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[ih] Ping Eduardo A. Suárez (was Re: What is the origin of the root account?)

In the early days of Unix, AT&T was the major force.  Unix was a
by-product of AT&T's Bell Laboratories.   There were a lot of
licensing and legal issues at the time.  For example, there was a
question of the Unix code (the kernel itself) being legally
constrained, as a trade secret of AT&T or something.  In order to look
at the source code, you had to sign an agreement (some kind of
non-disclosure).   Many people, especially students and recent
graduates, were concerned that signing such an agreement would hurt
their careers, by making corporations afraid to hire them for fear of
AT&T's lawyers.  So there were many people using Unix, but not so many
who knew its innards, except at Bell Labs.

What can I say ... I drank the Kool Aid, and dove into the task of
writing TCP for Unix on the PDP-11/40.  Figuring out the Unix
internals was not easy. The fear of the legal system also seemed to
have prevented anyone from documenting anything.   No "Unix -- The
Missing Manual".  I remember searching through the kernel listing,
simply trying to find the Scheduler, since every time-sharing system
had to have one.  Finally I found it -- only about 20 lines of code
hidden in the bowels.  Unix was very compact inside.  It had to be, to
fit in a PDP-11/40 with its 32K of address space.  (The 11/45 and /70
had twice that, and the Vax was huge)

The only document about Unix internals I recall finding (in 1978) was
from the University of Wollongong (Australia), where someone had
written up a nice description of the architecture of the kernel and
the software structure, data, etc.  Very, very helpful in getting that
TCP running.   I guess Wollongong was far enough away from AT&T to not
be worried.    I also remember that we (Al Nemeth and I) visited Bell
Labs in New Jersey at least once, to get some answers and guidance
from Kernighan/Ritchie.

Sadly, I can't recall if there was a "root" then.  But I'd suggest two
sources - the University of Wollongong (and the company with the same
name), and the Bell Labs, which might have made some of their internal
documents public by now.  Look for PDP-11 Unix documentation.  Sun
came into the picture much later.

Good luck,
/Jack Haverty

On Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 2:43 PM, Eduardo A. Su?rez
<esuarez at fcaglp.fcaglp.unlp.edu.ar> wrote:
> Hi Larry,
> thanks for all your contributions, it's nice to read old stories.
> I was reviewing a large number of documents on the origins of Unix, and the
> different versions that I found on this site
> http://bitsavers.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/ and the only manual that calls
> the super user "root" is SunOS 1.1 manual from 1984. Since SunOS it's based
> on 4.1BSD and the manual of that version and the latter (4.3BSD, etc.) does
> not refer to a "root" account, I could imagine that "root" is the brainchild
> of Sun.
> But it's just my intuition because I have no internal document from Sun to
> support this assumption.
> Thanks, Eduardo.-
> Quoting Larry Sheldon <LarrySheldon at cox.net>:
>> On 4/11/2013 1:58 PM, Eduardo A. Su?rez wrote:
>>> this is off-topic, but perhaps anyone can help. What is the origin of
>>> the root account in unix?
>>> Thanks, Eduardo.-
>> My first reply to your question derailed the thread irreparably but I
>> would like for you to know that there were at least two attempts at
>> answering your question.
>> I have copied below two messages (that contain other replies) that I
>> think contain all the material on your question.
>>> At 1602 on 4.11 I said:
>>> On 4/11/2013 1:58 PM, Eduardo A. Su?rez wrote:
>>>> this is off-topic, but perhaps anyone can help. What is the origin
>>>> of the root account in unix?
>>> It certainly is "history" although the "internet" part is a little
>>> weak since unix existed before the Internet did, I don't think unix
>>> had much to do with the development of the Internet except as the
>>> operating system on some hosts that were reachable in the early
>>> days.
>>> Be fore I continue let me confirm for you all that I have no
>>> credentials whatever in the area and all I say is based on an
>>> accretion of hearsay, the result of working one, with, and for
>>> computers and networks of several kinds for several years in several
>>> "environments".
>>> Every computer (or more precisely, every operating system instance)
>>> with an "account structure" has to have a place to start.
>>> On EXEC 8 systems, the first accesses via the construction of the
>>> boot tape, fleshed out via the (presumed) physically secure console.
>>> From those come the first accounts and their "permissions" and from
>>> there the construction of additional accounts and file structures
>>> expands.
>>> MS-DOS systems presumed the only accesses were via the (presumed)
>>> physically secure console and were presumed to be be single-user and
>>> there was not much in the way of control or constraint on the
>>> file-system structure.
>>> MS-WINDOWS (I have not forgotten the original question--I'll arrive
>>> back there momentarily) introduced the notions of (at first, serial)
>>> multi-user and installed itself with an "admin" account (with either
>>> a publicly known, or no password) that the authority to establish
>>> file-system structures and to construct "accounts" with some subset
>>> of its "permissions" (the most common subset was "all of them", I
>>> think).
>>> I think unix (and multics, from which it sprouted*) was designed to
>>> support multiple users from the outset, and since that first or
>>> starter account (also accessible initially only via the (presumed)
>>> physically secure console) had to have permissions on the "root"
>>> directory it no doubt seemed natural to the GE, MIT and Bell Labs
>>> people to call it the "root" account.
>>> Obviously, MS had to use another symbol for the root directory and
>>> another name for the starter account with access to it.
>>> I have not mentioned any of the myriad IBM "OS"s, nor any other
>>> because I don't know anything about them, and don't (as I did here)
>>> pretend to.
>>> *http://www.multicians.org/unix.html
>>> At 2256 on 4/11 I said:
>>> On 4/11/2013 10:07 PM, Bill Ricker wrote:
>>>> On 4/11/2013 1:58 PM, Eduardo A. Su?rez wrote:
>>>>> this is off-topic, but perhaps anyone can help. What is the
>>>>> origin of
>>>>>> the root account in unix?
>>>> Etymologically, i have always //suspected// that the userid=0
>>>> account is called username='root' because that's the special userid
>>>> that owns the root directory '/' also called 'Root', which indeed
>>>> is the root of the singular file-system. Unix was peculiar in
>>>> having *all* files in a single-rooted tree, not a forest of
>>>> separate directory trees named by devices.
>>> That is what I was trying to say when I derailed the train.  I think
>>> that this is exactly right sub environment in which it occurred.
>> --
>> Requiescas in pace o email           Two identifying characteristics
>>                                         of System Administrators:
>> Ex turpi causa non oritur actio      Infallibility, and the ability to
>>                                         learn from their mistakes.
>>                                           (Adapted from Stephen Pinker)
> --
> Eduardo A. Suarez
> Facultad de Ciencias Astron?micas y Geof?sicas - UNLP
> FCAG: (0221)-4236593 int. 172/Cel: (0221)-15-4557542/Casa: (0221)-4526589
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