[Adduser-devel] Bug#682156: delgroup I/O requirements are O(n^2) with regards to number of configured users

Daniel Papasian dannyp at google.com
Thu Jul 19 20:24:21 UTC 2012

Package: adduser
Version: 3.112+nmu2

delgroup is a wrapper to groupdel which performs additional
validations.  It checks to see whether any other user on the system
has, as its primary group, the group that it is potentially deleting.

It does so with the following code:

    while ((my $acctname,my $primgrp) = (getpwent)[0,3]) {
        if( $primgrp eq $gr_gid ) {
            fail (7, gtx("`%s' still has `%s' as their primary

Perl's implementation of getpwent will call getspnam() for each user
to get the shadow password.  On a default system (using /etc/passwd
and /etc/shadow) this means, for each line of /etc/passwd,
perl will open /etc/shadow, scan it until it finds the matching user,
and close the file.  Given adding users adds lines to /etc/passwd and
/etc/shadow, this means the overall I/O complexity for deleting
a group is O(n^2).  On systems with ~100k users this quickly ends up
being hundreds of gigabytes that needs to be read and processed in
order to remove a group; given how often delgroup gets
called from postrm scripts this can make a lot of operations rather expensive.

groupdel performs the same check from C, using getpwent() without
calling the getspnam(), so safety-wise this check is not needed.  The
only thing we gain from it is the opportunity to detect
the error before printing "Removing group ..." and calling groupdel.
groupdel has a return value specifically for this case (it will return
8) in the event we wanted to make any behavior conditional
on this case.

The simplest fix is to simply remove the offending lines of perl
entirely. This will result in a slightly different output being
printed when attempting to remove a group in use, but will otherwise
behave the same, as so:

With current delgroup:

# delgroup root
/usr/sbin/delgroup: `root' still has `root' as their primary group!

If offending code were simply removed:

# delgroup root
Removing group `root' ...
groupdel: cannot remove the primary group of user 'root'
/usr/sbin/delgroup: `/usr/sbin/groupdel root' returned error code 8. Exiting.

The bug was introduced in this commit:

and it's entirely plausible (I haven't checked) that groupdel didn't
have any check at all at this point in time.  If people believe it's
unacceptable to simply remove the check and rely on groupdel to fail,
this also suggests an alternate approach to fixing this bug -- calling
out to grep via a subshell will be O(n) instead of O(n^2) and should
work fine on systems with much larger numbers of users.


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