browsers, dev, security

Building your .APP website with NameCheap and GitHub Pages–A Visual Guide

I recently bought a few new domain names under the brand new .app top-level-domain (TLD). The .app TLD is awesome because it’s on the HSTSPreload list, meaning that browsers will automatically use only HTTPS for every request on every domain under .app, keeping connections secure and improving performance.

I’m not doing anything terribly exciting with these domains for now, but I’d like to at least put up a simple welcome page on each one. Now, in the old days of HTTP, this was trivial, but because .app requires HTTPS, that means I must get a certificate for each of my sites for them to load at all.

Fortunately, GitHub recently started supporting HTTPS on GitHub Pages with custom domains, meaning that I can easily get a HTTPS site up in running in just a few minutes.

1. Log into GitHub, go to your Repositories page and click New:

2. Name your new repository something reasonable:

3. Click to create a simple README file:

4. Edit the file

5. Click Commit new file

6. Click Settings on the repository

7. Scroll to the GitHub Pages section and choose master branch and click Save:

8. Enter your domain name in the Custom domain box and click Save

9. Login to NameCheap (or whatever DNS registrar you used) and click Manage for the target domain name:

10. Click the Advanced DNS tab:

11. Click Add New Record:

 

12. Enter four new A Records for host of @ with the list of IP addresses GitHub pages use:

13. Click Save All Changes.

14. Click Add New Record and add a new CNAME Record. Enter the host www and a target value of username.github.io. Click Save All Changes: 

15. Click the trash can icons to delete the two default DNS entries that NameCheap had for your domain previously:

16. Try loading your new site.

  • If you get a connection error, wait a few minutes for DNS to propagate and re-verify the DNS records you just added.
  • If you get a certificate error, look at the certificate. It’s probably the default GitHub certificate. If so, look in the GitHub Pages settings page and you may see a note that your certificate is awaiting issuance by LetsEncrypt.org. If so, just wait a little while.

  • After the certificate is issued, your site without errors:

 

Go forth and build great (secure) things!

-Eric Lawrence

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security

Certificates Matter

Recently, my web host stopped supporting the FrontPage Server Extensions used by Microsoft Expression Web 4 for website publishing (FPSE is now out-of-support). FPSE allowed me to publish to my site over a HTTPS connection, helping keep my password safe and my uploaded files unmodified.

Unfortunately, the alternative FTP transport is completely insecure–passwords and data transfer in plaintext and can be stolen or tampered and Microsoft products generally don’t support FTPS. As a consequence, I had to stop using Expression Web to edit my various websites. Update: As it turns out, you *can* use FTPS inside Expression Web, but only via the Site > Open Site menu, not the File > Open menu. Expression then warns you that FTP is insecure (bizarrely implying HTTP is better), but network monitoring shows that it’s properly using FTPS under the covers.

Fortunately, my favorite text editor, EditPad Pro offers FTPS support and I quickly moved to using it to edit my site.

Except for one thing—even when using a shared host, the server always returned the same certificate, one whose Subject Name didn’t match the hostname of my website. Yet EditPad didn’t complain at all, it just silently accepted any certificate and sent my username and password. An active man-in-the-middle can easily intercept FTPS connections and return a dummy certificate which EditPad would happily use.

I reported this vulnerability to the developer and I’m happy to see that he’s fixed this problem in version 7.4.0; if the certificate presented isn’t valid for the target, a security prompt is shown every time:

TLS Name Mismatch warning

Ideally, my webhost will start using my installed certificate for FTPS and WebDAV connections, but in the interim manual certificate validation serves as a fallback.

If you build any TLS-protected client or server application, you should always validate the certificate presented during the handshake.

Stay safe out there!

-Eric Lawrence

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perf, windmills

Zopfli All The Things

I’ve written about Zopfli quite a bit in the past, and even wrote a tool to apply it to PNG files. For fun, I had a look at one of the most optimized pages in the world: Google.com, through the lens of Zopfli.

Here are the basic resources delivered by the Google homepage:

Zopfli WhatIf

This breakdown shows that Google isn’t optimizing their own compression using the compressor they wrote. The Savings column shows the number of bytes saved by using Zopfli over whatever Google used to compress the asset. Using the default settings in an ideal world, Google could save up to 16.5k, almost 5% of the bytes transferred, by using Zopfli.

I’ve color-coded the column based on how practical I believe the savings to be—the green numbers are the static images where there’s no question the size benefit could be realized. The yellow numbers are cases where script files are compressed; given the complicated query string parameters, I’m betting these scripts are dynamically generated and the compression cost of Zopfli might not be reasonable. The red number is the homepage itself, which probably isn’t reasonable to Zopfli compress as it certainly is generated dynamically.

So, most likely the savings of a practical Zopfli deployment on the homepage page would be about 3.7kb; savings are much greater on other pages on other sites.

More interesting, however, is the Google API CDN, which hosts scripts for other sites; optimizing these would take a minute or two at most and make every site that uses them faster.

Zopfli savings

Use Zopfli; give the tubes a little bit more room.

-Eric

PS: You may already have zopfli.exe on your system; Fiddler installs a copy to its \Tools\ subfolder!

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