Understanding dump devices


If your system crashes due to an unexpected event, it core dumps. In fact a core dump can occur without a crash. However, for this article I assume that the system goes down due to a fatal event or via a user's forced action. The dump contains contents of the memory up to the point of the crash. By its very nature a crash happens unexpectedly, therefore it is up to the system administrator to prepare for the event in advance for when it happens. You can tell if a crash has happened because your system has re-booted, and there are entries in you error log with the label: SYSDUMP.

For this demonstration, I am using AIX 7.1. However the principals I discuss apply to AIX 5.3 and 6.1 as well.

Prepare, prepare

To prepare for the unexpected system crash you need to make sure you have a dump device logical volume (LV) where the dump is placed when the system comes back up. However, if that dump device is not available, then a secondary dump device should be assigned for the placement of the dump. It may be the case that one does not care about when the system crashes and thus is not interested in the dump file for further investigation. This is entirely up to the owner of the system. But, beware it is good practice and a requirement to have a primary dump device present in your rootvg for the system to operate correctly. The dump device can be mirrored, but IBM AIX support throws caution to this. This is because a crash maybe mirrored or sync related and thus invalidates the mirroring on the dump device. In certain circumstances, the dump file could be copied to only one of the copies of the mirrored dump device, that resides on the mirrored disks. It may be the case that only half the copy of the dump file is recovered when the system is restarted. A good practice is to have the primary dump device on one disk, un-mirrored, and the secondary device on the other disk, un-mirrored. However, I have found it is common to mirror the rootvg dump device. The second dump device can either be within rootvg or outside of rootvg, as long as it is not on a paging space, or an external device, like a tape device for example.

Dump devices

Traditionally the default dump device for system dumps was: /dev/hd6 (paging space) and still is on a lot of systems. If there is not enough space to copy over the dump file after a crash, then the system administrator is prompted upon restart to copy the dump file over to some removable media , like a tape or DVD. This can be time consuming and it is sometimes the case that you want to get your system back up quickly. I can sympathise with system administrators who just ignore the prompt to get the system back up due to business pressure, thus deleting the dump, so then one does not know why it crashed in the first place. If you do not have enough space on your dump device to copy the dump, then during the start-up process, the copydumpmenu menu utility is invoked to give the system administrator the opportunity to copy the dump to a removable media, for example to a tape device if present. The copydumpmenu utility can also be called from the command line when the system is up. The copy directory by default is /var/adm/ras with the file-name:vmcore.<X>.BZ , where X is a sequence number. The dump file is a BZ (BZIP) and not a Z compressed file format.

With systems now having more memory available, this has provided more flexibility as to where the primary dump device could be placed. Typically, for systems with over 4 GB of memory there is now a dedicated dump device, called: lg_dumplv

# lsvg -l rootvg |grep sysdump
lg_dumplv sysdump  8  8   open/syncd N/A

Using the sysdumpdev command, one can determine what devices are used for the system dumps.

The following output shows a system using AIX 7.1 having the lg_dumplv as its primary dump device:

#  sysdumpdev -l
primary              /dev/lg_dumplv
secondary            /dev/sysdumpnull
copy directory       /var/adm/ras
forced copy flag     TRUE
always allow dump    TRUE
dump compression     ON
type of dump         traditional

Looking more closely at the above output fields. Notice that an extra field is now present for AIX 6.1 onwards: type of dump. Currently set to traditional, here you can have it set at (firmware) fw-assisted, if your hardware supports it. For the secondary field, there is no dump device. This is denoted by using the sysdumpnull device. This means all system dumps are lost if it goes to that device. The copy directory is /var/adm/ras, this is where the system dump will be copied to , for either further examination, or to be copied off to go to IBM support. Note that 'always allow dump' is set to true, this must be the case if a dump is to be successfully initiated. Dump compression is on by default.

Common settings using sysdumpdev are:

  • To change the primary device use: sysdumpdev -P -p <device_name>
  • To change the secondary device use: sysdumpdev -P -s <device_name>
  • To change the copy directory use: sysdumpdev -D <path_name>
  • To change the always dump condition use: sysdumpdev -k for false, sysdumpdev -K for true
  • To change the type of dump use: sysdumpdev -t <fw-assisted | traditional>

User-controlled system dump

To initiate a dump, (which reboots the system as part of its process) use the sysdumpstart command, the following command uses the primary device to place its dump:

# sysdumpstart -p

As this process is initiated, the system LED panel or HMC screen, on my Power 5 box displays 00c2. This indicates that the dump is in progress. Upon the restart of bootystem, the error log could contain the following entries:

# errpt |more
A6DF45AA   1027180611 I O RMCdaemon      The daemon is started.
67145A39   1027180411 U S SYSDUMP        SYSTEM DUMP
F48137AC   1027180411 U O minidump       COMPRESSED MINIMAL DUMP
A6DF45AA   1027180411 I O RMCdaemon      The daemon is started.
9DBCFDEE   1027180511 T O errdemon       ERROR LOGGING TURNED ON

Further investigation of the error report states:

Type:            UNKN
WPAR:            Global
Resource Name:   SYSDUMP


Probable Causes

User Causes

        Recommended Actions

Failure Causes
        Recommended Actions

Detail Data
Thu Oct 27 18:02:28 2011

Looking at the above output, we know the dump went to the primary dump device.

