Fidonet - History
Two separate accounts of Fidonet's history follow. The first is by its creator, Tom Jennings, and the other is taken from the distribution archive of TrapDoor. A more concise account can be found at the Fidonet History Project
FidoNet History and Operation 8 Feb 85 Tom Jennings and many authors Part 1 of 3 This is a long and convoluted document; it has been sorely needed for months now, and it finally got done. FidoNet is growing at a tremendous rate, and newer sysops don't have the information that us oldies (pre Sept 84 sysops) assume everyone knows; hence the history section here. There is a lot of extremely important material covered here that was assumed to be known by all; we are finding out otherwise. This also covers some of the dark mysterious secrets about the magical node numbers, and how the magical node lists appear from nowhere. Those of you that have been FidoNet nodes since way back when, spring and summer of 1984, and watched all this develop (such as it was) in full Technicolor, will know most of this; if you are a relatively new sysop, much of this may come as a suprise. Everyone should read this, experienced sysops, new sysops, and all Fido and FidoNet users. FidoNet is no longer just a piece of software; it has become complex organism. There are about 160 Fidos in FidoNet right now; this does not include Fidos being run as Bulletin Board only systems, just ones that you can converse with over the net. If the average number of users on each system is 300 people, you can start to guess at the scale of things today. HISTORY: When FidoNet was first tested, there were two nodes: myself here at Fido #1 in San Francisco, and John Madill at Fido #2 in Baltimore. John and I did all of the testing and development for the first pass at FidoNet. Its purpose: to see if it could be done, merely for the fun of it, like ham radio. It quickly became useful; instead of trying to call each others' boards up to leave messages, or expensive voice phone calls, Fidonet messages became more or less routine. This was version 7 of Fido sometime in June 84 or so; it did not have routing, file attach, retry control, error handling, cost accounting, log files, or any of the niceties since added. A packet was made, a call placed, the packet transferred, that was it. This was adequate for a month or two, when there were less than 20 nodes. In August of 84, the number of nodes was approaching 30; the net was becoming clogged, believe it or not. FidoNet wasn't too smart about making calls then. With 30 systems, coordination became difficult; instead of a simple voice phone call to the (very few!) sysops to straighten out problems like modems not answering, wrong numbers, clock problems, etc, it took days to get the slightest problem repaired. There were by now six nodes in St. Louis, and Fido #1 was making seperate phone calls for each, when obviously one could be made. Enter the beginnings of routing. The "original" FidoNet was very simple and friendly; you told me at Fido #1 that you had a FidoNet node ready, I put you in the list, with your phone number, and people called up and downloaded the list; done! Well ... at first, "everyone knew each other"; we were in more or less constant contact. However, when the node numbers got into the twenties, there were people bringing up FidoNodes who none of us knew. This was good, but it meant we were not in close contact anymore. The Net started to deteriorate; every single week without fail there was at least one wrong number, usually two. To impress on you the seriousness of wrong numbers in the node list, imagine you are a poor old lady, who every single night is getting phone calls EVERY TWO MINUTES AT 4:00AM, no one says anything, then hangs up. This actually happened; I would sit up and watch when there was mail that didn't go out for a week or two, and I'd pick up the phone after dialing, and was left in the embarrasing position of having to explain bulletin boards to an extremely tired, extremely annoyed person. There were also cases where the new node really wasn't up yet, and the number given was a home phone to be used temporarily, but I'd forget that, and include it in the list anyways. Or the new node wasn't really up yet, and we'd all make calls to it and it would not answer, or worse, the modem would answer but the software wasn't running, and we'd get charged for the call. This obviously could not go on. We had to have some way to make sure that at least the phone numbers were correct! I started a new policy; before giving out a node number and putting it in the list, I had to receive a FidoNet message from the new node, directly. This verified that at least the new Fido was half way running. At the time, Fido had a provision whereby Fido #1 could set the node number remotely; I'd send