Solaris Crash Recovery and Fault Analysis


This is a short paper to give you some feel for how to deal with the
solaris operating system when you are faced with a fault, and need to
restore the system to healthy operation quickly without resorting to
pulling your CV from the bottom draw and calling the local employment

Parts of what I discuss will be relevant to other Unix operating
systems, and I will try to be unix generic where ever possible.

This paper is primarily pitched at faults on a server.  In New Zealand,
most Suns act as servers - infact, I believe most unix machines act as
servers.  Much of this paper also relates to work stations, but the
basic assumption I make is that you are working on a server.  Few work
stations are mission critical.

Firstly, a couple of notes.  The most powerful Unix debugging tool is 
the observant system administrator.  This is the same for any unix, or 
infact, any machine.  Check your message files, check the console 
messages, check disk space, talk to your users, get training, etc.  
The more you understand and observe your machine, the more likely it
is that you will spot problems before they occur, and be better
equipped to resolve problems after they occur.

Second only to the observant administrator is the manual.  All sorts of
neat stuff is carefully written down in the manual.  The manual is your
friend.  It can make you look good, sound good and feel good.  The
ability to read the manual is an excellent skill that few people have.
It is worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with how manual
entries are laid out and the purpose of each section, especially the
"See Also" and "Known Bugs" sections.

I will break the paper up into four main areas.  The first is failed
system analysis - the machine is down, what can I do ?  The second is
System Recovery - how do I get the machine back up and running.
Thirdly, a brief flirt with some of the failure analysis resources,
including tools to look at what has happened, and what is happening
now.  The fourth section covers preventative maintenance - things to do
to either avoid crashes or survive them with minimal grief.

I will attempt to point out what are generally termed "religious
issues" before I wade into them.  What I means by religious issues are
those gray areas where there are a number options, each with different
strengths and weaknesses, and many people can get very strongly
opinionated in what is the correct answer.  I do not propose that I
know the correct answer - infact, in almost all of these cases, there
is no correct answer, just a series of compromises that one lives

One final note before I launch into this.  This paper barely 
scratches the surface of the available debugging tools and utilities
within the Solaris operating system.  I have tried to cover enough
detail help you navigate through the pitfalls of a severe software
failure, throw in a few pointers to the odd useful information that
is not generally known and give a few insights that may help you 
realise some of the trade offs involved when building a machine.

The system is down - where do I begin ?

1.0 - Failed System Analysis.

Start by verifying if the machine is infact down.  If panic messages
are streaming by, smoke pouring out of the machine, all the power off,
etc, you can be confident that the machine has faulted.

However, things are not always so obvious.  The machine could be hung,
the network down, some services could be broken, or even the machine is
fine - your user expectations could be wrong, so they percieve that the
machine is down.

1.1 Test Network Connectivity

Firstly, if possible, ping the machine.  If the machine responds, you
know that at least the core of the OS is functional, and the network is
up.  If not, you know you need to do more investigation.

Failure to respond to a ping can be caused by broken routing, bad
netmasks, interface problems or any of a range of network failures.
Usually a good time to head to the computer room and start

If you can ping the machine, can you telnet or rlogin into the
machine ?  If you can, the machine is probably generally healthy, and 
it is time to find out what the user observed, and what is causing 

There are several possibilities as to why you may not be able to login
to the machine via the network.  If the machine is in single user mode,
you usually get a message telling you that you cannot login at this
time.  Similarly, running out of pseudo terminals will normally give a
message indicating that the machine cannot create another device.

1.2 Checking the console

Next, check the console.  Make sure it has power.  If it is not on, you
can halt the machine when you turn it on.  If the machine has a key and
you can put the machine into lock mode, do so before turning on the
power to the terminal.

Read the messages.  Carefully.  They are trying to tell you something.
If there are error messages, note them down.  They may not survive a
reboot.  They may be the only clue to the failure, and losing them
could well mean the difference between "Please do this to fix the
fault" and "Please phone us next time the problem reoccurs."

