AIPS and Linux: A Historical Reminiscence

The Astronomical Image Processing System looks at the sky using the radio wave section of the electromagnetic spectrum.
What's Left

In early 1998, as Jeff left for greener pastures (a formerly secretive company called Transmeta), there were two major obstacles left that stood in the way of total world domination by the Intel/Linux platform in the AIPS community. These were file locking on NFS-mounted file systems, and support for files larger than 2GB. With the advent of kernel-based NFS in version 2.2, the first issue is now moot. Jeff wrote the Linux statd, one of the two halves of the statd-lockd pair that governs all NFS file locks mostly at NRAO, partially at Transmeta.

As for the 2GB limit on file size, there is now hope on the horizon on that front, too. With SGI's promised release of their XFS code, it's likely that this journaled file system—which offers large file support in its original Irix environment—will smash this barrier. It should also provide a more robust file system, and hopefully one that won't take quite so long to fsck a 20GB partition.

Before he left, Jeff did contribute to the follow-up project to AIPS, called AIPS++. This large project, now coming to maturity, has fortunately followed in its parent's footsteps by adopting both the General Public License and Intel/Linux as one of its leading platforms.

Learn More About It

If you who would like to get your hands on the software, point your browser at NRAO's main page and follow the link to “Software”. Be warned, though: it is not a small package, needs about 400MB of disk space, and has a non-trivial install procedure. It's also most useful if you want to analyze data from the VLA; if you want a simpler program, look at Bill Cotton's FITSView instead.

At many serious astronomy sites, you will find the dominant format of images and data to be FITS, the flexible image transport system. This format was invented around 1980 by a consortium of NRAO and other scientists so they could share data. The popular xv viewer supports the simpler versions of this format.


Pat Murphy ( joined NRAO in 1984 and has worked at three of the four main sites since then. He now runs the Computing Division at their Charlottesville HQ and acts as the local Linux evangelist, webmaster, security guy, backup system administrator and more. In his spare time, he goofs off on his personal web page, provides tech support for his wife Kim and her newly published e-book, and pretends he knows how to train Magic, a Belgian sheepdog.