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Building an MQTT client for the Kindle

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I have a paperwhite kindle on which I run a very dumb python script that broadcasts its' screen events (screen on, off) over the network, it's detailed here.

Recently I read this post and its point about software simplicity made me remember the script that runs in the kindle and all the surrounding machinery that exists for it.

              +--> lipc subprocess --> parsing +
python script-|                                +-> udp socket -> udp2mqtt bridge -> mqtt server
     fork     +--> lipc subprocess --> parsing +

As an excuse for a side project I picked this topic and set myself goal to make it simpler:

  • Should not need to fork()
  • Should not need to parse results as strings
  • Should not need external bridges

and as an arbitrary item, I picked rust as the language to get more familiarity.

Avoiding fork()

Currently the python script delegates the reception of events to another binary: lipc-wait-event which listens on the LIPC bus (the main IPC bus on the device) and prints lines of text when events match its filters.

By analyzing lipc-wait-event with ldd we can see that it links to We can do the same and avoid forking.

There's not much online about this, but I found the OpenLIPC headers and converted them with bindgen. Super sueful documentation for the functions is here.

You can also find a list of known LIPC events.

Bindgen adds a compiler directive to link with liblipc in the file.

Linking liblipc

Rust can easily link and interop with C libraries -- although here there's a small extra layer of complexity because the shared library is ARM only, which means we can only link to it using an ARM cross compiler (or linker in this case?).

I found a toolchain online and configure it in my .cargo/config:

linker = "Amazon-Kindle-Cross-Toolchain/arm-kindle-linux-gnueabi/bin/arm-kindle-linux-gnueabi-cc"

Export the path to sysroot/lib before compiling:

export SYSROOT_LIB_DIR=~/git/Amazon-Kindle-Cross-Toolchain/arm-kindle-linux-gnueabi/arm-kindle-linux-gnueabi/sysroot/lib/

Running cargo build at this point fails, as liblipc itself can't be found

rm-kindle-linux-gnueabi/bin/ld: cannot find -llipc
          collect2: ld returned 1 exit status

Adding the file to SYSROOT_LIB_DIR will be enough to fix this.

A blank program links and runs fine on the kindle. This accomplishes the first item on the checklist, so let's look into using the exposed functionality.

Exposing liblipc to the rust environment

A common way to use C libraries in rust is to write an intermediate crate that translates the C signatures into something that's easier to use from normal rust.

Wrapping unsafe C libs is a big topic, luckily I found this article which helped me delve into it quite a bit.

In this wrapper there are 4 basic functions and the subscribe function.

Basic functions

Connect: Open a connection to the bus, get a pointer back that will be needed for the other functions.

Disconnect: Pass the connection pointer to destroy it and free resources.

GetIntProperty: Pass a service string, a property string and an int* to get the current value written to that address. An example for service+property strings would be "com.lab126.powerd" "battLevel".

This is pretty straight forward to call, the only special thing here is that the variable val will be modified in-place by liblipc.

pub fn get_int_prop(&self, service: &str, prop: &str) -> Result<i32, String> {
    let mut val: c_int = 0; // value will be written here by LipcGetIntProperty
    let service = CString::new(service).unwrap();
    let prop = CString::new(prop).unwrap();
    let ret_code;
    unsafe {
        ret_code = LipcGetIntProperty(
            &mut val
    if ret_code == LIPCcode_LIPC_OK {
    } else {
        Err(format!("Error getting property! {:?}", ret_code))

This runs great and returns decent values for successes and errors:

r.get_int_prop("com.lab126.powerd", "battLevel");
r.get_int_prop("com.lab126.powerd", "battTemperature");
Error getting property! 8

GetStringProperty: Pass a service, a filter property and a char** to get the current value written to that address. This is exactly the same as get_int_prop but we pass a string handle (handle_ptr):

let mut handle: *mut c_char = std::ptr::null_mut();
let handle_ptr: *mut *mut c_char = &mut handle;

For both GetStringProperty and GetIntProperty, it'd be nice to not have to deal with all the shenanigans related to return-code handling and return a readable error, instead of its integer value.

For the readable error, luckily liblipc provides a function we can call for this: LipcGetErrorString. The code to return a String from rust is pretty trivial:

fn code_to_string(code: u32) -> String {
    unsafe {
        let cstr = CStr::from_ptr(LipcGetErrorString(code));
        return String::from(cstr.to_str().unwrap());

With this, we can change our format!ted string above to contain the error message:

Err(format!("Error getting property! {:?}", code_to_string(ret_code)))

Which works nicely with a tiny example program:

let r = rLIPC::new().unwrap();
let batt_t = r.get_int_prop("com.lab126.powerd", "battTemperature")?;
$ ./libopenlipc-sys
Failed to subscribe: lipcErrNoSuchProperty


Now, it'd also be great if I could also stop copy-pasting the whole "compare result to OK and return a nice string if it's different", so I looked up how to write macros for rust which, for the simple macro I wanted, is quite easy.

A macro is essentially a way to copy-paste code automatically (or, better said, the macro expands to the same code, replacing place-holder tokens with concrete values).

My trivial macro looks like this:

macro_rules! code_to_result {
    ($value:expr) => {
        if $value == LIPCcode_LIPC_OK {
        } else {
                "Failed to subscribe: {}",

(Which now that I look at it, has no advantage over a regular function, but oh well).

Subscribe function

For SubscribeExt you also pass a service and a filter property, but along with them you send:

  • A nullable pointer to a (callback) function that takes char* name, Event* event, void* data as arguments.
  • A nullable pointer to anything, this is what void* data is on the previous line -- it's a way to send some context from the function that registers the callback to the called function.

