Rebooting for a Reason

I’ve worked with computers for a long time. I’ve helped support various systems and applications, both desktop and servers. One of the most common tricks that has served me well is to press to oh-en-oh-eff-eff switch twice.

In other words, reboot.

This is advice that many tech support people use. It’s what is often recommended for everything from personal computers to mobile devices to watches to really any sort of microchip device. It’s been recommended for my Tesla and for a few appliances as well.

It’s also incredibly frustrating advice to hear that when we expect a device to run constantly, like a watch. Why should I reboot it? Isn’t your code bad? Isn’t it the manufacturer’s fault? Isn’t this a cop-out to get me off the phone/chat/etc. and close out a call?

This is likely bad code, and it might be a way to get you off the phone, but there is some rationale behind this troubleshooting step. I ran across this article on the unreasonable effectiveness of turning computers off and on again. It provides some reasoning why rebooting makes sense and why it can help. The short answer is this action returns the code and device to a known state. Often when things are broken, we’re in an unknown state.

There’s also an interesting parable about writing a shell that is very strict with its evaluation of input and crashing when things aren’t right. The author wrote another shell that is loose in its evaluation of input. Read the piece to see which shell actually made more sense to the programmer.

I found this interesting and fun to read, and it made me feel better about needing to reboot systems. Less excited about the need to reboot a car or a plane (I’ve been on a 787 when it rebooted), but since I’ve seen the former continue to work, I’m less anxious. Take a look today and let me know if this article makes you feel a little more comfortable with giving out the “reboot” solution to others.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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8 Responses to Rebooting for a Reason

  1. Great article, Steve. Can I argue that this unknown state is more typical of Windows than other OSes?


  2. way0utwest says:

    For sure. I think this is a result of lower quality code, or perhaps less constraints on what programs can do, which results in more unanticipated things by the developer(s)


    • Greg Moore says:

      I actually wouldn’t. I would argue it’s simply because there’s FAR MORE code on Windows. I’ve run Windows servers that only required reboots for patching (and even then not all the time), but desktops that if you looked at them funny required a reboot.

      So yeah, you could argue it’s “lower quality code” but it’s also there’s simply FAR more opportunities for bad code. If Linux desktops were as popular I’d suspect they’d be rebooted a lot more often than servers.


  3. Greg Moore says:

    BTW, check out some of the more detailed discussions on the Apollo 11 1201 alarm. In essence it was getting an overflow of tasks, so it would “reboot” to a known state.

    So hey, if it worked for landing men on the Moon…


  4. way0utwest says:

    Perhaps. Windows is a very large codebase, but Linux is large, and Unix smaller, but has run very long times. Windows can run a long time, but the more you add software, which quality is arguably lower, the more it needs reboots. I think Greg has a decent explanation there. I’d also say that I’ve seen some Java apps where the underlying OS needed reboots often to keep things running smoothly.


  5. Rebooting computer systems ifs a fact 9f life no matter some Never-rebooter sysadmin would have you believe. Are there some systems, servers that have been running without a reboot for years? yes there are and you can bet they’re locked down systems with strict restrictions/guidelines on what gets installed on them and tehri use is highly regulated. These servers are not representative of the rest of the real world use of computing systems. We reboot because it flushed everything and returns the system to a known and preferred state.

    I’ve worked with sysadmins who say “if you have it setup right you should never need to reboot” but that’s fantasy, idealism, not reality. In our modern day computing world you should be regularly rebooting any computing system.


  6. way0utwest says:

    Gravatar should. I can change images if I like. I think the email is the only thing you are stuck with.


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