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Dissecting Complex UNIX Commands

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

Advanced Oracle Utilities: The Definitive Reference by Rampant TechPress is written by four of the top Oracle database experts (Bert Scalzo, Donald Burleson, and Steve Callan).  The following is an excerpt from the book.

Dissecting Complex UNIX commands

UNIX neophytes are often taken aback when they see some of the cryptic commands used in UNIX.  The pipe command in particular lends to the difficulty of reading UNIX scripts.  Once the UNIX beginner gets used to using the pipe command, much of UNIX will become more legible.

ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep $ORACLE_SID|-v grep| \
awk '{ print $2 }'|-exec rm –f {} \;

At first glance, this command appears to be a conglomeration of cryptic letters.  However, upon closer examination, this UNIX command is actually a series of commands that are joined together with the “pipe” operator “|”.  When viewed this way, the command can be viewed as a connected list of commands:

ps –ef
grep "ora_"
grep -v grep
awk '{ print $2 }'
-exec rm –f {} \;

By expanding the command onto separate lines using the | characters as a delimiter, one is able to examine each sub-command and see how each successive command refines the output from the prior UNIX command (Figure 5).  Once the individual commands that comprise the whole UNIX script are revealed, begin understanding each component.  Figure 5 shows that the result set becomes smaller and more refined with each subsequent command.

5: Dissecting a complex UNIX command

Deciphering a Complex UNIX Command

Utilize a one-line UNIX command that is used to kill all Oracle background processes for a specified database on the UNIX server as an example.  As an Oracle DBA, there are times when it is necessary to kill all Oracle processes, or a selected sub-set of Oracle processes.  This is a common UNIX script used by an Oracle DBA who wants to kill all Oracle processes when the Oracle database is “locked up” and the database cannot be stopped with the standard Oracle utilities.

The basic format of the UNIX kill command is shown below, and a single kill command can be used to kill many UNIX processes (PIDs):

root> kill –9 process1 process2 process3

Thus, the kill command can accept a list of processes, and the goal is to gather a list of processes from UNIX and use them as arguments to the kill command. The following command will kill all Oracle processes for the server because of the –exec syntax.

ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep -v grep|awk '{print $2}'|-exec kill -9 {} \;   

The steps within this command are as follows:

1.   The ps –ef UNIX command displays all active processes on the server, but, the goal is to limit the command to only those processes that are running on the Oracle database.

2.   The grep “ora_” command removes all but the Oracle processes:

root> ps -ef|grep "ora_" 

  oracle 13022     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:18 ora_db02_vald
  oracle 14796 42726   0 09:00:46  pts/0  0:00 grep ora_
  oracle 17778     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:14 ora_smon_devp
  oracle 18134     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:37 ora_snp1_vald
  oracle 19516     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:24 ora_db04_prod
  oracle 21114     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:37 ora_snp0_devp
  oracle 28436     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:18 ora_arch_prod

3.    The grep –v grep is used to remove the second line from the above output.  The grep –v command is used to exclude lines with the specified string.  In the output below, note that the grep line is now missing from the output:

root> ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep -v grep

  oracle 13022     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:18 ora_db02_vald
  oracle 17778     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:14 ora_smon_devp
  oracle 18134     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:37 ora_snp1_vald
  oracle 19516     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:24 ora_db04_prod
  oracle 21114     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:37 ora_snp0_devp
  oracle 28436     1   0   Sep 30      -  0:18 ora_arch_prod

4.    Next, use the UNIX awk command.  As discussed previously, the awk or the cut commands can be used to extract specific columns from a result set.  In this case, use awk ‘{ print $2 }’ to get the second column which is the Process ID (or pid) for these processes. This results in a list of process ID’s to send to the kill command.

root> ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep -v grep|awk '{ print $2 }'


5.    Now there is a clean list of process IDs for the Oracle background processes.  To ship the list to the next command, pipe the list of PIDs to the UNIX kill command by using the –exec UNIX command.  The –exec command accepts a list as an argument and performs any UNIX command on the input set.  

Note: If HP/UX or AIX is being used, also use the xargs command for this purpose.

ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep -v grep|awk '{ print $2 }'|-exec kill -9 {} \;

6.     Once the complex command is built, encapsulate the command into a single UNIX alias.

alias nukem = “ps -ef|grep "ora_"|grep -v grep| \
   awk '{ print $2 }'|-exec rm –f {} \;”

Entering the alias nukem alias at the UNIX command prompt will invoke the complex command to kill all Oracle background processes.  The example is for illustration purposes only since a prudent Oracle DBA would never risk assigning such a dangerous command to an alias, or at the very least would require multiple confirmations before running the command.


The purpose of this chapter has been to provide an introduction to the basic UNIX commands that are used by the Oracle DBA.  Some of the most common and useful UNIX commands have been covered.  

The main points of this chapter include:

§                                                                                 Understanding the different dialects of UNIX

§                                                                                 The syntax of common UNIX commands

§                                                                                 Piping together multiple UNIX commands

§                                                                                 File and directory permissions

§                                                                                 Configuring the Oracle UNIX environment

§                                                                                 Deciphering complex UNIX commands

This book will continue with a closer look at UNIX server management.  The next chapter will cover some of the internal mechanisms of the UNIX architecture, and show the most common UNIX command and utilities that are used by the Oracle DBA to monitor load on the server.




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