Introduction to WAPT

For what purpose is WAPT useful?

WAPT installs, updates and removes software and configurations on Windows devices. Software deployment (Firefox, MS Office, etc.) can be carried out from a central server using a graphical console. WAPT is taking many ideas from Debian Linux apt-get package management tool, hence its name. WAPT Community Edition is distributed under the GPLv3 license. Enterprise Edition is distributed under a proprietary license.

WAPT is intended to help IT administrators manage their deployed base of computer desktops, laptops, tablets running a Microsoft Windows client (from XP to 10), their deployed base of Windows servers (from 2003 to 2019) or their deployed base of Windows Intel tablets.

Private companies of all sizes, Colleges, Schools, Universities, research labs, local and state governments, Hospitals, city hall, state ministries are successfully using WAPT.

WAPT exists in two versions, Community and Enterprise.

WAPT is very efficient to address recurrent Flash and Java update needs and it is often to cover that basic need that WAPT is initially adopted; it then becomes a tool of choice for the sysadmin’s daily tasks.

If you’re a developer, WAPT can help you configure your development environment on your computer as Chocolatey / NuGet can do.

The genesis of WAPT

Our assessment after 15 years of IT management

Managing large IT installed bases of Microsoft Windows computers is today a difficult task in a secured environment:

  • common ghosting methods (Clonezilla or Ghost) are efficient on homogeneous IT infrastructures with roaming user profiles;
  • deployment software (OCSInventory or WPKG) can broadcast software but does not easily allow software level or user level customizations that are useful to prevent or limit user support requests;
  • software from smaller vendors often need Local Administrator rights to run properly;
  • currently available solutions to address theses 3 problems are either too expensive or too inefficient, and they are in every case too complex;

WAPT development hypotheses and motivations

The development of WAPT is motivated by these two principles:

  • what is complicated should be made simple;
  • what is simple should be made trivial;

WAPT relies on a small set of fundamental hypotheses:

  • sysadmins know script languages and WAPT has chosen Python for the depth and breadth of its libraries;
  • sysadmins who have little experience with scripting languages must find inspiration in simple and efficient examples that they’ll adapt to fit their needs;
  • sysadmins must be able to communicate on the efficiency of their actions to their superiors and report process gaps to internal or external auditors;
  • sysadmins must be able to collaborate with their IT team in full trust; thereby WAPT local repositories provide signed packages they can trust to be deployed on their network. Alternatively, they can choose external repositories providing them the security guarantees they consider sufficient;
  • sysadmins are aware that user workstations serve business purposes and some customizations must be possible. The adaptation of the infrastructure to the business needs is facilitated by the notion of groups; it allows to select a large number of machines to customize their configuration;

Fundamental principles

Package/ Repository principle

WAPT packages

A WAPT package structure is similar to Debian Linux .deb packages. Each WAPT package includes the binaries to be executed and the other files it needs.

A package is easily transportable.

Here is how a WAPT package looks like:

WAPT package structure

WAPT package structure

WAPT repositories

Packages are stored in a web repository. They are not stored in a database.

They are served by the Nginx web server, available with Linux and Windows.

The Packages index file is the only thing necessary. It lists the packages available on allowed repositories and some basic information on each package.

That mechanism allows to easily set up a replication process between multiple repositories.

Types of WAPT packages

There are 4 types of WAPT packages:

Représentation d'un paquet WAPT simple

Anatomy of a simple WAPT package

Base packages

They are classic software packages.

They are stored in the web directory https://srvwapt.mydomain.lan/wapt/.

Group packages

They are groups/ bundles of packages.

Hint

  • a group / bundle of softwares often corresponds to a host profile (ex: accounting);
  • a group of hosts often corresponds to a room, building, etc;
  • a host can be a member of several groups (ex: one or more hosts profiles in the same room in a building);

They are stored in the web directory https://srvwapt.mydomain.lan/wapt/.

Host packages

Host packages are named after the UUID of the computer BIOS.

Each host will look for its host package to know the packages that it must install (i.e. dependencies).

They are stored in the web directory https://srvwapt.mydomain.lan/wapt-host/.

Unit packages

Unit packages bear the complete name of OU, example: OU=room1,OU=prod,OU=computers,DC=mydomain,DC=lan.

By default, each computer looks for the unit packages that the host belongs to:

  • OU=room1,OU=prod,OU=computers,DC=mydomain,DC=lan
  • OU=computers,DC=mydomain,DC=lan;
  • DC=mydomain,DC=lan;

and then install the list of associated dependencies.

They are stored in the web directory https://srvwapt.mydomain.lan/wapt-host/.

Note

If the computer is removed from an Organizational Unit, obsolete unit packages will be removed.

Dependency mechanism

In WAPT everything works on the principle of dependencies.

By default, the WAPT agent will look for its host package. The host package lists packages to install on the computer.

