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Linux Network Administrator's Guide, 2nd Edition

Linux Network Administrator's Guide, 2nd Edition

By Olaf Kirch & Terry Dawson
2nd Edition June 2000
1-56592-400-2, Order Number: 4002
506 pages, $34.95

Chapter 13
The Network Information System

Getting Acquainted with NIS
NIS Versus NIS+
The Client Side of NIS
Running an NIS Server
NIS Server Security
Setting Up an NIS Client with GNU libc
Choosing the Right Maps
Using the passwd and group Maps
Using NIS with Shadow Support

When you're running a local area network, your overall goal is usually to provide an environment for your users that makes the network transparent. An important stepping stone is keeping vital data such as user account information synchronized among all hosts. This provides users with the freedom to move from machine to machine without the inconvenience of having to remember different passwords and copy data from one machine to another. Data that is centrally stored doesn't need to be replicated, so long as there is some convenient means of accessing it from a network-connected host. By storing important administrative information centrally, you can make ensure consistency of that data, increase flexibility for the users by allowing them to move from host to host in a transparent way, and make the system administrator's life much easier by maintaining a single copy of information to maintain when required.

We previously discussed an important example of this concept that is used on the Internet -- the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS serves a limited range of information, the most important being the mapping between hostname and IP address. For other types of information, there is no such specialized service. Moreover, if you manage only a small LAN with no Internet connectivity, setting up DNS may not seem to be worth the trouble.

This is why Sun developed the Network Information System (NIS). NIS provides generic database access facilities that can be used to distribute, for example, information contained in the passwd and groups files to all hosts on your network. This makes the network appear as a single system, with the same accounts on all hosts. Similarly, you can use NIS to distribute the hostname information from /etc/hosts to all machines on the network.

NIS is based on RPC, and comprises a server, a client-side library, and several administrative tools. Originally, NIS was called Yellow Pages, or YP, which is still used to refer to it. Unfortunately, the name is a trademark of British Telecom, which required Sun to drop that name. As things go, some names stick with people, and so YP lives on as a prefix to the names of most NIS-related commands such as ypserv and ypbind.

Today, NIS is available for virtually all Unixes, and there are even free implementations. BSD Net-2 released one that has been derived from a public domain reference implementation donated by Sun. The library client code from this release had been in the Linux libc for a long time, and the administrative programs were ported to Linux by Swen Th[UNHANDLED SDATA: [uuml ]]mmler.[1] An NIS server is missing from the reference implementation, though.

[1] Swen can be reached at The NIS clients are available as yp-linux.tar.gz from in system/Network.

Peter Eriksson developed a new implementation called NYS.[2] It supports both plain NIS and Sun's much enhanced NIS+. NYS not only provides a set of NIS tools and a server, but also adds a whole new set of library functions that need to be compiled into your libc if you wish to use it. This includes a new configuration scheme for hostname resolution that replaces the current scheme using host.conf.

[2] Peter may be reached at The current version of NYS is 1.2.8.

The GNU libc, known as libc6 in the Linux community, includes an updated version of the traditional NIS support developed by Thorsten Kukuk.[3] It supports all of the library functions that NYS provided and also uses the enhanced configuration scheme of NYS. You still need the tools and server, but using GNU libc saves you the trouble of having to meddle with patching and recompiling the library.

[3] Thorsten may be reached at

This chapter focuses on the NIS support included in the GNU libc rather than the other two packages. If you do want to run any of these packages, the instructions in this chapter may or may not be enough. For additional information, refer to the NIS-HOWTO or a book such as Managing NFS and NIS by Hal Stern (O'Reilly).

Getting Acquainted with NIS

NIS keeps database information in files called maps, which contain key-value pairs. An example of a key-value pair is a user's login name and the encrypted form of their login password. Maps are stored on a central host running the NIS server, from which clients may retrieve the information through various RPC calls. Quite frequently, maps are stored in DBM files.[4]

[4] DBM is a simple database management library that uses hashing techniques to speed up search operations. There's a free DBM implementation from the GNU project called gdbm, which is part of most Linux distributions.

