Stanford University Network Directory Services:
Statement of Direction

Jeff Hodges, DCCS


Our current SUNet directory services infrasturcture is comprised of..

We describe this infrastructure more fully on this page.

We feed our Whois-based directory service, known simply as Whois, not only from NetDB, but also from several institutional systems of record. These are Human Resource's CHRIS, the Registrar's NSI, and also from SLAC's and the Hospital's respective systems. This results in Whois having a "wide population", but it also results in users having to follow rather byzantine and difficult paths in order to maintain their information. This all contributes to having only a "fair" quality of information in the Whois-based directory.

Whois is the facet of our directory services infrastructure that users commonly interact with. However, the Whois protocol it is built upon is quite limited. It is strictly read-only, it is unauthenticated, and it is not extensible in a standardized fashion. Yet our user community has articulated the following requirements to us..

We cannot meet these requirements with our simple whois-based technology; we must use another technology base in order to do so. Our research into this problem resulted in the primary candidate being the newer, Internet- and OSI- standard directory technology known as X.500 [2]. This technology base was designed from the ground up to be a full-featured directory service featuring a read-write protocol, entry extensibility, authentication, access control, and other items. Many implementations are available, and a lightweight version of the protocol (LDAP) is well along the Internet standards track. This technology has wide industry support, including Netscape and Microsoft.

We are already utilizing this technology in production -- the Stanford Email Alias Service (SEAS) is based on it. Though, we've currently tailored the information content and source systems of this X.500/LDAP-based directory service for only supporting SEAS; i.e. it does not currently support arbitrary queries by casual users. The University's publicly-accessible SUNet directory service remains Whois (with all its limitations).

Our Planned Direction

As outlined above, the two major issue categories with Whois are its datafeed and technology base. We've always hoped that we could address both at the same time. However, there is a window of opportunity now to have other emerging systems and applications directly utilize the directory. Additionally, there is the continued need of the overall user population to have their requirements met.

Therefore, our planned direction is to supplant the Whois-based directory service with the X.500/LDAP-based technology we are currently using in production, i.e. turn it into our general-purpose directory service. It is known for now as "Dirsvc NG", short for Directory Service Next Generation, and it will have these advantages...

The next steps...

Longer term goals...


[1] rfc954 -- NICNAME/WHOIS. K. Harrenstien, M.K. Stahl, E.J. Feinler. Oct-01-1985.

[2] LDAP & X.500: Road Map & FAQ, Jeff Hodges. DCCS, Stanford University. 2-May-96. Periodically updated.

Related DCCS Projects

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