Introducing the Network Information Service for Linux

NIS is a system for sharing system information between machines. Mr. Brown tells us how to set up and use it.
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While for the most part, the fact that you are running NIS instead of using traditional configuration files will be completely transparent, there are a few cases where this is not true. The most glaring of these is that you cannot use the passwd command to change your password on the client machines. If you do so, the entire NIS passwd map will be appended to the local /etc/passwd file each time you use the command, which is certainly not the intended effect. This may have changed with libc6, but it is definitely a problem with the stock utilities that come with Red Hat 4.2. However, all hope is not lost; there is a solution, and it is called yppasswd. This utility acts just like passwd, but makes a call to the NIS server to do the actual change instead of trying to change things locally. The NIS server must support this by running the yppasswdd daemon. In its absence, you will have to tell users to log in to the NIS server to change their password, which is only a minor inconvenience.

If you run into troubles while setting up either the server or clients, the most likely source of your problems is the /etc/nsswitch.conf file. Make sure that each line is creating the behavior you intend, and when in doubt refer to the man page. Also, check the “+/-” syntax in your passwd and group files and make sure it follows the proper notation. Minor typos can have wide-ranging effects, so proofread carefully.

Unfortunately, I cannot hope to cover all the details of setting up a complex distributed network environment. You may well have unique problems or concerns that haven't been addressed here. If this is the case, I highly recommend the O'Reilly book on NIS (and NFS) that was previously mentioned. If all of these roads lead to nowhere, try the Linux, and especially the Sun, newsgroups on Usenet. There is a good chance someone else has dealt with your problem before.

Good luck setting up NIS on your Linux network. The couple of hours you initially invest will save you days of headaches in the long run.

Preston Brown is graduating from Yale University this spring with a B.S. in Computer Science. He has been the System Administrator for the Yale University Economics Department for over three years and is intimately familiar with the joys of setting up NIS. You can contact him with your questions and comments at


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