Aug 27

Upgrading to FreeBSD 9.x with a whole-disk gmirror

My FreeBSD desktop workstation has been on 8.x since I built it just over two years ago. When I made it, I bought two 1TB HDDs and setup a RAID-1 volume with gmirror, following what was at the time the recommended instructions from the FreeBSD Handbook. After delaying the upgrade to 9.x repeatedly over the last several months I finally decided to give it a try after 9.1-RC1 was announced. Read on for how it went wrong, since FreeBSD 9.x more correctly handles partition integrity checks.

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Aug 24

Setting Up a FreeBSD SVN Mirror

According to discussions on the FreeBSD-stable list, CVS support for FreeBSD sources is not just dying, it’s practically dead. (I’ll skip over the jokes about Netcraft confirming it…) So I setup an SVN mirror of the FreeBSD base and ports repositories and documented the process a little. I did this mainly because there are a lot of servers in two locations that need frequent access to the base and ports repositories, and there are currently cvsup mirrors running (one at each place) to keep the load off the upstream servers and for faster local access.

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Apr 07

How to make a Tweetdeck Chrome Application shortcut in KDE

The other day I found that the Tweetdeck Chrome extension worked on FreeBSD (With Chromium 18.0.1025.142, probably earlier as well). I had been missing a full GUI to monitor some things on Twitter on my FreeBSD box. I have a much larger monitor on my FreeBSD workstation than on my Windows laptop, so I’d rather use the extra screen space there to keep a search column up (For pfSense, mainly).

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Jan 06

Asus Transformer Prime Review

Seeing as I was one of the lucky few to get their hands on an Asus Transformer Prime so soon, a couple people have asked me to write up a short review of the device.

Having never possessed a tablet before I do not have any baseline for comparison so there may be some skew in my opinions due to that fact. Some of my positives and negatives may be true for all tablets — or at least those of this size/form factor.

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Apr 15

Growl Server for KDE to Receive Network Alerts

It’s no secret that I work with pfSense a lot, and a while back support was added to pfSense for Growl alerts over the network. Tired of being jealous of everyone else with a Mac (and even Windows!) who could get growl alerts, and not having any growl servers available for FreeBSD, I decided to dive in a little deeper.

After searches for a stand-alone growl server came up empty, I started looking for anyone who had implemented a server in another language like python, ruby or perl. Lo and behold, I found one in python! Just one problem: I use KDE, and that one was for gnome/dbus. Luckily the code is quite easy to follow and it was easy to modify. The kdialog program in KDE already supports growl style alerts by using kdialog –passivepopup, so it was just a matter of ripping out the gnome/dbus bits and replacing them with a call to kdialog.

Without further ado, I present:

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Feb 26

More PHP Woes: PHP 5.2.8 and libxml 2.7.x

EDIT: PHP 5.2.9 is out for FreeBSD, so this may be fixed.

There seems to be a bug in the way PHP’s xml library handles data when compiled against libxml 2.7.x. Supposedly, this will be fixed in the next release of PHP, but for now you have to back down to libxml 2.6.x, or compile against expat instead of libxml.

I first noticed this with a Joomla installation, a component was erroring out, saying “Fatal error: Call to a member function getTagName() on a non-object” (Z Weather, for those interested in knowing). Investigating this led me to this bug entry for PHP. I then found another server of mine with problems, this one was using XMLRPC and was getting back responses stripped of the < and > characters, rendering returned HTML code quite broken.

For those of you on FreeBSD who have no idea how to downgrade to the earlier version, it’s actually pretty simple, it can be done like so:

# cd /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/portdowngrade/
# make DEFAULT_CVS_SERVER="" install clean
# portdowngrade libxml2

When presented with the choice, choose textproc/libxml2 (Probably option #2).
It will then start listing all prior version of the libxml2 port. When you see version 2.6.32, press enter. Use the most recent copy of 2.6.32, for me it was timestamped 2008/11/19 19:23:07.
Press the number (probably 3) at the start of the line for the version you want, and let portdowngrade do its thing. As suggested by the output of portdowngrade, finish up like so:

# portsdb -Uu
# portupgrade -f libxml2
# /usr/local/etc/rc.d/apache22 restart

Be aware that the portsdb -Uu run can take a while on older systems. Also, you may substitute that last line with whatever command you typically use to restart apache (shutdown and start again, not a graceful restart)

Danger Will Robinson!: Note that if you update your ports tree it will bring libxml2 back to the most recent version, be careful not to upgrade it again until after the next release of PHP!

Feb 24

Fix for Belt-Driven CD-ROM/DVD Drives that won’t open

Lately I’ve had a rash of optical drives (DVD-RW/CD-ROM/CD-RW) that refuse to open without a little nudge from a paper clip via the manual eject mechanism. I’d press the button and hear a soft “thunk” but the drive tray barely budged. All of the drives that have this issue have been belt-driven. The old gear-driven trays were louder, but they worked much more reliably.

After cleaning the drive trying to replace the belt without success, and even trying to replace a drive motor, I stumbled upon an answer so simple I didn’t believe it would work: Wash the belt in soap and water! For good measure, I also used a Q-Tip with rubbing alcohol on it to clean the pulleys. This has saved several drives from the trash heap, and likely many more in the future.

If you have the right tools, you can even unloop the belt, wash it off, and replace it without removing the drive case. Just be careful, and make sure the power is off before you attempt to work inside the drive.

I hope this saves others a bit of sanity.

Sep 22

PHP Crashes Caused By Extension Ordering: A Workaround

As I posted about nearly a year ago, I was (and still am) seeing Apache crashes caused by PHP extension ordering issues. So far, there has been no official or even unofficial workaround for the problem. I wrote a small shell script (/bin/sh for better portability) that will reorder the extensions in php.ini into the order that seems to cause the least problems for me.

Suggestions and improvements are more than welcome. I submitted this script to the PHP port maintainer for FreeBSD but have not yet heard back, which could be due to the hackishness of my script…

Anyhow, I’m pleased to announce that It Works For Me(TM) and you’re welcome to try it:

You may have to edit the file to correct pathnames and such, but if you build PHP from FreeBSD’s ports system, it should work. It’s especially nice when used with portupgrade like so:

portupgrade -A /root/bin/ php5-\*

That will cause portupgrade to execute that script after each module is rebuilt. This will help if you have any cron or CLI PHP scripts that would reload modules while the upgrade is happening. I tried this method on several servers and it worked well. The only problem was a server running Cacti that polls every 5 minutes. I had two crashes while the upgrade was going on, but that is far better than the dozens it was getting when doing this by hand.

Update 11/21/07: I updated the script to also put at the end of the file. It needs to be loaded after or PHP may crash Apache when a process terminates — either with a full shutdown or when an extra forked process is killed.

Update 6/25/08: Script updated to ensure comes before, which caused problems with PHP when used at the command line (CLI). Reported by Octaviao Ionescu.

Update 2/22/09: I updated the script again. I found that now must come after, or it complains about missing symbols. I also moved xml to the end hoping to fix another issue, but it did not help. It didn’t hurt, either, so I left the change in. Let me know if there are problems.

Update 1/21/10: Another script update. Had more crashes until I moved pdo/pdo_sqlite/pdo_mysql around a bit.

Jul 28

Comment/Trackback Spam

Lately this site has been overrun with comment and trackback spam, not that it shows because I moderate everything. Still, my inbox has been full of junk because of it. I enabled a CAPTCHA image on comment posts. I hope this isn’t much of an inconvenience, but it was either this or disable comments completely. I also disabled trackbacks site-wide. I never used trackbacks anyhow, so it’s no big loss.

I don’t receive many comments, but when I do they are usually meaningful or informative in some way, so I did not want to drop them.

Now, if I can just find the time to post more often…

May 13

PHP Crashes Caused By Extensions II

As I wrote about previously, I have had problems with Apache and PHP crashing due to various PHP Extensions. I have come upon another combination that triggers a problem, but after investigating it a little I see that it’s been reported before, and nobody wants to fix it. PHP blames PHP accelerator systems, and Zend claims it’s a shared memory configuration problem (it isn’t — at least on my system)

The error happens whenever attempting a graceful restart of Apache via “apachectl graceful”:

  • [notice] seg fault or similar nasty error detected in the parent process

The environment:

  • Apache 2.2.4
  • PHP 5.2.1
  • Zend Optimizer 3.2.8

The culprit:

  • Some interaction between the Zend Optimizer being loaded along with the PHP pspell module.

If I disable one or the other, the crash goes away. Since this particular installation does not require the pspell module, I disabled it and things have been stable ever since.

I did follow Zend’s recommendations for increasing certain shared memory tunables on FreeBSD, as well as trying to recompile everything involved. For more information on shared memory tuning check the FreeBSD man page tuning(7) as well as this Zend Knowledge Base article. Note that certain sysctl settings may only be modified at boot time via /boot/loader.conf and/or /etc/sysctl.conf.

More information to come if I can find anything else…

Update 11/21/2007 – I found that in more recent version of PHP (Around 5.2.4-5.2.5) having loaded before in extensions.ini will result in crashes when an httpd process is stopped/killed. Moving pspell anywhere after spl will clear this up (so far…).