One of my favourite debugging tools is the extremely rare console
terminal printer.  So many failures would be captured in all their
glory the first time with this tool.  A 30 line panic message cannot
scroll over the top of a printer, whereas it can on a terminal.
Naturally, with a console printer, you do not want to do much work on
the console, but this is true anyway - the console is for system
administration, and should only be used as such.

1.3 Checking for System Hang

Ok - no messages on the console, the network appears to be down.  Press
the return key on the console then wait a few seconds.  Did anything
happen ?  Usually, if the console responds, even if the console just
moved down a line, the machine is probably still alive.  If the machine
has a graphic head, press the caps lock key.  If the caps lock light
responds, the machine is atleast not hard hung.

If the machine does not respond, you are rapidly running out of
options.  The next action might be a surprise - go and observe the
machine.  Listen to it - is the disk hammering away ?  Are the lights
flashing on the machine ?  Are the disk lights flashing ?  Are the
network lights flashing ?  Is the machine exhibiting any signs of 
life ?

By this time, you should be able to make a reasonable guess as to
whether the machine is still running at all, or whether it is hung.

1.4 Recover or Reboot ?

If the machine still appears to be running, but denying service, you
need to do an environment check.  Start at the network.  There are a
number of network services that can hang the machine.  Make sure the
network connection is firmly plugged in.  Make sure the hub has power.
See if the link light is on at the hub.  If the link light is on, is
the active light on, flashing or doing nothing ?  Possibly try a
different port in the hub.  Unplug the machine from the hub and see if
the console gets any messages.  Doing this investigation may give vital
clues as to what the failure is.  These can be vital if you find that
rebooting the machine does not fix the failure, and are searching for
some external agent impacting the machine.

If this seems like a lot of things to look at and relatively few direct
fixes, I apologise, but the operating system is over 5.5 million lines
of code at last count, and given the nature of this size and the
accompanying flexibility of system, the range of failures that can 
impact the machine are simply immeasurable.  This is the same for any 
unix, and all modern operating systems. Quick sales spiel - the sheer 
range of possible failures is a good reason to have a maintenance
contract so that you have people specializing in this stuff backing you
up when you really need them.

1.5 Capturing Failure Analysis Data

If the machine is hung or so severely broken that you cannot proceed,
it is probably a good time to either call your support supplier or try
to dump the state of the machine for later analysis.  If you really are
on the ball, you can possibly break into the prom and rummage around in
the machine to see what is broken.  I won't bother to elaborate on that
option - if you can't do it already, nothing I can say now will help
you.  We do have a training course that will give you a reasonable shot
at doing this stuff, and more.  I will give some details at the end if
anyone is interested.

We want to get to the prom prompt to tell the machine to dump the
memory image into swap space.  Hopefully you have adequate swap space
to cope with the dump, or we may simply not be able to capture all of 
the dump, and the dump will be worthless.  Even then, you will need 
have savecore turned on and you have not striped your swap space to 
avoid going into single user mode and manually capturing the savecore.
More on this later.

First, if you are on a graphic head, hit the stop and A keys
simultaneously.  If you are on a terminal, generate a break.  Since
this is terminal dependant, this exercise is left to the student.
Also, if you are on a machine with a key control on the front, for
example, an enterprise server or a sparc centre, make sure the key
switch is not in the locked position, as this disables the console

All going well, you will be rewarded with an ok prompt.  This means the
machine was "soft" hung, and there is a good chance that we will be
able to get a core for subsequent analysis.  If you do not have an ok
prompt, time to get a bit more brutal.  Unplug the keyboard, then plug
it back in if you are on a graphic head.  If you are using a terminal,
powercycle it.  Please note - any messages on the screen will be lost -
make sure you have noted them down before hand.

If you still have no ok prompt, either the machine is hard hung or
someone has seriously disabled console breaks.  At this time, your only
option is to powercycle the machine.  The only available debugging will
be your observations, the system logs if they are intact and possibly
sar.  More on that later.

If you have got an ok prompt, type sync and hit return.  The machine
should then dump the memory image to swap.  Usually, the only reason
this will fail is gross SCSI chain failure.  You will usually know
this because either the machine will hang on the sync or you will get
major scsi errors on the write.  This means the core is not likely to
be captured, but we do have more clues as to the nature of the

The machine is down.  How do we get it back online ?

