TweetFollow Us on Twitter

MacEnterprise: Scripting opportunities for System Administrators, part 2

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 07
Column Tag: MacEnterprise

MacEnterprise: Scripting opportunities for System Administrators, part 2

Running administrative scripts at login and logout, and more

By Greg Neagle, MacEnterprise.org

Introduction

In an earlier issue of MacTech, we started a look at scripting opportunities for systems administrators. We talked about why you might want to run a script, when it's possible and advisable to run scripts for certain tasks, and began to look at exactly how you get your scripts to run at the right time.

Previously, we discussed running scripts at startup and on a repeating schedule. This month, we'll look at running scripts as part of the login and logout process, both with root privileges, and as the user logging in. We'll also consider scripts that should run only once, either at startup or login. Finally, we'll look at some methods to simplify implementing additional scripts once you have a few working.

Login/Logout hooks

A very common administrative need is to run a script (or scripts) when a user logs in or when a user logs out. One possible reason to do this is that you need to make a change to the user's environment: maybe you need to redirect a network user's caches to the local disk before they complete their login, or you need to do some cleanup on logout.

If you need to run a script at each user login, and the script must have superuser (root) privileges, you should consider implementing a login hook. A login hook is a script that runs as part of the login process. It runs after the user's home directory has been mounted (if it's a network user or one whose home directory has been protected with FileVault). It runs as root, but is passed the name of the user who is logging in.

To set up a login hook, make sure your script is executable:

sudo chmod 755 /path/to/script

Then set the loginhook:

sudo defaults write com.apple.loginwindow LoginHook /path/to/script

Log out and back in, and the hook should run. Logout hooks are set up similarly:

sudo defaults write com.apple.loginwindow LogoutHook /path/to/script

Here's an example of a script that could be used as a logout hook. On logout, it randomly selects a picture to use as the desktop picture/background behind the loginwindow.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict;
my $loginwindowprefs = "/Library/Preferences/com.apple.loginwindow";
my $picdir = "/Library/Desktop Pictures/Nature";
if ( -d "$picdir") {
   my @list = split("\n",`ls -1 "$picdir"`);
   my @pictures = ();
   
   for my $item (@list) {
      if (-f "$picdir/$item") {
         push @pictures, "$picdir/$item";
      }
   }
   
   if (scalar(@pictures)) {
      my $currentpicture = `/usr/bin/defaults read $loginwindowprefs DesktopPicture`;
      if ($currentpicture) { chomp($currentpicture) };
      my $randompicture = $currentpicture;
   
      while ($randompicture eq $currentpicture) {
         my $randomindex = int(rand(scalar(@pictures)));
         $randompicture = $pictures[$randomindex];
      }
   
      my $result = `/usr/bin/defaults write $loginwindowprefs DesktopPicture "$randompicture"`;
   }
}


Figure 1. MCX login scripts

Each time a user logs out, the picture behind the loginwindow is changed. Since this script runs during logout, but before the loginwindow is displayed, you should see a new picture at each logout.

Apple's Knowledge Base article on setting up a login hook is here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2420

MCX login scripts

There is another way to specify a specific script to run at login or logout, and that is using MCX via Workgroup Manager (Figue 1, above).

Using MCX to manage login scripts requires very specific client settings and can be tricky to get right. Make sure to read the relevant help information, accessible by clicking the purple question mark in Workgroup Manager.

Other login options

Login hooks run as the root user. There are tasks that require running as the user logging in. For these, you have a few options:

Use a login hook, but within the hook, act as the user with the su command. This can be tricky to get right.

Implement it as a launchd LaunchAgent.

Write your script as a launchable application and add it to the login items.

LaunchAgents

LaunchAgents had some pretty serious shortcomings in Tiger, but in Leopard, they are pretty useful.

A LaunchAgent is started when a user logs in, and runs as that user. As the system administrator, you should put LaunchAgent plists in /Library/LaunchAgents. /System/Library/LaunchAgents is reserved for use by Apple, and ~/Library/LaunchAgents is for the user's personal use.

