System Administration Guide: Naming and Directory Services (DNS, NIS, and LDAP)

Chapter 4 Network Information Service (NIS) (Overview)

This chapter provides an overview of the Network Information Service (NIS).

NIS is a distributed naming service. It is a mechanism for identifying and locating network objects and resources. It provides a uniform storage and retrieval method for network-wide information in a transport-protocol and media-independent fashion.

This chapter covers the following topics.

NIS Introduction

By running NIS, the system administrator can distribute administrative databases, called maps, among a variety of servers (master and slaves). The administrator can update those databases from a centralized location in an automatic and reliable fashion to ensure that all clients share the same naming service information in a consistent manner throughout the network.

NIS was developed independently of DNS and has a slightly different focus. Whereas DNS focuses on making communication simpler by using machine names instead of numerical IP addresses, NIS focuses on making network administration more manageable by providing centralized control over a variety of network information. NIS stores information not only about machine names and addresses, but also about users, the network itself, and network services. This collection of network information is referred to as the NIS namespace.

Note –

In some contexts machine names are referred to has host names or machine names. This discussion uses machine, but some screen messages or NIS map names might use host or machine.

NIS Architecture

NIS uses a client-server arrangement. NIS servers provide services to NIS clients. The principal servers are called master servers, and for reliability, they have backup, or slave servers. Both master and slave servers use the NIS information retrieval software and both store NIS maps.

NIS uses domains to arrange the machines, users, and networks in its namespace. However, it does not use a domain hierarchy; an NIS namespace is flat.

Diagram shows having an unidentified hierarchical

Thus, this physical network would be arranged into one NIS domain.

Diagram shows organized in a flat NIS namespace.

An NIS domain cannot be connected directly to the Internet using just NIS. However, organizations that want to use NIS and also be connected to the Internet can combine NIS with DNS. You can use NIS to manage all local information and use DNS for Internet host lookup. NIS provides a forwarding service that forwards host lookups to DNS if the information cannot be found in an NIS map. The Solaris system also allows you to set up the nsswitch.conf file so that hosts lookup requests go only to DNS, or to DNS and then NIS if not found by DNS, or to NIS and then DNS if not found by NIS. See Chapter 2, The Name Service Switch (Overview) for details.

NIS Machine Types

There are three types of NIS machines.

Any machine can be an NIS client, but only machines with disks should be NIS servers, either master or slave. Servers are also clients, typically of themselves.

NIS Servers

The NIS server does not have to be the same machine as the NFS file server.

NIS servers come in two varieties, master and slave. The machine designated as master server contains the set of maps that the system administrator creates and updates as necessary. Each NIS domain must have one, and only one, master server, which can propagate NIS updates with the least performance degradation.

You can designate additional NIS servers in the domain as slave servers. A slave server has a complete copy of the master set of NIS maps. Whenever the master server maps are updated, the updates are propagated among the slave servers. Slave servers can handle any overflow of requests from the master server, minimizing “server unavailable” errors.

Normally, the system administrator designates one master server for all NIS maps. However, because each individual NIS map has the machine name of the master server encoded within it, you could designate different servers to act as master and slave servers for different maps. To minimize confusion, designate a single server as the master for all the maps you create within a single domain. The examples in this chapter assume that one server is the master for all maps in the domain.

NIS Clients

NIS clients run processes that request data from maps on the servers. Clients do not make a distinction between master and slave servers, since all NIS servers should have the same information.

Note –

The Solaris operating system does not support a configuration in which a NIS client and a Native LDAP client co-exist on the same client machine.

NIS Elements

The NIS naming service is composed of the following elements:

The NIS Domain

An NIS domain is a collection of machines which share a common set of NIS maps. Each domain has a domain name and each machine sharing the common set of maps belongs to that domain.

Any machine can belong to a given domain, as long as there is a server for that domain's maps in the same network. An NIS client machine obtains its domain name and binds to an NIS server as part of its boot process.

NIS Daemons

NIS service is provided by five daemons as shown in Table 4–1. The NIS service is managed by the Service Management Facility. Administrative actions on this service, such as enabling, disabling, or restarting, can be performed by using the svcadm command. For an overview of SMF, refer to Chapter 18, Managing Services (Overview), in System Administration Guide: Basic Administration. Also refer to the svcadm(1M) and svcs(1) man pages for more details.

Table 4–1 NIS Daemons




Server process 


Binding process 


High speed map transfer 


NIS password update daemon 

** See NOTE below.** 


Modifies other maps such as publickey

Note –

rpc.yppasswdd considers all shells that begin with an r to be restricted. For example, if you are in /bin/rksh, you are not allowed to change from that shell to another one. If you have a shell that begins with r but is not intended to be restricted as such, refer to Chapter 7, NIS Troubleshooting for the workaround.

NIS Utilities

NIS service is supported by nine utilities as shown in Table 4–2.