2.0 - System Recovery.

The immediate choice you need to make at this point is whether to bring
the machine up to multiuser first or into single user and look around,
possibly doing some repairs first.  Going to single user will take
more time, but is generally safer, and if you need to recover the
savecore and have some issues as to why you may not be able to do this
on a normal boot, you may need to bring the machine up in single user.
A third option exists for really sick machines - booting off the
network or cdrom and running off an in memory, minimal image of unix.
You will need to boot to an in memory image of the operating system to
recover root or user from backup, repair the device tree or do some
serious debugging of why the machine cannot boot to single user mode.

2.1 - Pre-recovery planning

Before we begin system recovery, take a couple of minutes and think
about what you are going to do.  This is especially true if you are
using disk striping on swap, and is critical if your root and user file
systems are mirrored.  What is a good option for system resilience to
hardware failure also makes system recovery much more complex.  Now is
a good time to take stock of what is required.  If you have got
mirrored root and user file systems, you want to endeavour to recover
the operating system from single user mode or multi-user mode - why ?
Because when you boot off the cdrom, you cannot deal with the operating
system via the mirroring software.  You must mount one half of the
mirror and repair it.  Even if you repair both sides of the mirror, it
is very unlikely that they will both be repaired to the same state.
When you boot the machine up and the mirroring software comes online,
it has no idea which side of the mirror is correct, and it will
scramble the data on both sides of the mirror until they are equally
smashed.  You can safely assumes that this is very bad, and you will be
restoring your machine from backup shortly afterwards.

2.2 - Power cycle the whole machine

Generally, in the event of a major failure of the system, if you are at
the ok prompt, power cycle the system.  This includes all disks, tape
drives, etc.  External devices can get seriously confused and stop the
machine booting by jamming a scsi channel.  This may even be what
caused the failure initially.  The only fix is a powercycle.  Turn on
all external devices and, in the case of devices like the storage
arrays, wait until all the disks are online.  Then power on the cpu.  
If you want to boot to a runlevel other than the default, hit stop A or
break on the console.  This should get you to an ok prompt.  If you get
to a greater than (>), type n then hit return to get to the ok prompt.

If you are on a machine with a key switch, and you are not sure that
the hardware is behaving correctly, you can always set the switch into
diagnostic mode.  Diagnostic mode will print all of the power on self
test information as the machine boots, giving you a chance to view what
is happening within the core of the machine at boot time, and hopefully
highlighting any component failues on the machine.  Almost all
component failures will be caught by either the power on self test or
be seen by the operating system and logged in the system messages files.
You can also turn the diag-switch option on in the NVRam, but unless
you change the diag-device entry, the machine will attempt to boot off
the net.  Break to the ok prompt at this point and turn the diag-switch
to false to complete booting.

2.3 - NVram options and issues

If the machine hangs at boot or seems to be trying to do something odd,
e.g. boot off an unexpected device, it is conceivable that the machine
has scrambled the NVRAM that the prom uses to boot from.  There are 2
ways to fix this - if the machine is hanging on boot, powercycle the
machine and hit the stop N key combination repeatedily.  This will
reset the NVRAM and hopefully get you to the ok prompt.  If you are
already at the ok prompt, enter
and the NVRAM will be reset.  This will clear out any NVRAM programming
you have done.  Make sure you have noted down what you have done and
restore it if required.  This may also set the diagnostic switch on.
You will know this is on when the machine tries to boot from the
network.  Type
set diag-switch? false
at the ok prompt to turn this off.

The NVRam and boot prom are reasonably sophisticated on the sparc
hardware.  It is capable of a range of testing and system diagnosis,
and system configuration.  You can view the system device tree to check
for items you are expecting to see, configure devices aliases, load
firmware, configure boot options, etc.  This is all documented in the
Solaris System Adminsitrator Answerbook.

