Monday, June 18, 2007

SysAdmin mag & How to write unmaintainable code

June's issue of SysAdmin magazine, has some interesting Q&A's on Solaris. Questions on superblock, alternative methods for patching, etc. are given along with answers. It can be read here

Found this hilarious take on unmaintainable code written some time back when it was slashdotted:

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Which "for loop" works better/faster

I was asked this question in an interview long ago and thought I would post it here.
Which of the following for loop works better assuming no special compiler play, just on programming logic. Will both code pieces execute equally fast?

1 -
for ( i=0; i <10; i++)
for (j=0; j<100; j++)

2 -
for (j=0; j<100; j++)
for ( i=0; i <10; i++)

Friday, June 15, 2007

How file recovery software works

I discussed about a File recovery tool in one of my earlier posts and deferred the discussion on how such tools work for some future post. Today I will discuss how file recovery software actually works.

Files in a computer have a volume table (directory table) that contains, among other things, an entry for each file in the hard disk along with the address of the location where the file is stored. When a file is deleted, a small part of the table for that entry is modified marking the space as free. The data still remain in the disk until it is overwritten at some later time. Now two possibilities arise:

1) The table entry for a deleted file is intact. In this case, it will still contain the pointer to the file. A quick reading of volume table by the file recovery software followed by looking at the location for the file may recover data if it is not overwritten by that time. This is QuickScan option in the tool in the figure of earlier post.

2) The table entry itself is overwritten, i.e. some other file entry has replaced the free'd file's entry. In this case, the file recovery software uses Advance mode (SuperScan option in the figure). In this mode, it scans the whole disk reading each block and matches the files there with entries in the table. That is the reason this option takes a long time. If the file in any block has an associated entry in the table, it means the file is still alive i.e. not deleted, and it skips to next file and its entry. If a file has no corresponding entry in the table, it means this file has been deleted and so the tool marks this as "Found".

The most important step in data recovery after a file is accidentally deleted is to make sure that the disk is immediately detached if one wants to recover the file. Otherwise, the data might get overwritten and not recoverable by such tools. It also means that just deleting a file doesn't ensure the data is gone. One needs a proper tool to erase data. Such tools overwrite the whole data in the disk with random bit patterns many times over rendering it pattern-less and non-recoverable. Hardware techniques also exist to erase data such as degaussing which basically erases data in a disc magnetically.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Linus likes ZFS, but

Online world is abuzz with discussions on the mail that Linus Torvalds sent to with some seemingly incendiary anti-Sun remarks, and a more cool-headed response by the Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. It has sent all the Paris Hilton front page stories down to page 5 to bite the dust. Some things this all seems to imply:

- OpenSolaris has surely begun to ruffle some feathers; even Linus says OpenSolaris' ZFS is something which could make Linux to change its license. That is something!

- The only thing most Linux developers including Linus think OpenSolaris needs Linux for are drivers. Does it imply that if a user can get a machine working with OpenSolaris, there'd be no need to install Linux?

- Linux users want ZFS. Linux developers have started to realize its importance as a Filesystem, but are diverting the issue with licensing and patent issues. Why not directly talk to Sun and implement the stuff? Surely. if FreeBSD and Mac OS X can implement it, so can Linux. It could be that it is harder to port it to Linux and the developers have become lazy.

- Somehow Linus seems to know that "Linux code is _better_". Does it mean he already has peeked into OpenSolaris code and compared it with the Linux before coming to conclusion? That is interesting, and as illuminating as his assertion.

I have a great respect for Linus as is evidenced by one of my earlier posts. But mails like this are uncharacteristic of him. I even feel that it could have been rebuked as FUD-spreading if it had come from someone other, say Microsoft. Hopefully, in the future, Linux and OpenSolaris will be living at peace and users will have choice of an OS not dictated by the license.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ZFS flavor of the month

A week after Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz commented that ZFS would be in Leopard, an Apple executive said, "ZFS is not happening", when questioned about ZFS's inclusion in Leopard. Without ZFS announcement in the Apple WWDC, Mac developers would be disappointed and some reporters said they felt sleepy during the keynote.

