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I saw this command somewhere: :(){ :|:& } (fork bomb). How does it work?

First of all -- and this is important -- please do not run this command. I've actually omitted the trigger from the question above, and left only the part that sets up the function.

Here is that part, but written out in normal shell coding style, rather than rammed all together:

:() { 
 : | : &

What this does is create a function named : which calls itself recursively. Twice. In the background. Since the function keeps calling itself over and over (forking new processes), forever, this quickly consumes a lot of system resources. That's why it's called a "fork bomb".

If you still don't see how it works, here is an equivalent, which creates a function named bomb instead of :

bomb() {
 bomb | bomb &

A more verbose explanation:

Inside the function, a pipeline is created which forks two more instances of the function (each of which will be a whole process) in the background. Then the function exits. However, for every instance of the function which exits in this manner, two more have already been created. The result is a vast number of processes, extremely quickly.

Theoretically, anybody that has shell access to your computer can use such a technique to consume all the resources to which he/she has access. A chroot(2) won't help here. If the user's resources are unlimited then in a matter of seconds all the resources of your system (processes, virtual memory, open files, etc.) will be used, and it will probably deadlock itself. Any attempt made by the kernel to free more resources will just allow more instances of the function to be created.

As a result, the only way to protect yourself from such abuse is by limiting the maximum allowed use of resources for your users. Such resources are governed by the setrlimit(2) system call. The interface to this functionality in Bash and KornShell is the ulimit command. Your operating system may also have special configuration files to help manage these resources (for example, /etc/security/limits.conf in Debian, or /etc/login.conf in OpenBSD). Consult your documentation for details.

2012-07-01 04:05