Let's say you wanted to run a script at user login that would launch a setup assistant-type application - a LaunchAgent would be a good fit for this. Here's an example plist:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
        <key>Label</key>
        <string>org.mactech.demolaunchagent</string>
        <key>LimitLoadToSessionType</key>
        <string>Aqua</string>
        <key>Program</key>
        <string>/Library/Management/runSetupAssistant.pl</string>
        <key>RunAtLoad</key>
        <true/>
</dict>
</plist>

This LaunchAgent plist has a unique label, which is simply a name for the task. A new key introduced in 10.5 Leopard is LimitLoadToSessionType, and here it is set to Aqua. This tells launchd to load the job only when there is a GUI login - if the user were to login via SSH, for example, the job would not run. This makes sense for this, as we wouldn't want our GUI setup assistant application to run if the user wasn't logging into the GUI console. If you had a job that made sense to run only for a non-GUI login, you would set the value of LimitLoadToSessionType to StandardIO. Finally, the RunAtLoad key is set to true to tell launchd to run the script immediately when loading the job after login.

For more information about LaunchAgents and their options, see this Apple Technical Note: http://developer.apple.com/technotes/tn2005/tn2083.html

Last time I promised that I'd cover scripts that should run only once. A classic case is a script that launches a setup assistant. You might want it to launch the assistant the first time a user logs in, but you probably don't want it to launch every time the user logs in. Here's how you might handle this:

#!/usr/bin/perl
#run the Setup Assistant if it's never run before
$homedir = $ENV{'HOME'};
$checkFile = "$homedir/.my.org.setupassistant";
unless (-f "$checkFile") {
   `touch $checkFile`;
   `open "/Applications/Utilities/My Org Setup Assistant.app"`;
}

Here's what's happening. We define a filename - ".my.org.setupassistant". We start the name with a period so it is invisible in the Finder. The script checks for the existence of the file in the root of the current user's home directory. If it's not present, the script creates the file and opens the Setup Assistant. The next time the script runs for this user, the file will exist, and the script will exit without opening the Setup Assistant.

You can use this same basic technique for any script you want to run just once - the script actually runs at each startup/login/etc, but exits without doing anything if a certain file exists. In my opinion, this is a better approach than a script that removes itself after it runs because you can easily re-run the script in the future simply by removing its "flag" file.

Login items

There is another type of item that runs at user login. It's usually referred to as a login item, though an earlier version of Mac OS X confusingly called these "startup items". Users can add their own login items, either from the Accounts pane of the System Preferences application, or by right-clicking or control-clicking on an item in the Dock and choosing Open at Login from the contextual menu that appears.


Figure 2. Setting an item to open at login

What a system administrator needs, though, is a way to specify that certain items open for all users of a given machine. There are two ways to do this. The first, if you are using MCX, is to add the items to the managed login preferences using Workgroup Manager. The second is to add the items to the file at /Library/Preferences/loginwindow.plist:

> defaults read /Library/Preferences/loginwindow AutoLaunchedApplicationDictionary
(
        {
        Hide = 1;
        Path = "/Library/Management/LoginLauncher.app";
    }
)

Applications added here are launched for all users of a given machine at login, in addition to whatever items a user may have added to their own list of login items. Note that the name of the key is AutoLaunchedApplicationDictionary - you have to add applications here, and not scripts - even if they are set as executable. In order to use this mechanism to run scripts, you need to either wrap your script into an application bundle, or write an app whose purpose is to run your scripts. Fortunately, I've done that work for you. A link to such an application can be found in the next section of this article.

Running multiple scripts

A major problem with login/logout hooks is that there is support for only a single login/logout script. This can be a problem if you need to implement more than one script. A solution to this problem is to implement master login/logout hooks, which in turn run additional scripts within a given directory. Here's a sample master login hook:

#!/bin/sh
# Master login hook script
# runs each script found in the login hooks directory
LOGINHOOKSDIR="/etc/hooks/login"
if [ -d ${LOGINHOOKSDIR} ]; then
    for script in ${LOGINHOOKSDIR}/* ; do
        if [ -s ${script} -a -x ${script} ]; then
            # log this run
            logger -s -t LoginHook -p user.info Executing ${script}... 1>&2
            # run the item.
            ${script} $*
             
            # if there was an error, log it
            rc=$?
            if [ $rc -ne 0 ]; then
                logger -s -t LoginHook -p user.info ${script} failed with return code ${rc} 1>&2
                exit $rc
             fi
        fi
    done
fi
exit 0

This master hook loops through all the items in the /etc/hooks/login directory, checks to see if each item is non-zero-length and executable, and if so, writes a message to the system log announcing it's running the item, and then runs the item, passing along any command-line parameters that were sent to the master hook. A similar script could be used to run multiple logout hooks.