Table 4–2 NIS Utilities




Creates dbm file for an NIS map


Lists data in a map 


Builds and installs an NIS database and initializes NIS client's ypservers list.


Finds a specific entry in a map 


Gets a map order number from a server 


Propagates data from NIS master to NIS slave server 


Sets binding to a particular server 


Lists name of the NIS server and nickname translation table 


Transfers data from master to slave NIS server 

NIS Maps

The information in NIS maps is stored in ndbm format. ypfiles(4) and ndbm(3C) explain the format of the map file.

NIS maps were designed to replace UNIX /etc files, as well as other configuration files, so they store much more than names and addresses. On a network running NIS, the NIS master server for each NIS domain maintains a set of NIS maps for other machines in the domain to query. NIS slave servers also maintain duplicates of the master server's maps. NIS client machines can obtain namespace information from either master or slave servers.

NIS maps are essentially two-column tables. One column is the key and the other column is information related to the key. NIS finds information for a client by searching through the keys. Some information is stored in several maps because each map uses a different key. For example, the names and addresses of machines are stored in two maps: hosts.byname and hosts.byaddr. When a server has a machine's name and needs to find its address, it looks in the hosts.byname map. When it has the address and needs to find the name, it looks in the hosts.byaddr map.

An NIS Makefile is stored in the /var/yp directory of machines designated as an NIS server at installation time. Running make in that directory causes makedbm to create or modify the default NIS maps from the input files.

Note –

Always create maps on the master server, as maps created on a slave will not automatically be pushed to the master server.

Default NIS Maps

A default set of NIS maps are provided in the Solaris system. You might want to use all these maps or only some of them. NIS can also use whatever maps you create or add when you install other software products.

Default maps for an NIS domain are located in each server's /var/yp/domainname directory. For example, the maps that belong to the domain are located in each server's /var/yp/ directory.

Table 4–3 describes the default NIS maps, information they contain, and whether the software consults the corresponding administrative files when NIS is running.

Table 4–3 NIS Map Descriptions

Map Name 

Corresponding NIS Admin File 




Contains user auditing preselection data. 



Contains authorization names and descriptions. 



Contains path names of files clients need during boot: root, swap, possibly others. 



Contains machine names and Ethernet addresses. The Ethernet address is the key in the map. 



Same as ethers.byaddr, except the key is machine name instead of the Ethernet address.



Contains profile execution attributes. 



Contains group security information with group ID as key. 



Contains group security information with group name as key. 



Contains machine name, and IP address, with IP address as key. 



Contains machine name and IP address, with machine (host) name as key. 



Contains aliases and mail addresses, with aliases as key. 



Contains mail address and alias, with mail address as key. 



Contains group name, user name and machine name. 



Same as netgroup.byhost, except that key is user name.



Same as netgroup.byhost, except that key is group name.


passwd, hosts


Used for UNIX-style authentication. Contains machine name and mail address (including domain name). If there is a netid file available it is consulted in addition to the data available through the other files.



Contains network mask to be used with IP submitting, with the address as key. 



Contains names of networks known to your system and their IP addresses, with the address as key. 



Same as networks.byaddr, except key is name of network.


passwd and shadow

Contains auditing information and the hidden password information for C2 clients. 


passwd and shadow

Contains password information with user name as key. 


passwd and shadow

Same as passwd.byname, except that key is user ID.



Contains attributes for execution profiles. 



Contains network protocols known to your network. 



Same as protocols.byname, except that key is protocol number.



Contains program number and name of RPCs known to your system. Key is RPC program number. 



Lists Internet services known to your network. Key is port or protocol. 



Lists Internet services known to your network. Key is service name. 



Contains extended attributes for users and roles. 



Lists NIS servers known to your network. 

New ipnodes maps (ipnodes.byaddr and ipnodes.byname) are added to NIS. The maps store both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

Note –

Starting with the Solaris 10 8/07 release, the, Solaris OS does not have two separate hosts files. The /etc/inet/hosts file is the single hosts file that contains both IPv4 and IPv6 entries. You do not need to maintain IPv4 entries in two hosts files that always require synchronization. For backward compatibility, the /etc/inet/ipnodes file is replaced with a symbolic link of the same name to the /etc/inet/hosts file.

For more information, see the hosts(4) man page.

NIS clients and servers can communicate using either IPv4 or IPv6 RPC transports.

The ageing.byname mapping contains information used by yppasswdd to read and write password aging information to the DIT when the NIS-to-LDAP transition is implemented. If password aging is not being used, then it can be commented out of the mapping file. For more information about the NIS-to-LDAP transition, see Chapter 15, Transitioning From NIS to LDAP (Overview/Tasks).

Using NIS Maps

NIS makes updating network databases much simpler than with the /etc files system. You no longer have to change the administrative /etc files on every machine each time you modify the network environment.

