TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Unix Underpinnings on The Mac

Volume Number: 22 (2006)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: Programming

Mac In The Shell

Unix Underpinnings on The Mac

by Edward Marczak

What To Use and What to Avoid

"Think Different" is a great campaign, however, it's nice to know - and downright important - that we share some things with others. Coincidentally, I'm sometimes reminded that I need to go back and cover the basics: the bare essentials. What better time to do that than the new year? (even though time is an abstract, it's a useful tool). So, while us Mac users like to run different, think different, be different, we can learn a lot by looking at what we have in common with other Unix systems.

Introduction

Although I don't hear it too much any more, when OS X first shipped, there was a, "OS X is not Unix" current from certain corners of the Web. While OS X certainly does some things differently than a traditional Unix, and continues to do so increasingly (especially under Tiger, which is all I refer to here), that doesn't make it "not Unix." As Apple "Applefies" more of the Unix that does underpin OS X, let's see what keeps us tied to our Unix brethren.

FreeBSD

The Unix conventions and utilities found in OS X are largely based on, and often taken straight from, FreeBSD. In Beta-vs-VHS thinking, perhaps the *BSDs are Beta to Linux's VHS: a loser in mindshare, but certainly technically superior. If you've used Linux, but not any of the BSDs, as a techie, you owe it to yourself to dive in and check it out. If you have a spare PC, or even an unused Mac, sitting around go download or purchase FreeBSD and give it a whirl. It'll also improve your OS X skills. Next time you're putting together a public facing web site on a budget, and are ready to reach for Linux, try FreeBSD instead.

cron

cron is the sub-system that is most likely completely ingrained in a sys-admin's skull. It would almost be impossible to be an effective admin without it. For the uninitiated, cron is a daemon that schedules jobs to run at certain times. You may have heard that cron no longer exists or runs as of Tiger. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apple's new subsystem, launchd, tries to take over all responsibilities for cron...and doesn't really succeed. A clean install of Tiger has no cron jobs installed by default. If you upgraded from Panther, you'll have your cron jobs carried over.

launchd is Apple's new system for managing daemons and 'agents' on a system-wide and per-user basis. It's a one-system-to-rule-them-all kind of thing that currently only half succeeds. I covered launchd in depth in the May 2005 Mac In The Shell column, pointing out both the advantages and disadvantages. If you're just joining us, I'll give you the top three reasons why launchd can't currently replace cron:

    1. cron is way too engrained to go away anytime soon. This leads to...

    2. launchd's reliance on plist files for configuration. As nice as the XML based plist is, there are enough tools out there that can easily update a crontab file thanks to it's plain-text based format.

    3. Flexibility. While launchd can schedule a job to run at a certain time and date, it can't currently match cron's scheduling flexibility. As in "0 8-20/3 * * 1-5 root /path/to/program" which runs the given job every three hours, Monday through Friday only between 8am and 8pm.

In short, cron kicks butt! You certainly need to learn about launchd, but don't be afraid to schedule things with cron. It's not dead yet! If you're looking to learn a bit more about it, cron on OS X was covered in depth in the March 2005 MacTech.

xinetd

Much like cron, xinetd still exists, but is sitting idle. Also like cron, its features have been subsumed by launchd. Unlike the advice I gave for cron, this is a system to abandon on OS X.

xinetd, like inetd before it, and now launchd, all act as "superservers." Originally, every daemon on a system would launch itself, daemonize, deal with source IP checking (maybe), reserve their listening port, etc. Wietse Venema created "tcp-wrappers", inetd, to act as a master listening agent, which could be configured to enable, disable and restrict access to other daemons that needed to listen for outside requests. The request actually comes into the super-server and then, if appropriate, gets passed on to the real daemon to do the work.

Launchd really excels here: from it's deep integration into OS X, through its efficient use of resources, it's the way to go. Use xinetd if you need to wean yourself off due to use on another Unix. However, make sure it's only a transition. Switch to launchd as soon as possible for this!

