How do you name a server?

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Let's say you are setting up a small network for your little business. While you, the loving and caring administrator, will without doubt remember that POP3 runs on, Jabber on and FTP on, most of your users will probably soon be clamoring for easy to remember host names. This, of course, means you have to set up DNS on the network (which you may have already have done if it's facing the Internet) but it also means you have to name your hosts.

Host names are indeed a nightmare to assign: they need to be short (or many routers will freak out and "drop the sponge", as we Frenchies say), they need to be easily remembered and they need to survive network expansion and diversification. For example, naming servers after your company or your department isn't a good idea in that it may be a headache after mergers. Naming servers alphabetically or numerically may make them hard to remember as people will have trouble memorizing the names — and it may put restrictions on you as well if you need to add a server "inbetween" two existing ones for some reason.

Of course, some servers have relatively straightforward names: "www" for your web host, which explains most sites live on "", "pop" or "mail" for e-mail, "smtp" for, well, SMTP sending and so forth. There are times however at which these conventions cannot apply: what if you want to keep the role of a host relatively under cover? What if a single server has different roles?

The result? Many administrators resort to using cute names, betting on the fact that users will easily remember they are hosted on "Paul", "Marie" or "Marguerite" as they'll be able to tell themselves little stories about the server. In fact, many hosts tell their users they are hosted on a specific server upfront, and expect them to remember that information — which I consider poor form but many such companies couldn't care less about that last point.

Let's take a look at the Google domain, for example: there is, the web host,, for the groups, and so on, depending on the service. One of the Internet's hottest hosts at the moment hosts customers on "nelson", "pendrell", "gilford" etc...

Of course, I'm simplifying here and CNAME records can ease that task considerably - one host can reply to many names if it runs multiple services. Also, in the web of today, a single name or domain does not necessarily correspond to a single host but you get the idea.

Different setups, different ways to organize a network, all perfectly sensical to the people who designed them! So, what's your solution?


2005-09-27 05:34:58
naming conventions i detest...
...are really specific functional names. I worked somewhere that had a naming convention of something like (www|ds|ap)(pdq|agb|dsr)(u|m)([0-9]+) depending on whether this was a web server (www), database server (ds), app server (ap), which network segment it was on, whether it was *NIX or MS, and which one of (potentially) many it was. That was a real pain.

On my personal machines, I've begun using characters in sci-fi novels. My laptop is named qiwi from Qiwi Lisolet from "A Deepness in the Sky" from Vernor Vinge. My server at home is valentine from Valentine Wiggin from Orson Scott Card's "Ender" series.

Although, in the past, I have used mythological creatures (chimera, xanthus, pegasus). At one job, we used musicians and composers for a naming convention, so I went with a Country/Western theme for my machines: bocephus, waylon, faith, martina, etc.

2005-09-27 06:48:29
apple varieties
I've used varieties of apples in the past for Macintosh servers. Some of the ones I currently use are gala, lodi and crispin.
2005-09-27 08:14:09
cute names
I've actually had non-technical employees ask me to rename servers to a "cute name." So some people must like them!

On the other hand, I always set practical hostnames (or at least CNAMEs) for Internet facing hosts.

2005-09-27 09:23:20
Plan for scalability
I prefer to cluster the servers into group and name them with names that obviously belong in the group. For example:

Web servers named after greek mythology: Zeus, Hera, Heracles, etc.

Development servers named after science fiction authors: Asimov, Heinlein, deLint (Note, I cannot use Sturgeon, as that name is prone to collisions with both "fish" and "food")

Authentication servers named after types of trees: Alder, Rowan, Elm, etc

This ways you can tell from a glance what the server sort of does, and you have no collisions between groups.

I then use CNAMEs to link services to the physical machines. This way we can move services around without worrying about user education.

2005-09-27 09:35:58
Naming Conventions
Many of the naming conventions below are great.

When I haven't done something generic, I've tried to use a naming convention that seemed to follow a logic of the particular office.

Street names from the town might work well when they are associated with certain services like the building is on Mercer for the file server, the preferred coffee shop is on Witherspoon for the email server.

