Fixing WAIS

Please share the following message with anyone who may be using WAIS software.


I am pleased to report availability of the long-awaited fixes to the
WAISserver software, also known as "commercial WAIS". (See below for notes
about "freeWAIS", the WAIS protocol, and the current Z39.50 protocol.)
Although WAIS Incorporated stopped selling WAISserver in 1995 after the
company was subsumed into America Online, many commercial firms and
government organizations are still running the commercial WAIS software. 

WAISserver has been known to be defective in its purported conformance to
the network search standard (Z39.50 version 2 and the GILS Profile). A
software release that is Z39.50 and GILS-compliant, known as WAISserver 2.2,
was developed by America Online in May 1996. Unfortunately, this commercial
WAIS software was not distributed by AOL because AOL was then involved in
selling the WAISserver product and customer base to Fulcrum Technologies. 

Fulcrum Technologies has now agreed to make WAISserver 2.2 available for
free to those who licensed the commercial WAIS software. To obtain this
software, contact:

Terri Beaudin
Project Manager,
Fulcrum Consulting Services
Tel: (613) 238-6452 x229
Fax: (613) 238-7695
Email: terri.beaudin@fulcrum.com

At the moment, only Solaris 2.5 executable code for WAISserver 2.2 is in
hand. Fulcrum has offered to provide source code for porting to other
platforms, although you will need to sign what amounts to a "non-disclosure
agreement" in order to borrow the source code. As additional platform ports
of WAISserver 2.2 get built, Fulcrum will make those executables available
as well.

--------- Notes about FreeWAIS, WAIS protocol, and Z39.50 --------

The Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS) protocol is a search mechanism
based on Z39.50 as it existed in 1988 (sometimes known as Z39.50-1988 or
Z39.50 version 1). The original WAIS client and server products used the
WAIS protocol. The WAIS protocol was incorporated into the freeWAIS and
freeWAIS-SF freeware products, as well as several commercial and shareware

Over the years, the search standard evolved. In 1992, a second version of
Z39.50 was approved. This standard, known as Z39.50 version 2, is not
compatible with Z39.50-1988 or the WAIS protocol. 

In 1995, a third version of Z39.50 was approved. Z39.50 version 3 is
backwards compatible with Z39.50 version 2. The current specification of
Z39.50 version 2 and version 3 are both specified in the document known as

A WAIS Profile was developed on top of Z93.50 version 2 (I do not know what
products are using this profile).  The GILS Profile was also developed on
top of the Z39.50 version 2 standard. The draft Geospatial Profile is a
superset of GILS and so is based on Z39.50-1995 as well. 

A server that only supports the WAIS protocol is not compliant with Z39.50.
However, WAIS Inc. modified the commercial WAIS product so that it would
essentially support the two protocols separately--providing backwards
compatibility for the WAIS Inc. server customers. (I believe "freeWAIS" also
had the dual-stack capability built-in as well.) Because of this dual
protocol support, client software such as WinWAIS that only uses the WAIS
protocol has been able to continue access to commercial WAIS servers, though
not to the hundreds of other servers that only support Z39.50 version 2+ or

Support for FreeWAIS tapered off as organizations such as the Clearinghouse
for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval (CNIDR) focused their
efforts on the more powerful Z39.50 version 2 standard. Indexdata in Denmark
offered a freeware Z39.50 toolkit that implemented Z39.50 version 3 and is
also GILS-compliant. (These freeware products also led to software that is
embedded within the freeware Apache WWW server and supports Z39.50 version 3
and GILS.)

I am not conversant with freeWAIS-SF software, though I know that it was
intended to provide support for structured field searching within WAIS. I
would be interested to hear of what plans there may be to migrate
freeWAIS-SF to Z39.50 version 2.



Eliot Christian, US Geological Survey, 802 National Center, Reston VA 20192
echristi@usgs.gov  Office 703-648-7245  FAX 703-648-7069  Home 703-476-6134