Advanced snap usage

1. Introduction

There’s a lot more to snap packaging than the simple installation and removal of snaps; you can grant or revoke an application’s access to system resources, reconfigure internal parameters, make a local copy of s snap and check a snap’s provenance.

We’ll be covering these, and other more advanced topics, in this tutorial.

:information_source: We recommend you familiarise yourself with basic snap usage before reading this tutorial. See Getting started for further details.

You’ll learn:

  • interfaces: listing those available and connecting to them
  • devmode: how it’s used for strict snaps and classic snaps
  • disable/re-enable snaps: plus status through service logs and services
  • snap configuration: how this is managed by the system
  • paths: discover which are writable by a snap

Plus plenty of other small tips and tricks.

What you’ll need

  • GNU/Linux with snap installed (see Installing snapd)
  • some basic command line knowledge

How will you use this tutorial?

What is your current level of experience?


2. Environment setup

By first logging in to your online snap account you remove the need to use sudo with privileged snap commands like install, refresh, remove and revert.

Login for convenience

If you haven’t already, create a snap account at https://login.ubuntu.com/ and login via the command line:

Personal information is handled as per our privacy notice at
https://www.ubuntu.com/legal/dataprivacy/snap-store

E-mail address: 
Password of <user>:
Two-factor code: 155717
Login successful

:information_source: You will only be asked for a two-factor code if you have it enabled on your account.

Another advantage of being logged in is that you get access to your private snaps. Private snaps allow developers to share snaps with a small group of people, which is useful for beta-testing, for instance.

Typing snap logout will log the current user out.


3. Handling interfaces and permissions in your snaps

All snaps downloaded in the stable channel are confined. There is a mode, called “devmode” which sets the snap basically unconfined, meaning having all access to our system. Those should only be installed when you fully trust the developers, and throw away a great part of snaps security model (trustability in applications, which can’t touch or destroy parts they don’t have access to), but it can be convenient, at least for developers.

Let’s look at interfaces first, which are what confined snaps are using. We’ll then shortly explore devmode and what its implications are, before jumping to classic snaps.

Interfaces

Permissions are given through one or multiple interfaces. The snap plug corresponding to that interface will connect to the core slot which declares that same interface. For an easy analogy, thinks of a plug as an electrical plug, slot is what you put the plug into, and the interface is the voltage amount chosen (permissions here) which will be sent over through that interface. Better for both sides to match!

Listing interfaces

First, install the chuck-norris-webserver test snap:

$ snap install chuck-norris-webserver

Now list all available interfaces on our machine:

$ snap interfaces
Slot                              Plug
:bluetooth-control                -
:browser-support                  -
:camera                           -
:cups-control                     -
:docker-support                   -
:firewall-control                 -
:fuse-support                     -
:gsettings                        -
:hardware-observe                 -
:home                             -
:kernel-module-control            -
:libvirt                          -
:locale-control                   -
:log-observe                      -
:lxd-support                      -
:modem-manager                    -
:mount-observe                    -
:network                          chuck-norris-webserver
:network-bind                     chuck-norris-webserver
:network-control                  -
:network-manager                  -
:network-observe                  -
:network-setup-observe            -
:opengl                           -
:optical-drive                    -
:ppp                              -
:process-control                  -
:pulseaudio                       -
:removable-media                  -
:screen-inhibit-control           -
:snapd-control                    -
:system-observe                   -
:system-trace                     -
:timeserver-control               -
:timezone-control                 -
:tpm                              -
:unity7                           -
:upower-observe                   -
:x11                              -
-                                 chuck-norris-webserver:camera

This list of interfaces evolves over time. It also depends on your hardware capabilities (the gadget snap, to be precise), which defines which additional interfaces your device can expose, like GPIO devices, camera, I2C and such…

You have the confirmation here that chuck-norris-webserver connects its network-bind plug to the network-bind slot from the core snap (slot, plug and interface names are abbreviated when they all match). This interface is used for the daemon to listen on a TCP port, which is kind of useful for a webserver to accept incoming requests on that port! Note that you didn’t have to do anything manually. The slot and plugs have been connected automatically.
It’s similar for the network interface which is needed by the command line tool to get access to the network.

On the contrary, the last line will show that the camera plug isn’t connected to the core camera slot. Indeed, some interfaces will auto-connect on install (the ones considered safe, like having access to the network), some won’t (like accessing the user’s camera). This default behavior is defined in snapd and the gadget snap of your device. You can refer to relevant tutorials on how to create a device and the gadget snap for overriding the default policy of your device.

Let’s check that in practice!

Default behavior

Running the command line tool after installing the snap gives us:

$ chuck-norris-webserver.cli
FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu Core 16.
CAMERA [FAIL]: Urgh, even Chuck doesn't have access to the camera
HOME ACCESS [FAIL]: What's happening? I can't even read your home directory.
NETWORK [OK]: Chuck Norris doesn't pair program.

