About This Guide

This guide explains how to perform general system configuration and operation tasks under the IRIX operating system used with SGI workstations and servers. It provides descriptions of a broad range of tasks, from turning on a system, to tuning the operating system kernel.

If you have a graphics workstation, you may find it convenient to use the System Manager, which is described in the Personal System Administration Guide . That guide should be your first resource for administering graphics workstations. Regardless of whether you use the System Manager or the IRIX command line interface, the results are the same. The System Manager does not create any new files on your system, unlike applications such as IRIS WorkSpace.

If you have a server, the IRIX administration manual set (of which this guide is part) is your primary guide to system administration, since without graphics you cannot use the System Manager. This guide covers the traditional shell command approach to administering an IRIX operating system.

What This Guide Contains

This guide is designed with the understanding that most readers will view it with the IRIS InSight online viewing system or a Web browser and use it as a reference work. It is not necessary to read this guide in a linear fashion. All information relevant to a given topic is presented in the section of the guide devoted to the topic. There is no prerequisite reading or knowledge other than that stated in this preface and the first chapter.

The IRIX Admin: System Configuration and Operation guide contains the following chapters:

Chapter 1, “Introduction to System Configuration and Operation” 

Describes the various tools available to the administrator and the various pieces of the administration documentation.

Chapter 2, “Making the Most of the IRIX System” 

Describes IRIX features that are useful for administrators and not common to all operating environments.

Chapter 3, “System Startup, Shutdown, and Run Levels”  

Provides short instructions on booting up and shutting down your system.

Chapter 4, “Configuring the IRIX Operating System”  

Describes the tasks and processes necessary to configure a new or changing system.

Chapter 5, “System Administration in a Multiuser Environment”  

Describes the processes of adding and deleting user accounts, user groups, manipulating the user's environment, and communicating with users.

Chapter 6, “Configuring Disk and Swap Space”  

Describes simple disk space management. Procedures for checking disk space and establishing user disk usage quotas are described, along with less intrusive strategies for maintaining reasonable disk usage. Also, techniques for managing system swap space are provided. This chapter does not describe the process for adding a disk or creating and maintaining filesystems. Those topics are covered in the IRIX Admin: Disks and Filesystems guide.

Chapter 7, “Managing User Processes”  

Describes how to monitor a user's CPU usage, set process priority, and terminate processes.

Chapter 8, “Using the File Alteration Monitor” 

Provides information about the famd alteration monitor daemon. This program provides information to applications concerning changes to files used simultaneously by several programs.

Chapter 9, “Using the Command (PROM) Monitor” 

Describes the boot-level utilities provided to configure and test your system. It describes the boot environment of the workstation and each of the command monitor commands.

Chapter 10, “System Performance Tuning” 

Describes how to analyze system performance and adjust system parameters to influence system performance.

Appendix A, “IRIX Kernel Tunable Parameters” 

Describes the various tunable parameters used in system performance tuning.

Appendix B, “Troubleshooting System Configuration Using System Error Messages” 

Provides some troubleshooting pointers related to common system error messages.

Appendix C, “Application Tuning” 

Describes tuning your applications to more closely follow your system's resource limits.

Appendix D, “IRIX Directories and Files” 

Provides a list of the directories and files that are important in IRIX administration.

Appendix E, “Encapsulated PostScript File v.3.0 vs. PostScript File Format ” 

Describes two common PostScript file formats used on IRIX systems.

Appendix F, “ Bibliography and Suggested Reading” 

Provides a bibliography of commonly available books that are useful for the system administrator.

Audience for This Guide

This guide is intended for administrators who are responsible for one or more systems beyond the usual user responsibility for the user's home directory structure and immediate working directories. This guide and its companion guides provide directions for those who maintain systems for themselves and others and who require more information about IRIX commands and system and network configuration.

Frequently, people who consider themselves end users find themselves performing advanced administrative tasks. This book helps both the new and experienced administrator perform all operations necessary to configure IRIX systems. It is hoped that people who considered themselves end users in the past can, by using this book, gain experience and confidence in performing advanced system administration tasks.

Related Publications

The following documents contain additional information that may be helpful:

  • IRIX Admin: Software Installation and Licensing—Explains how to install and license software that runs under the IRIX operating system, the SGI implementation of the UNIX operating system. Contains instructions for performing miniroot and live installations using the inst command. Identifies the licensing products that control access to restricted applications running under IRIX and refers readers to licensing product documentation.

  • IRIX Admin: Disks and Filesystems—Explains disk, filesystem, and logical volume concepts. Provides system administration procedures for SCSI disks, XFS and EFS filesystems, XLV logical volumes, and guaranteed-rate I/O.

  • IRIX Admin: Networking and Mail—Describes how to plan, set up, use, and maintain the networking and mail systems, including discussions of sendmail, UUCP, SLIP, and PPP.

  • IRIX Admin: Backup, Security, and Accounting—Describes how to back up and restore files, how to protect your system's and network's security, and how to track system usage on a per-user basis.

