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Life as a F/OSS Zealot, Debianite, Pythonista and Lisper

A primer on apt's mirror:// protocol

by

Paul Tagliamonte

It's sometimes helpful to keep your machines using a list of apt archives to use, rather then a single mirror, because redundancy is good. Rather then using (the great) services like http.debian.net or ftp.us.debian.org, you can set your own mirror lists using apt's mirror:// protocol.

All of this is ultra unstable, so be a bit careful when using this. I've been using mirror:// for a few months now, and it seems fine (even have my servers using it), but it was a bit of a pain to set up. It gets slightly confused if you point it at something bad, and it's a mild pain to debug. Hopefully more people will see the value in mirror://, and contribute code to it's development.

Why bother?

If you have a local network mirror, it's helpful to have your machines default to a local mirror, if you're the sort to keep an archive mirror on the LAN, and fall back to your nearest friendly mirror otherwise. In addition, this lets you hand-define where apt searches for mirrors, which is great, since you can control the subset of servers you ping a bit more closely.

Practical Bits / quickstart

The following block covers the quick and dirty details on how to set up mirror:// for use on your machine (today!). This is very basic, and details are very sparse, but hopefully there's enough here to help folks use this on their local system. Basically, you've got three core things to do:

  1. Pick your mirrors (this one's a bit of a duh)
  2. Put them in a public place you can always get to, regardless of where you are in cyberspace (I use static.pault.ag) - remember, this is the one thing all your machines need to always get to, no matter where they are.
  3. Configure your sources.list to use the mirror.txt file by pointing to the text file with the mirror:// protocol.

Turns out mirror://'s protocol handler will segfault if you give it something bad, so don't be afraid if you see apt-get update segfault - it just means you've likely not pointed it at a valid text file. The format of the text file should be a simple text file of mirrors it can try, in order of priority. Mine looks a bit like:

http://127.0.0.1:3142/debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian/
http://debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian/
# http://http.debian.net/debian/

Finally, your sources.list entry should look a bit like:

deb mirror://static.pault.ag/debian/mirrors.txt unstable main
deb mirror://static.pault.ag/debian/mirrors.txt experimental main
deb-src mirror://static.pault.ag/debian/mirrors.txt unstable main
deb-src mirror://static.pault.ag/debian/mirrors.txt experimental main

Problems

With the good comes the bad. Not everything fully supports this, and most tools that parse sources.list break in a really silly way.

command-not-found

update-command-not-found will blow up like:

W: Don't know how to handle mirror
W: Don't know how to handle mirror
W: Don't know how to handle mirror
W: Don't know how to handle mirror
W: Don't know how to handle mirror
W: Don't know how to handle mirror