The host package is correctly installed when all its dependencies are satisfied.

Each sub-dependency must be satisfied to satisfy an upper-level dependency.

When every dependency is satisfied, the host notifies its status to the WAPT Server and its indicator turns OK and green in the WAPT console, meaning the host has the host profile that the Administrator or Package Deployer has defined for it.

Conceptual diagram of the dependency mechanism

Conceptual diagram of the dependency mechanism

Hint

When attributing a software package to a host as a dependency, only the software canonical name without its version number is registered as a dependency (ex : I want Freemind to be installed on this machine in its latest version and that :program:`Freemind` to be configured so that the :term:`User` does not call me because she does not find the icon on her desktop!).

For each dependency, the WAPT agent will take care of automatically installing the latest available package version. So if several version of Freemind are available on the repository, the WAPT agent will always get the latest version, unless I have pinned the version for reason of compatibility with other sets of tools.

Afterwards, when the agent contacts the repository to check for new updates, it will compare the package versions on the repository with its own local list of packages already installed on the machine.

If an update of an installed package is available, the client will switch the status of the package to “NEED UPGRADE. It will then install the software updates on the next upgrade.

Private key / Public key principle

Introduction

Like Android APK packages, WAPT packages are signed; a hash of the control sum of all the files included in the package is calculated.

This signing method guarantees the origin and integrity of the package.

Private key / Public key principle

Private key/ public certificate

Private key/ public certificate

To work properly, WAPT requires a private key/ public key pair (self-signed, issued by an internal Certificate Authority or commercially issued).

The private key will be used to sign WAPT packages whereas the public key will be distributed with every WAPT clients so that WAPT agents may validate the files that were signed with the private key.

The different public keys will be stored in the WAPT subdirectory ssl. That folder can contain several public keys.

Package verification

When a WAPT package is downloaded, the WAPT agent (waptagent) will check the integrity of the package, and then check that the package has been properly signed.

If the WAPT package signature does not match any of the public keys located in C:Program Files (x86)waptssl, the WAPT agent will refuse to install the package.

For more information, please refer to the documentation on how the installation process integrity of a WAPT package is insured.

The private certificate is important

Attention

The private key must NOT be stored on the WAPT Server, nor on any public or shared storage that could be accessed by non-authorized personnel. Indeed, WAPT security is based on keeping the private key private.

The private key must be stored in a safe place, because she who has your key controls your network!

Finally, to ensure maximum security, the private key can be secured in a smartcard or a cryptographic token that WAPT Administrators or Package Deployer will carry physically on them, using the smartcard or the token only when needed to sign a WAPT package.

Note

From WAPT 1.5 onward, the private key is protected with a password by default.

WAPT architecture and operating mode

Inventory/ information feedback

WAPT keeps a hardware and software inventory of each host.

That inventory is stored in a small database integrated in each WAPT agent.

Inventory feedback mechanism

Inventory feedback mechanism

  • when first registering with the WAPT Server, the WAPT agent sends the entire inventory (BIOS, hardware, software) to the server;
  • when the WAPT agent updates, the WAPT agent will report its inventory status to the WAPT Server;
The inventory in the WAPT console

The inventory in the WAPT console

The central inventory allows to filter hosts by their components, software or any other searchable argument.

Information feedback

The WAPT agents also report back their WAPT package status.

Inventory feedback returned to the WAPT Server

Inventory feedback returned to the WAPT Server

In case of errors during package installation, the information will be reported to the WAPT Server. The host will then appear in ERROR in the console.

Packages with error status in the WAPT console

Packages with error status in the WAPT console

The Administrator can see the package returned in error in the console and fix the package accordingly.

For each upgrade, WAPT will try to install a new version of the package until no error status is returned.

Note

From WAPT 1.3.13 onward, WAPT agents sign their inventory before sending it to the WAPT Server.

For more information, please refer to signing inventory updates.

Complete diagram of the WAPT operating mechanism

WAPT general operating mode

WAPT general operating mode

We find here the common WAPT behavior, from duplicating a package from an external repository accessible on the Internet, to deploying it on network hosts.

Read the diagram clockwise:

  • import packages from an external repository (or create a new package from scratch);
  • test, validate, build and then sign the package;
  • upload the package onto the main repository;
  • packages are automatically downloaded by WAPT clients;
  • packages are executed based on the selected method:
    • The Administrator forces the upgrade;
    • the User chooses the right time for herself;
    • a scheduled task launches the upgrade;
    • the upgrade is executed when the machine shuts down;
  • inventory information feedback;
  • the updated inventory is reported in the console;

WAPT Server architecture

The WAPT Server architecture relies on several distinct roles:

  • the repository role for distributing packages;
  • the inventory and central server role for hardware and software inventory;
  • the proxy role to relay actions between the WAPT console and the WAPT agents;

Repository role

First, the WAPT Server serves as a web repository.