Indeed, we got a Chuck Norris quote from the network. However, access to the camera and some files in the home directory was denied. It’s all making sense!

Giving access to the camera

Let’s connect our camera plug to the ubuntu core slot before rerunning the application:

$ snap connect chuck-norris-webserver:camera :camera
$ chuck-norris-webserver.cli
FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu Core 16.
HOME ACCESS [FAIL]: What's happening? I can't even read your home directory.
CAMERA [OK]: I can see you, you should smile more!
NETWORK [OK]: No statement can catch the ChuckNorrisException.

Of course, we still have access to the network and the file access is a failure. However, we can see now that the camera is accessible to our command line tool! Smile :wink:

We can also check that via snap interfaces:

$ snap interfaces
Slot                              Plug
:bluetooth-control                -
:browser-support                  -
:camera                           chuck-norris-webserver
:cups-control                     -
[…]
:mount-observe                    -
:network                          chuck-norris-webserver
:network-bind                     chuck-norris-webserver
[…]                           

That matches our expectations!

the core snap can be abbreviated (also visible in the snap interfaces command) with directly using “:<slot-name>” instead of “core:`”.

Remove permissions from a snap

Disconnecting the network plug for this snap will simply be done via:

$ snap disconnect chuck-norris-webserver:network
$ chuck-norris-webserver.cli
FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu Core 16.
NETWORK [FAIL]: I can't connect to chucknorris.io. Offering you a network-related joke then: Chuck Norris's OSI network model has only one layer - Physical.
HOME ACCESS [FAIL]: What's happening? I can't even read your home directory.
CAMERA [OK]: I can see you, you should smile more!
$ snap interfaces
[…]
-                         chuck-norris-webserver:network

We thus have access from the command line tool to the camera, but not to the network anymore (and still don’t have access to the home directory).

A note on multiple commands/services in the same snaps.

Our snap contains 2 elements: a services and a command. We just used the command here. You should know (even if you don’t plan to craft any snaps… but you should!) that a different set of interfaces can be defined for each elements.

For instance, the service and cli definition request access to different interfaces:

 node-service:
    command: bin/chuck-norris-app
    daemon: simple
    restart-condition: always
    plugs: [network-bind]
  cli:
    command: bin/chuck-norris-cli
    plugs: [network, camera]


The service needs to listen (and write) to the network. The network-bind interface is suited for this.
The command line application requests access to the network (as a reader, not a webserver listener) and to the user’s camera.

When you run snap interfaces, snap connect, snap disconnect, you only specify the snap name, meaning that it will connect/disconnect every applications from your snap which wants to use that interface.

In practice, when we did run snap connect chuck-norris-webserver:camera :camera, we were only giving to the command line tool (and not the service!) access to the camera. The snap system is fine-grained!

Once thing is left though, the home interface wasn’t declared for this snap. We simulate here an interface that wouldn’t exist yet and a snap needing even more access, or a snap that someone is developing, before fully confining it. How to progressively get there and disable complete confinement on a snap? This is where devmode is useful.

devmode

Something to clearly understand first is that you are giving any access your user has (or root access for daemons) to any snap you are installing in devmode! You are thus warned :slight_smile: It’s not something to take lightly if you are not the creator of the snap and don’t know exactly what the application is doing.

The good news is that you can’t trigger devmode without knowing it!

Purpose of devmode

devmode is not for devil but developer mode! I guess that states clearly that it’s for developers and beta testers that really trusts the developers.
devmode” lifts all restrictions and give all access to your snap: camera, files and such, as if you were running any application as your user. This isn’t that different from installing software from anywhere which isn’t trusted (ubuntu ppa, random website) and running it straight away! However, confined snaps give you confidence in the code you are running, so take advantage of it!

Channel restrictions

We did put some needed restrictions so that not all snaps are published innocently in devmode. The incentive is that devmode snaps can’t be published in stable or candidate channels. They can only be found in beta or alpha channels (as they are for developers and testers!), and thus, aren’t listed in snap find by default.

Installing a snap in devmode

You need to explicitly declare you are installing a snap in devmode. Snaps in devmode won’t install unless the --devmode flag is set.

For instance, face-detection-demo, in the beta channel, is a devmode snap. You can’t install it normally:

$ snap install --beta face-detection-demo
error: snap "face-detection-demo" requires devmode or confinement override

And so, installing it would require:

$ snap install --devmode --beta face-detection-demo
face-detection-demo (beta) 1.0 from 'didrocks' installed

You can check that the snap is installed in devmode:

$ snap list
Name                    Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
[…]
face-detection-demo     1.0      52    didrocks   devmode

However, you can install or reinstall a confined snap in devmode easily:

$ snap remove chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver removed
$ snap install --devmode chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver (stable) 1.0 from 'didrocks' installed
$ snap list
Name                    Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
[…]
chuck-norris-webserver  1.0.0    10               devmode

You will notice that snap interfaces still shows the default auto-connections and permissions:

$ snap interfaces
Slot                      Plug
[…]
:camera                   -
[…]
:mount-observe            -
:network                  chuck-norris-webserver
:network-bind             chuck-norris-webserver
:network-control          -
[…]
-                         chuck-norris-webserver:camera

However, they don’t matter anymore, as every access is now granted to the system:

$ chuck-norris-webserver.cli
FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu Core 16.
HOME ACCESS [OK]: My power enables me to see that you have .hidden in your home directory. I'm unstoppable!
CAMERA [OK]: I can see you, you should smile more!
NETWORK [OK]: When Chuck Norris break the build, you can't fix it, because there is not a single line of code left.

