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Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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The FreeBSD Project

Fri, 11 Dec 2009

Issues With OpenSolaris --- The GNU Tools

After my recent post about giving up on OpenSolaris I received a few requests for more information from some people who were prepared to jump through the hoops of contacting me despite the lack of comments on this blog. This is one such followup. I plan more.

For reasons which are probably understood somewhere inside Sun, but which I believe to be at least in part a requirement to support legacy software, OpenSolaris is still delivered with antique, if genuinely Unix, software tools. If an innocent newbie whines about the fact that the supplied awk or tar—to pick just two examples out of many—is unable to handle just about any task that someone might expect in 2009, she will be told that the GNU utilities are available. Not only are they available, but they are available in multiple ways.

To take the case of awk, old awk is /usr/bin/awk, GNU awk is /usr/gnu/bin/awk and that one turns out to be a symlink to /usr/bin/gawk. So you can get GNU awk either by calling it gawk or /usr/gnu/bin/awk, which might tempt you to put /usr/gnu/bin in your $PATH before /usr/bin. If you do that, you might manage for hours or days until, for example, you needed to read a man page. At that point, man will be mysteriously broken, because it depends on the old Solaris versions of some of the formatting tools rather than the GNU versions, but the idiots who built man for current versions of OpenSolaris have apparently forgotten something I thought all Unix people had known for at least the last 25 years—in system tools, you exec full pathnames rather than relying on the user’s $PATH to find the right ones.

One last note for today: despite the fact that “everybody” knows that shell scripts start with #!/bin/sh, in OpenSolaris they start with #!/usr/bin/sh despite the fact that the historical formulation would work. Why? Because at some point, they did away with /bin and moved everything into /usr/bin. While it’s true that they do provide a symlink from /usr/bin to /bin, gratuitous changes like that really don’t help anybody.

Sane readers will quite possibly feel that this little essay is hardly sufficient reason to abandon OpenSolaris—and I would agree with that. But there is much more and I’ll try to cover some other issues in the near future.