2005-09-27 10:39:01
bigbird is alive
I used to sysadmin at a public TV station. All of our servers were named for Sesame Street characters.
2005-09-27 12:44:59
Drug interdiction
I was on a drug interdiction project 10+ years ago. We named the systems after various drugs: marijuana, cocaine, hashish, etc. There was a little entertainment value telling the client that he would be on cocaine for the demonstration. And we had various excuses to move one person from a downer to an upper or vice versa as their workload or performance changed.
2005-09-28 15:10:07
naming rules from a former boss

One of the people who filled the Director of Technology role here at had some very specific rules for machine naming. His machine
naming guidelines for the sysadmins were almost a thorough as the coding
guidelines he had for the developers.

The ones that I can remember are:

  1. Names must be short. No one will want to type
    blue-canary-by-the-lightswitch five times in a row.

  2. Similar machines can have names along the same theme, but don't choose
    a theme that is a set that inherently ordered or can't handle additions or
    deletions. A pair of clustered database machines shouldn't be named "Bert"
    and "Ernie". What do you do when you add a third machine to cluster? Do
    you call it "Twidlebug"? "Grover"?

  3. When a machine is retired, the name is retired. When a machine is
    repurposed, the name gets moved with it. You don't want to be looking
    through a logbook and see a reference to "mrburns", you don't want to be
    wondering if it was 1U DualPentium III or the Sun Ultra-2. Neither do you
    want to be trying to remember all the former names some random old piece
    of hardware.

  4. The names of the machines are only to be used internally within the
    Technology department, and never disseminated. Before anyone else finds
    out about a machine, it gets a cname that describes its function. It never
    goes well when you are questioned by a VP that a manager told him that an
    employee told him that there was some problem with a "golobulus" the other
    day that caused his reports to be late.

  5. If his rules were broken, and his predicted outcome resulted, do not
    fix the problem by starting over (essentially, do not commit error three
    to fix a problem caused by commiting errors one through five.) It will
    just compound the problem.

  6. I have to say, since he left we've broken every rule and each time he was

    Some naming schemes that come to mind, Tourist Destinations (disney,
    vegas, chinatown, etc.) MBTA stops ( park, central, hynes, chinatown.),
    GI Joe heros, GI Joe villians, highlander characters, Greek and Roman
    Gods, Simpsons characters, common first names, Perl operators, and simple
    sequential ordering ("x01", "x02", etc.)

Steve Peters
2005-09-30 05:59:47
My computers are all, in geek fashion, named after Star Trek characters. The names are short and easy to type and remember.
Matthew Doar
2005-10-03 13:56:53
The Naming of Hosts
There's a page or two about this precise subject in my newly published O'Reilly book "Practical Development Environments" ( Summarizing from it:

There is an official RFC "Choosing a Name for Your Computer" (RFC 1178) which includes:

- Don't overload other terms already in common use
- Don't use your own name
- Don't use digits at the beginning of the name
- Don't expect case to be preserved

The other RFC on this subject is "The Naming of Hosts (RFC 2100)", an amusing version of T.S. Eliot's "The Naming of Cats".

Also, Google Sets can help you find groups of names.

The most appropriate names that I have seen used were for two printers named "chainsaw" and "clearcut", which describe what printers do to
forests quite well. Among the worst names I have seen were servers named "left" and "right" for their locations in the original server room. You can guess where they ended up when the server room was rearranged later on.


2005-11-29 17:55:57
Naming Servers...
Wow, we run a very boring name scheme around here in comparison to everyone else. We once had a company bought out and integrated into our environment which used Simpson character names to name servers and that about as fun as we've ever got.

Basically our structure is <3 Char Airport City Code><4 Char function name><3 digit number>. Eg a File server may be call BRUFILE001 (Brussels Fileserver 1). DBMS, MAIL etc are the 4 char function names as an example.

We're an MS Shop so the whole CName thing only really applies when we're setting up internal websites.

2005-11-30 01:33:07
Naming Servers...

Wow, that is most interesting! I confess I had never thought of using airport codes in server naming but it does make a lot of sense, especially in international setups.

I agree it may become monotonous after a while but congratulations on a very sound scheme!