Linux System Administration

Got that sinking feeling that often follows an overzealous rm? Our system doctor has prescription.

The second method is similar to the user-by-user method, but everything is done in /etc/profile and cron entries. The /etc/profile entries do almost the same job as above, and the cron entry removes all the old files every night. The other big change is that deleted files are stored in /tmp before they are removed, so this will not create a problem for users with quotas on their home directories.

The cron daemon (or crond) is a program set up to execute commands at a specified time. These are usually frequently-repeated tasks, such as doing nightly backups or dialing into a SLIP server to get mail every half-hour. Adding an entry requires a bit of work. This is because the user has a crontab file associated with him which lists tasks that the crond program has to perform. To get a list of what crond already knows about, use the crontab -l command, for “list the current cron tasks”. To set new cron tasks, you have to use the crontab <file command for “read in cron assignments from this file”. As you can see, the best way to add a new cron task is to take the list from crontab -l, edit it to suit your needs, and use crontab <file to submit the modified list. It will look something like this:

~# crontab -l > cron.fil
~# vi cron.fil

To add the necessary cron entry, just type the commands above as root and go to the end of the cron.fil file. Add the following lines:

# Automatically remove files from the
# /tmp/.rm directory that haven't been
# accessed in the last week.
0 0 * * * find /tmp/.rm -atime +7 -exec /bin/rm {} \;

Then type:

~# crontab cron.fil

Of course, you can change -atime +7 to -atime +1 if you want to delete files every day; it depends on how much space you have and how much room you want to give your users.

Now, in your /etc/profile (as root):

if [ -n "$BASH" == "" ] ;
then # we must be running bash
   alias waste='/bin/rm'
   alias rm='mv $1 /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN"'
   undelete () {
     if [ -e /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN"/$1 ] ; then
       cp /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN"/$1 .
       echo "$1 not available"
   }   if [ -n -e /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN" ] ;
     mkdir /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN"
     chmod og-rwx /tmp/.rm/"$LOGIN"

Once you restart cron and your users log in, your new `undelete' is ready to go for all users running bash. You can construct a similar mechanism for users using csh, tcsh, ksh, zsh, pdksh, or whatever other shells you use. Alternately, if all your users have /usr/bin in their paths ahead of /bin, you can make a shell script called /usr/bin/rm which does essentially the same thing as the alias above, and create an undelete shell script as well. The advantage of doing this is that it is easier to do complete error checking, which is not done here.


  • one change affects all (or most) users

  • files stay longer than the first method

  • does not take up user's file space


  • some users may not want this feature

  • can take up a lot of space in /tmp, especially if users delete a lot of files

These solutions will work for simple use. More demanding users may want a more complete solution, and there are many ways to implement these. If you implement a very elegant solution, consider packaging it for general use, and send me an e-mail message about it so that I can tell everyone about it here.

Tar Tips

And, as a last-minute correction/addition to a previous article (specifically my article on mtools in LJ issue 5), an alert reader noticed that while mtools can copy Unix files to a DOS diskette, how can you preserve the 256 character name of the original Unix file if DOS can only handle 11 characters at most, and is not case-sensitive? The case was one in which two Unix machines could use DOS diskettes, but could not communicate directly. However, this can apply to backups in which you want your files stored on DOS floppies, or to any other case in which you want long file names preserved. There is a way to do it.

The tar command is used to create one big file which can contain a number of little files. Using the tar command, you can create an archive file which contains a bunch of 256 character file names, while the tar file itself is a legal DOS name. DOS (or the FAT filesystem, anyway) does not care what is in the file, as long as it has at most eight characters plus a three character extension.

Be sure that when you copy the tar file that you do not give the -t (text) option to mtools. The tar file has to be copied in binary format, even if the tar file only contains text files.

So, to copy a few long filenames to the first floppy drive (A: or /dev/fd0):

tar -cvf file.tar longfilename \
reallylongfilename \ Not.In.Dos.Format.Filename.9999 /
mcopy file.tar a:

Then at the remote Unix machine (or to restore it):

mcopy a:file.tar file.tar
tar -xvf file.tar


mread a:file.tar | tar -xf -

And assuming the remote Unix system has mtools and supports 256 character filenames, a copy of the files will now be on each system.

Tune in next time when I find the real relationships between virtual beer, BogoMIPS, and a VIC-20. In the meantime, please send me your comments or questions or even suggestions for future articles to: komarimf@

Mark Komarinski ( graduated from Clarkson University (in very cold Potsdam, New York) with a degree in computer science and technical communication. He now lives in Troy, New York, and spends much of his free time working for the Department of Veterans Affairs where he is a programmer.



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Bad code?

Anonymous's picture

This line: if [ -n "$BASH" == "" ] ;
appears to be nonesense. Shouldn't it be if [ -n "$BASH" ] ;

Yes, bad code

Mitch Frazier's picture

Yes, it's wrong, yours is correct. He probably meant:

  if [ ! "$BASH" == "" ]; ...

Mitch Frazier is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal.