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A single line of bad code deleted this man’s entire business



AJ Dellinger


Posted on Apr 14, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 10:48 pm CDT

Marco Marsala had a very bad day. The proprietor of a small hosting service may have accidentally put himself out of business with a single line of bad code. 

According to a post on ServerFault, a help forum for system and network administrators, Marsala raised an issue that he had after running a backup maintenance script on all his servers. 

The command Marsala ran was “rm -rf,” a fairly basic piece of code that deletes everything it’s told to. The first part of the code, “rm,” tells the computer to remove. The “r” indicates that it should delete everything within a given directory, and the “f” means “force,” essentially telling the computer to bypass any warning signs that might otherwise prevent it from executing its process.

The results were not what he expected.

“All servers got deleted and the offsite backups too because the remote storage was mounted just before by the same script,” he reported to the forum, before asking how he could recover in a timely manner.

Unfortunately for Marsala, the responses he got weren’t what he expected. Instead of receiving advice for a quick fix that might reverse the damage, he found post after post confirming his worst fears: The information for his 1,535 customers was gone, as was his entirety of his hosting business.

“If you really don’t have any backups I am sorry to say but you just nuked your entire company,” one person replied. Another said that they too were sorry but that his company “is now essentially dead.” 

Others were less apologetic and more apocalyptic. “You’re going out of business. You don’t need technical advice, you need to call your lawyer,” one user commented

Some tried to help, but even the most generous of responses said that his only options were some desperate efforts that were unlikely to work. He’d more than likely need to contact a data recovery company, a costly and time-consuming process that was still more likely to fail than succeed. 

His nightmare scenario arose primarily due to a failure to check his own code. Instead of directing the command at a particular part of the computer, Marsala left it undefined, prompting the command to simply destroy everything in its sight.

Buried in the replies—which have been cluttered with onlookers and others who want to get in on the fun of landing zingers on the guy who cratered his livelihood—there does appear to be a happy ending; Marsala hopped back in the comments to reply to one user to tell him, “we recovered almost all data!” He didn’t provide any additional details on how.

It’s never fun to learn things the hard way, but Marsala’s (apparently momentary) misery can serve as a good lesson to everyone—always backup your data.

H/T the Independent

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*First Published: Apr 14, 2016, 7:44 pm CDT