Particular things of note are the ability to test various options
including the scsi devices via probe-scsi and probe-scsi-all, and check
the on-board network connection to see if it sees any packets on the
wire via watch-net.  You can traverse the device tree with cd and ls.

There are also a range of switches for the boot command, most notably
-v - verbose option - report the device testing at boot time
-r - reconfiguration boot - rebuild the device tree on boot
-s - boot to single user mode
-w - do not start up any windowing, normally used for in-memory boots
-a - check with the user which of the boot files to use on boot.

2.4 Booting to an in-memory image

I will cover the cdrom or network boot of the machine first, as this is
the most drastic and low level boot, and has the most powerful recover
options.  If you have a network boot server for the local machine
boot net -sw 
will boot you up to a single user shell, no password required.  If you
do not have this previously configured, pull out the manual on
jumpstart and start reading.  If the machine has a Sun cdrom drive,
load the operating system cdrom into the drive and enter
boot cdrom -sw
at the ok prompt.  

If you are worried about the security implications of the above, either
lock the machine in a secure room (in real terms, there is no security
for a physically accessable machine, ever) or set the prom password
on.  Do not forget it.  If you do forget it, the only way to unset it
without knowing the password is via the eeprom command when the machine
is running and you are logged in as root.  If you can't get the machine
up, you are history.

Other things to note - when you boot up to a memory image, the device
tree is not built with historic information.  This means that the
device tree may differ radically from that on a machine that has been
reconfigured several times, as the machine when running will attempt to
retain device numbers over time.  For example, you always want your
database to live on c5t2d0d3, even if you remove controller four from
the system.

2.5 Cleaning up after the crash

Normally, the first thing to do here is to fsck the root and user file
systems, unless you are running a mirrored root or user file system and
do not intend to make any changes on it.  This is the only time when
you can safely fsck the raw root and user file systems.  This can fix
seriously corrupt file systems.

However, fsck is not a panacea. I have seen a number of examples of
fsck incorrectly recovering a corrupt root and the only fix has been to
recover the file system from backup.  Backups are important, do them.
The fsck will show what mount point the file system was last mounted
as, assuming you are fscking a file system.  Check to see that you are
indeed fscking the file system you intend to fsck.

You can then mount the root file system on the mount point /a and the
user file system as /a/usr.  Do an ls to verify that they are infact 
the correct file systems.  If user is wrong, at least you can look in
/a/etc/vfstab and see what it should be.  At this point, we can chroot
to /a and perform maintenance on the disk based operating system root
filesytem image while it is quiescent.  Note, however, that you have
not mounted /var or other file systems.  If you need them, fsck them
then mount them before you do the chroot.  You will want /var if you
intend to use the vi editor on the root file system.  Also note that
you will need to set the TERM type when in single user mode.

If you have to recover the root and user file systems, this is the
point to do it.  Assuming that you have a ufsdump of the file systems,
newfs the raw partition, mount it as /a and ufsrestore to it.  You will
also need to run the installboot command to tell the boot loader where
to find the boot block.  Otherwise, the machine will complain that the
boot file does not appear to be executable when you try and bring the
machine up.

If you are dealing with a mirrored root or user file system, you
immediately need to edit /a/etc/vfstab and comment out the mirrored
device entries, replace both the raw and cooked mirrored file system 
entries with the raw and cooked disk device entries, then edit
/a/etc/system and comment out the metadevice entries if they exist.
When the machine is back up, you will need to rebuild the devices to
get the machine fully operational.  Generally, if you are in this
situation, call your support provider before attempting the recovery
and get help.  The penalties for failure are high enough that you want
to verify that you are taking the correct measures.  If you are not
sure what you are doing, you are in over your head.

2.6 Rebuilding the device tree and the /dev structures

Running on the in memory unix image is the best time to rebuilt the
operating system device tree, especially in the event of corruption of
various nodes under /dev.  /dev under solaris is merely a series of
symbolic links into /devices.  The entries in /devices are complex
device pointers into the in-memory device tree.