Networking Tools

While the use of some of these CLI utilities are deprecated under OS X, they all still work. Certainly not deprecated is netstat. netstat shows information about various network related data structures. It's primarily used to show active network sockets. This is one way you can hunt down exactly what's listening to a port (http://www.radiotope.com/writing/?p=8). netstat will also display the routing table when used with the '-r' switch - an important troubleshooting tool.

ifconfig has been the traditional way to view and set information about a network interface. While ifconfig does work, it may not do precisely what you want. It does still work perfectly as a way to view information about an interface. However, to change or set up an interface, ifconfig has been superceded by networksetup. networksetup is as extensive as any other tool, including any GUI, and should be used over ifconfig.

Like other Unicies, OS X sports an /etc/resolve.conf file. The resolver file configures access to DNS servers for applications, including order of name server lookup, their ports and search domains. Unlike other Unicies, OS X will automatically fill in and adjust /etc/resolv.conf based on your network configuration. Other Unices use /etc/resolv.conf as the origin of this information, and you edit it manually there. OS X plops the sum of other sources into /etc/resolv.conf. Don't edit it manually!

ipfw, the IP FireWall, from FreeBSD has also been included in OS X. It's what handles the software firewall behind the scenes. Note, though, that ipfw is a FreeBSD creation. Linux uses iptables, OpenBSD uses pf, and other Unicies tend to have their own solution.

Config Files

Traditionally, Unix has been a system configured by text files. While Apple has introduced non-plain text config systems, such as NetInfo, OS X does tend to respect the traditional text files for compatibility reasons.

/etc/passwd, traditionally the user authentication database, is still present on OS X. /etc/group, used for group association is also present. Both files are ignored by default, but programs that may not know any better are free to read them. You can have the system reference these files normally by selecting the "BSD and Flat Files" option in Directory Access.

/etc/hosts is present and active by default. This is actually really good news. /etc/hosts is a host to IP database that is consulted ahead of DNS. I use hosts on a daily basis as I test web sites that I'm developing on my local machine. This way, each entry can be set up as a name-based virtual host in Apache. Very handy.

Text Processing Utilities

Due to the number of text files used to configure a traditional system, Unix is awash with programming languages and utilities that manipulate text. Thankfully, Apple saw fit to include all of the current choices out of the box.

perl version 5.8.6 is ready for use under OS 10.4.3. This is an especially nice treat seeing Apple listen closely to their developer audience. During the Jaguar days, perl tended to languish a few revisions behind the current release. Additionally, due to some non-standard choices made for 10.1 and 10.2, updating perl was not easy. Thankfully, version 5.8.6 is close to current - close enough that most utilities won't gripe about it. (Current is 5.8.7, but there's always some script that relies on the latest!).

sed, awk and grep are all where you expect them to be. Last month's column introduced sed, and will have a part 2 next month. These three form the triumvirate of power tools for text processing. Additionally, OS X includes 'tr', the translation utility and, of course, sort - one of the oldest text utilities for Unix platforms.

To round out the programming camp, OS X includes, out of the box, Python, ruby and PHP. Kudos to Apple for keeping this diverse base of utilities on the system, developers happy, and switchers comfortable.

Development

You may have noticed that many of the aforementioned utilities, and other products on OS X are open source that started life elsewhere (including Apache, sendmail, Postfix, Cyrus and others). What makes all of this possible, aside from the source code, is having development tools loaded up. Like some other Unicies, OS X sports gcc, the GNU C compiler. There's a link from 'cc' to the current 'gcc' that acts as a compatibility layer - most Unicies had run their C compiler simply as 'cc'. Most open source software that I've had the pleasure of working with compiles cleanly on OS X. This includes the recently released MySQL 5.

Additionally, the GNU Debugger, gdb, is on the system and ready for use. Interestingly, XCode is partially just a big, convenient front-end to gcc and gdb. Choosing to use these development tools certainly makes switchers feel right at home. Of course, once you get deep into OS X development, there are some great utilities that let you get deeper into the system (like CHUD and Shark).

