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Samba 4 hits alpha status, but 2008 release unlikely

Samba 4's developer solicits the Samba community for feedback on the latest alpha release of the technology.

Are you curious about Samba 4, the ambitious new version of the open source program that provides an interface between Linux and Unix print and file servers and Microsoft Windows clients? As of last month, version 4.0.0alpha2 is available for download, and Samba team authentication developer Andrew Bartlett is encouraging others to play around with the release and report the findings.

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"I work better and faster on real problems," said Bartlett in a telephone interview from Melbourne, Australia. "If administrators start trying things out and providing feedback, it allows me to be much more focused rather than a general approach."

First introduced in 1992, Samba is undergoing two simultaneous upgrades:
  • Version 3.2, with enhancements and changes to the existing body of code, and
  • Version 4.0, a major rewrite effort to add support for clustered file servers and create an Active Directory domain controller.

Until about three years ago when the 4.0 effort got under way, each successive upgrade built and improved on the previous version with incremental functionality and new features. The version 2 upgrades, for example, added daemon control for file and print servers, including Windows NT. Then in 2003, version 3.0 launched yet another round of enhancements, greatly improving network operations.

With its upgraded interfaces, Linux appliances no longer looked different from Windows 2000 machines and didn't require extra steps to function in an Active Directory domain. Soon, Samba will release 3.2, which is the first revision under version 3 of the General Public License, or GPL, which the organization adopted last July to improve compatibility with other licenses.

Samba 4.0, on the other hand, is a far broader effort. The code will undergo major restructuring and hopefully emerge with more consistency. For starters, version 4 will emulate Microsoft Active Directory to Microsoft clients in contrast with Samba 3, which looked like Microsoft Windows NT only to the network, he said.

By the end of this year, developer Andrew Bartlett hopes to be 'a lot further along' with Samba 4.

Samba 4 will also add support for clustered servers, transmitting data from multiple servers to workstations as if it were coming from only one source. Clustering support will give Samba 4 greater reliability and speed than possible from a single server -- an important capability now, particularly for high-speed, high volume users, Bartlett said.

In addition, Samba 4 will support SMB2, a new version of the core file- and print-sharing protocol that Microsoft introduced with its Vista platform. This Samba project, known as CTDB, will be backported to Samba 3.2.

Bartlett has focused on Samba 4's Active Directory initiative, including the MIT-originated Kerberos authentication protocols and other security measures. The end result of these changes is to increase the security of communications between client computers and servers. These innovations also lay the foundation for future improvements, such as using a smart card to log into a corporate network, he said.

Unlike server clustering, however, the Active Directory alterations will probably not be backported to Samba 3.2 because of the nature of the code changes required, he said.

Waiting for Samba 4
As for the question uppermost on everyone's mind, Bartlett was noncommittal. The Australian programmer declined to say when Samba 4 would be ready for general release, saying only that he hoped "to be a lot further along" by the end of this year.

Bartlett, who is on Red Hat Inc.'s payroll but devotes the majority of his time to the Samba project, is the sole near-full-time worker on the project. But he has significant, part-time help from three or four others, with testing and feedback from a broader circle of Samba colleagues.

Based on attendance at the Melbourne Linux conference, interest in Samba 4 is high. "People are very keen on Samba 4," Bartlett said. "They want to see it working and finished." The challenge is getting people motivated to help, he added. But the conference "gave me more people to blackmail," he said, teasing.

As for Samba 3, Bartlett expects several additional iterations to come out in the near future. And despite the major improvements in Samba 4, Samba 3 is by no means dead.

At this point, Samba 4 doesn't support all the features and options in Samba 3. And even when it does, some users will not abandon Samba 3 lightly because they have tweaked it to their liking, Bartlett said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Pam Derringer, News Writer.

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