The maps themselves are usually generated from master text files such as /etc/hosts or /etc/passwd. For some files, several maps are created, one for each search key type. For instance, you may search the hosts file for a hostname as well as for an IP address. Accordingly, two NIS maps are derived from it, called hosts.byname and hosts.byaddr. Table 13.1 lists common maps and the files from which they are generated.

Table 13.1: Some Standard NIS Maps and Corresponding Files
Master FileMap(s)Description

hosts.byname, hosts.byaddr

Maps IP addresses to host names


networks.byname, networks.byaddr

Maps IP network addresses to network names


passwd.byname, passwd.byuid

Maps encrypted passwords to user login names


group.byname, group.bygid

Maps Group IDs to group names


services.byname, services.bynumber

Maps service descriptions to service names

rpc.byname, rpc.bynumber

Maps Sun RPC service numbers to RPC service names


protocols.byname, protocols.bynumber

Maps protocol numbers to protocol names


Maps mail aliases to mail alias names

You may find support for other files and maps in other NIS packages. These usually contain information for applications not discussed in this book, such as the bootparams map that is used by Sun's bootparamd server.

For some maps, people commonly use nicknames, which are shorter and therefore easier to type. Note that these nicknames are understood only by ypcat and ypmatch, two tools for checking your NIS configuration. To obtain a full list of nicknames understood by these tools, run the following command:

$ ypcat -x
Use "passwd" for "passwd.byname" Use "group" for "group.byname" Use "networks" for "networks.byaddr" Use "hosts" for "hosts.byaddr" Use "protocols" for "protocols.bynumber" Use "services" for "services.byname" Use "aliases" for "mail.aliases" Use "ethers" for "ethers.byname"

The NIS server program is traditionally called ypserv. For an average network, a single server usually suffices; large networks may choose to run several of these on different machines and different segments of the network to relieve the load on the server machines and routers. These servers are synchronized by making one of them the master server, and the others slave servers. Maps are created only on the master server's host. From there, they are distributed to all slaves.

We have been talking very vaguely about "networks." There's a distinctive term in NIS that refers to a collection of all hosts that share part of their system configuration data through NIS: the NIS domain. Unfortunately, NIS domains have absolutely nothing in common with the domains we encountered in DNS. To avoid any ambiguity throughout this chapter, we will therefore always specify which type of domain we mean.

NIS domains have a purely administrative function. They are mostly invisible to users, except for the sharing of passwords between all machines in the domain. Therefore, the name given to an NIS domain is relevant only to the administrators. Usually, any name will do, as long as it is different from any other NIS domain name on your local network. For instance, the administrator at the Virtual Brewery may choose to create two NIS domains, one for the Brewery itself, and one for the Winery, which she names brewery and winery respectively. Another quite common scheme is to simply use the DNS domain name for NIS as well.

To set and display the NIS domain name of your host, you can use the domainname command. When invoked without any argument, it prints the current NIS domain name; to set the domain name, you must become the superuser:

# domainname brewery

NIS domains determine which NIS server an application will query. For instance, the login program on a host at the Winery should, of course, query only the Winery's NIS server (or one of them, if there are several) for a user's password information, while an application on a Brewery host should stick with the Brewery's server.

One mystery now remains to be solved: how does a client find out which server to connect to? The simplest approach would use a configuration file that names the host on which to find the server. However, this approach is rather inflexible because it doesn't allow clients to use different servers (from the same domain, of course) depending on their availability. Therefore, NIS implementations rely on a special daemon called ypbind to detect a suitable NIS server in their NIS domain. Before performing any NIS queries, an application first finds out from ypbind which server to use.

ypbind probes for servers by broadcasting to the local IP network; the first to respond is assumed to be the fastest one and is used in all subsequent NIS queries. After a certain interval has elapsed, or if the server becomes unavailable, ypbind probes for active servers again.

