/dev/null is full!

Written for Segfault by Thierry Bezecourt

A major bug was detected today in all Unix-like operating systems. Millions and millions of people have been redirecting error messages and standard output to /dev/null for decades without bothering to think about what happened to that data. It appears that the data just stayed in /dev/null, and we are now facing the consequences: /dev/null is full.

For Unix users, /dev/null was a convenient way to destroy messages that they did not understand or were too lazy to to read: warnings from programs they used, bug reports concerning programs they wrote, messages from the boss and other uninteresting emails, etc. From now on, they will be forced to read everything. This will result in a massive loss of time for all Unix users.

No Unix guru had ever predicted that /dev/null would be full one day. Mr. Kernighan declined comment, saying, "Ask Mr. Ritchie. He had the idea of that /dev/null thing." Mr. Ritchie said, "No, I think it was Mr. Thompson". Mr. Thompson responded: "Well, it's been a long time, but I'm sure it was not me."

Thirty minutes after this bug was made public, Microsoft released a security patch for its Windows NT operating system. However, it was removed from the Web site when Microsoft engineers noticed that /dev/null did not exist on Windows NT and thus it was not affected by the bug. The security patch they had released was an empty file.

Unix gurus warn that we should also be careful about the standard input (also known as stdin), because many people have been reading things from the standard input for years, and it may be empty very soon.

Posted on Tue 11 May 15:02:19 1999 BST
Written by Thierry Bezecourt
Original location on Segfault