Linux Weekly News

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Dedicated to keeping Linux users up-to-date, with concise news for all interests
Published Thursday, January 22nd

Kernel development

The current development kernel version is 2.1.79, with no less than four pre-80 patches released. A code freeze is allegedly in place, though it doesn't appear to have frozen very solid yet. The stock .79 kernel has compilation problems, but with the pre-80 patches it seems pretty stable. Work continues on SMB and NFS support, and many other issues.

Some discussion on the best motherboards and processors for SMP systems. There seems to be a bit of dissatisfaction with Intel's current offerings; it seems that the Pentium II onboard cache only runs at half the CPU speed, which greatly reduces its usefulness in the multiprocessing environment (which is even more memory bound than uniprocessors, often).

The best bet for folks looking for multiprocessor screamer systems is to wait until Spring or so when the "deschutes" (400 MHz Pentium II) comes out; it will have a full-speed cache. It will also have a new slot type (again) so don't expect to upgrade to it with your existing motherboards.

A "road map" of Intel's upcoming offerings can be found at
...a great site for seeing what's ahead!

Alan Cox posted a good description of how the new spin locks work in linux-parport. The source of this info isn't made explicit, but it's signed "Linus".

Questions arose in c.o.l.d.system regarding rescanning the SCSI bus to pick up a new peripheral (i.e. a tape drive that had just been turned on). 2.1.* can do this, just drop some information into /proc/scsi/scsi (assuming you have the sysctl option turned on). Check out drivers/scsi/scsi.c for details. Everybody warns, though, that SCSI busses were not designed for hot plugging of devices, so one needs to use this capability with care...

The question of the 2GB limit on the size of any one file in the ext2 file system came up. Seems that really cramps some peoples' style. The consensus is that larger files are doable, but some changes throughout the file system and memory management code will be required. Maybe in 2.3.x...

Gcc 2.8 was released by the FSF. Unfortunately, it does not seem able to compile working kernels, so the recommendation seems to be to avoid it for now.

By far the bulk of the kernel-related traffic in the last week has been regarding the "devfs" proposal, being pushed through by Richard Gooch. Devfs is a new type of kernel file system intended to replace /dev. Instead of static device files based on major and minor numbers, devfs provides a dynamic list of the actual devices known to the system. There are numerous advantages provided by such a system; see Richard's description for more information.

Initial debate focused on whether devfs was needed or not. The consensus seems to be that it is a useful addition, though a few strong dissenters exist. A much longer discussion tried to work out just what the devfs entries should look like, with emphasis on SCSI devices. Nobody likes that SCSI disks get renumbered when hardware changes happen; everybody agrees that encoding the bus, target, and unit numbers into the devfs entries would solve the problem. Given that much agreement, one would think the rest would be easy, but it was not to be.

The consensus ended up being something like:

where the zeroes are replaced by the numbers of the controller, bus, target, unit, and partition. There is, however, a multi- directory variant still in contention.

There is also a strong set of voices asking for dev entries to be named after the partition's mount point (i.e. /dev/usr). There are difficulties posed by this scheme, and the general sense seems to be that it should be a user-mode add on.

Problems remain regarding what the permissions should be on the (dynamic) device entries.

Linus has been silent through this whole discussion, so it's not really clear whether he likes the idea or not. In any case, the 2.1 kernel is supposed to be in a code freeze, meaning that devfs would not appear in 2.2 unless an exception is made.


PPP 2.3.3 is in beta, with some good reports. It offers on-demand connections, among other things.


Some complaints this week about difficulties with the PAM (pluggable authentication modules) system. Not that these are Alpha-specific, but that's where the gripes went. Some people think PAM isn't quite ready for prime time yet. Maybe not, but it's a nice approach to the authentication problem anyway, and it seems to be getting there fast.

The question was raised whether PostgreSQL works on the alpha platform. (PostgreSQL is an SQL-based version of the Berkeley postgres object-relational database system). Claims were made that it is not 64-bit clean, but a member of the development team disputes that. The claim is that the Linux/alpha port will be made available "sometime soon".

Some alpha folks are pleased with the publicity regarding linux/alpha's use in the creation of the film 'Titanic.' See One wag commented on the fact that they evidently had some difficulties with floating point exceptions -- he claims the same could be said for the Titanic as well...

Another common question: where can g77 (the GNU Fortran compiler) be obtained? The answer (for any architecture, really) is to get 'egcs' and install that. It's a much easier approach than applying the g77 patches yourself. Red Hat RPM's exist in their contrib area; not sure about other distributions.

Questions were asked about whether netscape 4.04 can be made to run on an alpha system. Answers were mixed, but the consensus seems to be 'yes'. Of course, you need a (properly licensed, of course) copy of the DEC unix libraries for this to work. Maybe someday Netscape will put out a native linux/alpha port.

Some folks have reported problems with programs compiled with gcc under optimization. The suggestion: use -O0 (oh zero) if you're seeing weirdness, or maybe even before you see weirdness.

