Generating random bytes in Java

I recently needed to generate a bit of randomness in Java in order to produce a secret. Java comes built in with Random and SecureRandom classes which can help you do this properly but as with all things, there are multiple ways of doing things.

Two of these stood out to me.

Generate a long random number as String, convert to hex and then convert it to bytes.

You could potentially improve this method by not just converting the long number to hex string but also maybe base64 encoding it. You could potentially go further by adding additional entropy to it by filling in random bytes in random indices.

But as it stands above, the benefit of this method is that it is very quick to run. This may vary based on your random seed but I have found the above method to consistently produce byte arrays of size 14-16. This might be good enough in most cases – especially due to the fact that its fast, but in times where you might need very high amounts of entropy, the second approach might suit you.

My personal discontent with this method is that the bytes it produces will be chunked by the length of each individual hex character due to the fact that it is coming from a hex string. This, arguably is not very random. Arguably because although every individual hex characters are themselves in random order, the bytes generated off of those will have identifiable chunks representing each hex character. The second approach resolves this problem in a simpler way.

Another issue I have with this approach is that the total size is limited to the maximum value a Long can support (263-1). The size of Long data structure limits the length of hex string that gets generated which in turn limits total number of bytes produced.

The approach below resolves most of these issues.

Generate a array of random size composed of bytes and then let SecureRandom fill in those bytes.

Here, we’re creating a byte array of random size and then using secure random to fill that byte array in with random bytes. Its simple and elegant. However, as with all things, this has pros and cons of its own.

In my experiments, I have found the range of the byte array to be truly random. In a test that I ran, once it created a byte array of size 8890 while in another time, it created an array so large, I lost my patience and had to quit the process.

This poses a problem where your program could take a long time to generate your secret. Furthermore, it could potentially even go out of stack memory if the array becomes too large.

You can resolve this issue by setting a bound to the random.nextInt which is being used to determine the size of the byte array. I cannot tell you what size here is most optimal because it really depends on the capabilities of the processor you’re running on, your stack size as well as the algorithm you’re using to initialise SecureRandom. An implementation limiting the size of the byte array may look like following:

Here the size of the byte array will be between 0 and 20.

Also, please note that without the Math.abs the value for byteArraySize could be negative. If you initialise your array with a negative number for size, you will get NegativeArraySizeException.

Making executable jar using maven

I was trying something out the other day and wanted to write a really simple application. So I created a simple application backed by Maven.

Now I could run the jar file that maven built using the standard -e flag that lets java know the entry point but all that is too main stream. I wanted maven to handle that for me.

After doing some googling, I found a plugin provided by codehaus. This one allowed me to run the application through maven. As you can see below, the configuration is quite simple.

Make sure you update the value inside mainClass with fully qualified name of your class that you want to run. This class must have a public static void main method in it.

Once you are happy with the configuration, you can run your application by executing the following in your terminal

While this is great, I cannot run the jar on its own on a server somewhere. If I wanted to, I’d have to get the source code with maven and then run it using the above command. Thats sub-optimal. So I went googling again.

Finally, I found this wonderful plugin provided by our friends at Apache. This is the maven-jar-plugin. This is a standard jar plugin but one of its features is ability to specify a mainClass attribute – just like the codehaus plugin. But unlike the codehaus plugin, I can run the jar as a standalone application without needing to pass in any other flags or parameters indicating the main class.

Here’s the maven build plugin configuration to use the maven-jar-plugin.

As it is standard with maven, package up your application using:

If the build was successful, just run your jar file using standard java -jar path/to/app.jar command. In my case, I ran:


AWS Pipeline Plugin for Jenkins 2.x

I found this really cool plugin last week so I thought I’d make a post out of it.

I heavily use the “AssumeRole” capability within my application. Previously, this is what I used:

As you can see, the code above is using shell commands to achieve the assume role awesomeness. This works well when your jenkins job has a shell command step but not when you have a groovy pipeline defined in your Jenkins.

I struggled with it initially – one of the ideas I had was to upload the assume script somewhere like S3 and then pull it down and run it when I wanted to run commands under the assume-role. However, this felt a bit cumbersome.

Next thing in my mind was to write a groovy plugin that can do this for me. However, rather than reinventing the wheel, I started looking for existing solutions. Finally, I found the aws-pipeline-plugin.

Its a neat little plugin that allows you to do a bunch of basic stuff that you might want to do on AWS. Assume role is one of them.

So now with the new plugin, my code reduced to:

Here, I’ve got a couple of variables but their names should be self-explanatory of their purpose. The general idea is that anything you write within that withAWS block will get executed under the role specified in role variable.

Tunnelling into your Chef Kitchen Vagrant instance

So you’ve just done this:

And now something has gone wrong on the box and you need to tunnel through to check something on your instance (say mysql database). Whatever the port may be, you need to change your current directory to where the vagrant file is. This can be achieved by running the following command relative to where your kitchen file is:

List the directory and you will be able to see a Vagrantfile in it. Once you are there, run:

Here I’m using mysql port 3306, you can replace it with whatever port you want to tunnel through.

If you want to tunnel multiple ports, run:

Repeating -L <BIND_ADDRESS> multiple times.

Fixing ubuntu desktop’s wifi disconnect issue on wake

For about more than half the time, when I wake my ubuntu laptop from sleep, I will lose wifi. When I say lose, I mean I lose the wlan0 interface completely.

Now this is a problem because I quite like having wifi and normally there seems to be no way to turn it back on from that little wifi menu from the top right corner.

After doing some googling, I found a crude yet simple solution. Restart the network-manager service by running the following:

Right before writing this article, I had to run that command and now it all works buttery smooth. Maybe there is a more permanent fix, I will keep an eye out for it and when I can find some time, will dig in to some logs somewhere to actually find the issue but for now, this is satisfactory (meh) to my current needs.