/etc: Please stop enabling

One of the most painful legacies of UNIX’s long gestation is the mess of scripts, configuration files, and databases we affectionately call “/etc”. Binaries go in “/bin”, libraries belong in “/lib”, user directories expand out under “/home”, and if something doesn’t fit? Where does it go? “/etc”.

Of course, “/etc” isn’t really the overflow directory that its name would imply. “/config” would be a far better choice, more accurately reflecting the nature of its contents, but like so much of the data contained within it, its name suggests a lack of organization rather a coherent collection of configuration settings. While the rest of the filesystem has moved on to SQL, the user account database is still stored in colon-separated fields. Cisco routers can snapshot a running network configuration to be restored on reboot, but the best we can do is fiddle the interfaces file, then reboot to take the changes live. Or adjust the interface settings by hand and wait for the next reboot to see if the network comes up right. Our name service is configured in /etc/hosts, or /etc/resolv.conf, or /etc/network, or /etc/dnsmasq.d, or /etc/systemd, or wherever the next package maintainer decides to put it. Nor can you simply save a system’s configuration by making a copy of /etc, because there’s plenty of non-configuration information there, mostly system scripts.

What a mess.

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