(Update : Apple has denied the executive's claims and is clarifying that ZFS will be available as a limited option in OS X. See comments on the original story for details.)

ZFS seems to be flavor of the month. While many were expecting Apple to announce it was adding ZFS to Mac OS X, it doesn't seem likely after reading the Apple executive's comment. At least not in the forthcoming release.

In other news, ZFS was reviewed very positively in an InfoWorld article. The editor reviewing the ZFS was all praise for it. "It’s not every day that the computer industry delivers the level of innovation found in Sun's ZFS. More and more advances in the science of IT are based on simply multiplying the status quo. ZFS breaks all the rules here, and it arrives in an amazingly well-thought-out and nicely implemented solution."
Ok that makes up for "late by a year review." One thing that I've observed is that though Sun says ZFS doesn't stand for Zettabyte File System anymore, most reporters still make it a point to expand ZFS that way.

Then, eWEEK gave an Excellence award to ZFS in the E-Business Foundations category. ZFS deserves many such awards and kudos. It has made a big difference in the world of File systems.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Links and symlinks - Unix and Windows

Hard links in Unix are files that have different names and can possibly different directories, but they have same inode i.e. the file is stored at any one place in the hard disk. All the hard links to any file point to that location. One can delete a hard link but it won't delete the file if there is any other link to it.

Symbolic links or symlinks on the other hand are small file that contain the pointer to another file. They are different from the actual file they are pointing to. So deleting a symbolic link won't delete the actual file. The implementation of symbolic links in Unix is transparent to the user. If a user opens and edits a symbolic link, he actually is editing the file the symbolic link points to. The symbolic link remains just a pointer to the actual file.

While Windows have shortcuts that are nearest thing to symbolic links, if someone edits a shortcut file, it actually gets changed and so it is not as transparent to the user as Unix. I read somewhere that Windows Vista has introduced transparent symbolic links similar to Unix.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Core Solaris kernel paths

Sometime back I was searching online the path for core kernel binaries for Solaris but the information was hard to find and it was not exhaustive. Finally I was able to find the information in Solaris Internals book. The paths for core Solaris kernel binaries are:

/kernel/genunix - Platform independent core kernel for non-UltraSparc based systems resides in this binary. All non-UltraSparc based systems load this genunix during boot time.

/platform/sun4u/kernel/genunix - optimized binary for UltraSparc, but it is independent of the system type. This binary is loaded during boot time only by UltraSparc systems.

/platform/{arch}/kernel/unix - Platform dependent component of the core kernel resides here. {arch} is the architecture of the system.

The other kernel modules get loaded on demand later i.e. when an application requires them. They reside under the /usr directory tree.

All these binaries contain various low level kernel services that are needed to run the system. The command to find all the kernel modules in a system is

# modinfo

It will give as output the loaded modules in a running system.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Going from JDS to CDE

I have started using CDE now for Solaris. JDS was becoming a pain with its sluggish pace. It was eating a lot of memory, too. CDE seems lightweight in this regard as compared to JDS. There are a lot of things in CDE that I wish were more JDS-like. I will try to configure and see how friendly I can make it for general pupose use. It will be used for web-browsing and mails.

The main difference between CDE and JDS when one begins using CDE after a long time with other desktops is how the minimize windows feature works, and icons on the desktop that are absent in CDE. On minimizing any window, it appears as an icon on the desktop, unlike JDS's "go to bottom panel behavior."

The responsiveness of CDE is much better than JDS though and that is what sets it apart.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Creating a dynamic library - example

We all use library functions in the programs we write. An example of library that is always used in Solaris and Unix like Operating systems is But how to create a library? It is not hard. A dynamic library can be easily created as shown in the following example.