To rebuild the device tree and the /dev structures, you need to know if
the operating system is carrying device history.  I will cover how to
rebuild the device tree without history first.  Firstly, chroot onto the
root file system by 
chroot /a /bin/sh
cd to /dev and remove the rmt, dsk and rdsk directories.  Remove any 
other suspect entries in /dev, but do not remove the following entries : 
/dev/null, /dev/zero, /dev/mem, /dev/kmem and /dev/ksyms.  cd to 
/devices and remove all the directories except pseudo.  /devices/pseudo 
has the pointers for the previously mentioned devices.  Next, rebuild the 
/devices entries, then the symlinks for the various required devices via 
the following commands:
This will rebuild the devices required for rebooting the operating
system.  Touch /reconfigure to get the operating system to complete the
device tree rebuild on the next boot.

If you are trying to rebuild the device tree on a machine with some
historic device entries, which is generally most important for disk
controller numbers, you will need to retain the first entry in
/dev/rdsk and /dev/dsk for that disk chain, e.g c5t0d0s0 in the above
example, before you rebuild the device tree.  If you wish to change a
disk controller number,  you use a similar mechanism.  For example, to
change a controller from c4 to c5 where there is no c5 currently, cd to
/dev/rdsk, move c4t0d0s0 to c5t0d0s0, remove all the other c4 entries,
do the same in /dev/dsk and then run the command disks.

You can do some manipulations of the device tree on a multiuser running
system, but this is a form of russian roulette that I would not advise
unless you are fully aware of what the system is doing.

2.7 Preparing the machine to boot

You can also turn on savecore at this time.  I will cover this in a
later section, as this is certainly not the best time to turn on
savecore.  You may also want to turn on various boot up debugging at
this time.  The most useful tool I find for debugging boot failures is
a quick hack to the /etc/rc scripts.  The main script of interest are
/etc/rc2.  If you have a quick look through this script, you will find
a small section of code that runs the S scripts in the directory
/etc/rc2.d with the start option.  I suggest that you place an echo of
the script name just before the case statement in which this is done
in, so that you can see which script is hanging or failing.  You can
also run the scripts with the -x option to debug more gnarly failures,
or set the -x option within a problem script.  Turning the -x option
on for all scripts will overload your screen with information, and is
generally not a good idea.

When you have finished with the root file system, exit out of chroot,
cd to / and unmount the usr, var and root file systems before rebooting
the machine.

2.8 Booting up to single user mode

To boot the machine to single user mode, get to the ok prompt and type 
boot -sw
This should bring the machine up to the point where you are asked for
the root password to proceed with system maintenance.  If the machine
does not accept the root password at this point, you may well find that
the shadow or password file has been damaged or destroyed by the system
failure.  The only recovery option you have is to boot to an in-memory
version of the operating system, and repair these files.  Remember the
issues involved if you are using mirroring.

2.9 Cleaning up when forced into single user mode

Another situation that would normally cause the machine to enter single
user mode is the failure of a file system to fsck cleanly when
booting.  The machine will usually have the root and user file systems
mounted read only when this occurs, and the mnttab file will usually
indicate that all file systems are mounted.  When this occurs, you
first need to remount the root and user file systems as writeable, then
clean up the mnttab file before proceeding with other work.  Start by
fscking the root and user file systems, or just run fsck to fsck all
the filesystems with fsck entries in the vfstab.  Then remount the root
and user file systems as writeable via the following commands
mount -o remount,rw /
mount -o remount,rw /usr
Follow this by a umountall command, which should clean up the mnttab

2.10 Manually Dumping the savecore image

With the machine in single user mode, you can dump the save core image
into a file before swap is mounted and possibly trashes the image.
Since the savecore image can be up to the size of physical memory, you
will want to dump this on a partition that has enough space.  By
default, the operating system attempts to dump this in the /var/crash
directory.  You will need to mount the partition you wish to dump the
image in, if it is not already mounted.  Create a directory for the
image if it does not already exist, and use the command 
savecore image-directory
to dump the image.

2.11 Booting to multiuser mode

Once you have finished whatever single user administration work you
wish to do, you can exit single mode to immediately boot to multiuser
mode.  There are two places that this process will normally hang.

