Tips

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How to Install and Configure MS-DOS 6.22 (Yes, Really)

I just posted an extensive new HOWTO regarding How to Install and Configure MS-DOS 6.22. I'm sure you're probably thinking, "WTF?", and you have every right to, so let me paste a bit from the HOWTO introduction that explains why I bothered to take the time (quite a lot of time, actually) to write this up:

This walkthrough covers installing MS-DOS 6.22 from the original installation diskettes. Why write this in 2013? That's a very valid question, to which there are a few answers:

  • Setting up a fully working DOS system will give you great appreciation for how far computing has come. For old-timers, it will be a walk down memory lane; for youngsters who've never used nor even seen DOS before, it should be quite an eye-opening experience to experience first hand both how primitive DOS was and yet how capable it could be.
  • A working physical DOS system is the most authentic way to (re-)experience classic PC games. DOSBox does an amazing job of supporting DOS games on modern platforms, but for perfect accuracy, including the full memory management experience (which can be a game unto itself), a real DOS system can't be beat.
  • There is a dearth of detailed information about MS-DOS on the internet. This makes sense as MS-DOS predates the web as we know it today, but I don't want knowledge of this system to be lost to time. I did a significant amount of research for this project, and I want to document and share what I've discovered and re-learned for future reference.
  • Perhaps most importantly, why not? This project was inspired by a previous project to resurrect my old Packard Bell, my first computer that, not coincidentally, ran MS-DOS 6.2 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Rebuilding and enhancing it from a hardware perspective was a fun experience, and now I'm doing the same from a software perspective.

If you're curious, please continue reading, but take heed: geeky content ahead.

Display Colored Output in Shell Scripts

Most modern terminals* (xterm, Linux desktop environment terminals, Linux console, etc.) support ANSI escape sequences for providing colorized output. While I'm not a fan of flash for flash's sake, a little splash of color here and there in the right places can greatly enhance script output.

In Bash, I include the following functions in any script where I want colored output:

# Display colorized information output
function cinfo() {
	COLOR='\033[01;33m'	# bold yellow
	RESET='\033[00;00m'	# normal white
	MESSAGE=${@:-"${RESET}Error: No message passed"}
	echo -e "${COLOR}${MESSAGE}${RESET}"
}
 
# Display colorized warning output
function cwarn() {
	COLOR='\033[01;31m'	# bold red
	RESET='\033[00;00m'	# normal white
	MESSAGE=${@:-"${RESET}Error: No message passed"}
	echo -e "${COLOR}${MESSAGE}${RESET}"
}

This allows me to easily output yellow (cinfo) or red (cwarn) text with a single line in a script. Eg.:

cwarn "Error: operation failed"

If this message was output normally with echo and it was surrounded by a lot of other text, it might be overlooked by the user. By making it red, however, it's significantly more likely to stand out from any surrounding, "normal" output.

My most common use for these functions are simple status output messages. Eg., if I have a script or function that's going to do five different things and display output for each of those tasks, I'd like to have any easy way to visually distinguish each of the steps, as well as easily determine which step the script is on. So, I'll do something like this (from one of my system maintenance scripts):

# Rebuild packages with broken dependencies
cinfo "\nChecking for broken reverse dependencies\n"
revdep-rebuild -i -- -av
# Rebuild packages with new use flags
cinfo "\nChecking for updated ebuild with new USE flags\n"
emerge -DNav world

For more details, the Advanced Bash Scripting guide provides a detailed discussion on using ANSI escape sequences in scripts, both for color and other purposes. You can also find some additional info in the Bash Prompt HOWTO, as well as useful color charts on the Wikipedia page.

*Note: Traditional (read: old) Unixes generally don't support useful modern conveniences like this. If you regularly work with AIX or Solaris and the like, you may want to skip this tip.

Create Floppy Disk Images from within Linux

It's possible to create floppy disk images (IMG files) from withing Linux using native Linux utilities. Although you most likely won't have a very frequent need for this these days, one place where it can come in handy is when dealing with virtual machines. Emulators such as VirtualBox and VMware Player can mount virtual floppy images and present them to guest machines as physical disks, just as they can mount CD-ROM ISO images and present them as physical CDs.

