9 minute read

In the past few years I’ve been in quite a number of interviews, both as an interviewer and interviewee.

And while I agree to some degree that anyone which calls themselves a DevOps/Cloud/Platform Engineer should have a base knowledge about networking, OS, scripting, etc. at the end of the day that’s not what differences an average candidate which knows things by the book from an ideal one that can tackle any issue thrown at them.

Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to make that difference, the “strangest” and “quirkest” questions are the best for figuring out how well and outside the box a candidate can think when thrown against an unpredictable question.

Because, let’s be real here, our day to day job is not something which you can find in “step by step” guide. It’s a mix of previous experience, knowing where to look for information, and how to apply and combine all of these in your particular issue at hand.

Having said that, I will be going through some “non-standard” questions(and the solutions) which I’ve came across along the years.

The chmod 444 issue 🐛

Let’s take the following scenario. A careless administrator(maybe even yourself) has run the following command:

$ # Set permissions to read-only for the chmod binary
$ chmod 444 /bin/chmod
$ # Try and set executable permissions back
$ chmod +x /bin/chmod
bash: /bin/chmod: Permission denied

Oops, looks like we’re not able to run chmod anymore, what ways can you think of to fix this? Bonus points, don’t use ssh, scp to copy the binary from another system.

Solutions ✅

Copy permissions from another binary and overwrite the binary file, thus keeping the permissions

$ cp /bin/ls chmod.01
$ cp /bin/chmod chmod.01
$ ./chmod.01 +x /bin/chmod

This works since cp preserves permissions by default.

Use the perl, python or ruby modules for setting the permissions

$ perl -e 'chmod(0755, "chmod")'
$ ruby -r fileutils -e "FileUtils.chmod 0755, '/bin/chmod'"
$ python -c "import os; os.chmod('/bin/chmod', 0755)"

Using busybox

Since busybox has all of the core Unix utilies built-in, we can just use the chmod from there.

$ busybox chmod 755 /bin/chmod 

Using rsync with the chmod argument to set the permissions of the file

This one is pretty similar to the cp one, still an elegant solution.

$ rsync /bin/chmod /tmp/chmod --chmod=ugo+x
$ /tmp/chmod +x /bin/chmod

Restore a deleted, but still running script

Another careless administrator has accidentally deleted an important script from the filesystem. The file isn’t versioned or backed up anywhere, but the process which started the script is still running.

How would you restore it?


$ cat <<EOF > script.sh
#!/usr/bin/env bash
while true; do
sleep 1;
$ bash script.sh &
[1] 1997
$ rm -vf script.sh
removed 'script.sh'
$ # Let's check the open file descriptor
$ lsof -p 1997 | grep script.sh
bash    1997 test  255r   REG    8,1       49  3579421 /home/test/script.sh (deleted)
$ # As we can see, the file is deleted, but fret not, we can just cat the file descriptor which contained the file, like so:
$ cat /proc/1997/fd/255 
#!/usr/bin/env bash
while true; do
sleep 1;
$ cp /proc/1997/fd/255 script.sh
$ # Hooray! We got the file content back

Explanation 📚

But how does this work?

Every process on the system has a directory in /proc/ with the ID in it, inside of which lies many things regarding the process, including an fd (file descriptor) subdirectory containing links to all files that the process has open. Even if a file has been removed from the filesystem, a copy of the data will still be there.

The only issue with this, is that once the process stops the file descriptors are gone. So in the end, you should always make sure that you version control or backup your important scripts somehow.


The problems above can also serve as a segue into more detailed topics, such as What is a file descriptor?, What else can you find in the /proc/ folder?, What are permissions? and so on, making the interview process more fluid and less nerve breaking.

This will be a multi-part series of posts containing various DevOps/Linux interview questions, so make sure to come back for more if this one caught your interest.

Looking forward to what you think about the questions above and other possible solutions to them, happy learning! 👋