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12.1. Open Directory Overview

Open Directory is a Mac OS X technology that acts as a wrapper around various other protocols, some of which are particular to Macintosh computers, but all of which serve one of two general functions:

Administrative and user information

Your Mac needs an administrative database in order to know about the users that can access it, as well as what permissions they possess for running programs and owning files. On most Unix machines, this information lives in text files stored in out-of-the-way places like the /etc directory. Mac OS X can use these files too (and sometimes it has to), but most of the time, it relies on NetInfo. This is a network service program that runs on every Mac, providing it with its own administrative information, which is able to query other NetInfo servers running on other machines.

Since NetInfo is a core technology for Macintosh setup and administration, much of this chapter is dedicated to exploring it. Note, however, that fiddling with NetInfo is of interest only to "power users," and sophisticated configuration of database binding and inheritance isn't relevant to anyone beyond administrators of school or corporate networks.

Service Discovery

Your Mac can learn about printers, file servers, and other interesting things sharing the local network through service discovery. The Open Directory system can use various protocols, including SMB for Windows-based services or Rendezvous for services running on other Macs, to listen for local network services' announcing their presence and availability.

Using Open Directory for service discovery works quite transparently; any application with reason to look for network services will automatically do so when appropriate, and then display the results for you. Examples of these applications include iChat, with its Rendezvous window that scans for other iChat users on your local network; the Finder's disk-mounting features (described in Section 7.2); and the system-wide Print dialog sheet, which scans the network for available printers and makes them available as hardcopy destinations alongside the printers you've defined manually (see Chapter 5 for more information).



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