Even if no plug was defined to access the home directory, it will now list one of your file to prove it has access to it! Same with the non-connected camera plug, keep smiling!

This is great, but that’s not all! We need to talk about files!

File system structures

Snaps are, at the core, relocatable: meaning they embed all needed libraries and files. Both fully confined and devmode confinement modes are not seeing the exact file system. It means that the root “/” file system they are seeing isn’t the one you have on your host. This “/” and everything under it is coming from the core snap we mentioned in previous tutorials. It means that if you have for instance firefox installed on your machine, the snap application will never see the firefox binaries, icons, its libraries and such. It’s like if it was running on a small virtual machine!

You probably noticed that on both confined and devmode snaps, chuck-norris-webserver.cli was printing “FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu Core 16.”. This is the case even if you are running that on any laptop! Indeed, the /etc/os-release file is the one coming from the core snap.

Let’s have a look at this file on your machine:

$ cat /etc/os-release
Name="Ubuntu"
VERSION="16.04.2 LTS (Xenial Xerus)"
ID=ubuntu
ID_LIKE=debian
PRETTY_NAME="Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS"
VERSION_ID="16.04"
[…]

We are interesting in particular in the PRETTY_NAME line as this is what chuck-norris-webserver.cli is printing. Note that it differs!

Your os-release content will obviously differ between different distributions and version. Of course, if you are using Ubuntu Core, you may have the exact os-release file than in the snap as it’s using the core snap for populating “/”.

And here enters the classic snap!

Classic snap

What if your snap can’t live in a lying world? What if it needs system on libraries that can’t be relocated? Or also, what if the developer wanted to use a transition period to move to awesome snaps as quickly as possible?

Free the snap, Let / be / I hear! And that’s exactly why classic snaps exist! A classic snap sees the real host machine world, with its system libraries, installed (or absent) packages. There is a risk of course: as with just uncompressing an archive and running its program, some dependencies may be missing and such. Also, confinement is turned off. You can really see classic being “non relocated devmode snaps”. Classics snap can be published in the stable channel, though.

Classic snaps can only be installed on a traditional desktop system, not on a headless distribution like Ubuntu Core. Those need to state clearly that they are classic snaps, and they can’t be installed in devmode or confined. Indeed, some intricacies makes the two modes (relocatable vs non relocatable) incompatible with each others.

Let’s install and run the same snap than before, but a version declaring confinement: classic.

$ snap install --classic chuck-norris-webserver-classic
$ chuck-norris-webserver-classic.cli
FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS.
HOME ACCESS [OK]: My power enables me to see that you have .hidden in your home directory. I'm unstoppable!
CAMERA [OK]: I can see you, you should smile more!
NETWORK [OK]: When Chuck Norris break the build, you can't fix it, because there is not a single line of code left.

This snap confirms that it can see the original (host) file system via FILE SYSTEM: I see from /etc/os-release that I'm running on Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS. Also, the snap has access to everything (network, camera, and home directory), confirming the fact that it’s an augmented devmode snap.

The developer corner

What does it mean for developers? If you want to snap a complex application and you don’t want to dive right away into making your application relocatable, you:

  1. can start with a classic snap, which should be easy to craft.
  2. then make your snap relocatable, and include all its dependencies. You can now turn on devmode! Remember, though, that you can’t publish it to the stable channel.
  3. finally, confine your application, turn it to strict mode and publish to the stable channel!

This gives you a nice and progressive workflow.

You can remove the 2 snaps now and reinstall one of them confined with:

$ snap remove chuck-norris-webserver-classic chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver-classic removed
chuck-norris-webserver removed
$ snap install chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver (stable) 1.0 from 'didrocks' installed

Closing up

A final note is that when you are connecting interfaces, those are only applied on command or service startup. You thus need to restart or relaunch a command to see those new capabilities apply. Launching a command or program is trivial. Restarting a service is a little bit more complex and that’s exactly what we are going to do next!


4. Availability, logs & states in snaps & services

Lost or starting from here?
You just need to type in a terminal “snap install chuck-norris-webserver” as this is the he snap we will need.

Before jumping right away into the logs, let’s look at snap states and availability on the system.

Snap availability on the system

Once a snap is installed, this means:

  • the snap commands are available in the user’s $PATH.
  • the services included in the snap are all started. They are simply started/stopped on system startup and shutdown. Depending on their configuration, they can restart automatically in case of crashes.

Not having a command running is easy: just don’t run it or stop it if it’s already started! But what about services?

You can enable or disable snaps on the system. This means that a disabled snap won’t have any command accessible to any users on the system, nor services started at system startup. From a user perspective, it’s like the snap simply doesn’t exist. However, it’s still installed: binary files, assets and associated data are still present, and the snap is kept up to date. Making it available again is just a question of running the enable command. No extra download, nothing required!

The chuck norris web server is running on port 80, so heading to [http://localhost] will lead you to:

IMAGE

All of this is great! So, let’s disable it:

$ snap disable chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver disabled

Heading to [http://localhost] will now error out as no webserver is listening on port 80 anymore. Also, the command is now unavailable:

$ chuck-norris-webserver.cli
chuck-norris-webserver.cli: command not found

All of this is like the snap never existed on the system. Though, you can see that reenabling it is really quick:

$ snap enable chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver enabled

If you head over back to [http://localhost], you can confirm that the service is now running again. Similarly, the chuck-norris-webserver.cli command is also available.

This is handy, but this is all or nothing. Sometimes, we want to stop a service temporarily, without disabling entirely a snap, or restarting it and so on. We also want access to its logs. Let’s look at some service-related commands!

Logs and temporary a service state

How a service file is generated

First, we need to understand that snapd is using systemd service management under the hood. The generated service filename that you can find in /etc/systemd/system is using the following convention:
snap.<snap_name>.<app_name>.service

Knowing that the service file definition in our chuck-norris-webserver snap is:

 node-service:
    command: bin/chuck-norris-app
    daemon: simple
    restart-condition: always
    plugs: [network-bind]

it will be named in our present case: snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service.

We can thus use traditional systemd tools, optionally omitting the final .service name, for managing it.

Checking service status and last logs:

systemctl with the status command gives us some hints:

$ systemctl status -l snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
● snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service - Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since mar. 2016-11-15 14:40:11 CET; 17min ago
 Main PID: 14410 (node)
    Tasks: 9
   Memory: 10.2M
      CPU: 740ms
   CGroup: /system.slice/snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service
           └─14410 node /snap/chuck-norris-webserver/5/bin/chuck-norris-app

nov. 15 14:40:11 tidus systemd[1]: Started Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.
nov. 15 14:40:11 tidus snap[14410]: Server listening on: http://localhost:80
nov. 15 14:47:35 tidus snap[14410]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/ijpnw0birv-ogszti_wuag

From the output, you can see the service has been active for 17 minutes, you can track its process information as well as latest logs.

Stopping and starting a service:

systemctl accepts a stop command. We can then check the service status:

$ sudo systemctl stop snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
$ systemctl status -l snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
● snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service - Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: inactive (dead) since mar. 2016-11-15 15:03:11 CET; 33s ago
  Process: 14410 ExecStart=/usr/bin/snap run chuck-norris-webserver.node-service (code=killed, signal=TERM)
 Main PID: 14410 (code=killed, signal=TERM)

nov. 15 14:40:11 tidus systemd[1]: Started Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.
nov. 15 14:40:11 tidus snap[14410]: Server listening on: http://localhost:80
nov. 15 14:47:35 tidus snap[14410]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/ijpnw0birv-ogszti_wuag
nov. 15 15:03:11 tidus systemd[1]: Stopping Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service...
nov. 15 15:03:11 tidus systemd[1]: Stopped Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.

The service is enabled (it will start at next reboot), but it’s stopped (inactive). It got a TERM signal (normal stopping request that we issued via systemctl). We can as well see the latest log outputs from the service, which is particularly handy in case of a service crashing or misbehaving for instance.

Small tip: systemd default behavior will try 3 times to launch a crashing service at startup (in the very few seconds after it starts) and will give up afterwards to not overload your CPU.

Similarly to stop, we can use the start command for systemctl to restart it:

$ sudo systemctl start snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
$ systemctl status -l snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
● snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service - Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since mar. 2016-11-15 15:12:42 CET; 2s ago
 Main PID: 15622 (node)
    Tasks: 5
   Memory: 42.1M
      CPU: 431ms
   CGroup: /system.slice/snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.service
           └─15622 node /snap/chuck-norris-webserver/5/bin/chuck-norris-app

nov. 15 15:12:42 tidus systemd[1]: Started Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.
nov. 15 15:12:43 tidus snap[15622]: Server listening on: http://localhost:80

Of course, there is a systemctl restart command as well!

