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Fedora considers removing NIS support

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Red Hat

For all of you youngsters out there, the Internet has always been omnipresent, computers are something you carry in your pocket, the Unix wars are about as relevant as the War of 1812, and the term "NIS" doesn't ring a bell. But, for a certain class of Unix old-timer, NIS has a distinct place in history — and, perhaps, in still-deployed systems. So the suggestion that Fedora might drop support for NIS has proved to be a bit of a wakeup call for some.

NIS ("Network Information Service") was initially born in the depths of Sun Microsystems as "Yellow Pages". It came about in those heady times when Unix workstations were beginning to pop up in offices — and were being connected to just-installed 10Mb/s Ethernet networks via a (suitably named for the Halloween season) vampire tap. Having a network made it possible to copy around various administrative files like /etc/passwd and create an early sort of single-sign-on regime on the local network. We were all quite proud of ourselves for setting such things up.

As the number of systems grew, though, all of that copying became a little cumbersome and machines easily went out of sync. Yellow Pages was Sun's way of automating this work within a simple, centralized service. Getting a network running with it was a quick process, and adding new clients was even faster. There were occasional problems, of course, leading to the system being renamed "Yellow Plague" by some users, but as a whole, it worked quite well. That is for a value of "quite well" that discounts its total lack of access control, encryption, or defenses against malicious hosts masquerading as servers, but that was a more innocent age.

Sun eventually ran into trademark problems with the Yellow Pages name; being a Unix company, Sun had a deep understanding of the folly of getting into legal battles with telecommunications companies, so it wisely changed the name to NIS. The later NIS+ release added some security and reliability features but looked similar in many ways. Eventually, though, Sun lost interest in NIS (and just about everything else) and the system fell from its nearly dominant position in Unix shops into obscurity. It would be surprising indeed to see a new deployment adopt it now.

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