Wide area information server

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Wide Area Information Servers or WAIS is a client–server text searching system that uses the ANSI Standard Z39.50 Information Retrieval Service Definition and Protocol Specifications for Library Applications" (Z39.50:1988) to search index databases on remote computers. It was developed in the late 1980s as a project of Thinking Machines, Apple Computer, Dow Jones, and KPMG Peat Marwick.

WAIS did not adhere to either the standard or its OSI framework (adopting instead TCP/IP) but created a unique protocol inspired by Z39.50:1988.

The WAIS protocol and servers were primarily promoted by Thinking Machines Corporation (TMC) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. TMC produced WAIS servers which ran on their massively parallel CM-2 (connection machine) and SPARC-based CM-5 MP supercomputers. WAIS clients were developed for various operating systems including Windows, Macintosh, NeXT and UNIX. TMC, however, released a free open source version of WAIS to run on Unix in 1991.

Inspired by the WAIS project on full text databases and emerging SGML projects Z39.50 version 2 or Z39.50:1992 was released. Unlike its 1988 predecessor it was a compatible superset of the ISO 10162/10163 work that had been done internationally.

With the advent of Z39.50:1992, the termination of support for the free WAIS from Thinking Machines and the establishment of WAIS Inc as a commercial venture, the U.S. National Science Foundation funded CNIDR to create a clearinghouse of information related to Internet search and discovery systems and to promote open source and standards. CNIDR created a new freely available open-source WAIS. This created first the freeWAIS package based on the wais-8-b5 codebase implemented by Thinking Machines Corp and then a wholly new software suite Isite based upon Z39.50:1992 with Isearch as its full text search engine.

Ulrich Pfeifer and Norbert Gövert of the computer science department of the University of Dortmund took the CNIDR freeWAIS code and extended it to become freeWAIS-sf: sf means structured fields and indicated its main improvement. Ulrich Pfeifer rewrote freeWAIS-sf in Perl where it became WAIT.

Inspired also by WAIS, especially its "Directory of Servers", Eliot Christian of USGS envisioned GILS: Government Information Locator Service. GILS (based upon Z39.50:1992 with some WAIS-like extensions) became a U.S. Federal mandate as part of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. § 3511).

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