Last November I reported that running KDE Partition Manager as non-root user is slowly shaping up. Instead of running the whole application as root, KAuth lets us run GUI parts as unprivileged user and some non-GUI helper running as root.

After another 4 months of development, KAuth support is mostly done. There are still a few things that need to be finished, some cleaning up, fixing bugs but major refactoring is complete. Unlike other KDE Applications, KDE Partition Manager uses root for almost any operation, so the way it uses KAuth is quite different from e.g. Kate where the only task the helper has to do is to copy the file to its destination. KDE Partition Manager might need to execute a lot of different commands to do some task (e.g. move/resize partition) and we don’t want user to authenticate 20 times during partitioning operation.

How it works?

  • When user launches KDE Partition Manager, KAuth helper is immediately started.
  • The Helper opens DBus system bus interface and listens for requests from KDE Partition Manager.
  • When KDE Partition Manager needs to run some command, or copy some data on the disks it sends a requests to KAuth helper over DBus system bus.
  • Only requests from KDE Partition Manager instance that started the helper are accepted. Everything else is ignored.
  • When KDE Partition Manager exits, it sends requests to KAuth helper to exit. Otherwise (e.g. if KDE Partition Manager crashes), the helper would exit after a short amount of time.

What was done

  • KDE Partition Manager had a lot of library calls that required root. In particular libparted was used to manipulate disks. I wrote a new sfdisk (part of util-linux) based backend which called sfdisk executable to manipulate partition table. util-linux is obviously GNU/Linux only but so was libparted. Nevertheless, this backend would be much easier to adapt to e.g. FreeBSD. util-linux 2.32 which was just released is required to have a fully functioning sfdisk backend.
  • While writing a new backend, I redesigned backend, so that its API would not be libparted specific. Since Calamares installer was using some of those calls (and it was not supposed to use them), I worked on porting Calamares away from those and as a result Calamares gained support for manipulating LVM logical volumes. Now Calamares can install into preexisting LVM volume groups.
  • As part of Season of KDE  program Caio J. Carvalho ported away from unmaintained libatasmart to smartmontools. We will require smartmontools 6.7 which is not yet released at the time of this post. This again improves FreeBSD support, as it has smartctl. libatasmart was GUN/Linux only.
  • Each call to external executables (e.g. fsck, btrfs, sfdisk, etc.) was then sent to KAuth helper. So at this stage we had a new KAuth call each time we wanted to run application. This allowed KDE Partition Manager to run without root but with two severe drawbacks:
    • When partitions were moved, coppied, all disk data had to be transefered from KAuth helper to the main application and back via DBus. But DBus is not suitable for transfering big amount of data.
    • Polkit authorization is kept for 5 minutes. So after 5 minutes a new authorization dialog would be shown. It could happen in the middle of operation.
  • In his Season of KDE project, Huzaifa Faruqui moved the data copying code from KPMcore library to KAuth helper. Thus we no longer had to move disk data over DBus. Initially we had some performance issues but those were solved when we switched from using dd to QFile.
  • For the second issue, instead of running a new KAuth helper each time we need to execute command as root, I started KAuth helper as a daemon that listens to requests from the main application. Since helper does not quit and is running all the time, Polkit 5 minute timeout does not apply.

What can be improved

  • All command calls now go through KAuth helper. Some of the commands (such as lsblk) could still be run as unprivileged user.
  • We can delay starting KAuth helper until it is needed. Then in some cases we might be able to postpone authentication until applying operations.
  • Caio J. Carvalho and I are still working on improving helper behaviour in case main application crashes (or is killed).
  • Needs more testing. Feel free to try kauth branches of kpmcore and partitionmanager repositories. I’ll probably release another version before merging this work to master.

While KDE Partition Manager worked on Wayland before, it now works better. If you want to run it via XWayland you no longer need to allow other users to use XWayland server (with xhost +) which is a big security improvement. Previously KDE Partition Manager only ran as a native Wayland client (so you needed QT_QPA_PLATFORM=wayland which Gnome session doesn’t have).

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KDE Partition Manager 3.3 is now ready. It includes some improvements for Btrfs, F2FS, NTFS file systems. I even landed the first bits of new LUKS2 on-disk format support, now KDE Partition Manager can display LUKS2 labels. More LUKS2 work will follow in KPM 3.4. There were changes in how LVM devices are detected. So now Calamares installer should be able to see LVM logical volumes. Once my pull request lands, Calamares should also support partitioning operations on LVM logical volumes (although Calamares would need more work before installation and booting from root file system on LVM works. I tested Calamares with KPMcore 3.3 and it successfully installed rootfs in LVM volume and successfully booted). KPMcore library now only depends on Tier 1 Frameworks instead of Tier 3 (although, we will later require Tier 2).

Most of the work is now done in sfdisk branch.  Currently, the only functional KDE Partition Manager backend uses libparted but sfdisk backend is now fully working (I would say RC quality). I would have merged in already but it requires util-linux 2.32 which is not yet released.

Yet another branch on top of sfdisk is KAuth branch which allows KPM to run as unprivileged user and uses Polkit when necessary to gain root rights. Everything except SMART support is working. To get SMART working too we would have to port away from (unmaintained) libatasmart to calling smartctl. Feel free to help! It should be fairly easy task but somebody has to do the work. Other than that you can already perform all partitioning operations using KAuth with one caveat. Right now KPM calls KAuth helper many times while performing partitioning operations. It can happen that KAuth authorization will expire in the meantime (KAuth remembers it for about 5 minutes) and KAuth will request a user to enter root password. If the user enters correct password, operation would finish. However, if authorization is not granted we may end up with half completed operation. And of course we don’t want to leave partition half moved, the data will almost surely be lost (half-resized partition is probably okay…). I suppose we can fix this by refactoring KPM operation runner, so that it calls KAuth helper just once with a list of all commands that have to be run. Unfortunately, this KPM Operation Runner refactoring might be bigger than what I would like, as significant changes would be necessary in partition data copying code. Maybe GSoC project then… Or ar there any better ideas on how to prevent KAuth authorization dialog in the middle of partitioning operations?

You can grab tarballs from standard locations on download.kde.org server.

Today I finally managed to get large part (maybe 90%) of KDE Partition Manager to work from GUI running as unprivileged user. This means better security, better Wayland integration, better theming support, etc. It will still take some time to polish everything and make it ready for release but nevertheless KDE Partition Manager has reached a significant milestone. Unlike most programs that use KAuth, KDE Partition Manager requires root for practically any operation, so it took some time to properly refactor the code and make it ready for KAuth/Polkit.

KDE Partition Manager has also gained another backend that you can see in the video bellow. Previously, libparted backend was used for some of the partitioning operations which for a long time was the only functional backend. Now, KDE Partition Manager can use util-linux tools (mostly sfdisk) to manipulate partitions. In the future sfdisk backend will be the default backend since it supports running without root.

At the moment the code is published in my scratch repository. Eventually this code should reach git master but probably after KPMcore 3.3 is released. Getting Calamares to run root free should now be a bit easier too…