Dynamic binding is useful only when your network provides more than one NIS server. Dynamic binding also introduces a security problem. ypbind blindly believes whoever answers, whether it be a humble NIS server or a malicious intruder. Needless to say, this becomes especially troublesome if you manage your password databases over NIS. To guard against this, the Linux ypbind program provides you with the option of probing the local network to find the local NIS server, or configuring the NIS server hostname in a configuration file.

NIS Versus NIS+

NIS and NIS+ share little more than their name and a common goal. NIS+ is structured entirely differently from NIS. Instead of a flat namespace with disjoint NIS domains, NIS+ uses a hierarchical namespace similar to that of DNS. Instead of maps, so-called tables are used that are made up of rows and columns, in which each row represents an object in the NIS+ database and the columns cover properties of the objects that NIS+ knows and cares about. Each table for a given NIS+ domain comprises those of its parent domains. In addition, an entry in a table may contain a link to another table. These features make it possible to structure information in many ways.

NIS+ additionally supports secure and encrypted RPC, which helps greatly to solve the security problems of NIS.

Traditional NIS has an RPC Version number of 2, while NIS+ is Version 3. At the time we're writing, there isn't yet a good working implementation of NIS+ for Linux, so it isn't covered here.

The Client Side of NIS

If you are familiar with writing or porting network applications, you may notice that most of the NIS maps listed previously correspond to library functions in the C library. For instance, to obtain passwd information, you generally use the getpwnam and getpwuid functions, which return the account information associated with the given username or numerical user ID, respectively. Under normal circumstances, these functions perform the requested lookup on the standard file, such as /etc/passwd.

An NIS-aware implementation of these functions, however, modifies this behavior and places an RPC call to the NIS server, which looks up the username or user ID. This happens transparently to the application. The function may treat the NIS data as though it has been appended to the original passwd file so both sets of information are available to the application and used, or as though it has completely replaced it so that the information in the local passwd is ignored and only the NIS data is used.

For traditional NIS implementations, there were certain conventions for which maps were replaced and which were appended to the original information. Some, like the passwd maps, required kludgy modifications of the passwd file which, when done incorrectly, would open up security holes. To avoid these pitfalls, NYS and the GNU libc use a general configuration scheme that determines whether a particular set of client functions uses the original files, NIS, or NIS+, and in which order. This scheme will be described later in this chapter.

Running an NIS Server

After so much theoretical techno-babble, it's time to get our hands dirty with actual configuration work. In this section, we will cover the configuration of an NIS server. If an NIS server is running on your network, you won't have to set up your own; in this case, you may safely skip this section.

Note that if you are just going to experiment with the server, make sure you don't set it up for an NIS domain name that is already in use on your network. This may disrupt the entire network service and make a lot of people very unhappy and very angry.

There are two possible NIS server configurations: master and slave. The slave configuration provides a live backup machine, should your master server fail. We will cover the configuration only for a master server here. The server documentation will explain the differences, should you wish to configure a slave server.

There are currently two NIS servers freely available for Linux: one contained in Tobias Reber's yps package, and the other in Peter Eriksson's ypserv package. It doesn't matter which one you run.

After installing the server program (ypserv) in /usr/sbin, you should create the directory that is going to hold the map files your server is to distribute. When setting up an NIS domain for the brewery domain, the maps would go to /var/yp/brewery. The server determines whether it is serving a particular NIS domain by checking if the map directory is present. If you are disabling service for some NIS domain, make sure to remove the directory as well.

Maps are usually stored in DBM files to speed up lookups. They are created from the master files using a program called makedbm (for Tobias's server) or dbmload (for Peter's server).

