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A Picture is Priceless with Grouper Visualization

Apr 01, 2019, by Michael Gettes
Tags: Grouper, Trust & Identity

In the early days of Grouper, we all recognized the complex nature of what was being created.  Basic graph capabilities were tried and not pursued but the hope to better visualize Grouper never really died. In the fall of 2018 I was helping my best friend with broken "Family Tree" software he used and I was introduced to GraphViz and quickly realized how to graph Grouper objects. As the Trust and Identity packaging effort made it easier for a non-Java developer like me to learn groovy using gsh (the Grouper shell), I was quickly using the Grouper API to generate a proof of concept capability of graphing Grouper and presented the proof of concept at TechEx 2018 in Orlando.

A few weeks later, the Grouper development team asked Chad Redman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to incorporate the graphing capability along with other recent work by Nick Ivanov of University of Auckland in New Zealand, who was using D3 to provide some text oriented graphing of Grouper as well. Chad’s wonderful work has created a Grouper Visualization API now available in the latest Grouper.

The collaborative efforts have delivered a very powerful and fun way of understanding what Grouper is doing to combine groups to provision services, manage applications and will lead to greater understanding by application admins of how Grouper is used to deliver effective Application Access Management. Those who really know and appreciate Grouper will derive the greatest benefit and it will help you explain Grouper to others.

Grouper visualization starts at a folder, group or even a subject (person) and fans out to show the relationships of all the objects related to the starting point.

Grouper visualization starts at a folder, group or even a subject (person) and fans out to show the relationships of all the objects related to the starting point. The resulting displayed graph can also be fed directly into GraphViz tools (a dot file) and displays in web browsers as an SVG image.  An amazing member of our Trust and Identity community is Keith Wessel of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Besides being of astounding wit and intellect, Keith is blind and we sought his advice with respect to the Grouper visualization work.  He notes the SVG file format is intended to address the needs of the visually impaired in the coming year or two so we are hopeful to meet Keith’s needs in the future.  After all, it’s all about Keith.  :-)

You should definitely give the new Grouper (2.4) a spin using Docker packaging and provide feedback about the new visualization capability. My personal thanks to Chad Redman, UNC-Chapel Hill and Chris Hyzer, University of Pennsylvania (Grouper lead developer and chief cat herder) for making the visualization real in such a short time. The Grouper team is a great bunch of dedicated and talented people.

Grouper is the open source enterprise access management system that’s part of the InCommon Trusted Access Platform. Over the past few years, the community has watched Grouper gain many terrific new capabilities, not the least of which is the ease of  installation  with the advent of the containerized packaging using Docker. The number of institutions relying on Grouper has grown, as evident from the numerous campus case studies available on the Community Contributions page.

Image displaying a visualization of Grouper
Click on image to view a larger version

Looking for more information on Grouper? Please visit the Grouper wiki. You are invited to join the Grouper email lists using the instructions here