|For legal and security reasons, the Wikimedia Foundation has decided to require two-factor authentication for this role.|
System administrators perform systems administration work on the Wikimedia servers. Their primary task is to ensure that the Foundation's collection of over 900 wikis continues to function smoothly, so that users can continue to read pages and make changes. Aside from maintaining the hardware and software in the Wikimedia server clusters, they are responsible for updating and configuring the version of the MediaWiki software that runs on the Wikimedia servers, and can perform administrative tasks requiring direct server or database access, such as creating new wikis, closing wikis, changing configuration settings, etc.
The Wikimedia Foundation legally controls the servers; ultimately the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees is responsible for determining who has sysadmin access, and how that responsibility is exercised. However, this power is delegated to various Wikimedia Foundation managers. On a day-to-day basis, various system administrators with root or shell access manage the server clusters.
System administrator actions
Although system administrators are often not active on Wikimedia wikis themselves, they may occasionally need to perform actions for technical reasons, such as blocking users or bots that are consuming unacceptable amounts of system resources, or undoing edits that put heavy strain on the servers. Such actions should not be undone without consulting the system administrator.
To facilitate these changes being made in a transparent fashion with no need of the steward flag, all system administrators who ask can be added to the
'sysadmin' global group (automatic members lists). This group allows them to set user rights for any user on any wiki, in the same fashion as stewards. So if a system administrator needs to perform an action restricted to administrators (like editing system messages) on a particular wiki, they can simply grant themselves admin status on that wiki to make the action. In addition, the
'sysadmin' group has access to Special:GlobalGroupPermissions, where system administrators can change the permissions assigned to their global group. So as an alternative, the system administrator could add
editinterface to the global group permissions, and would then be able to edit system messages on all wikis.
System administrators are encouraged to use the latter method of granting permissions, to avoid the lists of administrators/bureaucrats on local wikis becoming cluttered with users who are not 'permanent' members of those groups. These self-promotions may be removed at any time by stewards, as they can be easily restored if needed. However, some system administrators have permissions on certain wikis as a result of due process on that wiki, for instance Tim Starling's adminship on English Wikipedia; such rights should not be removed in this fashion.
Requesting on-wiki access
Approving the on-wiki sysadmin global group to any account (staff and volunteers) is the responsibility of the Trust and Safety team in consultation with Legal at the Foundation. Not all system administrators have this permission. The on-wiki permission can be given to those who already have relevant permission/access in Wikimedia’s technical spaces (i.e. shell access) and can demonstrate a need of doing related on-wiki changes in order to better support the communities.
- The requester needs to submit their request on the Steward requests/Global permissions Meta page. After submitting the request on Meta, the requester needs to send a note with a detailed use case (i.e. what do you need the rights for?) to Trust and Safety through cawikimedia.org for approval.
- Once approved by the Legal department, one of the members from the Trust and Safety team will coordinate with the Stewards and will confirm the approval on the Meta request page.
- Once the approval from the Foundation is secured, the Stewards ensure that the 2FA requirement for the user account is met and grant the rights.
- The Stewards will remove the rights if the user wishes to resign and/or loses access to the server, Foundation asks for removal, or in case of abuse and in an emergency situation (i.e. account compromised).
There are various levels of shell access (through user groups) and many (whether or not overlapping) groups of servers that access is granted to. The canonical list of users with access to the servers is maintained in the Git repository that hosts the Puppet configuration used to configure the servers.
Initially, it was Jimmy Wales who installed software, ran update programs, etc., on the servers. In March 2002, he proposed to give login accounts to some developers ("Trusted user access to machine", Wikitech-l).
System administrators formerly had an important role in the Wikipedia power structure, since they were the only ones able to promote and demote sysops and lock user accounts (before the "block" feature of MediaWiki existed).
Some sysadmins had shell access to the old California servers, but due to inactivity, weren't given shell access on the "new" (since decommissioned) Florida servers. Magnus Manske, April King, Lee Daniel Crocker, Axel Boldt, Matthias Jordan, Neil Harris and Ed Poor were all in this category.