I love Free. I think it is one of the best ISPs in the world, and even more so in France. If I’m not mistaken, they invented the ISP-provided set top box that seems so common place these days. Their Wikipedia entry explains some of the reasons I like them so much, but to list a few:

  • unmetered bandwidth,
  • fixed IPv4 address, /60 IPv6 block,
  • they allowed and encouraged people to run their own servers (reverse-IP customisation, every port available, etc),
  • their router doesn’t suck,
  • fixed price policy: ~30 euros, all inclusive,
  • the IPTV streams are viewable on your PCs through VLC,
  • the list could go on for a long time.

All this being said, one of the major reason I loved their product so much was because of their modem, the Freebox. I’ve been a long fan of all their hardware (since the V4), but the Freebox Revolution takes the cake.

Anyway, back on topic. The Freebox Revolution Server allows you to set an RSS feed, and all items in this RSS feed will be automatically downloaded by the newsgroup/torrent/direct download client that is built into the router (yeah, they have that built in).

I used to use a seedbox, but because I had a really bad DSL connection (4 Mbits), I preferred for my downloads to happen during the day—when nobody was home—rather than having to painstakingly wait for the bits to transfer when I was home. The other reason was also that downloading anything would immediately saturate the link, and ruin browsing/YouTubing for anyone home at that point. The other main point that should be stressed is that the Freebox Player (the part connected to the TV) could stream any file stored on the Server’s hard drive (it acted as a NAS, out of the box). This meant that we were able to watch the new GoT episode faster than most of my colleagues who had FTTH connections, simply because we just had to turn the telly on, and click “Play”.

I came up with the following script to generate an RSS feed of downloaded files that my Freebox would then automatically pick up.


import cPickle as pickle
import xml.etree.cElementTree as et
# You can find PyRSS2Gen at:
import PyRSS2Gen as RSS2
import urllib, mimetypes
from os import path, walk
from datetime import datetime

DIRECTORY = '/home/rtorrent/downloaded'
DATABASE = '/home/rtorrent/.rssdb'
EXTENSIONS = ['.avi', '.mkv', '.mp4', '.mpeg', '.mpg']
PATH = 'downloads'
HTTPS = True
RSS_FILENAME = '/home/rtorrent/downloads.rss'

class FileList:
  def __init__(self, database):
    self.database = database

  def append(self, file, size, type):
    if file not in self.files:
      self.files[file] = {
        'size': size,
        'mimetype': type

  def store(self):
    with open(self.database, 'w') as fp:
      pickle.dump(self.files, fp)

  def load(self):
    if path.exists(self.database):
      with open(self.database, 'r') as fp:
        self.files = pickle.load(fp)
      self.files = {}

  def get(self):
    Return the files in reverse order in which we stored them.
    return self.files

class DirectoryParser:
  def __init__(self, directory, extensions = []): = directory
    self.extensions = extensions

  def parse(self, store):
    for _path, directories, files in walk(
      for file in files:
        if self.filter(file):
          type = self.get_filetype(file)
          full_path = path.join(_path, file)
          size = path.getsize(full_path)
          storeable_path = full_path[len( + 1:]
          store.append(storeable_path, size, type)

  def filter(self, file):
    if len(self.extensions) is 0:
      return True

    elif path.splitext(file)[1] in self.extensions:
      return True

      return False

  def get_filetype(self, file):
    return mimetypes.types_map[path.splitext(file)[1]]

class RSSGenerator:
  def __init__(self):

    if HTTPS:
      self.url = 'https://'
      self.url = 'http://'
    self.url += '%s/%s/%%s' % (HOSTNAME, PATH)

  def generate(self, files):
    items = []

    for file in files:
      url = self.url % urllib.quote(file)
      item = RSS2.RSSItem(
        title = file,
        link = url,
        guid = RSS2.Guid(url),
        pubDate = files[file]['date'],
        enclosure = RSS2.Enclosure(url, files[file]['size'], files[file]['mimetype'])

    self.rss = RSS2.RSS2(
      title = '%s downloads RSS feed' % HOSTNAME,
      description = 'The latest finished downloads at %s\'s ruTorrent' % HOSTNAME,
      link = self.url % '',
      items = items

  def store(self, filename):
    with open(filename, 'w') as fp:

if __name__ == '__main__':
  file_list = FileList(DATABASE)
  parser = DirectoryParser(DIRECTORY, extensions = EXTENSIONS)

  rss_generator = RSSGenerator()

This was called by a cron job every 5 minutes:

# Generate the downloads.rss, every 5 minutes
*/5 * * * * /usr/local/bin/ && /bin/sed -i 's!></enclosure!/!g' /home/rtorrent/downloads.rss

The reason that sed command is there is because the Freebox doesn’t understand the enclosure tag that is generated by PyRss2Gen. Yeah, that one took a while to debug and figure out.

While this setup worked very nicely, every couple of months, the Freebox would simply stop downloading new items. In the router’s WebOS, I’d force updates to the RSS feed, but nothing would show up. The feed would be empty. After some time, I figured out that it was due to the Freebox not being able to cope with the size of the RSS file. So here’s the hack-ish remedy for that, you’ve guessed it, another cron job:

# Remove the .rssdb once a week (garbage collection)
@weekly /bin/rm /home/rtorrent/.rssdb

This setup worked very nicely for the better part of 5 years, while we lived in France.

So thank you Free, and all the engineers behind the amazing ISP that you are, and all the engineers who make the Freebox possible. It’s an amazing piece of kit, and the hacker spirit that you guys show all over the place is awe-inspiring, to say the least.

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Sebastian Lauwers



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I'm a software architect and Free Software hacker

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