Transforming a master file into a form that dbmload can parse usually requires some awk or sed magic, which tends to be a little tedious to type and hard to remember. Therefore, Peter Eriksson's ypserv package contains a Makefile (called ypMakefile) that manages the conversion of the most common master files for you. You should install it as Makefile in your map directory and edit it to reflect the maps you want the NIS server to share. Towards the top of the file, you'll find the all target that lists the services ypserv offers. By default, the line looks something like this:

all: ethers hosts networks protocols rpc services passwd group netid

If you don't want to produce, for example, the ethers.byname and ethers.byaddr maps, simply remove the ethers prerequisite from this rule. To test your setup, you can start with just one or two maps, like the services.* maps.

After editing the Makefile, while in the map directory, type make. This will automatically generate and install the maps. You have to make sure to update the maps whenever you change the master files, otherwise the changes will remain invisible to the network.

The section "Setting Up an NIS Client with GNU libc" will explain how to configure the NIS client code. If your setup doesn't work, you should try to find out whether requests are arriving at your server. If you specify the --debug command-line flag to ypserv, it prints debugging messages to the console about all incoming NIS queries and the results returned. These should give you a hint as to where the problem lies. Tobias's server doesn't have this option.

NIS Server Security

NIS used to have a major security flaw: it left your password file readable by virtually anyone in the entire Internet, which made for quite a number of possible intruders. As long as an intruder knew your NIS domain name and the address of your server, he could simply send it a request for the passwd.byname map and instantly receive all your system's encrypted passwords. With a fast password-cracking program like crack and a good dictionary, guessing at least a few of your users' passwords is rarely a problem.

This is what the securenets option is all about. It simply restricts access to your NIS server to certain hosts, based on their IP addresses or network numbers. The latest version of ypserv implements this feature in two ways. The first relies on a special configuration file called /etc/ypserv.securenets and the second conveniently uses the /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny files we already encountered in Chapter 12, Important Network Features.[5] Thus, to restrict access to hosts from within the Brewery, their network manager would add the following line to hosts.allow:

ypserv: 172.16.2.

[5] To enable use of the /etc/hosts.allow method, you may have to recompile the server. Please read the instructions in the README included in the distribution.

This would let all hosts from IP network access the NIS server. To shut out all other hosts, a corresponding entry in hosts.deny would have to read:

ypserv: ALL

IP numbers are not the only way you can specify hosts or networks in hosts.allow and hosts.deny. Please refer to the hosts_access(5) manual page on your system for details. However, be warned that you cannot use host or domain names for the ypserv entry. If you specify a hostname, the server tries to resolve this hostname -- but the resolver in turn calls ypserv, and you fall into an endless loop.

To configure securenets security using the /etc/ypserv.securenets method, you need to create its configuration file, /etc/ypserv.securenets. This configuration file is simple in structure. Each line describes a host or network of hosts that will be allowed access to the server. Any address not described by an entry in this file will be refused access. A line beginning with a # will be treated as a comment. Example 13-1 shows what a simple /etc/ypserv.securenets would look like:

Example 13.1: Sample ypserv.securenets File

# allow connections from local host -- necessary
# same as
# allow connections from any host on the Virtual Brewery network

The first entry on each line is the netmask to use for the entry, with host being treated as a special keyword meaning "netmask" The second entry on each line is the IP address to which to apply the netmask.

A third option is to use the secure portmapper instead of the securenets option in ypserv. The secure portmapper (portmap-5.0) uses the hosts.allow scheme as well, but offers this for all RPC servers, not just ypserv.[6] However, you should not use both the securenets option and the secure portmapper at the same time, because of the overhead this authorization incurs.

[6] The secure portmapper is available via anonymous FTP from below the /pub/security/ directory.

Setting Up an NIS Client with GNU libc

We will now describe and discuss the configuration of an NIS client using the GNU libc library support.

Your first step should be to tell the GNU libc NIS client which server to use for NIS service. We mentioned earlier that the Linux ypbind allows you to configure the NIS server to use. The default behavior is to query the server on the local network. If the host you are configuring is likely to move from one domain to another, such as a laptop, you would leave the /etc/yp.conf file empty and it would query on the local network for the local NIS server wherever it happens to be.

