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Net.digest summarizes helpful technical discussions on the HP 3000 Internet newsgroup and mailing list. Advice here is offered on a best-effort, Good Samaritan basis. Test these concepts for yourself before applying them to your HP 3000s.

Edited by John Burke

Last month’s source postings for this issue included April Fools Day, and so of course we got the now familiar “Microsoft has patented the numbers zero and one” posting. But not much new, though at least one person branded Wirt Atmar’s political prognostications as an April Fools joke. It wasn’t. There were also lengthy threads about global warming and whether it is a fact or not, and Darwinism versus the slippery new version of Creationism called Intelligent Design. I think I can safely say no minds were changed.

One thing that always happens when 3000-L diverts to the wildly off-topic is a handful of people will post messages to 3000-L asking to be removed from the list. So it was again. Apparently they forget to keep around the message they get upon subscribing to 3000-L that tells how to leave. Or they just can’t be bothered to look. After a certain amount of argument, it was decided to append a simple two line “how-to” onto the end of each posting in the hopes this would serve to eliminate such annoying postings. It took exactly seven days for the following warning to come true. “The same morons who were somehow able to get onto the list but can’t be bothered to figure out how to get off will still post their ‘please unsubscribe me’ messages. It’s just that they will be slightly more humorous due to having the ‘how to’ instructions appended.”

My favorite posting of the month, though, was this story from CMP’s TechWeb: The University of North Carolina has finally found a network server that, although missing for four years, hasn’t missed a packet in all that time. Try as they might, university administrators couldn’t find the server. Working with Novell, IT workers tracked it down by meticulously following cable until they literally ran into a wall. Maintenance workers had mistakenly sealed the server behind drywall.” My second favorite: “New Mexico has become the first state to offer motorists an online vision test.” Huh?

As always, I would like to hear from readers of net.digest and Hidden Value. Even negative comments are welcome. If you think I’m full of it or goofed, or a horse’s behind, let me know. If something from these columns helped you, let me know. If you’ve got an idea for something you think I missed, let me know. If you spot something on 3000-L and would like someone to elaborate on what was discussed, let me know. Are you seeing a pattern here? You can reach me at john.burke@paccoast.com or john@burke-consulting.com.

Let’s consider some Posix-related issues first this month.

What really happens when you use the Posix shell?

Since many of us are now using the shell extensively for perhaps the first time, it seems appropriate to discuss what really happens in the shell. This question started the thread: “Is an instance of the MPE command interpreter launched whenever a Posix shell cgi script does a ‘callci’?”

Doug Werth using debug to show that ‘callci’ from the shell prompt is just an interface to the HPCICOMMAND intrinsic. Thus no new instance of the CI is launched. But what about ‘callci’ in a shell script? There was speculation that this would result in the creation of a new process for CALLCI.HPBIN.SYS. However, Gavin Scott provided the following:

“The functionality of CALLCI.HPBIN.SYS along with many other commonly executed shell commands (including ‘ls’) was merged into the SH executable quite a while ago for performance reasons (specifically to eliminate the process creation overhead). The result is that a ‘callci’ results in a direct call to HPCICOMMAND without any extra process creation of CALLCI.HPBIN.SYS or CI.PUB.SYS or anything other than what might be required by the command you’re executing.

“If you do a :LISTF,3 on files like CALLCI and LS in HPBIN.SYS, you’ll see that they haven’t even been accessed recently, since a copy of their code exists directly in the SHell program executable. If you explicitly execute something like

$ /SYS/HPBIN/LS * then you’ll be running the code in the external program rather than the built in version, and you’ll probably notice the extra delay involved too.”

Frank Gribben did some searching and came up with:

“I did a little digging and came up with the following. Posix’s ‘whence’ disagrees with MPE/iX Shell & Utilities Reference Manual Vol. 2 on a few. I went with ‘whence.’

“The following commands are built into the shell. Building such commands into the shell increases the performance of shell scripts and allows access to the shell’s internal data structure and variables. For details on a command, see its man page. These internal commands have semantics indistinguishable from external commands:

alias basename break callci cat cd chmod chown command continue cp echo eval exec exit export false fc frombyte getopts jobs kill let ln ls mv print printf pwd read readonly return rm set shift test time times tobyte trap true type typeset umask unalias unset wait whence.

“POSIX.2 recognizes a subset of these commands as special built-ins. Syntax errors in special built-in commands cause a non-interactive shell to exit with the exit status set by the command. The special built-in utilities are:

break continue eval exec exit export readonly return set shift trap typeset unset

“As well as built-in commands, the shell has a set of predefined aliases: functions hash history integer r suspend.”

Gavin then added, “One thing to note is that while the commands that are built in can be executed efficiently without a fork()/exec() most of the time, there are some common cases where at least a fork() is still required.

“Any time the pipe “|” function is used to connect the output of one command to the input of another the shell will have to fork() at least once.

“Any expression in backtic “`” characters will cause the shell to fork(). For example the shell statement: export now=`date +%H%M`has to fork() in order to capture the output of the date command, even though “date” is built into the shell. This is the sort of thing which takes virtually no time on Unix but is quite expensive on MPE.

“So even a shell script that uses nothing but the built-in commands can still result in extreme slowdowns due to fork() overhead if it uses pipes and the `expression` syntax (maybe other things too, but those are the ones I know of).”

A tale of tail – or, more Posix smoothing issues

It all started out with the following posting:

“I remember that in Unix you can tail -f the stdout of a running program so as to monitor the execution. Is there a way to ‘tail -f’ the stdlist of a job so that the results of the executing program gets displayed on the screen?”

Several people suggested xeq tail.hpbin.sys “-f /HPSPOOL/OUT/Onnn”, where Onnn is the $stdlist of the job.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out in a follow-up, even when logged on as a user with SM capability, it fails

:tail.hpbin.sys “-f /HPSPOOL/OUT/O393”
tail: /HPSPOOL/OUT/O393: Permission denied

The same is true from the shell itself:

tail -f /HPSPOOL/OUT/O225
tail: /HPSPOOL/OUT/O225: Permission denied

The solution, a slight variation which only works outside the shell, will read the spoolfile and output the current last 10 lines, but it doesn’t seem to be aware of when new records are added:
It just sits there waiting for you to ctrl-y out. Two things are happening here. First, and most obviously, the command does not work as specified by the man page:

“-f monitors a file as it grows. At the end of the file, tail wakes up every two seconds and prints any new data at the end of the file. This flag is ignored if reading from the standard input and standard input is a pipe.”

As I noted, it does not work at all, let alone correctly, from the shell. This is not a huge deal since you can come close to simulating the behavior using CI commands (see below). The real problem, as Donna Garverick points out, is IO redirection and the Posix tools do not play well together. To see what she means, stream the following job:

!JOB mgr.account
callci setvar myvar,0

In case you have better things to do, you get the following error message: (CIERR 9810)callci: error opening redirection file

Donna goes on to point out: “For the most part, we really enjoy the flexibility of combining older MPE ‘things’ with newer Posix ‘things’, but this (at least to me) is a glaring problem.”


Now, as to how you can simulate something approaching the expected behavior of ‘tail -f’ on a job’s $STDLIST, Jeff Vance proposed a simple command file with a while statement that pauses for two seconds and upon resumption, displays the last 10 lines of the #STDLIST using

PRINT onnn.out.hpspool;start=-10

Dave Darnell came up with an interesting approach: “I often redirect either $STDLIST or $STDOUT to a message file, then in a separate session, ‘:PRINT’ the massage file. This way, the program output comes up in my other session as it is being written.”

There are also several third-party solutions which mimic ‘tail -f’ exactly.

Finally, the command file below uses MPE’s PRINT to approximate the operation of ‘tail -f’. It appears to work fairly well in the limited testing I’ve tried. Note the two instances of:
print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-1> $null

These are necessary to “post” the eof of the $STDLIST so that the function ‘finfo’ returns the correct value.

parm job_no,no_lines=10
setvar _jobtemp,HPLASTJOB
setvar HPLASTJOB,”!job_no”
print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-1> $null
echo print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-!no_lines
print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-!no_lines
setvar _lasteof,finfo(“!HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool”,”eof”)
while 1=1 do
pause 2
print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-1> $null
setvar _neweof,finfo(“!HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool”,”eof”)
if _neweof > _lasteof then
print !HPLASTSPID.out.hpspool;start=-![_neweof - _lasteof]
setvar _lasteof,_neweof

Now, back to a plain old MPE topic.

CM parser?

From the MPE/iX Commands manual:
“The RUN command is parsed by the Compatibility Mode parser unless it is implied, in which case the Native Mode parser is used.”

Okay, what does this mean and should we care? I edited together the responses from Gavin Scott and HP’s Jeff Vance to provide an explanation:

The NM parser, which was written when MPE/XL was developed, is used for most “new” commands and is the thing that supports constructs like ;SELEQ=[ACCESS=INUSE], etc. In addition, many subsystem commands (VOLUTIL, SYSGEN for example) are parsed by the NM parser.

Unfortunately, the old CM parsers in the CM command executors allowed a number of goofy things in syntax and there are cases where the NM parser will just refuse to deal with this nonsense. So, not all of the parsing code uses the “new” parser, and there are still a number of commands which are parsed by the same CM code that was used on MPE/V. For example,

1. :file a=b
2. :listf ,2 vs. listf ;f2
3. :file ....;label=abcdefg

The NM parser is more or less a single entity, but many of the CM command processing routines each parsed their own parameters rather than having a separate shared “parser”. So a lot of the problem is that different commands do things differently, and it’s not practical to invent a single parsing module that can be all things to all programs. Most of the CI commands that are still in CM call the MYCOMMAND intrinsic and basically parse the command line as they see fit. Note: The MYCOMMAND restriction of no more than 255 characters in a token forces CM commands that accept filenames to not support long Posix names.

As for whether we should care, at least for performance reasons? According to Jeff, “I don’t know if the NM parser is faster or not. It might not be since it does a lot more work than the MYCOMMAND intrinsic.” So, we’ll give the last word to Gavin: “It’s not going to make a measurable difference in the load on your machine.”

John Burke is the editor of the NewsWire’s HiddenValue and net.digest columns and has more than 20 years’ experience managing HP 3000s.

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