In fact, this technique is useful in other scripting situations. If you create a launchd plist to run a specific script at startup, and later you want to run another script as well, you'd have to create another launchd plist for the second script. This quickly gets tedious and error-prone. If, instead, you created a script like the master loginhook that ran all the scripts in a certain directory, and created a launchd plist to run that script, then to run additional scripts, you'd only have to put them in the special directory. This enables you to do the hard work once and then add or subtract scripts as needed.

Another variation of this technique can be used to run scripts at login as the user who is logging in. You can get details on doing this at the MacEnterprise.org site:

http://www.macenterprise.org/articles/runningitemsatlogin

Conclusion, and More info

That concludes our look at scripting opportunities. You should now have a better idea how you can get your scripts to run at the proper time and in the proper context. Below, I've listed a few more places to get more info on some of the topics we've discussed. Good luck!

More options for running code at login, and a discussion of the pros and cons of each:

http://developer.apple.com/technotes/tn2008/tn2228.html

launchd, LaunchDaemons, and LaunchAgents:

http://developer.apple.com/technotes/tn2005/tn2083.html

http://developer.apple.com/documentation/MacOSX/Conceptual/BPSystemStartup/Articles/LaunchOnDemandDaemons.html

Login items, login/logout hooks, and LaunchAgents:

http://developer.apple.com/documentation/MacOSX/Conceptual/BPSystemStartup/Articles/CustomLogin.html


Greg Neagle is a member of the steering committee of the Mac OS X Enterprise Project (macenterprise.org) and is a senior systems engineer at a large animation studio. Greg has been working with the Mac since 1984, and with OS X since its release. He can be reached at gregneagle@mac.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

