Russell Wells, Head of the Person Office
Have you ever wondered where your campus netID came from? There are few things on campus that are as ubiquitous as those short strings of letters (and for the unfortunate few, numbers) that make up the e-mails and online identification for all persons associated with the University.
Why aren’t netIDs consistent? Who decides this stuff? After being involved in one too many discussions about its mysterious origins, I decided to uncover the story of the Princeton netID.
Your netID was first born in an automated computer system based out of Princeton’s administrative office building in 701 Carnegie Center. A ten minute shuttle ride from campus, 701 Carnegie is home to the University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT). Russell Wells is the manager of the four-member (aptly named) Person Office, the OIT department tasked with managing the online accounts of all Princetonians, student, faculty, and staff. Wells sat down with me this past Friday to explain how exactly our netIDs are created.
The netID is like your online identity, explained Wells. Once the University gives you a netID, it is yours forever; no one else will ever be able to re-use it. Even if you were to come back as an employee of the University 20 years down the line, you would be given the same netID that you’re using now. The system works this way because the University doesn’t want people’s identities to be confused. Especially when it comes to e-mail, if netIDs were to be reused, a student in 2020 could be getting e-mails meant for some old alum.
This means that the University must generate over a thousand original netIDs every year. Wells estimates that there are a couple hundred thousand netIDs floating around the digital universe, with the vast majority no longer in use.
When students, faculty, and staff members enter Princeton, their names are sent to the University’s Oracle Identity Manager. Identity Manager is the program that the University has used to generate netIDs since October 2011. The earlier system (the one used to generate netIDs for current sophomores, juniors, and seniors) was a hodgepodge of different programs, operating with a slightly different set of rules.
701 Carnegie Center, home to OIT
In Oracle and the previous system, your name is stripped down to its bare parts. Suffixes are cut off (bye, bye, Jr.), hyphens are thrown out, and prefixes (like “Von” and “Mac”) are deleted. Left with the bare alphabetic minimum of your lowercase first, middle, and last names (all transformed to lowercase letters), it is now time to make your netID.
Rules of the NetID
The automated generation system follows many rules. A netID cannot be longer than eight characters or shorter than two characters. Also, since the system was updated in October 2011, it will no longer cut off your first or last name. Quite cleverly, there are also some combinations of letters that it knows not to put together, like if my name was “Amanda Sabrina Smith” and my netID was my three initials– you get the idea.
Within these rules, there is a leveled order of combinations by which the computer tries to generate a netID. It goes through the ordered preferences, checking to make sure that a netID is not already taken. The first available option that also fits the length requirement is your new netID. The preference order is as follows:
Preference (ex:) John Henry Matthew Smith
- First initial, last name jsmith
- First initial, middle initial, last name jhsmith
- First initial, mid. initial, any other initial, last name jhmsmith
- Last name smith
- First, Middle, and Last initials jhs
- First initial, last initial js
- First name, last initial johns
- First name, second initial, last initial johnhs
- First name, any other initials johnhms
- First name, last name johnsmith
- First name john
- First name, middle name, last name johnhenrysmith
- First, Middle, and Last initials, with 2-999 jhs278
- “Random alphanumeric string  characters in length” hf9j26kw