Problems with Thunderbird 38.0.1 and SSL

Dead Thunderbird
Version 38.0.1 of Thunderbird is an ex-mail client. It has ceased to be.

Thunderbird used to be my mail client of choice, but suddenly I’m not so sure! The latest update on the release channel (version 38.0.1) seems to have broken completely when using self-signed certificates for SSL.

A self-signed certificate makes sense when you know you can trust it; otherwise you get a signing authority you do trust to verify your certificate (for loadsamoney). If you’re talking to your own servers, there’s not point in doing this as there are other ways to check you’re talking to who you think you are. Thunderbird used to warn you that it didn’t recognise a self-signed certificate the first time it saw it, but if you told it to go ahead anyway it would add it to the trusted list and go on encrypting your data for you quite happily.

Since “upgrading” to version 38 it suddenly stopped working. No more email. No more sending email. It just failed silently (that’s bad, for a start), the only clue was that I couldn’t send an email or copy it to the drafts folder.

On examining the logs at the server end I found stuff like this:

Jul  7 23:17:54  dovecot: imap-login: Disconnected (no auth attempts):
    rip=###.###.###.###, lip=###.###.###.###, TLS handshaking: SSL_accept() 
    failed: error:1408A0C1:SSL routines:SSL3_GET_CLIENT_HELLO:no shared cipher

Suspicious! So I turned off SSL in Thunderbird and it all worked again. This is NOT a sensible solution. Unfortunately, I have yet to solve this one, other to simply not upgrade Thunderbird beyond 31.7.

Fortunately, you can still download the previous non-beta version from here, (assuming Mozilla don’t move it). You actually want 31.7.0, because the intervening releases were betas, and 31.7.0 is as recent as May 2015 so it’s not ancient. Just navigate around the site you don’t want the English version. Simply install it everything comes back the way it used to be, or at least it did for me.


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Update 15-Jul-2015:

It appears that Thunderbird may have decided not to accept TLS with less that 1024-bit DH keys without telling anyone. Even if they had mentioned it, there’s not a lot users can do with it. This means that if you’re using a 512-bit key (which is considered export-grade) then it’s going to refuse to talk. Worse than that, it doesn’t pop up a message saying WHY it’s not going to talk. It’s just going to fail the connection. Presumably, as my friend Graham put it, this indicates that the Thunderbird open-source developers are hoping to get a job with Apple.

I hope this nonsense will be resolved in 38.1! In the mean time, turn off auto-update.

Update 30-Jul-2015:

I’ve now updated the server certificates being in-date (which doesn’t actually matter), and made sure they were 1024-bit (which they were) and apart from upsetting everyone who has had to accept the new certificate, Thunderbird still barfs.

Update 15-Aug-2015:

It get’s worse – there has been an update to the 31.x branch to 31.8.0, and this has the same problem. Use the link above and make sure you’re using 31.7.0


OpenLDAP, Thunderbird and roving address books

IMAP is great. It lets you keep your mail synchronised between any number of machines, including webmail, and everything works just fine. The only snag is that your address book isn’t included. I’d always assumed this was what LDAP was for: a centralised directory of names, and other things, with the useful bit being the address book. Thunderbird, is my current favourite mail client on the basis that actaully works better than Outlook. It supports LDAP address books, and has offered to configure one for me many times. All I needed to do was configure slapd (the OpenLDAP server deamon) and point Thunderbird at it.

This blog entry isn’t a tutorial in configuring FreeBSD, OpenLDAP and Thunderbird to work together. I’m saving you from wasting a lot of your time trying. It does “work”, once you’ve sorted out schemas and got to grips with the arcane syntax of the configuration files and the hierarchical nature of the thing. It’s just that it’s useless even when it’s working because it’s READ-ONLY. Being able to add and amend entries in my address book is so fundamental to the nature of an address book that I didn’t bother to check that Thunderbird could do it. What’s the use of a read-only address book? Well there might be some point in a large organisation where a company-wide address book is needed, administered by a tame geek in the basement. For the rest of us it’s as fileofax with no pen.

So what are the good people at Mozilla playing at? The omission of read/write has been listed in their bug database for over ten years, and no one has tackled it. I thought about it for a while, but given the that Lightweight-DAP is a misnomer on a spectacular scale I thought again. Clearly no one who knows about LDAP actually likes it enough to want to help; either that or none actually understands it apart from the aforementioned geek in the basement, and he’s sitting tight because allowing users to edit address books might be detrimental to his pizza supply.

The time is right for a genuinely lightweight protocol for sharing address books in a sane and sensible manner; something like IMAP for addresses. I’m therefore writing one. Unfortunately I’m not so clued up on Thunderbird’s internal workings; if you are and wish to implement the front end please drop me a line and I’ll write a protocol and server that works.

Unfortunately this one issue is a killer app for Microsoft’s lightweight over-priced Mail system called Exchange. It’s a big of a dog (inflexible) but at least Microsoft seems to have got this fundamental functionality for sharing personal address books between mail clients sorted out. I believe it uses something similar LDAP underneath (along with IMAP for the mail itself); so it’s not impossible.

I’m very surprised to find myself having anything good to say about Outlook/Exchange Server. It might still be traumatised from the discovery that my assumption that the obvious LDAP solution was nothing of the sort. It’s just it’s so damn complex for no apparent reason that it gives the impression it must be great if you could only understand it.