Mail Systems

Thanks to the open development tools and open source software mentioned in the previous section, the mail systems bundled with OS X are the same ones you can find running on many other Unix platforms. The first huge win is Postfix. Up through OS X 10.2, sendmail was the default MTA. 10.3 brought the switch to Postfix. Written from the ground up with security in mind, Postfix is also an incredible performer. While there are many MTAs in use, including the venerable sendmail (and exim and qmail...) they all operate the same no matter the platform - save Apple's extensions that hook into OS X's authentication methods, which you can find the changes of on Apple's developer site (http://developer.apple.com/darwin).

A popular and powerful POP and IMAP server is Cyrus, from Carnegie Mellon University. Also introduced to OS X as of 10.3, Cyrus has been modified by Apple to work with their custom authentication schemes.

I covered troubleshooting Cyrus/Postfix and DNS as it relates to e-mail in the July and August Mac in the Shell MacTech columns. An upcoming column will get into the details of administering a Tiger based mail system.

Permissions

Yes, Tiger brings us ACLs, however, I find that most people don't know about them, or don't feel comfortable using them (even though I covered them in the May 2005 issue of MacTech!). This keeps us relying on POSIX permissions. Well, welcome to the club! Every Unix out there uses the same set of permissions - even though they may also have something that is more flexible. Of course, sometime with flexibility comes complexity, so, the more basic POSIX permissions will be around for a good long time. Like cron, they're ingrained in the brains of sysadmins everywhere (and, of course, you can find an in-depth tutorial in a prepubescent Mac in the Shell dating February 2005).

Number 1

The number one thing we have in common with other Unix users is Love! OK, maybe not love....but community! Mac culture really is a perfect fit into the Unix world where people tend to be passionate about the tools they use and the platforms they run them on.

Fin

Apple is adding a lot with the systems they've created for OS X. Of course, it's also fantastic to be able to leverage the history that Unix brings. While I wish everyone a very happy New Year, I'll remind you again: it's a great time to assess what you know, what you want to know, and what you need to learn. When you're summing that up, don't forget one of the best systems that OS X inherits from Unix: man.

Enjoy!


Ed Marczak owns and operates Radiotope, a technology consulting company. If you're reading this while at MacWorld Expo, and it's Wednesday, come see Ed present, "From the Chime to the Desktop" and learn all about launchd and the Mac boot sequence. Always more tech tips at http://www.radiotope.com

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

MacFamilyTree 8.2.5 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: modern, interactive, convenient and fast. Explore your family tree and your family history in a way generations of chroniclers before you would have loved.... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.3.2- - Binary disa...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more
GraphicConverter 10.5.1 - $39.95
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more
Delicious Library 3.7 - Import, browse a...
Delicious Library allows you to import, browse, and share all your books, movies, music, and video games with Delicious Library. Run your very own library from your home or office using our... Read more
Adobe Animate CC 2017 18.0.0.107 - Anima...
Animate CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Flash Professional customer). Animate CC 2018 (was Flash CC) lets you... Read more
Adobe After Effects CC 2018 15.0 - Creat...
After Effects CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous After Effects customer). The new, more connected After Effects CC... Read more
Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018 12.0.0 - Digi...
Premiere Pro CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Premiere Pro customer). Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018 lets you edit... Read more
Alarm Clock Pro 10.3 - $19.95
Alarm Clock Pro isn't just an ordinary alarm clock. Use it to wake you up in the morning, send and compose e-mails, remind you of appointments, randomize the iTunes selection, control an internet... Read more
Adobe Lightroom 20170919-1412-ccb76bd] -...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more
Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 22.0.0 - Profe...
Illustrator CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Illustrator customer). Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 is the industry... Read more