Some questions were raised about whether multiple monitors can be used under linux-PPC. The answer is that it is a work in progress; interested folks are referred to

If you're interested in Sun boot ROMs, check out:

Here you'll find descriptions, Sun part numbers, and, in a lot of cases, the actual boot rom images, ready for downloading into your very own eeprom...

Redhat 4.2 for Sparc has a nifty bug with passwd which still seems to zap people. If you ever get the (immensely helpful) message "passwd: Critical error - immediate abort" you know that you need to go to the Red Hat errata page and install the updates. Red Hat says that problems of this magnitude shouldn't slip through again, now that they have a full time QA person.


Caldera has issued two recent security advisories, dated December 31, 1997 and January 9, 1998. The first reports a vulnerability with identd which can allow denial-of-service attacks. The second reports a weakness in metamail (version 2.7-5 and earlier) in which a faked mime enclosure can be used to write or overwrite a user's file.

These security advisories, and older Caldera advisories, can be found on Caldera's Security page.

Security flaws have been found in apache that allow *local* users to gain access to the UID under which apache is running. The impact is minimized if Apache runs as user 'nobody'. Apache 1.2.5 fixes these security problems.
Buffer overflow problems in mh can allow users access to root. This problem has been verified in all versions of Red Hat. New packages are available on for both 4.2 and 5.0. Credit goes to Cesar Tascon Alvarez for spotting this problem.


Rumors of release requirements and an upcoming code freeze float on the airways. New packages have been released for sparc, alpha, m68K and i386 platforms, though only the last two fix any urgent problems.

Some users have had unco problems with using dselect to remove packages under Debian. Reasons for this are currently unclear and begin debated, but one workaround is to use dpkg directly for package removal instead.

Speaking of the Free software development community, the SEUL project (Simple End-User Linux) was re-announced to the world on January 12, 1998. Currently based on Red Hat Linux, an RFC has been issued to consider basing SEUL off of the existing Debian tree instead. Whichever way they go, activity on the project has greatly increased over the past two weeks.

Red Hat
Can a corporation and the free software community truly work together? Red Hat is betting on it with the formation of a new division - Red Hat Advanced Development Labs. Plans are to work with the Free software development community to develop a highly accessible graphical computing environment on Linux. Check out RHAD's Web page at

The First RHAD Labs Screensaver Contest has been announced. To be chosen publicly at the Linux Expo, the first, second and third place winners will receive hardware (various video cards), and the winning entry, and possibly other good entries, will appear in a future release of Red Hat Linux.

Other notes:

One of the FAQs of the week has to do with the newer versions of Apache, which no longer recognize files ending in '.htm' as HTML files. As a result, your viewers see the straight HTML, which is probably not what you had in mind. The solution is to add a line like:

AddType text/html .htm

to httpd.conf, or, alternatively:

text/html html htm

to mime.types.

A call has been made on java-linux for coordinating the JAVA-Linux effort. A site is needed as well as a coordinator. Contact Mark Swanson if you have a good link to the net that is not likely to disappear over the next few years and are interested.

A possible temporary fix to the accept()/TCP bug that has been annoying java programmers has been listed on the java-linux mailing list. The problem is actually a linux bug that will not be fixed until the 2.2 kernel is released. Check Uncle George's post in the java-linux archives if you can't wait.

Software announcements

Package Version Description
Awethor A java-based graphics authoring tool (commercial).
BD4 5.05 A Boulderdash game for X.
bibprep Bibliography preprocessor for HTML files.
cdlabel 1.1Generate inserts for CD cases.
ChemApp Computational thermochemistry tool
clig 1.0.1 Command line interpreter generator.
Gmemusage 0.2 Graphically monitor system memory usage.
HT-MIME 0.80 A MIME mode enhancement for emacs rmail.
kdrill 5.5 A program to teach (and drill) Kanji.
Kpilot (first)KDE-based "hot sync" manager for Palm Pilots.
ksermon 0.2Serial port monitor (see signals, transfer rates). KDE-enabled.
LLNL XDIR 2.1b1 Motif-based graphical FTP client.
multitrack 2.0 Record multitrack sound to disk.
mxApps 1.09Motif-based email and FTP clients.
paudio 0.1Save outgoing audio data to a file.
Quickscript A postscript text formatting and typesetting program.
ras Redundant archive system - adds redundant information to a set of files such that partial losses can be recovered.
SSLtcl 0.42Add secure socket layer capability to TCL.
texi2html Convert TeXinfo files to HTML
Un*x attack 16-player tank attack game.
urlmon 2.3Monitor web sites for changes.
varkon 1.15CDevelopment tool for parametric CAD and engineering applications.
vold 1.1 Automatically mount CDROMs.
Webalizer Web server logfile analysis
xab An X11-based address book.
xdnd An X11 drag and drop protocol.
Xenmenu0.7a Generate text-based menus.
xirc 2.2 X11-based IRC client.
XSuSE X servers with support for the Trident Cyber 9397 (Thinkpad 770) chipset and for Riva128-based cards.

Web site announcements


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