The road ahead for MirageOS in 2021

Written by hannes
Classified under: mirageos
Published: 2021-01-25 (last updated: 2021-01-25)


2020 was an intense year. I hope you're healthy and keep being healthy. I am privileged (as lots of software engineers and academics are) to be able to work from home during the pandemic. Let's not forget people in less privileged situations, and let’s try to give them as much practical, psychological and financial support as we can these days. And as much joy as possible to everyone around :)

I cancelled the autumn MirageOS retreat due to the pandemic. Instead I collected donations for our hosts in Marrakech - they were very happy to receive our financial support, since they had a difficult year, since their income is based on tourism. I hope that in autumn 2021 we'll have an on-site retreat again.

For 2021, we (at robur) got a grant from the EU (via NGI pointer) for "Deploying MirageOS" (more details below), and another grant from OCaml software foundation for securing the opam supply chain (using conex). Some long-awaited releases for MirageOS libraries, namely a ssh implementation and a rewrite of our git implementation have already been published.

With my MirageOS view, 2020 was a pretty successful year, where we managed to add more features, fixed lots of bugs, and paved the road ahead. I want to thank OCamlLabs for funding work on MirageOS maintenance.

Recap 2020

Here is a very subjective random collection of accomplishments in 2020, where I was involved with some degree.


NetHSM is a hardware security module in software. It is a product that uses MirageOS for security, and is based on the muen separation kernel. We at robur were heavily involved in this product. It already has been security audited by an external team. You can pre-order it from Nitrokey.

TLS 1.3

Dating back to 2016, at the TRON (TLS 1.3 Ready or NOt), we developed a first draft of a 1.3 implementation of OCaml-TLS. Finally in May 2020 we got our act together, including ECC (ECDH P256 from fiat, X25519 from hacl) and testing with tlsfuzzer, and release tls 0.12.0 with TLS 1.3 support. Later we added ECC ciphersuites to TLS version 1.2, implemented ChaCha20/Poly1305, and fixed an interoperability issue with Go's implementation.

Mirage-crypto provides the underlying cryptographic primitives, initially released in March 2020 as a fork of nocrypto -- huge thanks to pqwy for his great work. Mirage-crypto detects CPU features at runtime (thanks to Julow) (bugfix for bswap), using constant time modular exponentation (powm_sec) and hardens against Lenstra's CRT attack, supports compilation on Windows (thanks to avsm), async entropy harvesting (thanks to seliopou), 32 bit support, chacha20/poly1305 (thanks to abeaumont), cross-compilation (thanks to EduardoRFS) and various bug fixes, even memory leak (thanks to talex5 for reporting several of these issues), and RSA interoperability (thanks to psafont for investigation and mattjbray for reporting). This library feels very mature now - being used by multiple stakeholders, and lots of issues have been fixed in 2020.

Qubes Firewall

The MirageOS based Qubes firewall is the most widely used MirageOS unikernel. And it got major updates: in May Steffi announced her and Mindy's work on improving it for Qubes 4.0 - including dynamic firewall rules via QubesDB. Thanks to prototypefund for sponsoring.

In October 2020, we released Mirage 3.9 with PVH virtualization mode (thanks to mato). There's still a memory leak to be investigated and fixed.


In December, with Mirage 3.10 we got the IPv6 code up and running. Now MirageOS unikernels have a dual stack available, besides IPv4-only and IPv6-only network stacks. Thanks to nojb for the initial code and MagnusS.

Turns out this blog, but also robur services, are now available via IPv6 :)


Also in December, I pushed an initial release of albatross, a unikernel orchestration system with remote access. Deploy your unikernel via a TLS handshake -- the unikernel image is embedded in the TLS client certificates.

Thanks to reynir for statistics support on Linux and improvements of the systemd service scripts. Also thanks to cfcs for the initial Linux port.

CA certs

For several years I postponed the problem of how to actually use the operating system trust anchors for OCaml-TLS connections. Thanks to emillon for initial code, there are now ca-certs and ca-certs-nss opam packages (see release announcement) which fills this gap.


I developed several useful unikernels in 2020, and also pushed a unikernel gallery to the Mirage website:

Traceroute in MirageOS

I already wrote about traceroute which traces the routing to a given remote host.

Unipi - static website hosting

Unipi is a static site webserver which retrieves the content from a remote git repository. Let's encrypt certificate provisioning and dynamic updates via a webhook to be executed for every push.

TLSTunnel - TLS demultiplexing

The physical machine this blog and other robur infrastructure runs on has been relocated from Sweden to Germany mid-December. Thanks to UPS! Fewer IPv4 addresses are available in the new data center, which motivated me to develop tlstunnel.

The new behaviour is as follows (see the monitoring branch):

  • listener on TCP port 80 which replies with a permanent redirect to https
  • listener on TCP port 443 which forwards to a backend host if the requested server name is configured
  • its configuration is stored on a block device, and can be dynamically changed (with a custom protocol authenticated with a HMAC)
  • it is setup to hold a wildcard TLS certificate and in DNS a wildcard entry is pointing to it
  • setting up a new service is very straightforward: only the new name needs to be registered with tlstunnel together with the TCP backend, and everything will just work


The year started with a release of awa, a SSH implementation in OCaml (thanks to haesbaert for initial code). This was followed by a git 3.0 release (thanks to dinosaure).

Deploying MirageOS - NGI Pointer

For 2021 we at robur received funding from the EU (via NGI pointer) for "Deploying MirageOS", which boils down into three parts:

  • reproducible binary releases of MirageOS unikernels,
  • monitoring (and other devops features: profiling) and integration into existing infrastructure,
  • and further documentation and advertisement.

Of course this will all be available open source. Please get in touch via eMail (team aT robur dot coop) if you're eager to integrate MirageOS unikernels into your infrastructure.

We discovered at an initial meeting with an infrastructure provider that a DNS resolver is of interest - even more now that dnsmasq suffered from dnspooq. We are already working on an implementation of DNSSec.

MirageOS unikernels are binary reproducible, and infrastructure tools are available. We are working hard on a web interface (and REST API - think of it as "Docker Hub for MirageOS unikernels"), and more tooling to verify reproducibility.

Conex - securing the supply chain

Another funding from the OCSF is to continue development and deploy conex - to bring trust into opam-repository. This is a great combination with the reproducible build efforts, and will bring much more trust into retrieving OCaml packages and using MirageOS unikernels.

MirageOS 4.0

Mirage so far still uses ocamlbuild and ocamlfind for compiling the virtual machine binary. But the switch to dune is close, a lot of effort has been done. This will make the developer experience of MirageOS much more smooth, with a per-unikernel monorepo workflow where you can push your changes to the individual libraries.

If you want to support our work on MirageOS unikernels, please donate to robur. I'm interested in feedback, either via twitter, or an issue on the data repository.