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The basic building blocks

The goal

The core functionality of this image is to let the user run a VPN tunnel and Transmission as easy as possible. Transmission should only run while the VPN is active, and any disconnect from VPN should cause Transmission to stop.

The container should provide community best practices on how to configure the kill switch, firewall and tweaks on the OpenVPN configs to make it run as fast and secure as possible.

It goes like this

To understand how it works, these are the most important events and who/what starts them.

  1. You start the container
  2. The container starts OpenVPN
  3. OpenVPN starts/stops Transmission

When you start the container it is instructed to run a script to start OpenVPN. This is defined in the Dockerfile. This script is responsible for doing initial setup and preparing what is needed for OpenVPN to run successfully.

Starting OpenVPN

The main purpose of the start-up script is to figure out which OpenVPN config to use. OpenVPN itself can be started with a single argument, and that is the config file. We also add a few more to tell it to start Transmission when the VPN tunnel is started and to stop Transmission when OpenVPN is stopped. That's it.

Apart from that, the script does some firewall config, VPN interface setup and possibly other things based on your settings. There are also some reserved script names that a user can mount/add to the container to include their own scripts as a part of the setup or teardown of the container.

Anyways! You have probably seen the docker run and docker-compose configuration examples and you've put two and two together: This is where environment variables come in. Setting environment variables is a common way to pass configuration options to containers and it is the way we have chosen to do it here. So far, we've explained the need for OPENVPN_PROVIDER and OPENVPN_CONFIG. We use the combination of these two to find the right config. OPENVPN_CONFIG is not set as a mandatory option as each provider should have a default config that will be used if none is set.

With the config file identified we're ready to start OpenVPN, the only thing missing are probably a username and password. There are some free providers out there, but they are the exceptions to the rule. We must inject the username/password into the config somehow. Again there are exceptions but the majority of configs from regular providers contain a line with auth-user-pass which will make OpenVPN prompt for username and password when you start a connection. That will obviously not work for us, so we need to modify that option. If it's followed by a path to a file, it will read the first line of that file as username and the second line as password.

You provide your username and password as OPENVPN_USERNAME and OPENVPN_PASSWORD. These will be written into two lines in a file called /config/openvpn-credentials.txt on start-up by the start script. Having written your username/password to a file, we can successfully start OpenVPN.

Starting Transmission

We're using the up option from OpenVPN to start Transmission.

--up cmd
    Run command cmd after successful TUN/TAP device open

This means that Transmission will be started when OpenVPN has connected successfully and opened the tunnel device. We are having OpenVPN call the script which in turn will call the start scripts for Transmission and Privoxy.

The up script will be called with a number of parameters from OpenVPN, and among them is the IP of the tunnel interface. This IP is the one we've been assigned by DHCP from the OpenVPN server we're connecting to. We use this value to override Transmission’s bind address, so we'll only listen for traffic from peers on the VPN interface.

The start-up script checks to see if one of the alternative web UIs should be used for Transmission. It also sets up the user that Transmission should be run as, based on the PUID and PGID passed by the user along with selecting preferred logging output and a few other tweaks.

Before starting Transmission we also need to see if any settings should be overridden. One example of this is binding Transmission to the IP we've gotten from our VPN provider. Here we check if we find any environment variables that match a setting that we also see in settings.json. This is described in the config section. Setting a matching environment variable will then override the setting in Transmission.

OpenVPN does not pass the environment variables it was started with to Transmission. To still be able to access them when starting Transmission, we're writing the ones we need to a file when starting OpenVPN. That way we can read them back and use them here. With the environment variables in place this script then overwrites the selected properties in settings.json and we're ready to start Transmission itself.

After starting Transmission there is an optional step that some providers have; to get an open port and set it in Transmission. Opening a port in your local router does not work. I made that bold because it's a recurring theme. It's not intuitive until it is, I guess. Since all your traffic is going through the VPN, which is kind of the point, the port you have to open is not on your router. Your router's external IP address is the destination of those packets. It is on your VPN provider’s end that it has to be opened. Some providers support this, others don't. We try to write scripts for those that do, and that script will be executed after starting Transmission if it exists for your provider.

At this point, Transmission is running, and everything is great! But you might not be able to access it, and that's the topic of the networking section.