This was quite tricky to get working without fully understanding, luckily @pie_flavor in the rust discord helped me a lot.

Hitting an invisible wall

The first issue that took me a long while to understand, was that the compiler will not alert you about scoping when dealing with pointers.
Looking at this code you can see it's sliiiiiightly different than before -- we are calling .as_ptr() and storing that, instead of storing the CString.

Guess what, the CString is out of scope because we don't use it anymore!

let _service = CString::new(service).unwrap().as_ptr();
                  CString goes out of scope here
          _service now is a dangling pointer :)

In regular rust, _service would hold a reference to the CString, which would make it not go out of scope immediately -- with pointers this is not the case. There is a big fat warning on the docs, which I managed to glance over.

Hitting a regular wall

I am sending a regular function pointer to liblipc that will be called back when an event triggers, but what I really want is to call arbitrary rust functions, not this very-specific, very-ugly function that implements the required signature.

In regular code, I'd use a closure and call a function from the outer scope from within the closure, something like

LipcSubscribeExt(..., |...| { callback_from_outer_scope(..) });

However, a closure is not a function, which means we can't just call a closure!

The way people deal with this in C is by providing an opaque pointer (void* data) to the function that will call you back, the function will then pass the opaque pointer (void* data) to you when executing the callback, in pseudocode:

fn_that_calls_back(to_call_back, *data);
void to_call_back(.., *data) {
// Do whatever with data, probably something like (*data)(args);

I was stuck with this and asked for help on the rust discord, where @pie_flavor said

The callback can't be passed directly - we have double box it; once to safely transport the type data and once again to have a fixed-size object to reference.

I'm not sure I fully understand this -- I haven't really had enough experience to grok it. The docs don't really mention this either.

The end result looks like this:

Register the callback

let boxed_fn: Box<dyn FnMut(&str, &str, Option<i32>, Option<String>) + Send> =
    Box::new(callback) as _;
let double_box = Box::new(boxed_fn);
let ptr = Box::into_raw(double_box);
                ptr as *mut c_void,

And the function that will be called back

unsafe extern "C" fn ugly_callback(
    _: *mut LIPC,
    name: *const c_char,
    event: *mut LIPCevent,
    data: *mut c_void,
) -> LIPCcode {
    let f = data as *mut Box<dyn FnMut(&str, &str, Option<i32>, Option<String>) + Send>;
    (*f)(_source, _name, _int_param, _str_param);

With this, we get callbacks to rust with proper typed data, there's no need to parse strings to get back the values.

You can find the crude crate here.

This accomplishes the second item in the checklist.

Publishing events without requiring an external bridge

With a rust callback registered for the events we are interested in, the only thing left to do is to publish them on MQTT.

I tried both wrappers around libmosquitto and pure rust clients, but they either failed to build with the toolchain or failed during runtime as they required a newer glibc version.

I remembered having seen a single file python implementation (and it is in fact what I run on my microcontrollers), so I thought I could translate it to rust and use that, without any dependencies it should work.

Writing a basic MQTT publisher

You can find my literal translation of umqtt.simple here -- it's not complete as it only suports AtMostOnce publishing but it does what I need and it offers a oneshot publish function (that is connect, publish, disconnect).

It was a bit tricky to translate as initially I did not realize some bytes of the buffers were being reused - so I had some extra bytes in there, but when comparing what my publish message looked like in wireshark to one generated with mosquitto_pub the differences became plain to see.

This worked fine when connecting to an IP address, but failed to compile when trying to resolve names, complaining about being unable to link:

  = note: arm-kindle-linux-gnueabi/sysroot/usr/lib/libdl.a(dlsym.o): In function `dlsym':
          dlsym.c:(.text+0xc): undefined reference to `__dlsym'
          collect2: ld returned 1 exit status

I spent hours fiddling with RUSTFLAGS but nothing changed. I asked a few times on the rust discord but none of the proposed solutions worked for me. An interesting one was to use a DNS client written completely in rust, I didn't want to follow that on principle, DNS works on the kindle, it's definitely a "bug" in how the binary is linked by rust or by the linker.

I took a shot in the dark and decided to try building a new toolchain. I wasn't sure it was going to do anything, but it might be better than a random tar downloaded from 2013 from the mobilereads forum.

Building a new toolchain

Building a new cross-compiler toolchain with crosstool-ng was super easy, I followed the instructions on the official docs which boil down to:

$ ct-ng arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi
$ ct-ng menuconfig

on the menu, I:

  • picked libc=2.12.1
  • picked kernel 2.6.32
  • set vendor prefix to kindle
  • turned CT_DEBUG_CT_SAVE_STEPS on (so you can rebuild if it fails)
  • disabled gdb after a failure building
    • there's a patch here but I don't need gdb anyway.

then ct-ng build gave me a cross-compiler toolchain that you can find here (71MB).

Re-adding DNS support

With the new toolchain, DNS worked fine, but I'm not sure why. This accomplishes the last item in the checklist.

With working DNS, I could try going back to rumqttc for MQTT, but it pulls like 50 dependencies and I'm not sure it's worth it. mqtt-simple has been working fine.

A simplified snippet of the result looks like this:

use libopenlipc_sys::rLIPC;
use mqtt_simple::publish_once;
fn main() {
    let r = rLIPC::new().unwrap();
    r.subscribe("com.lab126.powerd", Some("goingToScreenSaver"), |source, ev, intarg, strarg| {
        let res = publish_once("KINDLE", "iot.labs", "KINDLE/SCREEN_STATE", "0");
        if let res = Err(e) {
             println!("Failed to publish! {:?}", e),

Final result