Now again, there probably isn't a very widespread need to do this, but in my case I needed to be able to create floppy disk images for my Windows installation CD. I use a heavily customized installation CD with an answer file to automate Windows installation. Unfortunately, Windows XP is only capable of reading answer files from the CD itself (which doesn't work for me because I need to be able to change the file) or from a floppy disk. Newer versions of Windows, I believe, can read from USB drives, but as I only (and infrequently) run Windows inside a virtual machine, I don't have any great need to upgrade. Being able to easily generate floppy disk images containing updated answer files, etc. has been a huge help compared to keeping up with physical floppy disks, especially since my current desktop no longer supports a floppy drive. Now, I just point VirtualBox to the appropriate IMG files, and when I boot Windows (or the Windows installer) it'll see it as a normal floppy drive. Very handy.

In order to create floppy disk images, you'll need a copy of dosfstools installed. It should be available in most package repositories. Once installed, the following command does all the magic:

mkfs.vfat -C "floppy.img" 1440

You now have an empty, but valid, floppy disk image. In order to copy files to the image, you need to mount the image using the loop device:

sudo mount -o loop,uid=$UID -t vfat floppy.img /mnt/floppy

Note that the mount command must either be run as root or using sudo; the uid argument makes the mount point owned by the current user rather so that you have permission to copy files into it.

After you're finished copying files, unmount the image and you're done. You can now attach it to your emulator of choice as a floppy disk image. W00t.

To make things even easier, the following script automates the entire process; just pass it the directory containing all of the files you want copied to the floppy disk and it'll do the rest.

#!/bin/bash
 
# Setup environment
FORMAT=$(which mkfs.vfat 2>/dev/null)
MOUNT=$(which mount 2>/dev/null)
TMP='/tmp'
shopt -s dotglob
 
# Verify binaries exist
MISSING=''
[ ! -e "$FORMAT" ] && MISSING+='mkfs.vfat, '
[ ! -e "$MOUNT" ] && MISSING+='mount, '
if [ -n "$MISSING" ]; then
   echo "Error: cannot find the following binaries: ${MISSING%%, }"
   exit
fi
 
# Verify arguments
if [ ! -d "$1" ]; then
   echo "Error: You must specify a directory containing the floppy disk files"
   exit
else
   DISK=$(basename "${1}")
   IMG="${TMP}/${DISK}.img"
   TEMP="${TMP}/temp_${DISK}"
fi
 
# Load loopback module if necessary
if [ ! -e /dev/loop0 ]; then
   sudo modprobe loop
   sleep 1
fi
 
# Create disk image
${FORMAT} -C "${IMG}" 1440
mkdir "${TEMP}"
sudo $MOUNT -o loop,uid=$UID -t vfat "${IMG}" "${TEMP}"
cp -f "${DISK}"/* "${TEMP}"/
sudo umount "${TEMP}"
rmdir "${TEMP}"
mv "${IMG}" .

Quick Domain Name / IP Address / MX Record Lookup Functions

Today's tip is once again focused on Bash functions (I have a whole bunch to share; they're just too useful :-) ). These are three quick and easy functions for performing DNS lookups:

ns - perform standard resolution of hostnames or IP addresses using nslookup; only resolved names/addresses are shown in the results

mx - perform MX record lookup to determine mail servers (and priority) for a particular domain

mxip - perform MX record lookup, but return mail server IP addresses instead of host names

Here are the functions:

# Domain and MX record lookups
#   $1 = hostname, domain name, or IP address
function ns() {
    nslookup $1 | tail -n +4 | sed -e 's/^Address:[[:space:]]\+//;t;' -e 's/^.*name = \(.*\)\.$/\1/;t;d;'
}
function mx() {
    nslookup -type=mx $1 | grep 'exchanger' | sed 's/^.* exchanger = //'
}
function mxip() {
    nslookup -type=mx $1 | grep 'exchanger' | awk '{ print $NF }' | nslookup 2>/dev/null | grep -A1 '^Name:' | sed 's/^Address:[[:space:]]\+//;t;d;'
}

And finally, some examples:

$ ns mail.legroom.net # forward lookup
64.182.149.164
$ ns 64.182.149.164   # reverse lookup
mail.legroom.net
$ ns www.legroom.net  # cname example
legroom.net
64.182.149.164
$ mx legroom.net      # mx lookup
10 mail.legroom.net.
$ mxip legroom.net    # mx->ip lookup
64.182.149.164

Bash Random Password Generator

Random password generators are certainly nothing new, but they, of course, come in handy from time to time. Here's a quick and easy Bash function to do the job:

