Choosing a name for your computer
RFC 1178

Document Type RFC - Informational (August 1990; No errata)
Also known as FYI 5
Last updated 2013-03-02
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Network Working Group                                          D. Libes
Request for Comments: 1178                Integrated Systems Group/NIST
FYI: 5                                                      August 1990

                   Choosing a Name for Your Computer

Status of this Memo

   This FYI RFC is a republication of a Communications of the ACM
   article on guidelines on what to do and what not to do when naming
   your computer [1].  This memo provides information for the Internet
   community.  It does not specify any standard.

   Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Abstract

   In order to easily distinguish between multiple computers, we give
   them names.  Experience has taught us that it is as easy to choose
   bad names as it is to choose good ones.  This essay presents
   guidelines for deciding what makes a name good or bad.

   Keywords: domain name system, naming conventions, computer
   administration, computer network management

Introduction

   As soon as you deal with more than one computer, you need to
   distinguish between them.  For example, to tell your system
   administrator that your computer is busted, you might say, "Hey Ken.
   Goon is down!"

   Computers also have to be able to distinguish between themselves.
   Thus, when sending mail to a colleague at another computer, you might
   use the command "mail libes@goon".

   In both cases, "goon" refers to a particular computer.  How the name
   is actually dereferenced by a human or computer need not concern us
   here.  This essay is only concerned with choosing a "good" name.  (It
   is assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of the domain
   name system as described by [2].)

   By picking a "good" name for your computer, you can avoid a number of
   problems that people stumble over again and again.

   Here are some guidelines on what NOT to do.

Libes                                                           [Page 1]
RFC 1178                   Name Your Computer                August 1990

      Don't overload other terms already in common use.

         Using a word that has strong semantic implications in the
         current context will cause confusion.  This is especially true
         in conversation where punctuation is not obvious and grammar is
         often incorrect.

         For example, a distributed database had been built on top of
         several computers.  Each one had a different name.  One machine
         was named "up", as it was the only one that accepted updates.
         Conversations would sound like this: "Is up down?"  and "Boot
         the machine up." followed by "Which machine?"

         While it didn't take long to catch on and get used to this
         zaniness, it was annoying when occasionally your mind would
         stumble, and you would have to stop and think about each word
         in a sentence.  It is as if, all of a sudden, English has
         become a foreign language.

      Don't choose a name after a project unique to that machine.

         A manufacturing project had named a machine "shop" since it was
         going to be used to control a number of machines on a shop
         floor.  A while later, a new machine was acquired to help with
         some of the processing.  Needless to say, it couldn't be called
         "shop" as well.  Indeed, both machines ended up performing more
         specific tasks, allowing more precision in naming.  A year
         later, five new machines were installed and the original one
         was moved to an unrelated project.  It is simply impossible to
         choose generic names that remain appropriate for very long.

         Of course, they could have called the second one "shop2" and so
         on.  But then one is really only distinguishing machines by
         their number.  You might as well just call them "1", "2", and
         "3".  The only time this kind of naming scheme is appropriate
         is when you have a lot of machines and there are no reasons for
         any human to distinguish between them.  For example, a master
         computer might be controlling an array of one hundred
         computers.  In this case, it makes sense to refer to them with
         the array indices.

         While computers aren't quite analogous to people, their names
         are.  Nobody expects to learn much about a person by their
         name.  Just because a person is named "Don" doesn't mean he is
         the ruler of the world (despite what the "Choosing a Name for
         your Baby" books say).  In reality, names are just arbitrary
         tags.  You cannot tell what a person does for a living, what
         their hobbies are, and so on.

Libes                                                           [Page 2]
RFC 1178                   Name Your Computer                August 1990

      Don't use your own name.

         Even if a computer is sitting on your desktop, it is a mistake
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