ICEY (Games)
ICEY 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ICEY is a 2D side-scrolling action game. As you follow the narrator's omnipresent voice, you will see through ICEY's eyes and learn the... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week -...
We've made it, folks. Another weekend is upon us. It's time to sit back and relax with the best new releases of the week. Puzzles, strategy RPGs, and arcade games abound this week. There's a lot of quality stuff to unpack this week, so let's hop... | Read more »
Wheels of Aurelia (Games)
Wheels of Aurelia 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander guide - ti...
Halcyon 6 is a well-loved indie RPG with stellar tactical combat and some pretty good writing, too. It's now landed on the App Store, so mobile fans, if you're itching for a good intergalactic adventure, here's your game. Being a strategy RPG, the... | Read more »
Game of Thrones: Conquest guide - how to...
Fans of base building games might be excited to know that yet another entry in the genre has materialized - Game of Thrones: Conquest. Yes, you can now join the many kingdoms of the famed book series, or create your own, as you try to conquer... | Read more »
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander (Games)
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander 1.4.2.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.4.2.0 (iTunes) Description: An epic space strategy RPG with base building, deep tactical combat, crew management, alien diplomacy,... | Read more »
Legacy of Discord celebrates its 1 year...
It’s been a thrilling first year for fans of Legacy of Discord, the stunning PvP dungeon-crawling ARPG from YOOZOO Games, and now it’s time to celebrate the game’s first anniversary. The developers are amping up the festivities with some exciting... | Read more »
3 reasons to play Thunder Armada - the n...
The bygone days of the Battleship board game might have past, but naval combat simulators still find an audience on mobile. Thunder Armada is Chinese developer Chyogames latest entry into the genre, drawing inspiration from the explosive exchanges... | Read more »
Experience a full 3D fantasy MMORPG, as...
Those hoping to sink their teeth into a meaty hack and slash RPG that encourages you to fight with others might want to check out EZFun’s new Eternity Guardians. Available to download for iOS and Android, Eternity Guardians is an MMORPG that lets... | Read more »
Warhammer Quest 2 (Games)
Warhammer Quest 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon adventures in the Warhammer World are back! | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save $100 on 13″ MacBook Airs, prices start a...
Adorama has 2017 13″ MacBook Airs on sale today for $100 off MSRP including free shipping. Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $100 off MSRP... Read more
1.4GHz Mac mini available for $399, $100 off...
TigerDirect has the 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale today for $399 including free shipping. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Although currently out of stock,... Read more
21″ 2.3GHz iMac on sale for $999, save $100
MacMall has the 21″ 2.3GHz iMac (MMQA2LL/A) on sale today for $999 including free shipping. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
12″ iPad Pros on sale for $50 off MSRP, no ta...
Adorama has 12″ iPad Pros on sale today for $50 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 12″ 64GB iPad Pro: $749, save $50 – 12″ 256GB iPad Pro: $899, save $50... Read more
9″ iPads on sale for $30 off, starting at $29...
MacMall has 9″ iPads on sale for $30 off including free shipping: – 9″ 32GB iPad: $299 – 9″ 128GB iPad: $399 Read more
Apple restocks full line of refurbished 13″ M...
Apple has restocked a full line of Apple Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ MacBook Pros for $200-$300 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more
13″ 3.1GHz/256GB MacBook Pro on sale for $167...
Amazon has the 2017 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale today for $121 off MSRP including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1678 $121 off MSRP Keep an... Read more
13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $120 off M...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook... Read more
15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off M...
B&H Photo has 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 15″ 2.8GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $2249, $150... Read more
Roundup of Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs,...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2017 21″ and 27″ iMacs available starting at $1019 and ranging up to $350 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free... Read more

Jobs Board

Project Engineer, *Apple* Education Profess...
Project Engineer, Apple Education Professional Services Job Number: 113143353New York City, New York, United StatesPosted: Oct. 17, 2017Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Read more
Commerce Software Engineer, *Apple* Media P...
Commerce Software Engineer, Apple Media Products Job Number: 113092072New York City, New York, United StatesPosted: Oct. 19, 2017Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Summary With Read more
Engineering Manager, *Apple* Retail Enginee...
# Engineering Manager, Apple Retail Engineering Job Number: 58139948 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 20-Oct-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Commerce Engineer, *Apple* Media Products -...
Commerce Engineer, Apple Media Products (New York City) Job Number: 113028813New York City, New York, United StatesPosted: Sep. 20, 2017Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.