There Are Real Reasons For Linux To Replace ifconfig, netstat and Other Classic Tools

Several readers have shared a blog post: One of the ongoing system administration controversies in Linux is that there is an ongoing effort to obsolete the old, cross-Unix standard network administration and diagnosis commands of ifconfig, netstat and the like and replace them with fresh new Linux specific things like ss and the ip suite. Old sysadmins are generally grumpy about this; they consider it yet another sign of Linux’s ‘not invented here’ attitude that sees Linux breaking from well-established Unix norms to go its own way. Although I’m an old sysadmin myself, I don’t have this reaction. Instead, I think that it might be both sensible and honest for Linux to go off in this direction. There are two reasons for this, one ostensible and one subtle. The ostensible surface issue is that the current code for netstat, ifconfig, and so on operates in an inefficient way. Per various people, netstat et al operate by reading various files in /proc, and doing this is not the most efficient thing in the world (either on the kernel side or on netstat’s side). You won’t notice this on a small system, but apparently there are real impacts on large ones. Modern commands like ss and ip use Linux’s netlink sockets, which are much more efficient. In theory netstat, ifconfig, and company could be rewritten to use netlink too; in practice this doesn’t seem to have happened and there may be political issues involving different groups of developers with different opinions on which way to go. (Netstat and ifconfig are part of net-tools, while ss and ip are part of iproute2.) However, the deeper issue is the interface that netstat, ifconfig, and company present to users. In practice, these commands are caught between two masters. On the one hand, the information the tools present and the questions they let us ask are deeply intertwined with how the kernel itself does networking, and in general the tools are very much supposed to report the kernel’s reality. On the other hand, the users expect netstat, ifconfig and so on to have their traditional interface (in terms of output, command line arguments, and so on); any number of scripts and tools fish things out of ifconfig output, for example. As the Linux kernel has changed how it does networking, this has presented things like ifconfig with a deep conflict; their traditional output is no longer necessarily an accurate representation of reality.

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