The sysadmin's life (again)

January 31, 2008

I made a bugfix to our mail server's configuration today.

Size of the bugfix: 25 characters added to an existing line.

Size of the comment sort of explaining why the bugfix is necessary: six lines.

(And a complete discussion of the issue would be much longer.)

Of course, this is not unique to system administration; programming also has that sort of bugfixes. I think system administration may be more prone to it, because so few of our tools, especially the ones with complicated logic, have actual programming languages. Without languages, our logic and thus the changes in that logic become all that more dense and cryptic.

Another way to put it is that very few people create configuration systems with the goal of communicating with both the program and other people; instead they are almost always aimed just towards communicating with the program. This generally winds up leaving a great many things implicit, and then to try to make them explicit we write six lines of comments for 25 character changes.

(Let's not talk about the amount of effort to test and validate changes, either. The idea of testability is pretty much a foreign concept for most systems that I have to deal with; I can only dream of automated functional tests unless I feel like building a pretty large amount of infrastructure.)

Written on 31 January 2008.
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Last modified: Thu Jan 31 22:55:14 2008
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