A more secure configuration for most hosts is to set the server name in the /etc/yp.conf configuration file. A very simple file for a host on the Winery's network may look like this:

# yp.conf - YP configuration for GNU libc library.
ypserver vbardolino

The ypserver statement tells your host to use the host supplied as the NIS server for the local domain. In this example we've specified the NIS server as vbardolino. Of course, the IP address corresponding to vbardolino must be set in the hosts file; alternatively, you may use the IP address itself with the server argument.

In the form shown in the example, the ypserver command tells ypbind to use the named server regardless of what the current NIS domain may be. If, however, you are moving your machine between different NIS domains frequently, you may want to keep information for several domains in the yp.conf file. You can have information on the servers for various NIS domains in yp.conf by specifying the information using the domain statement. For instance, you might change the previous sample file to look like this for a laptop:

# yp.conf - YP configuration for GNU libc library.
domain winery server vbardolino 
domain brewery server vstout 

This lets you bring up the laptop in either of the two domains by simply setting the desired NIS domain at boot time using the domainname command. The NIS client then uses whichever server is relevant for the current domain.

There is a third option you may want to use. It covers the case when you don't know the name or IP address of the server to use in a particular domain, but still want the ability use a fixed server on certain domains. Imagine we want to insist on using a specified server while operating within the Winery domain, but want to probe for the server to use while in the Brewery domain. We would modify our yp.conf file again to look like this instead:

# yp.conf - YP configuration for GNU libc library.
domain winery server vbardolino 
domain brewery broadcast

The broadcast keyword tells ypbind to use whichever NIS server it finds for the domain.

After creating this basic configuration file and making sure it is world-readable, you should run your first test to connect to your server. Make sure to choose a map your server distributes, like hosts.byname, and try to retrieve it by using the ypcat utility:

# ypcat hosts.byname vbeaujolais vbardolino vlager vlager vstout vale vchianti

The output you get should resemble that just shown. If you get an error message instead that says: Can't bind to server which serves domain, then either the NIS domain name you've set doesn't have a matching server defined in yp.conf, or the server is unreachable for some reason. In the latter case, make sure that a ping to the host yields a positive result, and that it is indeed running an NIS server. You can verify the latter by using rpcinfo, which should produce the following output:

# rpcinfo -u serverhost ypserv
program 100004 version 1 ready and waiting program 100004 version 2 ready and waiting

Choosing the Right Maps

Having made sure you can reach the NIS server, you have to decide which configuration files to replace or augment with NIS maps. Commonly, you will want to use NIS maps for the host and password lookup functions. The former is especially useful if you do not have the BIND name service. The password lookup lets all users log into their accounts from any system in the NIS domain; this usually goes along with sharing a central /home directory among all hosts via NFS. The password map is explained detail in the next section.

Other maps, like services.byname, don't provide such dramatic gains, but do save you some editing work. The services.byname map is valuable if you install any network applications that use a service name not in the standard services file.

Generally, you want to have some choice of when a lookup function uses the local files, when it queries the NIS server, and when it uses other servers such as DNS. GNU libc allows you to configure the order in which a function accesses these services. This is controlled through the /etc/nsswitch.conf file, which stands for Name Service Switch, but of course isn't limited to the name service. For any of the data lookup functions supported by GNU libc, the file contains a line naming the services to use.

The right order of services depends on the type of data each service is offering. It is unlikely that the services.byname map will contain entries differing from those in the local services file; it will only contain additional entries. So it appears reasonable to query the local files first and check NIS only if the service name isn't found. Hostname information, on the other hand, may change very frequently, so DNS or the NIS server should always have the most accurate account, while the local hosts file is only kept as a backup if DNS and NIS should fail. For hostnames, therefore, you normally want to check the local file last.