Follow logs live:

We are going to use journalctl for this. Using the -u option will filter the output on a service name:

$ sudo journalctl -fu snap.chuck-norris-webserver.node-service
-- Logs begin at mer. 2016-01-13 14:59:21 CET. --
nov. 15 14:40:11 tidus snap[14410]: Server listening on: http://localhost:80
nov. 15 14:47:35 tidus snap[14410]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/ijpnw0birv-ogszti_wuag
nov. 15 15:03:11 tidus systemd[1]: Stopping Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service...
nov. 15 15:03:11 tidus systemd[1]: Stopped Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.
nov. 15 15:12:42 tidus systemd[1]: Started Service for snap application chuck-norris-webserver.node-service.
nov. 15 15:12:43 tidus snap[15622]: Server listening on: http://localhost:80
nov. 15 15:16:14 tidus snap[15622]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/gll-vunmsluzrad8sfafwg
nov. 15 15:16:18 tidus snap[15622]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/qwv-rz6xtjmhiayprtgnvw
nov. 15 15:16:20 tidus snap[15622]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/ag_6paerrkg-mxfjjqw4ba
nov. 15 15:17:53 tidus snap[15622]: Quoted http://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/elgv2wkvt8ioag6xywykbq

You can omit -f to not follow the live log (meaning, new inputs are printed as they come): it will only prints messages that were already logged.

Small tip: sometimes, multiple services coordinate to provide a functionality, or a service impacts some system services like network-manager. To get all logs and follow them live, just don’t provide the-u option with the service name. For instance,journalctl -fwill provide you all logs, lively printed, from your system, including your services.

You will note that we mostly focused on services here. As you probably know, traditional commands only prints to stdin, stdout and stderr their own output! However, they might store their logs in writeable paths as well. We will mention them in a later step. Before going there, let’s talk about snap configuration!


5. Managing snap configuration

Lost or starting from here?
You just need to type in a terminal “snap install chuck-norris-webserver” as this is the snap we will need.

Snaps can store and manage configurations that they can use and reapply after each update.

There are a number of situations where snapd needs to notify a snap that something has happened. For example, when a snap is upgraded, it may need to run some sort of migration on the previous version’s data in order to make it consumable by the new version. Or when an interface is connected or disconnected, the snap might need to obtain attributes specific to that connection. These types of situations are handled by hooks.

You will see that the notions there are really simple both from a simple user standpoint and for administrators.

Hooks

A hook is a simple executable (it could be a shell script, a python program or a native compiled binary!) which is shipped with a snap to control easily and programmatically its behavior. It’s thus up to the snap to ship some hooks that it can manage. To be clear, if your snap doesn’t have some hook support, you can’t manage its configuration that way!

Multiple types of hooks are going to be supported by snapd.
Configure hooks
Configure hooks are one of the hook types supported by snapd. The configure hooks are called upon initial install, upgrade, and whenever the user requests a configuration change via the snap set command.

Let’s play with this!

Let’s go back again to our famous chuck-norris-webserver snap! This one has a configure hook and server-side code detecting when some values are changed.

Let’s load it again first, head over to [http://localhost]:

IMAGE

Our page title is “My local chuck norris webserver” and the port it’s listening on it the default http port (80).

Setting one configure value

To change one of these properties, we are going to use the snap set command:

$ snap set chuck-norris-webserver title="I can bind Chuck Norris to my will"

If you refresh the page, you will see that the new configuration has been picked by the web server and is now our default title page.
Another configuration option that is available in that snap is changing the network port that the service is listening on:

$ snap set chuck-norris-webserver port=81

Refreshing the page will give a connection refused error, and you need to head over to [http://localhost:81] now! Notice that the modified title is still present. It means that snapd is storing any modified configuration values for us. Sweet :slight_smile:
Note that you can change multiple configurations at the same time:

$ snap set chuck-norris-webserver port=82 title="My other super title"

In any case, snapd will store the configuration and run the configure hook once so that it can retrieved any configured values.
To summarize, the general syntax is:

snap set <snap-name> key1=value1 [key2=value2…]

Note: it’s up to the application/service to pick up new values dynamically and handling them. Our examples snap does that, but a lot of applications are only reading values on startup and you will need to restart the service so that they are taking effect.
For instance, chuck-norris-webserver is using the inotify kernel feature to detect and pick up any modified values.

Fetching modified values

You can see your current snap stored config values via:

$ snap get chuck-norris-webserver port
82

As with snap set, you can check multiple config values at once (and they will be returned in a json-style format):

$ snap get chuck-norris-webserver port title
{
	"port": 82,
	"title": "My other super title"
}

Fetching an unset value will result in an error:

$ snap get chuck-norris-webserver unexisting
error: snap "chuck-norris-webserver" has no "unexisting" configuration option

negative
: There is currently no way to list all possible accepted configuration options for a given snap.

Resetting configuration values

Resetting a set of configuration values to remove it from the snapd database isn’t currently available. By convention, snaps will accept a blank or no value, resetting it to its defaults.