WAPT repository mechanism

WAPT repository mechanism

Inventory server role

Second, the WAPT Server serves as an inventory server.

The inventory server is a passive service that collects information reported by WAPT agents:

  • hardware inventory;
  • software inventory;
  • WAPT packages status;
  • tasks status (running, pending, error);

Note

The WAPT service in not active in the sense that it only receives information from clients. As a consequence, if the inventory server fails, the inventory will recover by itself from inventory status reports received from the deployed WAPT agents.

In the Community version of WAPT, access to inventory data is only possible through the WAPT console.

WAPT Enterprise 1.7 will come with a Business Intelligence like web based reporting.

Proxy role

Third, the WAPT Server serves as a command relay proxy.

It acts as a relay between the WAPT management console and deployed WAPT agents.

WAPT proxy mechanism

WAPT proxy mechanism

Note

Every action triggered on WAPT agent from the server are signed with the Administrator’s private key. Without a valid private key, it is not possible to trigger remote actions on remote WAPT equipped devices. For more information on remote actions, please refer to signing actions relayed to the WAPT agents.

WAPT common interactions

update

When an update command is launched on an agent (from the console, via the command-line or via the WAPT tray), it is equivalent to ordering the agent to check the WAPT repository for new packages. By default, the WAPT agent will look for updates every two hours.

If the date of the Packages index file has changed since the last update, then the WAPT agent downloads the new Packages file (between 20 and 100k), otherwise, it does nothing.

The WAPT agent then compares the Packages file with its own local database.

If the WAPT agent detects that a package must be added or updated, it will switch the status of the host and package to NEED-UPGRADE.

It will not launch the installation of the package immediately. The WAPT agent will wait for an “upgrade” order to launch the upgrade.

upgrade

When we launch a command upgrade (from the WAPT console, using the command line, with a Windows scheduled task or manually with the WAPT tray), we ask the WAPT agent to install the packages with a NEED-UPGRADE status.

An update must come before an upgrade, otherwise the agent will not know whether updates are available.

Working principle of the WAPT agent

By default, the WAPT agent will trigger an update/ a download-upgrade at startup; after starting up, the WAPT agent will check every 2 hours to see whether it has something to do.

Packages to be installed will be downloaded and cached in the folder C:Program Files (x86)waptcache.

waptexit will launch an upgrade when the computer shuts down. An Administrator will also be able to launch an upgrade from the WAPT console.

If the WAPT Server is not reachable when upgrading, the WAPT agent will still be able to install cached packages.

Inventory updates will then be sent to the WAPT Server when network connectivity returns.

The 4 goals of the WAPT agent are therefore:

  • to install a base, a group or a unit package if it is available;
  • to remove obsolete packages;
  • to resolve package dependencies and conflicts;
  • to make sure all installed WAPT packages are up to date compared to the ones stored on the repository;
  • to regularly update the WAPT server with its hardware status and the status of installed software;

WAPT package creation

WAPT language and development environment

WAPT is build using the Python language.

Any Rapid Application Development environment intended for Python development is suitable.

Tranquil IT has developed some useful WAPT specific plugins for the PyScripter IDE (https://sourceforge.net/projects/pyscripter).

Tranquil IT recommends using PyScripter, available with the tis-waptdev meta-package.

Principles of WAPT package development

The strength of Python

All the power of Python can be advantageously put to use.

Many libraries already exist in Python for:

  • doing conditional loops (if … then … else …);
  • copying, pasting, moving files and directories;
  • checking whether files or directories exist;
  • checking whether registry keys exist;
  • checking access rights, modifying access rights;
  • looking up information on external data sources (LDAP, databases, files, etc);
  • etc …

The power of WAPT

Functions most commonly used with WAPT were simplified within libraries called :term:`SetupHelpers`.

SetupHelpers libraries simplify the process of creating and testing WAPT packages, thus validating WAPT’s main objectives:

  • what was complicated is made simple;
  • what was simple is made trivial ;

Now, I want to install my WAPT Server!!

Why is WAPT superior to some alternatives?

More effective that GPOs to deploy software packages?

  • WAPT is better at managing errors and special cases;
  • WAPT ensures a reliable feedback of actions undertaken in the console. By placing print() commands in the setup file of the WAPT package, it is possible to know exactly where the error is triggered, allowing to improve the reliability of a WAPT package, or to adapt the package according to the special profile of the machine;
  • cached WAPT packages are installed even though the computer is offline (ex: traveling agent needing to update in the evening at the hotel);
  • WAPT also works on computers that are not joined to an Active Directory domain;
  • it is impossible to know exactly when GPOs will be executed;
  • WAPT relies on standard web protocols for transport to haul packages;
  • the levels of security are identical (the security of GPO is insured by Kerberos and the securituy in WAPT is insured with Kerberos, then X509);