# Generate a random password
#  $1 = number of characters; defaults to 32
#  $2 = include special characters; 1 = yes, 0 = no; defaults to 1
function randpass() {
  [ "$2" == "0" ] && CHAR="[:alnum:]" || CHAR="[:graph:]"
    cat /dev/urandom | tr -cd "$CHAR" | head -c ${1:-32}
    echo
}

I use this a good bit myself; it can be as strong (or weak) as you need, and only uses core Linux/UNIX commands, so it should work anywhere. Here are a few examples to demonstrate the flags:

$ randpass
UEJ1#QgdFbiJDvCiG*WbQoM:yM'y*[5d
$ randpass 10
4y8jsp#}&(
$ randpass 20 0
RT3Q3SJEgvnQDgz616RJ

Get BIOS/Motherboard Info from within Linux

It's possible to read the BIOS version and motherboard information (plus more) from a live Linux system using dmidecode. This utility "reports information about your system's hardware as described in your system BIOS according to the SMBIOS/DMI standard (see a sample output). This information typically includes system manufacturer, model name, serial number, BIOS version, asset tag as well as a lot of other details of varying level of interest and reliability depending on the manufacturer." It can be handy if you want to check the BIOS version of your desktop and you're too lazy to reboot, but it's far more useful when trying to get information about production servers that you simply cannot take down.

Simply run dmidecode (as root) to get a dump of all available information. You can specify --string or --type to filter the results. The dmidecode man page is quite thorough, so I won't rehash it here.

One extremely useful application that may not be immediately obvious is the ability to pull the system serial number. Let's say you need to call support for a particular server that can't be taken down, or that you may not even have physical access to. A vendor like Dell will always want the system serial number, and as long as you can login to the server you can obtain the serial number with dmidecode -s system-serial-number. This has saved me on a couple of occasions with remotely hosted servers.

A lot more information is available through dmidecode, so I definitely encourage you to check it out. To wrap things up, I'll leave you with this obnoxiously long alias:

alias bios='[ -f /usr/sbin/dmidecode ] && sudo -v && echo -n "Motherboard" && sudo /usr/sbin/dmidecode -t 1 | grep "Manufacturer\|Product Name\|Serial Number" | tr -d "\t" | sed "s/Manufacturer//" && echo -ne "\nBIOS" && sudo /usr/sbin/dmidecode -t 0 | grep "Vendor\|Version\|Release" | tr -d "\t" | sed "s/Vendor//"'

This will spit out a nicely formatted summary of the bios and motherboard information, using sudo so it can be run as a normal user. Example output:

$ bios
Motherboard: Dell Inc.
Product Name: Latitude D620
Serial Number: XXXXXXXX
 
BIOS: Dell Inc.
Version: A10
Release Date: 05/16/2008

Enjoy.

Generic Method to Determine Linux (or UNIX) Distribution Name

A while back I had a need to programmatically determine the which Linux distribution is running in order to have some scripts do the right thing depending on the distro. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be one completely foolproof method to do so. What I ended up coming up with was a combination of techniques that combines querying the LSB utilities, distro release info files, and kernel info from uname. It'll take the most specific distro name it can find, falling back to generic Linux if necessary. It'll also identify UNIX variants as well, such as Solaris or AIX.

Here's the code:

# Determine OS platform
UNAME=$(uname | tr "[:upper:]" "[:lower:]")
# If Linux, try to determine specific distribution
if [ "$UNAME" == "linux" ]; then
    # If available, use LSB to identify distribution
    if [ -f /etc/lsb-release -o -d /etc/lsb-release.d ]; then
        export DISTRO=$(lsb_release -i | cut -d: -f2 | sed s/'^\t'//)
    # Otherwise, use release info file
    else
        export DISTRO=$(ls -d /etc/[A-Za-z]*[_-][rv]e[lr]* | grep -v "lsb" | cut -d'/' -f3 | cut -d'-' -f1 | cut -d'_' -f1)
    fi
fi
# For everything else (or if above failed), just use generic identifier
[ "$DISTRO" == "" ] && export DISTRO=$UNAME
unset UNAME

I include this code in my ~/.bashrc file so that it always runs when I login and sets the $DISTRO variable to the appropriate distribution name. I can then use that variable at any later time to perform actions based on the distro. If preferred, this could also easily be adapted into a function by having it return instead of export $DISTRO.

I've tested this on a pretty wide range of Linux and UNIX distributions, and it works very well for me, so I figured I'd share it. Hope you find it useful.