The following example shows how to force gethostbyname and gethostbyaddr to look in NIS and DNS before the hosts file and how to have the getservbyname function look in the local files before querying NIS. These resolver functions will try each of the listed services in turn; if a lookup succeeds, the result is returned; otherwise, they will try the next service in the list. The file setting for these priorities is:

# small sample /etc/nsswitch.conf
hosts:     nis dns files 
services:  files nis

The following is a complete list of services and locations that may be used with an entry in the nsswitch.conf file. The actual maps, files, servers, and objects queried depend on the entry name. The following can appear to the right of a colon:


Use the current domain NIS server. The location of the server queried is configured in the yp.conf file, as shown in the previous section. For the hosts entry, the hosts.byname and hosts.byaddr maps are queried.

nisplus or nis+

Use the NIS+ server for this domain. The location of the server is obtained from the /etc/nis.conf file.


Use the DNS name server. This service type is useful only with the hosts entry. The name servers queried are still determined by the standard resolv.conf file.


Use the local file, such as the /etc/hosts file for the hosts entry.


Be compatible with older file formats. This option can be used when either NYS or glibc 2.x is used for NIS or NIS+ lookups. While these versions normally can't interpret older NIS entries in passwd and group files, compat option allows them to work with those formats.


Look up the information from DBM files located in the /var/db directory. The corresponding NIS map name is used for that file.

Currently, the NIS support in GNU libc caters to the following nsswitch.conf databases: aliases,, hosts, netgroup, network, passwd, protocols, publickey, rpc, services, and shadow. More entries are likely to be added.

Example 13.2 shows a more complete example that introduces another feature of nsswitch.conf. The [NOTFOUND=return] keyword in the hosts entry tells the NIS client to return if the desired item couldn't be found in the NIS or DNS database. That is, the NIS client will continue searching the local files only if calls to the NIS and DNS servers fail for some other reason. The local files will then be used only at boot time and as a backup when the NIS server is down.

Example 13.2: Sample nsswitch.conf File

# /etc/nsswitch.conf
hosts:      nis dns [NOTFOUND=return] files
networks:   nis [NOTFOUND=return] files
services:   files nis
protocols:  files nis
rpc:        files nis

GNU libc provides some other actions that are described in the nsswitch manpage.

Using the passwd and group Maps

One of the major applications of NIS is synchronizing user and account information on all hosts in an NIS domain. Consequently, you usually keep only a small local /etc/passwd file, to which site-wide information from the NIS maps is appended. However, simply enabling NIS lookups for this service in nsswitch.conf is not nearly enough.

When relying on the password information distributed by NIS, you first have to make sure that the numeric user IDs of any users you have in your local passwd file match the NIS server's idea of user IDs. Consistency in user IDs is important for other purposes as well, like mounting NFS volumes from other hosts in your network.

If any of the numeric IDs in /etc/passwd or /etc/group differ from those in the maps, you have to adjust file ownerships for all files that belong to that user. First, you should change all uids and gids in passwd and group to the new values, then find that all files that belong to the users just changed and change their ownership. Assume news used to have a user ID of 9 and okir had a user ID of 103, which were changed to some other value; you could then issue the following commands as root:

# find / -uid   9 -print >/tmp/uid.9
# find / -uid 103 -print >/tmp/uid.103
# cat /tmp/uid.9 | xargs chown news
# cat /tmp/uid.103 | xargs chown okir

It is important that you execute these commands with the new passwd file installed, and that you collect all filenames before you change the ownership of any of them. To update the group ownerships of files, use a similar method with the gid instead of the uid, and chgrp instead of chown.

Once you do this, the numerical uids and gids on your system will agree with those on all other hosts in your NIS domain. The next step is to add configuration lines to nsswitch.conf that enable NIS lookups for user and group information:

# /etc/nsswitch.conf - passwd and group treatment
passwd: nis files
group:  nis files

This affects where the login command and all its friends look for user information. When a user tries to log in, login queries the NIS maps first, and if this lookup fails, falls back to the local files. Usually, you will remove almost all users from your local files, and only leave entries for root and generic accounts like mail in it. This is because some vital system tasks may have to map uids to usernames or vice versa. For example, administrative cron jobs may execute the su command to temporarily become news, or the UUCP subsystem may mail a status report. If news and uucp don't have entries in the local passwd file, these jobs will fail miserably during an NIS brownout.