Let's say we want to create a library called It will contain an example function called my_library_func() that we will use in our program. We will create a simple program called geek.c that has the function we wanted. We will compile this as a library and call it (library names begin with lib) :

$ cat geek.c

printf("Inside my library function");

The above is a library function we wanted to create. We then compile it into a dynamic library by giving a -G option to compiler :

$ cc -o -G geek.c

Now, we can use the generated library in our programs like:

$ cat hellolibrary.c

int main()
return 0;

Now, we can compile our program and tell the linker to link to the library we created for my_library_func() :

$ cc hellolibrary.c -L/home/osgeek -R/home/osgeek -lgeek

L and R tell linker the path to look up during link-time and run-time to find library The library is used with "lib" part removed and "l" prefixed as "lgeek".

When we run this program, the output would look like:

$ a.out
Inside my library function

That's it. We created a library and used it in a program.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Active File Recovery tool

Today, I'll talk about a tool for Windows. Under Windows, [Shift]+[Delete] deletes files without sending them to recycle bin, so we can't get it back. Similarly, if a disk is formatted, the data is lost and we can't get it back, normally. Data loss can also be a result of virus attack. Well, the data itself is not lost. We can actually recover data that is accidentally or unintentionally deleted. How a data is actually not lost, and how it can be recovered in theory will be a topic of some future post. Today I will review a product that practically recovers lost or deleted data from a PC with Windows Operating System.

This product is called Active File Recovery and it recognizes the most common types of file and filesystems to recover.

There is a demo version of the software that one can download and try. It recovers files of only upto 65 KB. The full version has no size limit on the files it can recover. I downloaded the demo version for this review to see how it works. The download was quick - a little over 2.4 MB, and installed quickly. On launch, the options menu was clear and easy to navigate and I quickly scanned my whole drive. The software detected a lot of deleted files. Unfortunately, the limit of 65 KB didn't allow me to recover (for testing purpose) some songs and movie clips I had deleted, but it did recover some small pics that were smaller than 65 KB.

One would be surprised how much data remains in the disk and is recoverable. It can be months since you deleted certain files that show up and could be recovered. Just proves that one can't delete a data and handover the hard disk to someone or sell it (Ebay sellers better be careful). One has to erase the data with a good software for a certain amount of assurance that the data can't be recovered. Even then, there is some chance of the data getting recoverd with good quality software like Active file recovery. Imagine some person getting hold of your bank accounts and passwords!

The software has other features as well. It can also recover data from memory cards that was formatted. For Windows Vista users, there's an Enterprise edition of Active File Recovery which can recover data from an unbootable system. For this they have a lightweight Windows Vista version WinPE 2.0 that boots and runs in RAM. From there, one can run Active File Recovery software to recover the data in the drives.

The recovery tool will be useful for anyone who has accidentally deleted files. A demo version can be be downloaded from this Active File Recovery site.

Update: I've received a full version of the software and have done some testing with it. Unfortunately, I don't have extra drive needed to test recovery of movies and other bigger files, but I managed to rescue some deleted photos, about 1 MB in size. Trying to recover a bigger file within a drive overwrites some of the file's header data that makes it impossible to open the file, or worse, makes the Windows explorer crash when the folder containing the file is opened.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Firefox Add-on - Split browser

I've recently started using Split browser Add-on for Firefox browser and am greatly impressed with it. It adds value to my browsing experience. No need to switch to another tab when I want to reference something in a different page. I can look at both pages together by splitting the current browser window in any way I want - Left, Right, Top, Bottom. Once done, I can gather all the split windows to old style tabs. Tab that is currently open can also be split horizontally or vertically.

On a related note, I un-installed the Cooliris Add-on I had installed about a month ago. While it did look useful in the beginning, it was becoming too obtrusive and an annoyance, especially when there were links very near to each other. Trying to open a link would bring up a preview of another link. Also, I was using it less and less. Good-bye Cooliris, Hi, Split broswer!

Friday, June 1, 2007

How to find address of stack top : C

In technical interviews, sometimes candidates are asked how they would find the address of the top of the stack in their system by programming in C. One simple program that should work mostly is:

int main()
int i;
printf("Top of the stack is %p", &i);
return 0;

As local variables are stored on stack, this would give an approximate top of stack. There can be variations of this program that are also few-liners like above and give more accurate results. Any more example piece of code to find stack top?