Using the following sysdumpdev command also confirms the dump took place, on the primary device. Information on the date, size, device name and if the dump was successful is also displayed:

# sysdumpdev -L

Device name:         /dev/lg_dumplv
Major device number: 10
Minor device number: 16
Size:                63894528 bytes
Uncompressed Size:   498002880 bytes
Date/Time:           Thu Oct 27 18:02:28 BST 2011
Dump status:         0
Type of dump:        traditional
dump completed successfully

The following will also inform you of the latest system dump, its size and location:

# sysdumpdev -z
63894528 /dev/lg_dumplv

The compressed dump is now on the LV lg_dumplv. The dump was not copied across to the copy directory when issuing a user initiated dump. To copy the most recent system dump from a system dump device to a directory, use the savecore command. For example, to copy the dump to the directory /var/adm/ras. I could use:

# savecore -d /var/adm/ras

If you need to uncompress the file use the dmpuncompress utility. The format of the command is:

dmpuncompress  < filename>

After uncompressing, the dump file is now ready for further investigation using kdb or for transfer to IBM support.

# dmpuncompress vmcore.0.BZ
replaced with vmcore.0

Alternatively you can use the smit dump menu option and select,Copy a system dump. The following screen displays:

                              Copy dump image to:

Type or select values in entry fields.
Press Enter after making all desired changes.

                                                        [Entry Fields]
* Copy dump image from:                              [/dev/lg_dumplv]         /
* Copy dump image to:                                [/var/adm/ras/dump_fil>
* Input and output file blocksize for copy           [4096]                   #
  Size in bytes of dump image                         63894528
  Date of last dump                                   Thu Oct 27 18-02-28 B>

The fields are populated with the current dump that is on the primary dump device. This is the default setting, after the copy, the dump file is present in: /var/adm/ras:

# ls -l dump_file_copy.BZ
-rw-r--r--    1 root     system     63894528 Oct 27 18:15 dump_file_copy.BZ

After a dump has occurred there may well be a minidump generated as a well. Contained in the errorlog output listing earlier in the article, there was an entry for:

F48137AC   1027180411 U O minidump       COMPRESSED MINIMAL DUMP

The minidump is a small compress dump that will be present in: /var/adm/ras. This file contains a snapshot of the system when the system was dumped or crashed. This file can be used for diagnosing if the main dump is not present, due to the dump being removed or not captured.

Creating a secondary device

Earlier in this demonstration, in the 'sysdumpdev -l ' output, the secondary dump device was set to /dev/sysdumpnull. This means if a dump goes to this secondary device it will be lost. It behaves much like the NULL device, everything that goes to it, goes straight into the dustbin. I will now create a secondary device and change the sydumpdev attributes to reflect this new change. So, I can be sure that if my first dump device is unavailable, the dump goes to the secondary device.

In this demonstration, the primary device uses eight logical partitions (as shown in earlier output). So that is the amount I will create for the secondary device. However, I will first go over the actions required to size a dump device.

First we need to know the potential size of the dump AIX would generate, then using that number as a base to create the device. Using the sysdumpdev command with the 'e' option, will do a best guess of the size required. It is best to run this when the system is in normal use and not idle:

# sysdumpdev -e
0453-041 Estimated dump size in bytes: 282486374

Please note, if compressed is set on, the number of bytes returned by sysdumpdev is for a compressed dump and not an uncompressed file size. The previous command returns 282486374 bytes. For ease of use, lets convert that number to MB:

#  expr 282486374 / 1024 / 1024

Next, add on approx 50%, (about 135 MB) to allow for a crash size if the system is overloaded, which bring us to a size of 404MB. This is the figure I will aim for at the minimum when creating the dump device. Please note also, that the file-system it will be copied to should have at least that amount of space free or the copy will fail.

First, make sure the primary device, lg_dumplv, is not mirrored in rootvg and is only residing on one disk. The secondary disk can then be placed on the other disk. From the following output, we can determine that the is only one copy of lg_dumplv:

# lsvg -l rootvg
LV NAME             TYPE       LPs     PPs     PVs  LV STATE      MOUNT POINT
hd5                 boot       1       2       2    closed/syncd  N/A
livedump            jfs2       2       4       2    open/syncd    /var/adm/ras/livedump
lg_dumplv           sysdump    8       8       1    open/syncd    N/A

Next, query the LV lg_dumplv to see what disk or disks it resides on. From the following output we can see that the lg_dumplv only resides on hdisk0. So all is good. Now the secondary device can be created and will reside on the rootvg disk: hdisk1.

