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Brett Wynkoop

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Stand Alone Sysadmin

Something Simple    
The best Unix Systems Administrators find ways to make systems administration simple and less prone to human error. One simple step I take to make my life easier and leave less chance for errors is to change the GECOS field for root on systems I administer.

Your typical BSD root password file entry looks like:

root:*:0:0:Charlie &:/root:/bin/csh

Which leaves the user's real name from the GECOS field to expand to Charlie Root. What is wrong with that you ask?
We all know that Unix systems use email to communicate status and error information to the Systems Administrator. When you get an email from "Charlie Root" it gives you no clue what system generated the email when looking at the table of contents of your mailbox using many modern Mail User Agents. That means you need to take the extra step of
opening the mail and looking carefully to determine what system it is from.

If we simple changed the GECOS field to something more descriptive we find out what system has the problem even before we open the mail, and we might with that information as well as the subject display have a good idea of what is going on. So I set the GECOS field for root as in the example below:


This causes the name displayed by my MUA to show as instead of Charlie Root. This makes my life easier, and I suspect it will do the same for you. Give it a try.

-Brett Wynkoop

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