2.12 Nfs and the automounter

The first and most common is when there is a nfs mount in the vfstab
file, and the remote server is not running.  The simple work around to
this is to add either the bg or soft mount option in the vfstab, or use
the automounter.  When you are on a server, the automounter needs to be
used with great care if you are using direct maps.  Personally, I am
religiously opposed to direct maps, but they are a common choice.  The
problem arises in the fact that the automounter takes control of a
mount point in a direct map.

If, for example, you wish to mount /usr/local from the main server as
/usr/local on all of your client machines.  If you are using nis or
nisplus maps to manage the automounter, when the server runs the
automounter, the automounter tries to take control of /usr/local, which
already has a file system mounted under it, and in use.  This has
caused the mount point to hang when I have run into this problem.  I
prefer to use the automounter in combination with symbolic links to get
around this, so that at work, my /usr/local is a symbolic link to
/wgtn/apps/local.  This map system also allows me to do some neat
things with lan and wan links with one consistent set of maps.

2.13 Problems in the device tree

Another fault that can cause a hang at boot is a problem in the device
tree.  One common bug is that the ps command will hang due to a
corruption in the device tree caused by buttons and dials package.  If
you have the device /dev/, remove it, then get rid of the buttons
and dials software via
pkgrm SUNWdialh SUNWdial
unless you have a buttons and dials board on your machine.  I am not aware
of any of these in New Zealand.

The other problem is normally related to the permissions of /dev/null or
/dev/zero.  You can check the permissions of these via the following
ls -lL /dev/null /dev/zero
which should return something like
crw-rw-rw-   1 root     sys       13,  2 Apr 19 21:04 /dev/null
crw-rw-rw-   1 root     sys       13, 12 May  4  1996 /dev/zero
These need to be readable and writable to all, otherwise processes will
block when trying to access them.

Now that we are up, why did we fail ?

3.0 Failure Analysis Tools

Now that you have the machine up and running again, it is time for a
quick look around to see what possibly caused the failure.

3.1 The system log files

The first place to look are the system message files.  The current
messages can be pulled from the machine via the dmesg command.  If the
machine has been rebooted recently, the boot details of the machine,
including the hardware configuation at that time, can be seen.  These
messages are also saved in the messages files in /var/adm, the older
files having a numeric postfix on them.  Hardware problems seen by the
operating system will also be seen in these files.  It is worthwhile
monitoring these files and being aware of what the messages in them
mean on your machine.

These files are updated via the syslog daemon.  How the daemon works
and what it logs can be modified via the syslogd.conf file.  If, for
example, you find that the file is continuously being filled with
sendmail messages, you may elect to put the sendmail messages in a
separate file and allocate the system messages file to more critical
messages.  As a side note, if the last message from the previous boot
is from syslogd indicating it was shutdown with a signal 15, this tells
you that someone halted the machine manually.  Use the last command to
give you clues as to who the culprit may be.

3.2 System Accounting

One very useful tool to consider using if you are not already is sar,
or system accounting.  As the adm user, you can use cron to run the
periodically to check point various operating system parameters,
including cpu usage, system memory and swap usage, networking and disk
utilization, etc.  You can then use the sar command to interogate the
files captured to get information and trends from these files.  The
trends are particularly useful for system performance tuning and system
debugging.  This is often the only way to spot a slow memory leak in
the kernel.

Two things to be aware of with sar.  It can chew through space in the
/var partition, and it is not particularly good at cleaning up after
itself.  The second problem is that it often does not report correctly
after a reboot.  The data is being saved, but sar does not report it.
I believe you can use the time options on sar to get around this.

3.3 Crash analysis

You have captured the system crash and now want to look at it.  There
are two tools that ship with the operating system to do this, crash and
adb.  Neither are pretty, but crash is the most user friendly, which is
not saying much.  Crash at least has a help.  Once again, grovelling
around in the kernel is for the trained expert, and not much I can say
will help here.  There are some internal tools being developed to do
light weight crash dump analysis, but I am not sure when or if these
will be available outside Sun.  Generally, call your service provider
and they should be able to analyse the core file and figure out why
the machine failed.  This can be a very time consuming exercise, so 
please be patient.  Digging through hundreds of threads to find which
has the critical mutex can be very painful.

