Don’t Disable SELinux

When developing new web-based solutions on modern Linux distros, inevitably you’ll run into a fun issue – like your webserver throwing database errors when there’s not even any traffic making it to out of the server toward the database – and bang your head against the desk a bit. If you google for the error, you’ll run into the worst advise possible: “If your problem is not solved then disable your SELinux.” That’s right, just disable the whole thing because one part bothers you. The only positive part of this advise is that you may not have even though to look at SELinux before that.

You can verify that SELinux is the issue by taking a look at the audit log (tail -f /var/log/audit/audit.log) and using your web application. You’ll see a ton of crap that is simply undecipherable to human beings. What you’re looking for is the word denied and the application, file, or user that is having an issue. Here’s a deny for the application httpd when trying to talk to that remote database:

type=AVC msg=audit(1415813628.801:628): avc:  denied  { name_connect } for  pid=11911 comm="httpd"
 dest=3306 scontext=unconfined_u:system_r:httpd_t:s0 tcontext=system_u:object_r:mysqld_port_t:s0
 tclass=tcp_socket

The next step is to narrow the issue down. There are a large number of settings for SELinux, known as SELinux Booleans, that may be affecting your application. Take a quick gander at them, find the most likely boolean, set the value to on, and try your application again. If it doesn’t work, set it to off and try another. Here’s a Tips and Trick page that describes the process in more detail and provides a pretty thorough list of booleans. Can’t access files on an NFS share via httpd? Set httpd_use_nfs to true. Talking to a remote database as above? That’s httpd_can_network_connect_db. This is just as simple and more beneficial than disabling SELinux altogether.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I just told you to use setsebool as root. You need to including this setting in your application definition. For example, integrate the setting into your puppet manifests with the selboolean type. Set the value to on and persistent to true. Apply your manifest and getsebool will show the new value. Here’s an example of a manifest I built for the phpMyAdmin application, specifically lines 25-28 where the selbooleans are set. If you’re using a different configuration management tool, you’ll have to do this part yourself, the important part is that you capture the setting.

Take a few minutes to learn how to use SELinux, so you’re aware of when you’re barking up the wrong tree and how to resolve issues, and integrate your findings into your application’s state definition. You’ll benefit by leaving the protection in place.

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