Aug 072000

newbie learning experience

Joe Warner initially posted a message to a couple of FreeBSD mailing lists (Newbies and Advocacy).  Within hours, he received a few responses of support and encouragement for his work.  They also suggested that he submit the story to DaemonNews and The FreeBSD Diary.  Unfortunately, DaemonNews just published their monthly edition a few days ago, so that means his article appears here first.

If you like this article, and wish to encourage Joe to continue to write about his experiences, be sure to email him with your words of support.

Thanks Joe.

Joe’s story

I’ve had a real learning experience with my FreeBSD (3.4) system at work over the past couple of days and at the risk of making myself look like an idiot, I felt it important enough to share.  Since I’m a newbie and hope to help other newbies when facing similar situations, this email is directed mainly at freebsd-newbies.   However, I also felt it important enough to share with freebsd-advocacy because of how amazed I am with the OS.  Instead of a little cartoon devil, maybe the mascot should be the Energizer Bunny?  FreeBSD keeps going and going and going… 8^) Anyway, please bear with me.  This is probably going to be pretty lengthy, so for those of you don’t like to read or are uninterested, just close this email and delete it now. For the rest of you, read on…

When I came into work last Thursday morning, I noticed that my PC (Compaq Deskpro 2000), running FreeBSD 3.4 was at the login prompt and my WIN NT machine was at the boot up password.  I realized then that the inevitable had happened….Power Outage!  Thinking that power outages/cold reboots meant death to most UNIX systems, I hurried to prevent this from happening again and hooked up an APC Smart-UPS 1000 that we had sitting in one of our storage closets.  Hooking it up to my FreeBSD machine was easy enough. I just plugged the power cord into a receptacle and then plugged the power from the CPU and monitor into the back of the UPS.  I finished by attaching the serial cable on the UPS to the serial port on the back of the CPU (COM1) – there is only one serial port available for Compaq Deskpro’s.  After hooking it up, I realized that I would need to install some software that could communicate with the UPS through the serial line and allow me to do a graceful shutdown in the event of power loss.   I went to APC’s web site and though they had their Powerchute software available for many commercial versions of UNIX, I didn’t see anything that was designed specifically for any of the BSDs.  They even had a Linux version and I learned later that at least one person was running this successfully under Linux emulation on his FreeBSD 3.4 system.   I didn’t want to run this under Linux emulation if I didn’t have to.  Later, I came across an application in the ports collection called UPSD – 2.0 that seemed to be designed specifically to work with the APC Smart-UPS models. I loaded the 4th CD from the CD ROM set and from /usr/ports/sysutils/upsd/ I typed make install and installed it.  I noticed that there wasn’t any documentation included with this port, not even a man page.  It loaded only 2 files, the upsd executable in /usr/local/sbin and the configuration file (upsd.conf) in /usr/local/etc.  I su’d to root and attempted to spawn the daemon by cd’ng to /usr/local/sbin and typing # ./upsd.  At this point, my whole system locked up tighter than a drum!  I couldn’t kill X and couldn’t switch to another terminal.  Nothing!   I had to cold-reboot my system again!  After I booted back up, I looked at my logs and noticed a message indicating there was a permission problem with /dev/cuaa0. This device is owned by uucp and belongs to the dialer group.  I su’d to root again and adjusted the permissions so that other users would have access and then tried to execute the program again.  Same thing happened, complete lockup!  At this point, I was pretty frustrated and none the information I had read in my books or the answers I received from posting to FreeBSD-Questions seemed to help.  I cd’d to /usr/ports/sysutils/upsd and typed make deinstall and went home.

When I came in Friday morning, I noticed an email from someone who said they were using a port called UPSMON – 2.1.3 with an APC Smart-UPS on their FreeBSD system without any problems.  This port wasn’t on the CD ROM set, so when I installed it, it had to fetch it from an ftp site.  No problem, right?  Wrong!  I installed this port and decided to reboot. Big mistake! Now, during boot-up, my system would just hang at:

local package initialization: Cannot open /dev/cuaa0: 
                            Permission denied upsmond

After hearing the voice of Ralph from the Simpsons in my head, going Ha! Ha!.., I thought, now what do I do!  After going through all my books and documentation and trying to boot into single-user mode, fixit mode from the 2nd cd in the cd rom set and even from kernel.GENERIC, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere.  My machine would always hang when trying to launch the upsmond daemon during boot up.  As a last resort, I posted to FreeBSD-Questions and got the answer I was looking for.  I was told to go into single-user mode.  At the beginning of the boot-up process, there is a ten second count down that tells you to either hit enter or wait for the count down to finish for system boot-up.  Before the counter finishes, you hit the space bar and you’re presented with a prompt where you can specify different boot options.  I specified boot -s for single user mode.  In The Complete FreeBSD, it tells you to boot into single-user mode and run fsck on / by issuing: fsck -y / <cr> I ran this on / and /dev/wd0s1a.  Then it tells you to mount / by typing: mount -u /.  I did this and it let me mount it.  Lastly, it says to mount /usr by typing: mount /usr.  It would let me mount this but only with read access.  I needed write access so that I could go into /usr/local/etc/rc.d/ and either remove or change the file which was causing my system to hang.  I got a response from someone telling me to mount /usr by typing the following: mount -rwf /usr.  This worked and I was able to edit so that it was pointing to /dev/cuaa1 and not cuaa0.  This got my system booting.  I found out later that I could have successfully mounted /usr with r/w access if I would have first fsck’d it by issuing: fsck -y /usr (I probably should have done this for /var too).

I got my system booting again (whew!) but still haven’t figured out why /dev/cuaa0 causes problems.  I seems as if some kind of conflict is going on, maybe something else is using this device?  I haven’t found the answer to this yet.  I got an email response back from APC, saying they did have an application that would work with FreeBSD but I would need to purchase their Simple UNIX Serial cable for $39.00 in order for it to work.  So, now I don’t know if it’s a device conflict or the cable but I doubt I’ll shell out the money for a new cable.  Maybe my manager will let me order it and reimburse me?

I’ve always thought that cold reboot/shutdowns were death to UNIX systems, especially if you did it more than 5 or 6 times.  I’ve completely trashed my systems this way when I was using Red Hat 6.x and Caldera 2.x in the past.  Cold booted more than 5 times and got the dreaded "kernel panic" message and had to reinstall.  I ended up cold booting my FreeBSD system more than 12 times the last couple of days and it’s still going! 8^).  So, the moral of this story?  FreeBSD is forgiving, you just need to tell it how to forgive you!

And…forgive me for such a long story… 8^}


FreeBSD = The Power to Serve ..Simply put = FreeBSD Rocks!