Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I work in support, and occasionally I'm given shell access to a remote Linux system.

I frequently find that when the admin gives me remote access, that I get the following output upon login.

[joe@mycomputer ~]$ ssh bob+ldap@foo.edu
bob+ldap@foo.edu password:
Creating directory '/foobar/users/bob'.
Unable to create and initialize directory '/foobar/users/bob'.
Last login: Mon Jul 29 13:05:27 2013 from bar.edu
Could not chdir to home directory /foobar/users/bob: Input/output error
-bash: /foobar/users/bob/.bash_profile: Input/output error

-bash-4.1$ echo $HOME

The admins I interact with know way more about Linux than I do. My questions are:

  1. Why do I get "Unable to initialize directory"?

    • Is that an error on their part, or is that intentional for security? I'm assuming they ran useradd bob without the -m option when they created my account.
  2. Why is my shell name 'bash-4.1' and not 'bob'?

I'm guessing that because I am not a normal user on the system, I don't have a network share foobar/users, just local storage. It seems strange that such a high percentage of servers I log into would configure their server the same way.

Resources I have investigated

share|improve this question
Unable to create and initialize directory '/foobar/users/bob'. is the key. Since the folder isn't created your shell cannot chdir to that path since it doesn't exist. The lack of a home folder means no user specific bash profile, so you are defaulting to the default global bash profile that doesn't use the hostname or username in the bash prompt. – Tim Aug 7 '13 at 21:35
Ask the Bonus question as it's own question. Then take it out of this question. Too much for one question makes them less valuable down the road and harder to answer/address for people in general. – slm Aug 7 '13 at 22:59
Thanks @slm I edited this question, and created a new one unix.stackexchange.com/questions/85891/… – spuder Aug 7 '13 at 23:13
Related: unix.stackexchange.com/questions/39905/…. I think @jordanm is correct that this means there's an issue with the underlying HDD. – slm Aug 7 '13 at 23:20
up vote 2 down vote accepted

First the easy question, why is my shell name -bash-4.1$. The technical name for what you call the shell name is the "command prompt". With bash that is set via the environment variable PS1. If PS1 is not set in your environment bash defaults to showing the bash version as your prompt. (See the ENVIRONMENT section of the bash man page for more details on environment, and Shell Variables for a list of the ones it provides by default). If you want it to display bob (I assume you are used to it displaying the working directory) you can use:

PS1='\W$ '

See the PROMPTING section of the bash manual to see what else can be set in the bash prompt.

I suspect the Unable to create and initialize directory and Input/output error point to a failed hard disk drive, a powered off external USB drive or, if you use NIS/NIS+ to automount, an NFS issue (directories under /foobar/users may be automounted).

You can see what file system the /foobar/users path live under by examining the output of the mount command which will inform you what devices provide which parts of the filesystem. It will inform you here as to where /foobar is mounted from. If /foobar is not listed then it's the / directory that is having I/O errors and it most likely is a failed disk. You can also filter mount by file system types mount -t nfs shows all nfs drives mount -t ext3 will show all ext3fs mount points and so on. man mount and looking at the -t option will show what filesystems are supported.

Once you have found out what device the directory lives on you can then have a better idea of how to diagnose the issue (if it's something like /dev/sda1 or similar) it is a hard disk drive and you can start looking for errors in the systems log files grep sda1 /var/log/syslog. If it's NFS you man need to remount the drive, or restart the NFS services.

share|improve this answer

Your first login fails to create the home directory and after that the system fails to step into that directory. This is simply because there is no error checking if the directory creation was successful. You need to ask your sysadmins to investigate why the folder creation fails.

share|improve this answer
Input/output error indicates a drive failure or perhaps an NFS problem. – jordanm Aug 7 '13 at 22:06

“Input/output error” indicates something wrong with the filesystem driver. It could be a driver bug or a hardware error. If cd had reported “no such file or directory”, it could indicate a bug in the home directory creation script, but “Input/output error” from cd indicates something deeper. Contact your system administrator.

The shell prompt is bash-4.1$ instead of what you're used to because your home directory couldn't be opened, so your .bashrc (which presumably sets a different prompt) isn't read.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.