13.8. 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.