Fact Or Fiction? Sysadmin Claims This 48 Character String Will Crash Most Linux Distros

A recent discovery has the Linux community buzzing, and it involves a bug in systemd, an init (initialization) system used in many modern Linux distributions to bootstrap the user space and manage all processes. Many regular Linux users might not even understand what systemd is, and that's because it just works, it simply flies under the radar as part of the OS.

For some, systemd is a good way forward. It would be nice to think that most every modern distro has adopted it for good reason. For others, though, it's the target of extreme ire. Whether that's justified or not, there's no denying that any discussion about systemd is bound to lead to a heated argument. Look no further than a recent blog postfrom Andrew Ayer, a developer that found a simple command that can crash some systemd-based Linux installs. That command is, quite simply: NOTIFY_SOCKET=/run/systemd/notify systemd-notify ""

Linux kernel unified hierarchy cgroups and systemd
Credit: Wikimedia User:ScottXW

We ran this command on an up-to-date install of Fedora as root and a regular user, and while no error was spit back (the command executed fine), it didn't affect the operation of the OS. Some commenters on the article claim that the command needs to be looped to take effect, while others claim that is trying "too hard" to prove that a bug is worse than it is.

One thing's for certain, though: it is a bug. systemd developer David Timothy Strauss took to Medium to counter Ayer's post with a directed title, "How to Throw a Tantrum in One Blog Post". Remember what we said about systemd being a sensitive subject?

systemd Fedora
Standard systemd report from the systemctl command

Strauss' argument is that Ayer escalated the severity of a bug to make it sound worse than it actually is. The bug has since been patched, but Strauss claims that it was never a severe bug like Ayer claimed. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, rated the bug at 3.5/10, with 10 being the most severe.

So what do we take from all this? It could be a couple of things. For starters, don't take everything at face value. While systemd might not be perfect, it's been observed time and time again that some people are seriously passionate about dethroning the init system, making it seem worse than it actually is. That doesn't mean that systemd is great, either, but this incident proves that when a bug is found, there will be those that will milk it for all it's worth.

It's not clear, at this time, whether or not Ayers reported the bug to systemd's developers at Red Hat in advance of penning his blog post.