3.4 Streams Error reporting

Another useful tool that you can turn on is streams error reporting.
To turn this on, create a directory /var/adm/streams and run the
command strerr.  You can run this up in the background on boot to get
the machine to continually record the messages.  While primarily useful
for network problems, streams errors can highlight other system
problems and can pick up the odd intermittant fault that has otherwise
been missed.  Run it, have a look at what it produces.

3.5 SunSolve

SunSolve is a database of various system issues, including bug reports,
patch information, symptoms and resolutions and other useful
documentation that Sun packages up for contract customers.  There are
two main distribution mechanisms for sunsolve, a cdrom which is
distributed once every 6 weeks and via the internet.  Both mechanisms
have a fairly powerful search engine with them.  If you have a error
message you wish to check up on, sunsolve is a very good point to do
the initial search to see what you can do about it, and whether you
should be concerned.

3.6 Patches

Both sunsolve mechanisms also have full access to the Sun patch 
database, enabling you to install any patches indicated by sunsolve, or
the current recommended patch cluster to bring your machine up to date
with the current recommended revision of you operating system.  
Patching the machine to the latest recommended revisions is required 
before SunService can escalate a problem over to Engineering for 
analysis and repair.  If your machine does become unstable, I would 
generally recommend bringing the patches up to date incase the problem 
is known and a fix has already been released for it, which is often 
the case.

The recommended and security patches are also available for anonymous
download to all Sun customers from  However, access
to the non-recommended patches is limited to machines which are covered
under a maintenance contract for legal reasons.

A patch is a fix to a recognised problem or problems within the
operating system or it's attendant software.  Patches are normally
named with a 6 digit identifier code, followed by a 2 digit revision
code.  If you cd into the top level of a patch directory, you will see
a README file detailing what issues the patch addresses, what special
instructions need to be performed when installing the patch and any 
other issues you will need to be aware of.

There will also be an installpatch script and a backoutpatch script.  
Note that the backout is only possible where that patch has been 
installed without the -d option.  The -d option stops installpatch 
backing up the files it is patching, so it cannot restore those files
if you wish to backout the patch.  The -d option is chosen when you 
install the recommended patches if you elect not to save the original 
versions of the software.

To check which patches are on the machine, you can use the command 
showrev -p
on solaris machines.  Under SunOS machines, patches are installed
manually, so you need to keep accurate records as to what has been
installed.  Patching is managed by a wrapper over the package system
at the present moment, although this is likely to change with Solaris

3.7 Package information

The system package database is stored in /var/sadm.  Removing, moving
or otherwise fiddling with this directory can be fatal to the long term
system health, and at minimum will require you to do a full install
rather than an upgrade when you next come to upgrade the operating
system.  If showrev core dumps on you, you will normally find that a
core file has been dropped in the /var/sadm directories somewhere.  It
is safe to clean this up.

Under solaris, the whole operating system is managed by packages.  You
can see what packages are installed via 
and you can get detailed information on a package via
pkginfo -l packagename
Sun packages almost always start with SUNW, which is our trading stock
name.  I have no idea why they used this, incase anyone wants to know.

When you install patches, these will install as packages with a numeric
postfix to the main packages that they update.  You should be able to
see this on a pkginfo command.

What can we do to improve reliability ?

4.0 Preventative Maintenance

Much of this section borders on what are religious issues for most 
system administrators.  I will cover the least contentious issue first.

4.1 Turning on savecore

The savecore command is commented out in the default configuration of
the operating system, primarily because of the mayhem dumping a large
file in /var can cause when the system administrator is not prepared
for it.  In the script /etc/init.d/sysetup, you will find the
following block commented out
## Default is to not do a savecore
#if [ ! -d /var/crash/`uname -n` ]
#then mkdir -m 0700 -p /var/crash/`uname -n`
#                echo 'checking for crash dump...\c '
#savecore /var/crash/`uname -n`
#                echo ''
This dumps the savecore file in the /var/crash directory after creating
a directory for the image.  If you enable the savecore into a different
file system, remember that this process is run before the mount of
non-core file systems, so you will probably need to mount the file
system before running savecore.  Also, if you mount the file system
now, turn off the automatic mount in vfstab.

