Netlib began services in 1985 to fill a need for cost-effective, timely distribution of high-quality mathematical software to the research community. Netlib sends, by return electronic mail, requested routines together with subsidiary routines and any requested documents or test programs supplied by the software authors . Xnetlib, a recently developed interactive tool for software and document distribution , use an X Window interface and TCP/IP connections to allow users to receive replies to their requests within a matter of seconds. The interface provides a number of modes and searching mechanisms to facilitate searching through a large distributed collection of software and documents. World Wide Web browsers such as Mosaic can also be used to access Netlib via HTTP and FTP, but are not as finely tuned towards software retrieval as Xnetlib. The netlibget command-line interface and anonymous FTP and RCP provide services to users who do not need a sophisticated interface. Figure 1 shows the growing number of requests for Netlib services.
A new hypertext/hypermedia version of Xnetlib, currently under development, will interoperate with other information services such as gopher, WAIS, and World Wide Web. It will incorporate a new type of executable document, called an active object, that will greatly enhance the flexibility and adaptability of Xnetlib by allowing runtime binding of functionality.
Although the original focus of the Netlib repository was on mathematical software, the collection has grown to include other software (such as networking tools and tools for visualization of multiprocessor performance data), technical reports and papers, a Whitepages Database, benchmark performance data, and information about conferences and meetings. The number of Netlib servers has grown from the original two, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (initially at Argonne National Laboratory) and Bell Labs, to servers in Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Taiwan. A mirroring mechanism keeps the repository contents at the different sites consistent on a daily basis, as well as automatically picking up new material from distributed editorial sites. This mechanism provides redundancy in case of computer or network failures, shares the workload, and broadens human contacts for identifying software to add to the collection.
Netlib differs from other publicly available software distribution systems, such as Archie, in that the collection is moderated by an editorial board and the software contained in it is widely recognized to be of high quality. The user is assured of getting an up-to-date copy of the master version of the requested software. We log requests so we can send bug reports and updates to users of our software. However, the Netlib repository is not intended to replace commercial software. Commercial software companies provide value-added services in the form of support. Although the Netlib collection is moderated, its software comes with no guarantee of reliability or support. Rather, the lack of bureaucratic, legal, and financial impediments encourages researchers to submit their codes by ensuring that their work will be made available quickly to a wide audience.
Requests for consideration of software and document submissions to Netlib, as well as questions, comments, and problems concerning Netlib, should be sent to the following address: