mini.net misdirection

Many people reach this page as, for example,

http://mini.net/tcl/misdirection .

That URL was misdirected for almost twenty-four hours, though, on 10 and 11 October 2001. The story of what happened illustrates both the fragility and resilience of Tcl, Wikis, and the Tcl developer community.

As there's particular interest in what happened among German-speakers, a translation into that language appears under the title "[...]".

What is Tcl? Tcl is an open-source programming language--not as well-known as C or Java, but widely-used in many countries for many tasks, some of them quite important: management of television networks, control of aspects of space-flight, generation of billions of Web pages, and so on (see "Your social contribution as a Tcl'er" for more).

While Tcl lacks the marketing muscle and "mind-share" of more popular languages, its adepts are quite fond of it. Along with the technical virtues of the language, "social factors" attract many of them. Specifically, comp.lang.tcl and its fr.comp.lang.tcl and fj.comp.lang.tcl siblings have the reputations for being particularly cordial and helpful, especially to beginners with the language.

Complementing newsgroup activity is The Tcl'ers Wiki, a collection of over 2000 (and rising daily!) Web pages which document specific aspects and uses of Tcl. This Wiki is maintained as a collaborative, unpaid project, by those whom the language benefits.

Independent software engineer Jean-Claude Wippler donates the infrastructure which enables the Tcl'ers Wiki (along with the Tcl Chatroom, and many other free resources he provides). Wippler manages all these resources through the "mini.net" domain he has owned since 1996.

On 10 October 2001, though, the several dozen Tcl'ers who were using and maintaining mini.net resources were surprised to find all their browsing returned placeholder pages that led back to the automotive company: BMW. What had happened? While several of the details remain cloudy, research that continued into the night confirmed that: Wippler had properly paid all bills and answered all correspondence from his domain registrar; BMW had no corporate intention to "hijack" a domain which properly belonged to another; and all the technical factors were in place to switch "mini.net" back to point at Wippler's host machine. Within the first hour of the outage, Wippler provided a PURL-based indirection that restored most of the Wiki and Chat functionality, at least to insiders. Developers on three continents conferred on the situation, and on the 11th, contacted both German news organization Heise [1 ] and the BMW legal staff. Several telephone calls later, everything was back to normal.

Whew! The episode was a harrowing one for those developers whose daily work depends crucially on the availability of online information. The mini.net Wikis package thousands of engineer-hours of valuable and almost irreplaceable research. Just as with topical geopolitical events [2 ], mini.net's temporary loss dramatically reminded many how dependent they are on a "business as usual" no one can guarantee. If Wippler or a few of the German Tcl developers, in particular, had been away from their keyboards, the outage could easily have stretched out for a week.

At the same time, the events demonstrated how swiftly committed experts can repair damage. Wippler maintains the Wiki on top of various toolkits he's authored, all based on his MetaKit data manager, which provides him complete and very high-speed archives of all transactions. Only a very unusual for-profit corporation could have worked around the clock to repair and restore service as quickly as did the Tcl volunteers.

Special thanks in this go to BMW, which didn't delay in acting as a good Internet citizen by releasing the "mini.net" name back to Wippler.


Heise covers this story in [3 ]. Impromptu translation by RS:

BMW: Domain grabbed against their will

Asked by heise online, the car manufacturer explained that register.com had erroneously changed the mini.net registration, in the process of handling other domains bought by BMW. The person in charge misread a handwritten note, but officially he would not be allowed to perform changes without the official form. BMW said they don't need the mini.net domain, having sufficient web presence as mini.com and other domains to allure customers for the new Mini Cooper.

After being informed on the problem, BMW asked Register.com to return the domain to the original owner. This posed new problems for the registrar: they had already deleted the old database entry and said they could not reach the original owner.

In the mean time, the original mini.net operator contacted Register.com after hearing of the problems. The site is again reachable.