OSX Admin for the lulz


OSX Admin for the lulz

26th of October, 2011

At one of my jobs, I've been thrown into the deep end when it comes to sysadmin. I've always done this a little but largely on a Linux based platform. As I'm involved with an Arts University, most of the machines here are Apple based. It's a little bit different in certain cases and there are some fun things already installed. The first is the screen sharing app.


This program is quite useful - it's a great way for doing remote admin. In addition, if another user is logged in you get to see what they are doing - It's genius and also a little scary.

Sometimes its not setup remotely. This will do that for you:

sudo sh -c "/bin/echo -n enabled > 

So being a Linux guy mostly, I aim for the command line. I have almost 100 Apple iMacs at my command so of course, I got to it. Firstly, SSH keys for password-less login were needed. That means:

  1. create the .ssh directory
  2. create authorized_hosts within the .ssh dir
  3. copy over the contents of your own

This took quite a while as you can imagine. But even before this, I had no idea of the IP addresses for the machines. There is no internal DNS or anthing so out comes out nmap

nmap -oX results.xml -sn -n

I love nmap and I need to learn how to use it better. This produces an XML list of the machines that are currently running. Sadly, I could not figure out how to return just the iMacs so there are some Windows XP machines and routers in there too.

Of course, XML is not so bash friendly (unless you know of cool XML parsing in bash - hit me up if you do). This is where Python comes in:

from lxml import etree
f = open(args.iplist,'r')
xml =
root = etree.fromstring(xml)
for element in root.iter():
    if element.tag.__str__() == 'address':

subprocess is still a bit of a dark art to me. The shell=True bit is quite important as it opens a remote shell. Also the -t argument to ssh helps.

The beauty of OSX is that there are command line versions of various GUI programmers such as:

sudo installer -pkg /Volumes/Google\ SketchUp\ 8.0\ 
\(English\)/Google\ SketchUp\ 8.0\ Installer.mpkg -target

This allows you to install things inside an mpkg. Very handy. Mounting DMG files is also easy with:


Unmounting, you can use:


Just as you would on the nix

The problem with using sudo a lot is that we need to keep typing passwords all the time. You can use the following ENV variable to launch a window in OSX to type this in:

env = {'SSH_ASKPASS':'/Users/oni/Projects/Scripts/ssh-askpass', 
'DISPLAY':'0', 'SUDO_ASKPASS':'/Users/oni/Projects/Scripts/ssh-askpass'}

askpass is a bash program that looks like this:

! /bin/sh

 An SSH_ASKPASS command for MacOS X

 Author: Joseph Mocker, Sun Microsystems

 To use this script:
     setenv SSH_ASKPASS "macos-askpass"
     setenv DISPLAY ":0"

DIALOG="display dialog \"$@\" default answer \"\" with title \"$TITLE\""
DIALOG="$DIALOG with icon caution with hidden answer"  
result=`osascript -e 'tell application "Finder"' -e "activate"  -e "$DIALOG" -e 'end tell'`  
if [ "$result" = "" ]; then
    exit 1
    echo "$result" | sed -e 's/^text returned://' -e 's/, button returned:.*$//'
    exit 0

Notice the handy osascript -e command. Thats pretty handy as well.

I believe there is a python library for doing simultaneous installs as well called Fabric that I reckon will make this go uber-smooth in the future!

Finally, to remove password entru for sudo, use:

sudo visudo

adding the following line:

<username>  ALL=NOPASSWD: ALL

replacing with the user you are using to do all the installs. So far, Im getting there. I will have many devices under my command! It was grossly inefficent but a good way to learn a great many things. Remember the process is what counts people!