Lastly, if you are using either the old NIS implementation (supported by the compat mode for the passwd and group files in the NYS or glibc implementations), you must insert the unwieldy special entries into them. These entries represent where the NIS derived records will be inserted into the database of information. The entries can be added anywhere, but are usually just added to the end. The entries to add for the /etc/passwd file are:

and for the /etc/groups file:

With both glibc 2.x and NYS you can override parameters in a user's record received from the NIS server by creating entries with a "+" prepended to the login name, and exclude specified users by creating entries with a "-" prepended to the login name. For example the entries:

would override the shell specified for the user stuart supplied by the NIS server, and would disallow the user jedd from logging in on this machine. Any fields left blank use the information supplied by the NIS server.

There are two big caveats in order here. First, the setup as described up to here works only for login suites that don't use shadow passwords. The intricacies of using shadow passwords with NIS will be discussed in the next section. Second, the login commands are not the only ones that access the passwd file -- look at the ls command, which most people use almost constantly. Whenever compiling a long listing, ls displays the symbolic names for user and group owners of a file; that is, for each uid and gid it encounters, it has to query the NIS server. An NIS query takes slightly longer to perform than the equivalent lookup in a local file. You may find that sharing your passwd and group information using NIS causes a noticable reduction in the performance of some programs that use this information frequently.

Still, this is not the whole story. Imagine what happens if a user wants to change her password. Usually, she will invoke passwd, which reads the new password and updates the local passwd file. This is impossible with NIS, since that file isn't available locally anymore, but having users log into the NIS server whenever they want to change their passwords is not an option, either. Therefore, NIS provides a drop-in replacement for passwd called yppasswd, which handles password changes under NIS. To change the password on the server host, it contacts the yppasswdd daemon on that host via RPC, and provides it with the updated password information. Usually you install yppasswd over the normal program by doing something like this:

# cd /bin
# mv passwd passwd.old
# ln yppasswd passwd

At the same time, you have to install rpc.yppasswdd on the server and start it from a network script. This will effectively hide any of the contortions of NIS from your users.

Using NIS with Shadow Support

Using NIS in conjunction with shadow password files is somewhat problematic. First we have some bad news: using NIS defeats the goals of shadow passwords. The shadow password scheme was designed to prevent nonroot users from having access to the encrypted form of the login passwords. Using NIS to share shadow data by necessity makes the encrypted passwords available to any user who can listen to the NIS server replies on the network. A policy to enforce users to choose "good" passwords is arguably better than trying to shadow passwords in an NIS environment. Let's take a quick look at how you do it, should you decide to forge on ahead.

In libc5 there is no real solution to sharing shadow data using NIS. The only way to distribute password and user information by NIS is through the standard passwd.* maps. If you do have shadow passwords installed, the easiest way to share them is to generate a proper passwd file from /etc/shadow using tools like pwuncov, and create the NIS maps from that file.

Of course, there are some hacks necessary to use NIS and shadow passwords at the same time, for instance, by installing an /etc/shadow file on each host in the network, while distributing user information, through NIS. However, this hack is really crude and defies the goal of NIS, which is to ease system administration.

The NIS support in the GNU libc library (libc6) provides support for shadow password databases. It does not provide any real solution to making your passwords accessible, but it does simplify password management in environments in which you do want to use NIS with shadow passwords. To use it, you must create a shadow.byname database and add the following line to your /etc/nsswitch.conf:

# Shadow password support
shadow: compat

If you use shadow passwords along with NIS, you must try to maintain some security by restricting access to your NIS database. See "NIS Server Security" earlier in this chapter.

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