How are NetIDs created?

By Matt Troher, Assistant Features Editor

It’s one of the first things a student gets when they enroll at Illinois. It’s how they access their email, student accounts and university computers. It’s their best friend and worst enemy. A rock to hold onto in the night. Friends and lovers may come and go, seasons and feelings fade as they may, but the NetID is constant.

But how is it created? Who, or what, determines the combination of letters and numbers that unlocks the secrets of the University, or at least your email?

According to Rob Watson, assistant director of Communications and Marketing at the University, a “complex NetID picker algorithm” generates the best possible NetID to assign each student. 

Each NetID is unique, must start with a letter instead of a number, and must be between three to eight characters due to different operating systems’ limitations. Student NetIDs always end with a number, while faculty Net IDs may or may not, depending on what the algorithm chooses for them.

The current algorithm is set to choose between nine different formats for a NetID’s base name. A number is tacked on at the end in numerical order. These formats include:

  • First name + last name (never truncated)
  • First initial + last name
  • Last name
  • First initial + middle initial + last name
  • First initial + middle initial + last initial
  • First initial + last initial
  • First name + middle initial + last initial
  • First name + last initial
  • First name

The NetID center also keeps a list of “reserved words” that prevent the algorithm from creating a NetID containing an inappropriate word. (Sorry, Frank Artman and Bill Itch).

According to Watson, there are currently conversations to tweak the algorithm to create NetIDs up to 20 characters in length.

“We hope to improve the logic and process of NetID creation in the years to come,” Watson said in an email.

With over 8,000 new students in each entering class, only a finite number of NetIDs remain under the current naming conventions, although it will be a long time before each possible iteration is used.

 

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