It is not a secret that Zabbix maintains package repositories for multiple GNU/Linux distributions to make installing the software and staying up to date with the latest releases as easy as possible. To make use of the official Zabbix packages one should follow the instructions on https://www.zabbix.com/download. In this article, we would like to talk about some common points of confusion that people have when using Zabbix packages.

Being a Zabbix package maintainer, I often notice that people are confused about which packages are provided for which operating system. That’s why we have created a table that gives users info about package availability by operating system at-a-glance. Furthermore, we would like to clarify certain specific issues to eliminate any potentially remaining misunderstandings. In particular, let’s address the issue of packages no longer being provided for certain operating systems.

It is important to understand that Zabbix packages depend on other packages provided by the operating system. Whether those are web server and PHP packages needed for the frontend or OpenSSL required pretty much by all other Zabbix components, Zabbix is limited by the versions of these packages that are shipped with the operating system, or by how up to date these packages are.

Any professional system administrator is familiar with the need to install the latest security updates as one of the central measures to keep their systems secure. Unless the system provides the necessary security updates, that system should not be used. But there are also other aspects besides security that should be taken into consideration.

One specific case that we would like to discuss is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7. In fact, RHEL/CentOS 7 constitutes a large chunk of Zabbix installations.

Heads Up! The same packages are used for RHEL, CentOS & Oracle Linux, thus when RHEL is mentioned, CentOS is also implied.

As many of you may have noticed, only zabbix-agent, zabbix-sender & zabbix-get packages have been provided for RHEL 7 when version 5.2 was released. What’s the deal?

Red Hat backports security fixes for older packages, and this is awesome. Despite that, the essential packages that Zabbix uses as dependencies are tremendously old.
Case in point, RHEL 7 ships with:

  • PHP 5.4.16
  • MariaDB 5.5.68 & PostgreSQL 9.2.24
  • OpenSSL 1.0.2k

Let’s talk about these in detail.

PHP 5.4

Starting with version 5.0, Zabbix frontend requires PHP version 7.2 or higher. Simply put, our frontend developers needed to make use of the new PHP features to improve the user experience. Also, 7.2 was the oldest supported version in the upstream.

Quite expectedly, this caused some problems when packaging Zabbix for RHEL 7, due to the distribution shipping PHP version 5.4. At first, the idea was to drop support for the 5.0 frontend on RHEL 7 altogether, but after consulting with the support team, it was decided to find a way around to keep providing these packages somehow.

Enter Red Hat Software Collections. Instead of being dropped completely, Zabbix 5.0 frontend packages were based on PHP 7.2 found in RH SCL. The day was saved, but in the end, this still was not the cleanest solution. A lot of things had to be altered from the way they are usually done. Changes had to be made to configuration files and user instructions. The repository structure was altered and frontend-related packages were renamed to include the “scl” suffix to reflect the changes. As a result, these changes made package maintenance pretty difficult for us. Furthermore, extra attention was required from the users when installing these packages and especially when updating from the previous versions.

As a side note, on Debian-based distros that have the same problem, the frontend package has been deprecated altogether.

Old Databases & OpenSSL

Secure connection to the database was introduced in 5.0, however, it does not work on RHEL 7.

Try for yourself. Put DBTLSConnect=required option into /etc/zabbix/zabbix_server.conf file and try to restart the Zabbix server. It will fail with the following error:

"DBTLSConnect" configuration parameter cannot be used: Zabbix server was compiled without PostgreSQL or MySQL library version that support TLS

This happens due to RHEL 7 shipping old database packages. Yes, using RH SCL is possible but implementation would be an even bigger mess than what was required for making the 5.0 frontend work. Considering that RHEL 7 is on its way out, it takes just too much effort to implement and support.

Another issue is the fact that old OpenSSL packages prevent the use of TLS 1.3 among other things.

For example, add TLSCipherPSK13=TLS_AES_128_GCM_SHA256 setting to /etc/zabbix/zabbix_proxy.conf and restart the server. You will get the following error in the proxy log file.

cannot set list of TLS 1.3 PSK ciphersuites: compiled with OpenSSL version older than 1.1.1. Consider not using parameters "TLSCipherPSK13" or "--tls-cipher13"

TLS 1.3 is fully supported in RHEL 8.

The usage of HashiCorp Vault can possibly be affected by the old OpenSSL version as well.

There are potentially other issues that haven’t been discovered yet. Because of the nature of the old packages on RHEL 7, it is hard to fully predict what can go wrong.

In conclusion

Taking into consideration all of the above, it was decided to not provide server and frontend packages for 5.2 on RHEL 7. We do understand that this is super-inconvenient for some people, but the truth is that this has to be done sooner or later. It could have been done in 5.4 or 6.0, but that is simply kicking the can further down the road. It is a painful, but necessary change.

Proxy packages for 5.2 will be provided to keep some backward compatibility, but keep in mind that a lot of the modern features will not work there, including:

  • No support for TLS 1.3
  • No support for encrypted database connections

And most importantly, support for proxy on RHEL 7 will be dropped in Zabbix 5.4!

Note
RHEL 7 support for existing Zabbix customers will still be provided.

In short upgrade to RHEL 8. This will have to be done sooner or later. Do that and forget about this type of problem in the foreseeable future.

Note
We are aware of recent change in CentOS 8 lifecycle and are investigating its impact on Zabbix packages.

Of course  the cost of upgrading RHEL may be prohibitive. So, if the upgrade is impossible for one reason or another, which options are available?

  • Use container images. Probably the most progressive option of all. Zabbix has great container images. Consider using them, if using 5.2 is an impediment.
  • Use 5.0 LTS instead. Indeed, 5.0 packages are available for RHEL 7 and will be supported for some time. Despite the known problems, described above, this can be a great option.
  • Build from source. Of course, there is always a hard way. Grab the sources and build away. If you choose to go this route, then you must take into account the potential problems caused by old packages on the system.

Ultimately, we suggest thinking of this as a motivation to make an upgrade. If you really need new features of Zabbix, consider using an up-to-date operating system.