4.2 file system Layout

Two major schools of thought come into play when discussing the
operating system file system layout, those who believe disk space is a
problem and want to put everything in the root and those who like to
compartmentalise the operating system, putting everything into it's own
partition.  There have been several major debates about this within
Sun, and the general consensus is that the single partition is good for
work stations, but not appropriate for servers.

I prefer compartmentalisation, and I feel that any reasonably
experienced system adminstator should be able to allocate space where
required in the first place.  Also, disk is cheap these days.  However,
it really makes very little difference except for a select few file

The most important file systems to the operating system are the root
and user file systems, whether as distinct partitions or combined.
These two file systems should generally be relatively static.  On the
other hand is the /var file system, which is where the operating system
does a lot of scribbling and creating files.  In the event of a crash,
the /var partition will almost always need an fsck to clean it up
before remounting.  Since fsck can also be a liability, you do not want
to run it on the root or user file systems if possible.  Therefore, it
is strongly advised that you keep /var, and any volatile file systems,
as distinct file systems from the root and user partitions.  This also
makes the machine much quicker to recover in the event of major
corruption where you need to recover those two partitions.

The other separate partition you should have is swap.  Although you can
run the machine with a swap partition, or you could swap onto a file
within a file system, you are not going to catch a dump in the event of
failure.  This means that you may not find out why the machine is
crashing, so you may not get a fix.

4.3 Backup Strategies

Backups are obviously important.  If you do not know this lesson
already, you will learn it in the same painful way that every other
unix administrator has learned it.

What is almost as important as doing backups is what type of backups
you use.  tar and cpio are not adequate for backing up the root and
user file systems.  You need a backup that will guarantee to recover
the file system exactly as it was, including holey files, device
entries, directory sizes, etc.  tar and cpio cannot do this.  For the
root and user file systems, assuming that they are ufs file systems,
use ufsdump periodically.

Even if you have the solstice backup product, aka networker, you want
to separately backup these partitions via ufsdump, and include the /opt
partition.  You need networker installed to recover networker backups,
and the operating system cd does not have this option, so you would
have to build the operating system, then install networker, then
license and configure it, before you could begin to recover the
machine.  With the ufsdump backups, you recover the root, usr and opt
file systems from a in-memory version of unix, run installboot, then
boot the machine and recover the rest of the system.

4.4 Metadevice Myths

A surprising number of people are confused by what mirroring does, and
why you use it.  One particular confusion relates to whether you need a
backup of the root file system if you have it mirrored.

What mirroring does is duplicate a partition, including all changes
made to it.  What mirroring is good for is the continued service of the
machine in the event of a hardware failure of half of a mirror, or the
ability to backup a partition while the partition is still in use.
What it does not protect against is user error or software failure.  If
someone deletes /etc/passwd on the mirror, it is guaranteed to be
deleted from both sides of the mirror, making both sides of the mirror
equally useless.

Due to various problems with maintenance of a mirrored root file
system, I would state that if your machine is mission critical, in that
it must provide service between certain hours, mirroring root could
well be useful to you.  Otherwise, it is often a hinderance, as you are
much more likely to suffer a software failure that could be an order of
magnitude more difficult to fix due to mirroring.

This comes back to the old rule, which always applies to computers as
much as anything else, which is Keep it simple.


There is a lot of complexity within the Solaris operating system, 
as there is in virtually all modern operating systems.  Knowledge and
planning are the keys to managing this complexity, especially in times
of crisis.  If you can take the time to learn about your machine, talk
to your users, observe your machine and do a little exploring, reading
and thinking, and you will have a less stressful work life.  Ofcourse,
how you make time for this while you are running around dealing with
the current disasters it the big question.

Thanks for your time, and I hope you get some value from this course,
and that you feel a bit more in control next time everything turns to
jello and 400 users are ringing to find out why they can't surf the
web ...