  • IRIX Admin: Resource Administration—Provides an introduction to system resource administration and describes how to use and administer various IRIX resource management features, such as IRIX process limits, IRIX job limits, the Miser Batch Processing System, the Cpuset System, Comprehensive System Accounting (CSA), IRIX memory usage, and Array Services.

  • IRIX Admin: Peripheral Devices—Describes how to set up and maintain the software for peripheral devices such as terminals, modems, printers, and CD-ROM and tape drives. Also includes specifications for the associated cables for these devices.

  • IRIX Admin: Selected Reference Pages (not available in InSight)—Provides concise man page information on the use of commands that you may need while the system is down. Generally, each man page covers one command, although some man pages cover several closely related commands. Man pages are available online through the man(1) command.

  • Desktop User's Guide provides step-by-step instructions for completing essential tasks, such as printing files, finding files, and running applications; describes techniques and shortcuts; and serves as a general reference for commands and menus.

  • Getting Started With Array Systems describes how to use, configure, manage, and write programs for an array. An array is an aggregation of IRIX nodes that are bound together with a high-speed network and array software (the Array Sessions feature of the IRIX operating system and the Array Services product).

  • IRIX Checkpoint and Restart Operation Guide describes how to use and administer IRIX Checkpoint and Restart (CPR) and how to develop applications that can be safely checkpointed and restarted.

  • MIPSpro Compiling and Performance Tuning Guide describes the MIPSpro compiler system, other programming tools and interfaces, and ways to improve program performance.

  • NIS Administrator's Guide documents the SGI implementation of the network information service NIS, which provides location information about network entities to other network services, such as NFS.

  • Personal System Administration Guide describes the responsibilities of the system administrator for an SGI workstation, and provides details on the various tools and utilities available for system administrators.

  • NQE Administration describes how to configure, monitor, and control the Network Queuing Environment (NQE).

  • Performance Co-Pilot User's and Administrator's Guide describes how to administer the Performance Co-Pilot (PCP) software package.

Obtaining Publications

You can obtain SGI documentation in the following ways:

See the SGI Technical Publications Library at http://docs.sgi.com . Various formats are available. This library contains the most recent and most comprehensive set of online books, release notes, man pages, and other information.

If it is installed on your SGI system, you can use InfoSearch, an online tool that provides a more limited set of online books, release notes, and man pages. With an IRIX system, select Help from the Toolchest, and then select InfoSearch. Or you can type infosearch on a command line.

You can also view release notes by typing either grelnotes or relnotes on a command line.

You can also view man pages by typing man <title> on a command line.

Additional Resources

For easy reference, this section lists guides and resources provided with your system and the specific focus and scope of each.

IRIX Man Pages

The IRIX man pages provide concise reference information on the use of IRIX commands, subroutines, and other elements that make up the IRIX operating system. This collection of entries is one of the most important references for an administrator. Generally, each man page covers one command, although some man pages cover several closely related commands.

The IRIX man pages are available online through the man command if they are installed or are mounted. To view a man page, use the man command at the shell prompt. For example, to see the man page for diff, enter:

man diff

Print those man pages you consistently use for reference and those you are likely to need before major administrative operations and keep them in a notebook of some kind.

Each command, system file, or other system object is described on a separate page. The man pages are divided into seven sections, as shown in Table 1. When referring to man pages, this document follows a standard UNIX convention: the name of the command is followed by its section number in parentheses. For example, cc(1) refers to the cc man page in Section 1.

Table 1 shows the man page sections and the types of man pages that they contain.

Table 1. Outline of Man Page Organization

Type of Man Page

Section Number

General Commands


Administrator Commands


System Calls and Error Numbers


Library Subroutines


File Formats




Demos and Games


Special Files


When viewing the guide online in IRIS InSight, command man pages are followed by their section numbers in parentheses. The command name and section number are links to the actual man page. For example, clicking man(1) displays the man page for the man command.


The following conventions are used throughout this document:




This fixed-space font denotes literal items such as commands, files, routines, path names, signals, messages, and programming language structures.


Italic typeface denotes variable entries and words or concepts being defined.

user input 

This bold, fixed-space font denotes literal items that the user enters in interactive sessions. Output is shown in nonbold, fixed-space font.


Brackets enclose optional portions of a command or directive line.


Ellipses indicate that a preceding element can be repeated.


Man page section identifiers appear in parentheses after man page names.

Reader Comments

If you have comments about the technical accuracy, content, or organization of this document, contact SGI. Be sure to include the title and document number of the manual with your comments. (Online, the document number is located in the front matter of the manual. In printed manuals, the document number is located at the bottom of each page.)

You can contact SGI in any of the following ways:

  • Send e-mail to the following address:

  • Use the Feedback option on the Technical Publications Library web page:

  • Contact your customer service representative and ask that an incident be filed in the SGI incident tracking system.

  • Send mail to the following address:

    Technical Publications
    1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, M/S 535
    Mountain View, California 94043-1351

  • Send a fax to the attention of “Technical Publications” at +1 650 932 0801.

SGI values your comments and will respond to them promptly.