# lslv -m lg_dumplv
LP    PP1  PV1               PP2  PV2               PP3  PV3
0001  0008 hdisk0
0002  0009 hdisk0
0003  0010 hdisk0
0004  0011 hdisk0
0005  0012 hdisk0
0006  0013 hdisk0
0007  0014 hdisk0
0008  0015 hdisk0

To determine how many logical partitions (LP) to use to create the secondary device query the rootvg volume group and note the PP size. In the following output it is 128MB in size.

# lsvg rootvg
VOLUME GROUP:       rootvg                   VG IDENTIFIER:  00c23bed00004c00000
VG STATE:           active                   PP SIZE:        128 megabyte(s)
VG PERMISSION:      read/write               TOTAL PPs:      270 (34560 megabyte

So to create a LV of at least 404 MB, I would need four partitions, (this would be a LV size of 512 MB). The command to create the LV is mklv. The basic format for a system dump type using the mklv command is:

mklv -t sysdump -y <LV name> < volume group> < number of LP's> <hdisk to reside on>

Assume the following:

  • LV iscalled lg_dumplv2
  • It resides on hdisk1
  • It is created with a size of 4 partitions

The following command could be run to create the LV:

# mklv -t sysdump -y lg_dumplv2 rootvg  4 hdisk1

However as discussed earlier, the secondary device in this demonstration is created with the same amount of partitions as the current primary device, which is 8. The following command achieves this, with the hdisk and LV name the same as just ran in the previous mklv command:

# mklv -t sysdump -y lg_dumplv2 rootvg 8 hdisk1

First, confirm that it has indeed been created on hdisk1, by querying the LV lg_dumplv2:

# lslv -m lg_dumplv2
LP    PP1  PV1               PP2  PV2               PP3  PV3
0001  0003 hdisk1
0002  0004 hdisk1
0003  0005 hdisk1
0004  0006 hdisk1
0005  0007 hdisk1
0006  0008 hdisk1
0007  0009 hdisk1
0008  0010 hdisk1

Though the LV is now created it is not active, it is in a closed state, this can be seen by viewing the LV's contained in rootvg:

#  lsvg -l rootvg
LV NAME             TYPE       LPs     PPs     PVs  LV STATE      MOUNT POINT
hd5                 boot       1       2       2    closed/syncd  N/A
hd8                 jfs2log    1       2       2    open/syncd    N/A
lg_dumplv           sysdump    8       8       1    open/syncd    N/A
lg_dumplv2          sysdump    8       8       1    closed/syncd  N/A

The next task is to active it, this is done by assigning it as the secondary device using the sysdumpdev command as described earlier, like so:

# sysdumpdev -Ps /dev/lg_dumplv2
primary              /dev/lg_dumplv
secondary            /dev/lg_dumplv2
copy directory       /var/adm/ras
forced copy flag     TRUE
always allow dump    TRUE
dump compression     ON
type of dump         traditional

Next review rootvg, to see if it is active:

#  lsvg -l rootvg
LV NAME             TYPE       LPs     PPs     PVs  LV STATE      MOUNT POINT
hd5                 boot       1       2       2    closed/syncd  N/A
hd8                 jfs2log    1       2       2    open/syncd    N/A
lg_dumplv           sysdump    8       8       1    open/syncd    N/A
lg_dumplv2          sysdump    8       8       1    open/syncd    N/A

All looks good, now test it by initiating a system dump to the secondary device:

#  sysdumpstart -s

After the reboot, confirm the system dump went to the secondary device, by querying sysdumpdev, to see where the latest system dump resides:

# sysdumpdev -L

Device name:         /dev/lg_dumplv2
Major device number: 10
Minor device number: 18
Size:                64955392 bytes
Uncompressed Size:   502517142 bytes
Date/Time:           Thu Oct 27 18:19:37 BST 2011
Dump status:         0
Type of dump:        traditional
dump completed successfully

As can be seen from the previous output, the dump did go to the secondary device.

One can now use the savecore command, to copy the most recent dump across to a directory either for investigation or in readiness to be moved off the system.

# savecore -d /var/adm/ras


If your system crashes, you will want to have a record of the events up to the crash. Having dump devices to collect this information enables you to be on a good footing when logging a call with IBM, as you will have a record of the events prior to the crash.

Downloadable resources

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Zone=AIX and UNIX, Java development, Open source
ArticleTitle=Understanding dump devices