Finger - NetLingo The Internet Dictionary: Online Dictionary of Computer and Internet Terms, Acronyms, Text Messaging, Smileys ;-)


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What does finger do?

If an account is fingerable, fingering that account will tell you various information about that account. What information is returned varies from account to account. Usually there is information such as the real name of the person whose account it is, the last time they logged into that account, and perhaps a "plan" file.

Some accounts, however, are not fingerable. This is because:
  • The system hosting the account has chosen not to run a finger server. Reasons may be privacy concern or just feeling it is unnecessary. Most .edu accounts have finger. Many .net and .org accounts have finger. It is rarer on .com accounts.
  • E-mail address might not be their actual account. For example, University of Illinois had aliases so that everyone had similar looking e-mail addresses that were easier to remember. But it was not a real account. Fingering "" would no t work, as my real account was "," which could be fingered.
  • Wrong form of e-mail address. (i.e. sometimes a return address might be" -- try fingering
  • System might just be down temporarily; try again later.

The time/date of last login is no longer a good barometer of when the person last used their account. People used to login to their "shell" (unix, vax, etc.) account quite often. Some still do. But many people rarely use their shell account, but still use the account for e-mail via a mail program on their desktop computer. Thus a person may still be checking mail daily but be registered as not having logged in for months. Other systems routinely return "Never logged in" for all accounts.

Plan files are a lost art. I think of plans as precursors to Web pages. They are text files that can be short or long, and give whatever information a person wishes to put there, whether it be office hours, witty quotes, etc. Some machines only allow the plans to be read when someone is fingering from the same system.
Sample fingers

Example fingers: The above are not links to a page at my site. They are actual fingers performed on the WWW (see next section). Results should look similar no matter which finger method you use.
How to finger

Usually you finger someone with their e-mail address.

From your Mac or Windows machine:
  • Finger for Macintosh
    • You can either run Finger directly or set up Internet Config/ICeTEe to send URLs of the type finger:// to Finger
  • WsFinger and WsFinger95 for Windows and Windows 95.
  • Eudora (Light and Pro, Mac and Windows) handles finger in the "Ph" window ("Directory Services" in Eudora 3.0).
    • Enter the address you wish to finger (i.e. or and hit the finger button
    • On a Mac you can also set up Internet Config/IceTEe to send finger URLs of the type finger:// to Eudora
  • The URL format is finger://username@host (at least on the Mac. On Windows this may not work.)
Via the World Wide Web: Via e-mail:
Send e-mail to with a subject line of FINGER

From a shell (unix or vax) account:
General format:
$ finger
To finger someone on the same system from which you are fingering:
$ finger janedoe
On unix machines, frequently you can finger by parts of a name:
$ finger (will return all Davises)
Be careful with the above -- if you do this for common names, or last names that are common first names, you will be flooded with data.
To find out who is currently logged into the shell system:
$ finger
To see who is currently logged into another system:
$ finger
How to be fingered

In prior days, when more people used shell accounts, "Finger Me!" was heard at campuses around the world!

On a Unix or Vax shell account:
You don't need to really do anything. If you system is fingerable (see above), people can finger you at the address at which you would login to the shell.
To have a plan file:
On a unix account:
Edit a file in your main directory called .plan
You can also change some of your directory data by typing "chfn" (change finger?) at the system prompt.

On a Vax account:
Edit a file called plan.txt -- You may need to change protection on the file (Amherst Vax users -- type fixplan at the $ prompt)
To be fingered on your Mac or Windows:
If you have a shell account, you can still be fingered through your shell account and have a plan file there.

To be fingered on your desktop machine:
Your computer needs its own IP address when it connects with the internet. (Preferably a static one; a dynamic one would still be fingerable, but people would not know what address to finger you at)
You also need to download a finger server: