Posts Tagged ‘migration’

How to Migrate from HP-UX to Linux: Undefined Behavior

The C and C++ languages don’t try to define the results of every syntactically correct program.  For example, if you dynamically allocate some memory, and then free it, and then try to access the memory you freed, you invoke undefined behavior.  The C and C++ standards don’t specify how the program will respond.

Undefined behavior means that anything can happen, because the compiler is under no constraints.   The traditional formulation is that undefined behavior can make demons fly out your nose.  In practice the consequences are usually less dramatic.

If demons ever fly out your nose, you’ll know you have a bug.  You can track it down and fix it.  More insidious is undefined behavior that happens to be exactly what you want.

I ran across an example as I was preparing to port some code from HP-UX to Linux.  The program was freeing a linked list, using code similar to the following:


Node * curr_node = first_node;

while( curr_node )


free( curr_node );

curr_node = curr_node->next;



To a long-time C coder, this code immediately looks fishy, because the loop has only two statements in it.  Look a little closer.  The second statement in the loop tries to access memory through a pointer that has already been freed.  It invokes undefined behavior.

This program has been running for years with no obvious ill effects from this bug.  Apparently HP-UX isn’t very persnickety about accessing previously freed memory.  That’s legal.  “Anything can happen” includes “what you want.”

When I first saw this code, I wasn’t ready to port the entire program to Linux yet, but I could experiment.  I dashed off a little test program that built a linked list and then freed it, using the logic shown above.  Under HP-UX this program ran to completion without incident.  Under Linux, the same program stopped abruptly in the first iteration.  It didn’t issue any messages, dump core, or even leave a non-zero condition code; it just stopped cold.  That’s legal too.  Anything can happen.

I don’t know whether this difference is attributable to the operating systems, the compilers, the libraries, or the machine architectures.  I don’t care.  What matters is that I can’t run this program under Linux without fixing the loop:


Node * curr_node = first_node;

while( curr_node )


Node * temp = curr_node->next;

free( curr_node );

curr_node = temp;



A few days later, another example of undefined behavior popped up, in the form of a buffer overflow.  Under HP-UX the overflow had no visible effect, at least not until I started poking around with printf statements.  Under Linux the code just didn’t work.  Probably the variables are arranged differently in memory.  In HP-UX the overflow didn’t damage anything that mattered, and in Linux it did.

These examples are just things that I stumbled across.  There will be more, and I won’t catch them all so painlessly.  Fancy code analyzers may help catch things in advance, but there is no substitute for vigilance.

It’s tempting to conclude that HP-UX is more forgiving of blunders than Linux is, since some things work in HP-UX but don’t work in Linux.  That conclusion is premature.  Maybe the two platforms are just forgiving about different things.  If the bugs had done obvious damage under HP-UX they would have been fixed already.

There’s a Darwinian process at work here.  Bugs survive when they’re well adapted to the environment.  When the environment changes, some of those bugs will go extinct.  Unfortunately, new species will probably replace them.

How to Migrate from HP-UX to Linux: echo Command

You might think that migrating from HP-UX to Linux would be a piece of cake. Hey, they’re both UNIX, right? Sort of?

Naturally, it’s not that simple. Even among two UNIX-like environments, there are all sorts of pesky little differences to trip over. Typically the resulting problems are not hard to fix, but they can be hard to anticipate.

Lately we’ve been migrating an application from HP-UX to Red Hat Linux, and stumbling over a series of little gotchas. I plan to report some of them on this blog, and maybe save somebody else some hair-pulling.

For example: take the echo command.

Under HP-UX, echo recognizes escape sequences such as “\t” for horizonal tab, “\n” for newline, and so forth. Under Linux, it doesn’t, at least not by default. However the -e option tells the Linux version to recognize escape sequences.

One solution would be to look through all our shell scripts for ones that use echo with escape sequences, and fix them. Ideally, I should do that. However, the search would be tedious and time-consuming.

Instead, I defined the following alias in a logon script that everybody goes through:

alias echo=”echo -e”

If you really want echo not to recognize escape sequences, use the -E option, which works even with the alias in place. When the -e and -E options are both present, the last one wins.

Pedantic details:
Under HP-UX, the echo command is built into the shell, i.e. ksh and there is also a separate executable /usr/bin/echo. Both versions recognize escape sequences.

Likewise under Linux: the echo command is built into bash, and there is also a separate executable /bin/echo. Neither version recognizes escape sequences unless you include the -e option.