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Using CVS to Administer Linux

Horms (Simon Horman)

January 1999

``Alles hat eine ende, aber ein Wurst hat zwie.'' 1


As always I would like to acknowledge the generous support of my employer Zip World without whose help this paper would not have been possible. Special thanks goes to BB for helping me to get the bits on routers correct.

Version Information

Version Date Description
0.0.0 22nd, January 1999 Meat Pies and Tomato Sauce Prerelease. Conclusion is missing.
1.0.0 1st, February 1999 Woomera Release. Released to Linux World Expo.
1.0.1 4th, February 1999 Twinkle-Toes Release. Minor Corrections.


Canberra Linux Users Group (CLUG)
28th January 1999
Australian National University
Australian Capital Territory

Linux World Expo
2nd-4th March 1999
San Jose Convention Center
San Jose
United States of America


Much emphasis has of late been put on making Linux easier to manage. Typically the model used it that of a single user managing one or more systems. The environment I live in is not so simple. Multiple administrators looking after the same set of systems. To add to the complexity of the situation a myriad of scripts are in operation that are accessed by the system administrators, other trusted users and even via web pages after user authentication.

Naturally this sort of situation causes headaches. There needs to be some mechanism to arbitrate access to configuration files. Additionally a means of recovering old versions is particularly useful in the event of bad changes made inadvertently by someone or by a rouge script.

This problem is in essence very similar to the problem software developers face when a team is working on a source tree. There are many solutions to this problem, one of the most popular being Concurrent Versions System or CVS. By placing the configuration of a Linux system under CVS we are able to merge changes made by multiple users, recover old configurations and checkout configurations into new environments. Constructing multiple environments for development, test and production is also simplified. Additionally the CVS repository acts as an backup mechanism that can be used to supplement existing procedures to guard against catastrophe.

The problem is particularly interesting as it in clearly not just a matter of constructing a technically correct solution. This is a system that by its very nature is used by many people on a day to day basis. As such the system must be easy to use and where possible require no modification of existing processes.

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