A tribute to a network service

Early days of the Internet produced many great ideas. Some of them transformed the way we live, others didn’t quite make it. Finger user information protocol (RFC742, RFC1288) and service is one of those virtually unknown to the new generation.

It was a good idea. You could look up user database on the server (using login name or partial real name as the search criteria) and receive infomation like contact details, time of last logon and device used to connect. It’s an early attempt to provide information about users of a system to other users (of the Internet!) – featuring elements of presence and location! And that’s not all. Quoting from RFC1288:

 Vending machines

   Vending machines SHOULD respond to a {C} request with a list of all
   items currently available for purchase and possible consumption.
   Vending machines SHOULD respond to a {U}{C} request with a detailed
   count or list of the particular product or product slot.  Vending
   machines should NEVER NEVER EVER eat money.

Even today an IP-connected vending machine is a rarity. Some people are visionaries indeed!

Why Finger became history? Many reasons:

  • The name. World-wide web is cool. But can you think about enterprise finger?

  • Command line interface;

  • Bad reputation. Finger daemon had a backdoor used by the Morris worm;

  • Secrecy that is sometimes confused with (and used in place of) security. Marcus Ranum explains why that is wrong.

Finger.exe is still in Windows. I treasure the relic.

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