am not very convinced, but it won’t harm.

mysqlcheck --auto-repair --optimize --user="hidden" -p --databases mysql horde

After this, repeat the sync test. It should work this time.

bookmark_borderHorde 4 Preview – Calendar Kronolith now supports resources

Horde 4 is due for April 05 2011 – and sports a new release of the major groupware applications. Among them, the time-tracking app hermes sees its 2.0 release. DIMP (ajax webmailer) and MIMP (mobile devices webmailer) have been integrated into IMP, the webmailer. The task tracker nag has been integrated into the new (optional) ajax frontend of the kronolith calendar app. By the way, Kronolith now allows assigning resources like rooms or beamers to events and provides resource scheduling just as if they were persons. The classic non-ajax interface is still available as a user preference though. Horde 4 won’t be compatible with the generic inventory app sesha anymore. The horde team has decided to abandon some other applications, too Currently, the Horde 4 git repository houses more than 20 applications, ranging from enhanced versions of long-running mainstream apps like the file manager gollem or the VCS chora to Horde Folks, the bleeding edge Facebook-like personal dashboard. Horde 4 will sport the ActiveSync protocol, opening synchronisation options for iPhone 4, Windows Phones and Android smartphones like the Motorola Milestone (Euro Brand) / Droid (US Brand) .

I will be dropping maintainence of Andre Pawlowski’s password safe eleusis in favor of a complete Horde4 rewrite, Hort.