Chapter 1. Networking Fundamentals
The Network Information Service (NIS) and Network File System (NFS) are services that allow you to build distributed computing systems that are both consistent in their appearance and transparent in the way files and data are shared.
Physical and data link layers
The session and presentation layers
NIS provides a distributed database system for common configuration files. NIS servers manage copies of the database files, and NIS clients request information from the servers instead of using their own, local copies of these files. For example, the /etc/hosts file is managed by NIS. A few NIS servers manage copies of the information in the hosts file, and all NIS clients ask these servers for host address information instead of looking in their own /etc/hosts file. Once NIS is running, it is no longer necessary to manage every /etc/hosts file on every machine in the network -- simply updating the NIS servers ensures that all machines will be able to retrieve the new configuraton file information.
NFS is a distributed filesystem. An NFS server has one or more filesystems that are mounted by NFS clients; to the NFS clients, the remote disks look like local disks. NFS filesystems are mounted using the standard Unix mount command, and all Unix utilities work just as well with NFS-mounted files as they do with files on local disks. NFS makes system administration easier because it eliminates the need to maintain multiple copies of files on several machines: all NFS clients share a single copy of the file on the NFS server. NFS also makes life easier for users: instead of logging on to many different systems and moving files from one system to another, a user can stay on one system and access all the files that he or she needs within one consistent file tree.
This book contains detailed descriptions of these services, including configuration information, network design and planning considerations, and debugging, tuning, and analysis tips. If you are going to be installing a new network, expanding or fixing an existing network, or looking for mechanisms to manage data in a distributed environment, you should find this book helpful.
Many people consider NFS to be the heart of a distributed computing environment, because it manages the resource users are most concerned about: their files. However, a distributed filesystem such as NFS will not function properly if hosts cannot agree on configuration information such as usernames and host addresses. The primary function of NIS is managing configuration information and making it consistent on all machines in the network. NIS provides the framework in which to use NFS. Once the framework is in place, you add users and their files into it, knowing that essential configuration information is available to every host. Therefore, we will look at directory services and NIS first (in Chapter 2, "Introduction to Directory Services " through Chapter 4, "System Management Using NIS"); we'll follow that with a discussion of NFS in Chapter 5, "Living with Multiple Directory Servers " through Chapter 13, "Network Diagnostic and Administrative Tools".
1.1. Networking overviewBefore discussing either NFS, or NIS, we'll provide a brief overview of network services.
NFS and NIS are high-level networking protocols, built on several lower-level protocols. In order to understand the way the high-level protocols function, you need to know how the underlying services work. The lower-level network protocols are quite complex, and several books have been written about them without even touching on NFS and NIS services. Therefore, this chapter contains only a brief outline of the network services used by NFS and NIS.
Network protocols are typically described in terms of a layered model, in which the protocols are "stacked" on top of each other. Data coming into a machine is passed from the lowest-level protocol up to the highest, and data sent to other hosts moves down the protocol stack. The layered model is a useful description because it allows network services to be defined in terms of their functions, rather than their specific implementations. New protocols can be substituted at lower levels without affecting the higher-level protocols, as long as these new protocols behave in the same manner as those that were replaced.
The standard model for networking protocols and distributed applications is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) seven-layer model shown in Table 1-1.
Table 1-1. The ISO seven-layer model
Purists will note that the TCP/IP protocols do not precisely fit the specifications for the services in the ISO model. The functions performed by each layer, however, correspond very closely to the functions of each part of the TCP/IP protocol suite, and provide a good framework for visualizing how the various protocols fit together.The lower levels have a well-defined job to do, and the higher levels rely on them to perform it independently of the particular medium or implementation. While TCP/IP most frequently is run over Ethernet, it can also be used with a synchronous serial line or fiber optic network. Different implementations of the first two network layers are used, but the higher-level protocols are unchanged. Consider an NFS server that uses all six lower protocol layers: it has no knowledge of the physical cabling connecting it to its clients. The server just worries about its NFS protocols and counts on the lower layers to do their job as well.
Throughout this book, the network stack or protocol stack refers to this layering of services. Layer or level will refer to one specific part of the stack and its relationship to its upper and lower neighbors. Understanding the basic structure of the network services on which NFS and NIS are built is essential for designing and configuring large networks, as well as debugging problems. A failure or overly tight constraint in a lower-level protocol affects the operation of all protocols above it. If the physical network cannot handle the load placed on it by all of the desktop workstations and servers, then NFS and NIS will not function properly. Even though NFS or NIS will appear "broken," the real issue is with a lower level in the network stack.
The following sections briefly describe the function of each layer and the mapping of NFS and NIS into them. Many books have been written about the ISO seven-layer model, TCP/IP, and Ethernet, so their treatment here is intentionally light. If you find this discussion of networking fundamentals too basic, feel free to skip over this chapter.
Copyright © 2002 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved.