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I want to understand this scenario:

My server suddenly became busy and stopped doing anything new that I tell it to do: ls, vi, nothing works, its frozen. But I can browse through already open vim file. Why so?

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Well, weird, you can execute commands through vi using :! command, does it work? – Ency Jan 4 '11 at 21:23
I will try and see when such situation happens again. I believe, I would not be able to execute anything out of of vim also. – hari Jan 5 '11 at 0:08
Happened again and couldn't execute any command from anywhere. I moved to a different server with lower load! – hari Jan 5 '11 at 1:17
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Could be all sorts of things, this assumes you can't do anything at all other than use your existing vim. You can't ssh in, you can't open a new shell, nothing. If you can open a new shell but can't run anything in that shell, then it could be all sorts of different things, for instance your PATH could refer to a directory on a network share that's down (try running "/bin/ls" so PATH is not searched) and you have to wait for it to time out before it will look in the other directories ... Here are some things to try:

In the order of "least likely to cause vim to crash", start by getting vim to open /proc/loadavg (:r /proc/loadavg) it should insert a line like

0.04 0.05 0.01 2/176 26199

The first three numbers are your load average (same as uptime command) the 2/176 says there are two processes currently runnable out of 176 total processes. If the total processes are in the tens of thousands then a forkbomb or something similar may be consuming all of your resources. You can probably read /proc/[randomnumber]/cmdline and have a good guess at where these processes were coming from.

/proc/meminfo will have a lot of lines about the current RAM usage. If MemFree is near zero and Buffers and Cached are near zero, then something has consumed most of the memory. Note that MemFree is normally low due to Buffers and Cache, so if Buffers and Cache are high this is normal operation.

If the first three numbers from /proc/loadavg are really high (eg 10.0+, depending on # cpus/cores) then it could be a runaway process taking up all your CPU time (in which case your commands should execute... eventually. But then vim should be slow too). Otherwise it's possible that there is an IO problem, which can increase load numbers without using the CPU (eg failed harddrive). If you have sysfs mounted (typically /sys/) you can try reading /sys/block/[drivedevice]/device/ioerr_cnt (where [drivedevice] is your drive device name e.g. sda, not a partition name). This will have a hexadecimal number counting all of the errors that have been logged for that device. Mine is 0x8 (some boot tests for write cache and other settings cause errors which are normal, depending on hardware and drivers) but if yours is big (and getting bigger, try reading it twice) then the drive is dying/dead.

If the drive does not have errors, then it might be safe to try reading from the drive: if you have permission try opening /var/log/kern.log which might give you more insight into what's going on. /var/log/syslog and /var/log/messages might help as well.

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Thanks for the response DerfK. Appreciate it. Everything is normal now. It happens now and then. But when I checked the load, its bad: load averages: 12.75, 14.10, 14.33 – hari Jan 5 '11 at 0:06
Thanks for the pointers DerfK. – hari Jan 6 '11 at 6:38

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