For instance:

$ snap set chuck-norris-webserver port="" title=""

This will remove all configuration values, and the chuck-norris-webserver snap thus reverts to its defaults, serving on [http://localhost] (port 80) and with a default title being “My local chuck nodejs web server”. But again, that’s up to the snap application itself!

This sounds a little bit like magic and could trigger questions like “What are those hooks doing? Where do they store their information for the service to pick them up?”. And by that, we realize that there are still some unknown notions we didn’t cover yet, like, “Where do snaps can store their data?”, “How can I know where a snap is published?”, “What is its version in various channels?”. We are going to try answering this in the next step!


6. And more!

Lost or starting from here?
You just need to type in a terminal “snap install chuck-norris-webserver” as this is the snap we will need.

Here is a bag of various tricks that will turn your from a snap user to a real expert! Let’s not lose time and dive in right away!

Snap environment variables and paths

If you remember a few sections ago, we were only able to access to the user’s home directory in devmode or classic confinement. We should have used the home plug to make a snap able to access and write into the user’s home directory while being confined. Indeed, by default, snaps are only able to read and write to very few paths. Those are defined through environment variables.

Accessible files

snap run is a command that runs a snap command. This is the mechanism internally used to run application snaps. When adding the --shell option, it will drop you into a subshell where you can act “as the command”, with the same permissions (plug), seeing the same file system it has access to:

$ snap run --shell chuck-norris-webserver.cli
To run a command as administrator (user "root"), use "sudo <command>".
See "man sudo_root" for details.


didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ ls /
ls: cannot open directory '/': Permission denied
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ touch foo
touch: cannot touch 'foo': Permission denied

Of course “didrocks” is currently my user name. We keep the prompt in the subshell to highlight we are typing command there.

Ok, let’s look at what we can thus access.

Get access to environment variables

Rather than listing them all, let’s have a look at them ourselves! This new bash instance can be used to print (and filter) environment variables, for instance:

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ env | grep SNAP
SNAP_USER_COMMON=/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/common
SNAP_REEXEC=
SNAP_LIBRARY_PATH=/var/lib/snapd/lib/gl:/var/lib/snapd/void
SNAP_COMMON=/var/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/common
SNAP_DID_REEXEC=1
SNAP_USER_DATA=/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10
SNAP_DATA=/var/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10
SNAP_REVISION=x1
SNAP_NAME=chuck-norris-webserver
SNAP_ARCH=amd64
SNAP_VERSION=1.0.0
SNAP=/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10

You can see some internal env variables, like SNAP_NAME, SNAP_ARCH, SNAP_VERSION, SNAP_REVISION which could be used internally by the snap application.

You will then notice that most of the paths are versioned. They contain the revision as the last element of the path. This is how snapd enables installing multiple revisions of an application in parallel, and store data in a revisioned manner for solid rollbacks.

Application code path

One of the first variable to look at is $SNAP, it corresponds to the application code itself.

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ ls $SNAP
CHANGELOG.md  README.md  command-cli.wrapper	       etc	lib   share
LICENSE       bin	 command-node-service.wrapper  include	meta  snap

This directory is read-only:

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ touch $SNAP/foo
touch: cannot touch '/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10/foo': Read-only file system

Ok, it’s useful to know where the application code is, but it’s even more interesting to know where the snap can write!

User writeable paths

Users can read and write to a directory referenced under $SNAP_USER_DATA and $SNAP_USER_COMMON.

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ echo $SNAP_USER_DATA
/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ echo "test content" > $SNAP_USER_DATA/foo
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ ls -l $SNAP_USER_DATA
total 4
-rw-rw-r-- 1 didrocks didrocks 13 Mar 16 12:08 foo
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ cat $SNAP_USER_DATA/foo
test content
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ echo $SNAP_USER_COMMON
/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/common

As you can see above, we can read and write as our user into those directories. (root user will have it under the root’s home directory as well, typically/root)

The difference between $SNAP_USER_DATA and $SNAP_USER_COMMON is that the first one is versioned by revision and not the last one. It means that applications should write revision-specific data in the _DATA* directory. Those will be copied on upgrade. The benefits, despite the extra space needed is that you can revert both the code and associated data, ensuring you always have a compatible configuration within your snap on any upgrade/revert combination!

Big files that aren’t related to a specific revision of a snap should use the _COMMON directory, which, as its names indicates, is available to any revision of the snap. Big assets like video files or any applications ensuring their configuration is both backward and forward compatible should use that directory.

Last tip! $HOME (if the home plug isn’t used) is set to $SNAP_USER_DATA:

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ echo $HOME
/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ echo $SNAP_USER_DATA
/home/didrocks/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10

Global writeable paths

Similarly to $SNAP_USER_DATA and $SNAP_USER_COMMON, there is $SNAP_DATA and $SNAP_COMMON. Those are only writable by root, but can be read by any other users.

