Written: Dec 29, 1995
Updated: Jan 1, 1996 - Notes: Dial-up access, Security issues, AUTHINFO
Updated: April 24, 1996 - New location of document referenced
Technical Enablers for the Future of the National Capital Freenet
If it is assumed that the Freenet needs to make changes in order to not be
left behind and become irrelevant in a very changing world, we must look at
ways of creating a Freenet that will be able to change with that world.
I believe that the vision of the future that I have presented in my little
story is just that change.
In the story, an emphasis is made on two key factors:
The technology required to make the presented future vision of the Freenet
possible can be broken down into a number of independent tools. Individually
a number of these tools are being made available to the NCF community, but
if any of these are looked over, some aspect of the community that the
Freenet has built will be lost as it makes changes in the future.
- a distributed
client/server communications environment where the emphasis with the
technology on the Freenet is on providing services to the community via a
group of servers. Dial-up accounts are still provided for those who need
them, but the same services are available to both dial-up and distributed
users. Users should be encouraged to obtain their network connections from
other organizations, but to still become members of the Freenet and participate
in it's community.
- an Outreach Center that provides for training and a physical location
where people can go to get over that initial hurdle to getting connected
to the Community. Many companies are giving out starter packages
for the Internet that contain a WEB browser, and sometimes Email and
News software. They do not however include some of the features of the
Freenet that help many feel a sense of belonging: the ability to send
live messages (Currently the 1-liner system on the NCF), the ability
to see who is online right then (the 'who' command), and the ability to
find other people ('find' and 'go search-people').
These tools and technologies are:
- Electronic Mail
- This tool is already very familiar to dial-up users. Currently, however,
Email services are only available in two forms: Dial-up access and Email
forwarding. In the future it may be desirable to extend Email services to
include POP mailbox services where a user need not tie up a dial-up connection
in order to pick up Email stored on the NCF host computers.
- Bulletin Board Discussions/Usenet Newsgroups
- There is already an online debate about exporting of newsgroups. There are
cases, however, where the Freenet may not want to export a newsgroup to the
entire of the Usenet community. This does not mean, however, that the Freenet
should require that a user be a dial-up user in order to read these groups.
The Newsgroup reading technology allows User-Id's and Passwords to be
entered while accessing a news server, and this service should be made
available to those who can make use of it.
- Electronic Publishing and Information Searching
- The NCF is already making more and more information available via the
World Wide Web. As more and more other services become available, the WEB
publishing tools become a glue for all the other tools. WEB services can be
enhanced with the addition of tools (CGI's) that allow for searching,
electronic forms, and other forms of interaction that will be required
by the Freenet.
- Inter-user online chatting/Who's online listing
- Many people wish others to know that they are online, and wish to have
others be able to contact them live. Currently, a user logging into the NCF
can have others type 'who' and see that they are online, and then send
a 1-liner message. This interaction has an equivalent in the distributed
Internet environment, and the enabling technology is IRC. Gateways can
be written so that the Freenet IRC server can be tied into the 'who is online'
command, as well as the 1-liner messaging system. A remote user could then log
into the IRC server with their Freenet User-ID and password, and be able
to interact with users on the NCF host computer as if they were logged in.
- User Databases
- A user can currently use a number of search tools on the NCF in order to
find other users who have similar interests, have a name that matches a
certain pattern, or other search criteria. As the number of Freenet members
greatly increases as the membership no longer is limited by the dial-up
capabilities of a group of host computers, a User Database method not based
on user accounts on these host computers needs to be found. We already
know that there are limitations to the number of dial-up accounts that can
exist, and we should design our sustainable Freenet so that we will not be
held back by these limitations.
What would need to be done?
A number of changes would need to be made to the NCF software suit in order to
allow for this expanded vision to be possible. I will leave the training and
other issues related to the Outreach center to be discussed by more appropriate
- Since many of the features are dependent on membership and being able to
authenticate a member, a central part of this software suite is the User
Database. The current limitation for members is a limitation of
user-ID numbers, not a limitation for user names. The only
service that requires a User-ID is the ability to do Dial-up, which is also the
most expensive service, and the service that will be needed less and less in the future.
The NCF currently has a copy of the Oracle database server. With appropriate
programming it would be possible to add all the required fields to a
database on this server so that each Freenet member has a search-able record
in this database. All the information that is currently stored in the
NIS database, .dbinterests, .dbaffils, .signature and .forward should be
stored in fields of this database.
It may be found that the searching of this database may be slow for looking up user-names and passwords. A caching system can be set up that could be
utilized by the WEB, IRC, News and POP servers. Dial-up members will
still need to have a user-ID number allocated for them and thus would also
be stored in the NIS database.
Members that do not log in for a certain amount of time can automatically
be removed from the NIS database and disk storage made available. If a
dial-up user attempts to log in that has been archived in this manner, they
can be told that they should try again in a few moments
as the software automatically allocates a user-ID number for the user, creates
a fresh home directory, and adds the user to the NIS database.
- Electronic mail would require minor modifications to the local delivery
mechanism. A few different situations exist:
- A user is a full dial-up user and has their own user-number and home
directory. In this case local delivery would happen in the same way as it
- A user may need a mailbox, but not a dial-up account. The mailboxes for
these types of users could be stored in a specific place, with the local
delivery agent handling mailbox quota sizes in the same way it does for
- A user may just wish to have their mail forwarded to an alternate address,
in which case the message will just be forwarded to it's final destination
and not stored locally.
In addition to modifications in local delivery, a POPmail server would need to
be modified and added. This server would have the ability to check
for mailboxes stored in the users home directory as they are currently, as well
as being stored in a single directory for those who do not require a
dial-up account. User-Names and Passwords would be checked against the
master membership database rather than the NIS database.
- The news server would be updated to require a User-Name and Password for
all accesses not from a Freenet host computer. A standard exists for this
with the AuthInfo mechanism used by both the NNTP and INN servers.
After the move to the more advanced INN server, the INND and NNRPD daemons
would need to be modified to check User-Name and Password information from the
master membership database. Once authenticated, this information should also
be added to a news message so that the 'user responsible for a post' is always
recorded with any post, regardless of what information is used within
the From: field of the message.
It should be noted that a growing number of News clients are having this
mechanism added. For instance, the news browser within the very popular
Netscape software already has this added. Commercial news services are
moving to this mechanism in order to sell
newsgroups to members.
Much of the Authenticated News technology (AUTHINFO
GENERIC) was developed at BNR by Chris Lewis, a local Ottawa
News administrator. Much local experience exists for this technology.
- The WEB server would also be updated to accept a User-Name and Password
for remote accesses to it, and to also make use of IDENTD for local
accesses so that local dial-up users (who have already typed in a password)
are not required to
type their password again. While only certain pages will require
authentication in order to access them, having the user-name information
for all accesses to the server allows for better statistics to be gathered.
Having a password asked of the user for a URL such as '/login' also allows
the password to be asked for once, and not each time the user goes into a
different restricted area.(See Note)
Various tools such as the search tools, membership registration forms, and
other such things should either be moved to the WEB, or have an exact duplicate
of the Freeport feature for a WEB user.
- Currently the online user list used by the 'who' command makes use of
a database that was created for the Freenet itself. In a move to a distributed
environment, this 'who is online' should be configured to show both dial-up
and distributed users. For this purpose the existing IRC protocol can be used.
The IRC server already has the ability to show what users are online with a
server, regardless of whether they are in a channel or
not. The Freenet system could be configured to log dial-up users into
the IRC server automatically when they log in, and log them out automatically
when they log out. This would allow a WHO listing on the IRC server to
give a listing of all members that have logged in, regardless of whether
they are dial-up users or distributed users who automatically log into the
The 1-liner message system should also be tied into the 'msg' command
of the IRC server. This would allow external users to send 1-liner
messages to a dial-up user, as well as allowing a dial-up user to send
a message to a remote user. Since the IRC server would require a Freenet ID in
order to log in, the simple and unique Freenet membership ID's could then be
used to send online messages just as is used by the current
1-liner message system, regardless of where the user is connected to.
Passwords for WEB are based on the path referenced within a URL. Once a
password is requested for a page within particular path, the browser will
send the password for any URL that starts with the same path.
if a password is requested for /this/directory/that.file, it will use the
same password for /this/directory/another.file as well as
If we request that
users log in with a URL such as /login , then all accesses to any other part
of the server will present the server with the appropriate password.
- Dialup access to the Freenet host computers will
become less and less of an issue to the Freenet in the future due to
At the moment, most Internet users are using modems, telephone lines and
SLIP/PPP software on their home computers. As telecommunications
equipment comes down in price, CABLE modems, shared connections within
apartment buildings, and other such access to the "Information Superhighway"
will become popular. At this point the dial-up access on the Freenet will
only be needed by those not already connected by other means. These
people will likely be a smaller number of people who are low on
funding, and would not have the computers necessary to handle graphics.
should plan for this change and put the emphasis it has currently on dial-up
access into an increased emphasis on public access terminals, outreach
services such as training, and in distributed telecommunications services.
- In a Distributed Environment, security of information is something that
will need to be handled differently than it is now. Information should not
pass between computers as freely as it currently does within the
Freenet Local Area Network. The User should be much more in control of
what information about them is made available. Over a communications line,
the only information that is required to move is a Freenet User-name and
authentication information. This information can also be sent in an
encrypted session with protocols such as SSL which is used by tools such
as the Netscape browser. Netscape will soon be able to handle secured
sessions for World Wide Web, Email, FTP, and News.
example of a news service selling news via news authentication can be
found at http://super.zippo.com.
- Further information on AUTHINFO GENERIC can be
- My Vision for the Future of the National Capital Freenet
- Technical enablers for this vision.