jAlbum Pro 15.0 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more
jAlbum 15.0 - Create custom photo galler...
With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly, with pro results - Simply drag and drop photos into groups, choose a design... Read more
Duet 1.6.9.3 - Use your iPad as an exter...
Duet is the first app that allows you to use your iDevice as an extra display for your Mac using the Lightning or 30-pin cable. Note: This app requires a $14.99 iOS companion app. Version 1.6.9.3:... Read more
Duet 1.6.9.3 - Use your iPad as an exter...
Duet is the first app that allows you to use your iDevice as an extra display for your Mac using the Lightning or 30-pin cable. Note: This app requires a $14.99 iOS companion app. Version 1.6.9.3:... Read more
iExplorer 4.1.10 - View and transfer fil...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
iExplorer 4.1.10 - View and transfer fil...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
Adobe InCopy CC 2018 13.0.1.207 - Create...
InCopy 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 InCopy customer). Adobe InCopy CC 2018, ideal for large team projects... Read more
Microsoft Office 2016 15.40 - Popular pr...
Microsoft Office 2016 - Unmistakably Office, designed for Mac. The new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote provide the best of both worlds for Mac users - the familiar Office... Read more
Adobe InDesign CC 2018 13.0.1.207 - Prof...
InDesign 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 InDesign customer). Adobe InDesign CC 2018 is part of Creative Cloud.... Read more
Apple iOS 11.1.2 - The latest version of...
iOS 11 sets a new standard for what is already the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. It makes iPhone better than before. It makes iPad more capable than ever. And now it opens up both to... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Mighty Battles guide - how to build a so...
Mighty Battles, the latest title from Hothead Games, is set to take the App Store by storm. The game puts a welcome twist on lane battlers, adding FPS elements to spice things up a bit. You'll collect cards to put your own military unit to gether,... | Read more »
Rules of Survival guide - how to be the...
The PUBG craze makes its way to mobile, with more and more battle royale games debuting on iOS and Android. Rules of Survival joins the ranks of mobile PUBG-likes, offering a classic battle royale experiences that doesn't vary too much from its... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week -...
The weekend is upon us friends, and it's time to take a look back and reflect on all of the wonderful games we've played over the past few days. This week was jam packed with new releases. There were some big, long awaited launches, some fun... | Read more »
Lineage II: Revolution guide - tips and...
At long last, Lineage II: Revolution has now come to western shores, bring Netmarble's sweeping MMORPG to mobile devices. It's an addictive, epic experience, but some of the systems in the game can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help... | Read more »
A Boy and His Blob (Games)
A Boy and His Blob 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Fight terrible monsters and collect epic...
Released on Western markets early last month, Dragon Project, created by Japanese developer COLOPL, brings epic monster hunting action to mobile for the very first time. Collect a huge array of weapons and armor, and join up with friends to fight... | Read more »
I Am The Hero (Games)
I Am The Hero 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: I Am The Hero is a pixel art, beat 'em up, fighting game that tells the story of a "Hero" with a glorious but mysterious past.... | Read more »
Kauldron (Music)
Kauldron 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Kauldron is our warmest sounding, punchiest synth yet! A completely new modeling technology, combined with carefully designed... | Read more »
Lineage II: Revolution is mobile’s bigge...
NCSoft’s hit fantasy MMORPG series has just made the leap to mobile with the help of Netmarble in Lineage II: Revolution. With over 1.5 million players having already pre-registered ahead of the game’s launch, Revolution hit the app stores... | Read more »
Swing skilfully in new physics-based pla...
Sometimes it’s the most difficult of obstacles that can be the most rewarding. One game hoping to prove this is OCMO, the new tough but fair platformer from developers Team Ocmo. Primed to set every speedrunner’s pulse racing, as an otherworldly... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Black Friday deals on Apple Macs now live at...
Amazon has MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, MacBooks, and iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP for Black Friday week. Shipping is free. Note that stock of some Macs may come and go during the week, so... Read more
Black Friday pricing on Macs and iPads now av...
B&H Photo has lowered prices on many Macs, iPads, and iPad Pros as part of their Black Friday week sale. Save up to $200 on MacBooks and iMacs and up to $150 on iPads. B&H charges sales tax... Read more
Best Apple iPad deals this weekend, up to $80...
Apple resellers are offering 9.7″ iPads and 10.5″ iPad Pros for up to $80 off MSRP this weekend as part of their early Holiday and Black Friday sales: Adorama is offering new 2017 9.7″ 32GB WiFi... Read more
Early Black Friday sale: Apple iMacs for up t...
B&H Photo has 27-inch iMacs in stock and on sale for up $130-$150 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $2149 $150 off... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis starting...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished Mac minis starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: – 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP – 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
Save on 12″ MacBooks, Apple refurbished model...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 12″ Retina MacBooks available for $200-$240 off the cost of new models. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more
Early Holiday sale: 12″ iPad Pros for up to $...
B&H Photo has 12″ iPad Pros on sale today for up to $130 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H collects no sales tax outside NY & NJ: – 12″ 64GB WiFi iPad Pro: $749, save $50 – 12″ 256GB... Read more
Holiday sale prices on Apple 13″ MacBook Pros...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100-$150 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro... Read more
Sale: 13″ MacBook Airs starting at $899, $100...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Airs on sale today for $100 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $100 off... Read more
Week’s Best Deal on 13″ MacBook Pros: Apple r...
Apple has a full line of Apple Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ MacBook Pros available for $200-$300 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more

Jobs Board

Product Manager - *Apple* Pay on the *Appl...
Job Summary Apple is looking for a talented product manager to drive the expansion of Apple Pay on the Apple Online Store. This position includes a unique Read more
*Apple* Pro/Consumer Apps Support Engineer -...
…exemplify AppleCare's expert technical support paired with exceptional customer service for Apple 's software apps. This person is a problem solver, who understands Read more
Partner Marketing Manager, *Apple* Pay - Ap...
Job Summary The Apple Pay partner marketing team is looking for a Marketing Manager to develop and drive US programs. The right candidate will be passionate about Read more
*Apple* Solution Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solution Consultant - Rochester, MN Job Number: 113037950 Rochester, MN, Minnesota, United States Posted: 19-Sep-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Are Read more
Sr. Experience Producer, Today at *Apple* -...
# Sr. Experience Producer, Today at Apple Job Number: 56495251 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 23-Jun-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.