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ touch $SNAP_DATA/foo
touch: cannot touch '/var/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10/foo': Permission denied
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ ls -l $SNAP_DATA
total 0
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 0 Mar 16 10:31 config

We can see that there is a config file in $SNAP_DATA! Let’s set some config values the values (in another terminal, outside of our snap run subshell):

$ snap set chuck-norris-webserver port="90" title="Test Title"

And let’s have a look in our snap subshell environment (note that the file modification date just changed):

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ ls -l $SNAP_DATA/config
total 0
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 0 Mar 16 12:23 /var/snap/chuck-norris-webserver/10/config
didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ cat $SNAP_DATA/config
port=90
title=Test title

This is thus where our config hook was storing its configuration (AHAH!). You can observe as well that the script was run as root (visible through permissions on the config file). This is a snap implementation detail and will depend on the snap itself of course, but that illustrates that those global writeable paths can be used to store global configuration, or data that will be used by snap services (running as root, as opposed to command line snaps which run as the current user). Nevertheless, the user has access to that directory and can read its content.

The difference between $SNAP_DATA and $SNAP_COMMON is similar to the one between $SNAP_USER_DATA and $SNAP_USER_COMMON, meaning that the first is revision-dependent (and its data will be copied on upgrade), while the second one is common amongst all revisions.

Enough deep diving, let’s now exit the subshell!

didrocks@tidus:/home/didrocks$ exit

snap info

General usage

The info command shows detailed information about a snap.

$ snap info chuck-norris-webserver
name:      chuck-norris-webserver
summary:   "Chuck Norris quotation nodejs server and cli"
publisher:
description: |
  This example shows how to build a nodejs web server and cli. This enables us
  to demonstrate how service works, basic confinement rules to access and listen
  on the network, as well as the nodejs snapcraft plugin.
  The command line demonstrate various file-based access permissions.

commands:
  - chuck-norris-webserver.cli
tracking:    stable
installed:   1.0.0 (10) 10MB -
refreshed:   2017-03-15 14:19:58 +0100 CET
channels:               
  stable:    1.0.0 (10) 10MB -
  candidate: 1.0.1 (18) 11MB -
  beta:      1.0.3 (22) 11MB -
  edge:      1.0.3 (24) 11MB -

Snap info shows the snap name, summary and long description of the snap. In addition to this, available commands and paths to use them.

The revision, size and publication states corresponds to the ones that were available at the time of this writing.

The more interesting part is that, here, you can see that we are tracking the stable channel, that we are up to date (the installed revision 10 is the one published in the stable). The size of the snap is indicated. We can observe as well that there are different revision numbers depending on the channel. The human-readable version is also available for each.

Here is a confirmation that the version string is different between revision number: both beta and edge channels have 1.0.3 with different snap revisions. This could mean that:

  • The snap author pushed a 1.0.3 version as revision 22 in the beta and edge channels.
  • The author then got some user feedback on that revision and fixed issues.
  • Those fixes are now pushed again (still as 1.0.3 which isn’t released) in the edge channel only (for now) as revision 24.
  • This revision 24 will certainly migrate up to other channels as time goes by, if there isn’t any regression noticed.

Here is a full demonstration of the power of snaps!

Information for unpublished snaps

snap info is also a good way to see the status of a snap which isn’t published on the stable channel. Remember that snap find only show stable channel snaps, but if you have the name of a snap and want to see its revisions and general info, you can use it too!

$ snap info face-detection-demo
name:      face-detection-demo
summary:   "Web interface detecting faces from webcam shots"
publisher: didrocks
description: |
  Web interface detecting faces from webcam shots every few seconds
channels:                
  beta:   1.0       (52) 37MB devmode
  edge:   2.0alpha1 (51) 37MB devmode

As this snap is not fully confined (see the devmode annotation), it is only available in the beta and edge channels (with different versions and revisions)

snap find

We have already seen that snap find <query> is looking for keywords in snap name and descriptions in the stable channel to display what you are looking for. But there is way more than this!

sections

snap find without any search key display some featured snaps:

$ snap find
Name               Version   Developer   Notes  Summary
docker             1.11.2-9  docker-inc  -      The docker app deployment mechanism
lxd                2.11      canonical   -      System container manager and API
mongo32            3.2.7     niemeyer    -      MongoDB document-oriented database
rocketchat-server  0.53.0    rocketchat  -      Group chat server for 100s,  installed in seconds.

In fact, it shows the “featured” section of the snap store. You can easily look for other sections with the --section option:

$ snap find --section internet-of-things
Name       Version      Developer  Notes  Summary
openhab    2.0.0        canonical  -      openHAB smart home server
nextcloud  11.0.2snap2  nextcloud  -      Nextcloud Server

How to know what are the available sections? Using snap command tab completion is your best bet!

$ snap find --section [TAB][TAB]
database            internet-of-things  messaging
featured            media               ops

Private snaps

Developers can put their snaps in private mode. Those are usually snap applications in development which aren’t ready for wider consumption yet. Of course, to get access to yours, you need to be logged in with the snap login command.

$ snap find --private
The search "" returned 0 snaps

As you can see, this account doesn’t have any private snap (yet! ;))

snap list

snap list enables us to see the list of all installed snaps, as we have already practiced:

$ snap list
Name                            Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
booth-demo-manager              1.0      17    didrocks   devmode
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    10    didrocks   -
chuck-norris-webserver-classic  1.0.0    14    didrocks   classic
core                            16-2     1441  canonical  -
hello                           2.10     20    canonical  -
nethack                         3.4.2-2  2     ogra       -
snappy-debug                    0.30     28    canonical  -
ubuntu-app-platform             1        34    canonical  -
ubuntu-webapp                   1.0      x2               try

We can see there the snap name, version, revision, publisher as well as the mode (devmode, classic, try…).

You will note that the ubuntu-webapp snap has a special revision (x2) and mode (try) without any publisher name. This is due to the fact it’s a locally developed snap for a local revision of a snap not published to the store yet. You will thus mainly see those combinations on snap developer machines.

However, this is a partial view of what’s really installed on your system. Remember that multiple revisions of a snap can be installed in parallel (and only one is enabled). You can have the list of all snaps and revisions installed on the system via the --all switch:

$ snap list --all
Name                            Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
booth-demo-manager              1.0      17    didrocks   devmode
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    10    didrocks   -
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    8     didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver          0.9.1    4     didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver-classic  1.0.0    14    didrocks   classic
core                            16-2     1264  canonical  disabled
core                            16-2     1441  canonical  -
core                            16-2     1337  canonical  disabled
hello                           2.10     20    canonical  -
nethack                         3.4.2-2  2     ogra       -
snappy-debug                    0.30     28    canonical  -
snappy-debug                    0.29     27    canonical  disabled
ubuntu-app-platform             1        34    canonical  -
ubuntu-webapp                   1.0      x2               try
ubuntu-webapp                   1.0      x1               disabled,try

We can see here that some snaps have multiple revisions installed (sometimes, with the same user string version, sometimes with different ones). Only the active revision doesn’t have the “disabled” status note next to it.
Older version will be garbage collected after some time of inactivity or depending on the number of revisions of the same snap installed. Associated version data directories we previously discussed will be purged as well. However as long as the snap revision is available on the system, you can revert to it!

snap revert (–revision)

We already skimmed over the snap revert functionality in the basic snap usage. The revert command reverts the given snap to its state before its latest refresh. This will reactivate the previous snap revision, and will use the original data that were associated with that revision,
discarding any data changes that were done by the latest revision. As an exception, data which the snap explicitly chooses to share across revisions is not touched by the revert process.

But there is more than that! We can revert to a specific revision. In case you want to try it yourself and you have multiple versions of a snap, have a go!
I see that I have 3 versions of chuck-norris-webserver:

$ snap list --all
Name                            Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
[…]
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    10    didrocks   -
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    8     didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver          0.9.1    4     didrocks   disabled

A simple snap revert would revert to revision 8 (version 1.0.0). But let’s say I want to revert to revision 4, this is easy with the --revision option:

$ snap revert chuck-norris-webserver --revision 4
chuck-norris-webserver reverted to 0.9.1
$ snap list --all
Name                            Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
[…]
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    10    didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    8     didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver          0.9.1    4     didrocks   -

And here we go!

The additional benefit is that automated refreshes won’t refresh to revision 10 automatically. This one is blacklisted. So we will get:

$ snap refresh
All snaps up to date.

Of course, if a new version is released or any other snap, snap refresh will update the relevant snaps.

We can still force refreshing to latest chuck-norris-webserver no matter:

$ snap refresh chuck-norris-webserver
chuck-norris-webserver 1.0.0 from 'didrocks' refreshed
$ snap list --all
Name                            Version  Rev   Developer  Notes
[…]
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    10    didrocks   -
chuck-norris-webserver          1.0.0    8     didrocks   disabled
chuck-norris-webserver          0.9.1    4     didrocks   disabled

And we are back to revision 10!

Phew! That was it for the latest tips and tricks that will make you an advanced snap user! Let’s recap quietly all this.


7. That’s all folks!

We are done!

That was quite a journey, wasn’t it?

By now you have a way better understanding and know some advanced snap usage techniques and internal mechanisms. From the discovery of the advanced transaction system, we took advantages of it to dive in multiple aspects of snapd. You understand the assertion system and how to manually install snaps: what the impacts and safety mechanisms in place are. You are also way more knowledgeable in the various confinement systems that snaps can implements and requires. Services as well, have no more secrets for you in how to disable/enable them and access their logs! This will be most of the time after changing their configuration, and optionality introspecting, if needed, the paths that are accessible for reading or writing from your snaps!

Finally, you are now familiar with some of the secrets features of snapd making its usage even easier and more precise!

Next steps

Further readings