I have noticed that when I'm on campus I can login to my account on any computer that's part of the network, and it feels exactly like using a local account on a normal home pc. By that I mean that when I turn the machine on, the login screen appears, I enter my username and password, and then almost instantly the desktop appears and everything is there, all my files, software, even the browser's history.

Obviously every computer doesn't have a few thousands accounts and doesn't store every user's data, so how is that possible? I can't seem to find anything like that in Google. Mostly because I don't really know what to look for. If I had to guess I would say that the data and accounts are stored on a central server and the computers download everything each time an users accesses his account, but it seems like an awful lot of traffic.

Any ideas? All of the machines use Linux Mint, by the way.

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    try searching "mounting /home via NFS". It is a common practice in environments with large number of machines, where users can be randomly assigned to a different workstation every time they need to log in, – MelBurslan Jan 14 '16 at 23:44
  • @MelBurslan Thanks! :) After a quick Google search it looks like it might be it. – CrystalClear Jan 14 '16 at 23:53
  • Do a df . in your home directory and look for a colon in the left-most field -- that's a hint for NFS – Jeff Schaller Jan 14 '16 at 23:58
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    You are logging in (with name and password) most likely to a Kerberos authentication server. That server gives aditional tokens to open NFS or AFS shares in the network, from which your files could be accessed. Your user files are not in the computer you are using, but in the network. – user79743 Jan 15 '16 at 0:14

There are a few ways this can be done. Usually it involves automounting your home directory from a server.

  1. automount. Filesystems can be dynamically mounted based on rules and information from LDAP, NIS, and other "databases".

  2. static mounts. Though on busy systems, this isn't as popular.

Authentication comes from LDAP, NIS, etc systems. Generally its the same place automount information comes from but not necessary.

Finally, no, the data is not copied to every machine. It's accessed over the network and "appears" to be on every machine.

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