This weekend’s technical dramas have largely been fighting obscure Linux authentication issues in order to get email to work.
Authentication and email are two of the most important elements of a good system, but they’re both barely above the level of ‘black art’. Documentation is either scarce or impenetrable and they’re both minefields of complex interactions between many diverse parts.
Admittedly, it’s partly my own fault for choosing to use a database back-end for storing authentication details instead of flat files – but using a database should not be an unreasonable choice any more! It does, however, introduce more elements to the interaction – and in this case the pam_mysql module caused some difficulties. I think the worst thing is the troubleshooting. At several points over the last day I’ve been watching (via
tail -f) three or more log files to try and follow the authentication process to see where it’s been failing, and found that fixes hadn’t gone live due to one service or another needing restarting.
This is, I suppose, the ‘UNIX way’ – lots of fiddly little things interacting with each other creating a system so horribly complicated that everyone other than the sysadmin is too scared to make changes to in case it brings down something random and apparently unrelated.
Is it just me, or is the ‘UNIX way’ mostly intended to create job security for old grey-bearded sysadmins?