The Twitch in the Shell project has successfully installed Arch Linux using hundreds of people simultaneously hammering keys in a terminal. One of the organizers has explained to The Reg how it was done.
The project, broadcast by video-streaming site Twitch, managed the feat in around five hours. And this despite the best efforts of internet scumbags launching DDoS attacks, a broken fiber connection, and a swarm of robots trying to seize control of the operation.
"We didn't actually start this project, but were handed it when the two original organizers had to stop because it was hogging their school's bandwidth," explained one of the team, who goes by the moniker Yamamushi.
"Basically we did it because we could, and because there were a few thousand people trying to get involved who would be disappointed if the attempt shut down – that's a lot of bad karma."
The install attempt was designed along the same lines as last year's crowd-run Pokemon Red game, which was also streamed on Twitch. Participants each enter a terminal keypress, and every ten seconds the most popular one is passed onto a virtual machine running the installation.
The attempt began on Sunday morning (central US time) and immediately ran into problems. Shortly after it started, multiple botnets began trying to fight for control of the project by inputting keys, and eventually one started to install the Gentoo flavor of Linux instead.
That effort was thwarted, the Arch Linux install proceeded, and was successfully completed. Everyone had so much fun they decided to do it again and the system was reset.
But on Monday at 0800 CT the site suffered a massive DDoS attack, with traffic spiking at 200Gbps. The source of the attack was unknown (Yamamushi suspects it came from inhabitants of 4chan but has no proof) and this only died away 36 hours later.
At 1030 CT there was another problem, when the hosting provider OVH.com lost its main fiber connection when a backhoe cut the line. Luckily there was a backup connection and Yamamushi said he was impressed that the company managed to fix the break fully in six hours.
But before long, the DDoSers were back. The Twitch in the Shell team initially used Freeenode IRC to coordinate the project – but were asked to leave for fear of a DDoS attack. Their next IRC network, ColdFront, got DDoSed but when they switched to a third, Snoonet, this time the new IRC hosts gave the team a break.
DDoS attacks have continued on the website ever since, but appear to be under control for the moment. There are between 500 and 800 participants using the Linux installation, but Yamamushi believes that many of them could be bots and are being cut out of the process.
On Tuesday night some antisocial internet user managed to temporarily cut off streaming. At 0500 the next day there was another disruptive attack when someone tried to add the smut site Pornhub to the stream.
But not everyone online is such a cockwomble, and Twitch in the Shell now has about 20 folks working on keeping the site going, volunteers from around the globe who can provide 24/7 support and maintenance.
After completing the Linux installation, the group has now moved on to other operating systems. Indie operating system TempleOS was successfully installed and the group is currently doing the same for Windows XP. At time of writing the install is pretty much done, although getting the product key typed in is taking a little time.
The team now wants to add a monarchy mode to spice things up. A randomly picked participant will be assigned as the monarch for a limited time, meaning that their vote counts for five or ten times as many as other players. They also want players to suggest ideas of their own for future group efforts.
"It's a challenge of insanity," Yamamushi said. "But we're constantly looking for feedback and want it to be fun for everyone." ®