CSAIL's user database, WebINQUIR

INQUIR is the central CSAIL user account database. CSAIL users can update their account data (and those of any supervisees) using WebINQUIR (CSAIL certificates required).

Note: HQ's database of CSAIL members is currently managed separately. Current members are listed at http://www.csail.mit.edu/peoplesearch . Please consult CSAIL HQ's HR staff if modifications are necessary.


Through WebINQUIR, users may:
  • edit their own data -- including shell, phone number, office location, PGP key
  • search for users by name
In addition, supervisors should use WebINQUIR to:
  • approve new account requests
  • renew expiring accounts
  • edit supervisees' data -- including Relation (Undergraduate/Graduate Student, ...)

All actions are logged; audit trails are mailed to supervisors and other administrators every 5 minutes.

Technical background

INQUIR is currently implemented as a PostgreSQL database though its history dates back through many incarnations to at least the days of ITS on DEC PDP-6 and PDP-10 systems.

It is used to map people to user-names, UIDs and groups as well as being authoritative for email forwarding and homepage URL so that http://www.csail.mit.edu/~YourUserName will be directed to the website of your choosing which could be a CSAIL hosted personal page or any other website of your choosing.

You can view your inquir entry from a Unix system such as the CSAIL login server by typing whois -h inquir.csail.mit.edu <username> at the command prompt. You can also finger <username>@csail.mit.edu


The original INQUIR was written by PDP-10 hackers in the late 1970s for managing user accounts on our ITS and TOPS-20 machines. The second version was written some time in the late 1980s by LCS staff as the PDP-10s were being replaced by VAXen running 4.3BSD; this version was ported to SunOS by Net Daemons Associates around 1991. Garrett Wollman wrote the third version in 1999 as a part of Y2K preparedness (and also to speed along the demise of Kerberos v4 authentication, which the old VAX/Sun program and its Emacs-based user interface used); it was the first to have a relational-database back-end, and its user interface was primarily written in Perl. INQUIR 3.0 accumulated numerous ad-hoc CGI hacks over the years to provide some level of Web accessibility, but the primary user interface remained a crufty old Perl script, inquir-cui. The current implementation maintains the same database back-end as its predecessor, with a few small schema changes, but replaces the existing moldering scripts with a new Ruby on Rails front-end, which adds a number of much-needed abstraction layers.

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Topic revision: 05 Jan 2011, ArthurProkosch
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