May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
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(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Lack of testing of complex, potentially destructive, commands
before execution on the production box

An educational and horrifying tales of SGS (Spontaneous Gross Stupidity)

News Sysadmin Horror Stories Recommended Links Creative uses of rm Mistakes made because of the differences between various Unix/Linux flavors Missing backup horror stories Typical Errors In Using Find Pure stupidity
Locking yourself out Premature or misguided optimization Reboot Blunders  Performing the operation on a wrong server Executing command in a wrong directory Side effects of performing operations on home or application directories Typos in the commands with disastrous consequences Side effects of patching
Multiple sysadmin working on the same box Side effects of patching of the customized server Ownership changing blunders Dot-star-errors and regular expressions blunders Excessive zeal in improving security of the system Unintended consequences of automatic system maintenance scripts LVM mishaps Abuse of privileges
Safe-rm Workaholism and Burnout Coping with the toxic stress in IT environment The Unix Haterís Handbook Tips Horror stories History Humor Etc

Amount of testing of complex commands, especially those that involve recursive operations should generally be proportional to potential damage.

This is often not the case, because of time pressures or excessive self-confidence.  Actually slowing down in situation when you are under pressure is a sound strategy, because blunser in such circumstances can cost you a lot.  that includes of using backup to restore accidently destroyed system:

Backups in Unix can be one of the most dangerous commands used, and they are used to prevent rather than cause a problem.  If any Unix utility were a candidate for a warning message, or error checking, this would be it.

One common mishap is running as root complex command like  find  ... -exec rm {} \; without any testing or even rereading the command several times before hitting Enter.   This is covered in more details in

Never ever assume that some prepackaged script that you are running does anything right. Beware anything recursive when logged in as root!

Such errors are often made under time pressure. As for find example above instead of rm other commands can be equally destructive, for example chown or, especially, chmod. 

Among most typical cases

  1. Running complex rm command without testing it using ls . You should always use ls -Rl command to test complex rm  -R  commands (  -R, --recursive means process  subdirectories recursively). Think - a "Think it over first" (TIOT) type of utility can help here as they provide you a pause and a chice to correct possible error.
  2. Mistyping complex path or file name in rm commands. It's always better to use copy and paste operation for directories and files used in rm command as it helps to avoid various typos. If you do recursive deletion is is useful to have a "rty run" using las of find to see the files.  Here saferm utility and other utilities of this class can be helpful.

    Here are to example of typos:

    There are some exotic typos that can lean you to troubles, especially with -r  option. One of them is unintended space:

     rm /homejoeuser/old *

    instead of

    rm /homejoeuser/old*

    Or, similarly:

     rm * _old

    instead of

    rm *_old

    In all cases when you are deleting the directory directly copying its name from the listing obtained via ls or find command is much safer that typing it by yourself.

    Such a mistake is more damaging  is you use -r option. For example:

    rm -rf /tmp/foo/bar/ *

    instead of

    rm -rf /tmp/foo/bar/*

    So it is prudent to block execution of rm commands with multiple argument, if option -r is used in your saferm script.

    In some situation results can be devastating. For example, in the example above you would erase all your files and subdirectories in the /etc directory. Modern flavors of Unix usually prevent erasing / but not /etc.

    Again, it's much safer to list the directory and copy it using cut and paste.

    You can also hit Enter by mistake before finishing typing the line containing rm command. 

Here is a couple of examples:

From: [email protected] (Marc Fraioli)

Organization: Grebyn Timesharing

Well, here's a good one for you:

I was happily churning along developing something on a Sun workstation, and was getting a number of annoying permission denied from trying to write into a directory hierarchy that I didn't own. 

Getting tired of that, I decided to set the permissions on that subtree to 777 while I was working, so I wouldn't have to worry about it.  Someone had recently told me that rather than using plain "su", it was good to use "su -", but the implications had not yet sunk in.  (You can probably see where this is going already, but I'll go to the bitter end.) 

Anyway, I cd'd to where I wanted to be, the top of my subtree, and did su -.  Then I did chmod -R 777.  I then started to wonder why it was taking so damn long when there were only about 45 files in 20 directories under where I (thought) I was. 

Well, needless to say, su - simulates a real login, and had put me into root's home directory, /, so I was proceeding to set file permissions for the whole system to wide open. I aborted it before it finished, realizing that something was wrong, but this took quite a while to straighten out.

Marc Fraioli

Oh you bastards. I was hoping that a thread like this would never appear, because if it did, I knew I would have to confess. Oh well...

About a year back, I was looking through /etc and found that a few system files had world write permission.  Gasping with horror, I went to put it right with something like

dipshit# chmod -r 664 /etc/*

(I know, I know, goddamnit!.. now)

Everything was OK for about two to three weeks, then the machine went down for some reason (other than the obvious).  Well, I expect that you can imagine the result.  The booting procedure was unable to run fsck, so barfed and mounted the file systems read-only, and bunged me into single-user mode.

Dumb expression..gradual realisation..cold sweat.

Of course, now I can't do a frigging chmod +x on anything because it's all read-only. In fact I can't run anything that isn't part of sh.

Wedgerama. Hysteria time. Consider reformatting disks. All sorts of crap ideas. Headless chicken scene. Confession.

"You did WHAT??!!"

Much forehead slapping, solemn oaths and floor pacing.

Luckily, we have a local MegaUnixGenius who, having sat puzzled for an hour or more, decided to boot from a cdrom and take things from there. He fixed it.

My boss, totally amazed at the fix I'd got the system into, luckily saw the funny side of it.  I didn't.  Even though at that stage, I didn't know much about unix/suns/booting/admin, I did actually know enough to NOT use a command like the one above. Don't ask. Must be the drugs.

BTW, if my future employer _is_ reading this (like they say he/she might), then I have certainly learned tonnes of stuff in the last year, especially having had to set up a complete Sun system, fix local problems, etc :-)

Anyone else got a tale of SGS (Spontaneous Gross Stupidity) ?

-dave "I'm much better now, honest.. no, really.. hey what's this button doooooooooOOOOOO..."

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