For example, when you add a new machine to a network running NIS, you only have to update the input file in the master server and run make. This automatically updates the hosts.byname and hosts.byaddr maps. These maps are then transferred to any slave servers and are made available to all of the domain's client machines and their programs. When a client machine or application requests a machine name or address, the NIS server refers to the hosts.byname or hosts.byaddr map as appropriate and sends the requested information to the client.

You can use the ypcat command to display the values in a map. The ypcat basic format is the following.

% ypcat mapname

where mapname is the name of the map you want to examine or its nickname. If a map is composed only of keys, as in the case of ypservers, use ypcat -k. Otherwise, ypcat prints blank lines. The ypcat(1) man page describes more options for ypcat.

You can use the ypwhich command to determine which server is the master of a particular map. Type the following.

% ypwhich -m mapname

where mapname is the name or the nickname of the map whose master you want to find. ypwhich responds by displaying the name of the master server. For complete information, refer to the ypwhich(1) man page.

NIS Map Nicknames

Nicknames are aliases for full map names. To obtain a list of available map nicknames, such as passwd for passwd.byname, type ypcat -x or ypwhich -x.

Nicknames are stored in the /var/yp/nicknames file, which contains a map nickname followed by the fully specified name for the map, separated by a space. This list might be added to or modified. Currently, there is a limit of 500 nicknames.

NIS-Related Commands

The NIS service includes specialized daemons, system programs, and commands, which are summarized in the following table.

Table 4–4 NIS Command Summary




Services NIS clients' requests for information from an NIS map. ypserv is a daemon that runs on NIS servers with a complete set of maps. At least one ypserv daemon must be present on the network for NIS service to function.


Provides NIS server binding information to clients. It provides binding by finding a ypserv process that serves maps within the domain of the requesting client. ypbind must run on all servers and clients.


Automatically creates maps for an NIS server from the input files. It is also used to construct the initial /var/yp/binding/domain/ypservers file on the clients. Use ypinit to set up the master NIS server and the slave NIS servers for the first time.


Updates NIS maps by reading the Makefile (when run in the /var/yp directory). You can use make to update all maps based on the input files or to update individual maps. The ypmake(1M) man page describes the functionality of make for NIS.


makedbm takes an input file and converts it into dbm.dir and dbm.pag files – valid dbm files that NIS can use as maps. You can also use makedbm -u to disassemble a map, so that you can see the key-value pairs that comprise it.


Pulls an NIS map from a remote server to the local /var/yp/domain directory, using NIS itself as the transport medium. You can run ypxfr interactively, or periodically from a crontab file. It is also called by ypserv to initiate a transfer.


Provides map transfers service for ypxfr requests (generally slave servers). It is run only on the master server.


Copies a new version of an NIS map from the NIS master server to its slaves. You run it on the master NIS server. 


Tells a ypbind process to bind to a named NIS server. This is not for casual use and its use is discouraged because of security implications. See the ypset(1M) and ypbind(1M) man pages for information about the ypset and ypsetme options to the ypbind process.


Tells which version of an NIS map is running on a server that you specify. It also lists the master server for the map. 


Displays the contents of an NIS map. 


Prints the value for one or more specified keys in an NIS map. You cannot specify which version of the NIS server map you are seeing. 


Shows which NIS server a client is using at the moment for NIS services, or, if invoked with the -m mapname option, which NIS server is master of each of the maps. If only -m is used, it displays the names of all the maps available and their respective master servers.

NIS Binding

NIS clients get information from an NIS server through the binding process, which can work in one of two modes: server-list or broadcast.

Server-List Mode

The binding process in server-list mode works as follows:

  1. Any program, running on the NIS client machine that needs information provided by an NIS map, asks ypbind for the name of a server.

  2. ypbind looks in the /var/yp/binding/domainname/ypservers file for a list of NIS servers for the domain.

  3. ypbind initiates binding to the first server in the list. If the server does not respond, ypbind tries the second, and so on, until it finds a server or exhausts the list.

  4. ypbind tells the client process which server to talk to. The client then sends the request directly to the server.

  5. The ypserv daemon on the NIS server handles the request by consulting the appropriate map.

  6. ypserv sends the requested information back to the client.

Broadcast Mode

The broadcast mode binding process works as follows:

  1. ypbind must be started with the broadcast option set (broadcast).

  2. ypbind issues an RPC broadcast in search of an NIS server.

    Note –

    In order to support such clients, it is necessary to have an NIS server on each subnet requiring NIS service.

  3. ypbind initiates binding to the first server that responds to the broadcast.

  4. ypbind tells the client process which server to talk to. The client then sends the request directly to the server.

  5. The ypserv daemon on the NIS server handles the request by consulting the appropriate map.

  6. ypserv sends the requested information back to the client.

Normally, once a client is bound to a server it stays bound to that server until something causes it to change. For example, if a server goes out of service, the clients it served will then bind to new servers.

To find out which NIS server is currently providing service to a specific client, use the following command.

%ypwhich machinename

Where machinename is the name of the client. If no machine name is mentioned, ypwhich defaults to the local machine (that is, the machine on which the command is run).