a message back, and presto! a new node was up. Well, this didn't work properly either; at the same time, the Fido software was changing so rapidly, to accomodate all the changes (literally a version a day for a few weeks there) that I was losing new node requests, wrong numbers caused by illegible handwriting, all sorts of problems. Out of laziness I would still assign nodes "word of mouth", and got in the same trouble as before. The people in St. Louis (Tony Clark, Ben Baker, Ken Kaplan, Jon Wichman, Mike Mellinger) had their local Fidos going strong, and understood what FidoNet did, how it worked, and what it was about. They volunteered to take over the node list, handle new node requests, and leave me with the software. They tightened up on the FidoNet message requirement, and in a few months, had the "error rate" (wrong numbers, etc) down to practically zero, where it is today. Though I did the programming, Ken Kaplan, Ben Baker, and the crowd in St. Louis did much of the design and most of the testing of routing, forwarding, and local nets. They still remain the experts on the intricacies of routing, and help sysops set up local nets. Please keep in mind the entire process, from two nodes to over 50, took only three months! Fifty nodes is more than it sounds; at that level it becomes a large scale project. FidoNet went from about 50 nodes in Sept 84 or so, to the current 160+ in Jan/Feb of 85. FidoNet today is a network quickly approaching the levels of complexity of commercial networks, and has many more capabilities than many "mini" networks, such as USENET, which has no routing or hosts. Only ARPAnet has some of the features of FidoNet. The southern California local network is three levels deep, with hosts in Orange, LA, Ventura, San Berdino and San Diego counties. FidoNet is just too large today to run as an informal club. The potential for error is just too high to include numbers at random within the node list. I imagine we are in a predicament today what the radio ameteur operators had a number of years ago. The requirements for new FidoNet nodes are pretty minimal, and they appear to be arbitrary and harsh if you aren't aware of what's going on. This is to spell them out in detail, so everyone will understand the process. FidoNet'S PURPOSE: Very simple; it is a hobby, a non-commercial network of computer hobbiests ("hackers", in the older, original meaning) who want to play with, and find uses for, packet switch networking. It is not a commercial venture in any way; FidoNet is totally supported by it's users and sysops, and in many ways is similar to ham radio, in that other than a few "stiff" rules, each sysop runs their system in any way they please, for any reason they want. Actually, not as bad as it sounds; basically, politeness as a rule: 1. New nodes, see below. 2. If your system is going to be down for a week or more, please let Fido 51 know. They can take you out of the list while you are gone, so other FidoNet sysops won't be wasting phone calls. 3. If you change your phone number, or decide to stop running Fido, let them know, so other FidoNet sysops won't be wasting phone calls. The thing to keep in mind is that FidoNet's telephone calls to send mail are costing someone money; if you are down just for a night or so, don't worry about it, just make sure your modem doesn't answer. THE NODE LIST Obviously (if you are a FidoNet sysop that is) the node list is a text file containing all the names, phone numbers and other things on each node, and as distributed by Fido 51, routing information for the many local networks. It is a very compact list, and so there is no clue as to how that list is made. Here is the current process for new nodes to obtain a node number, and get into the node list. This assumes you want to run a public access Fido; specialized systems are covered seperately, below. SET UP FIDO Of course, you should get your Fido running first; no sense in trying to run mail if your Fido doesn't run! In your FidoNet area, enter a message for Fido #51, and include the following information: 1. Your boards name 2. City and state 3. Sysops name 4. Board phone number 5. Maximum baud rate; 1200 assumed otherwise 6. Hours of operation; 24 hrs assumed otherwise 7. Way to contact the sysop during the day. This is not absolutely necessary, but it makes it easier if there is some problem. Most of this is pretty obvious. The sysops voice phone number will be kept secret; it will not be given out. It is only used if there is some problem, and a FidoNet message can't be sent for some reason. For Fidos that want to run with an unlisted phone number, a few other things are needed: 8. A public FidoNet to act as mail host 9. The systems actual phone number A host is required for an unlisted number, so that you can receive mail. (If you don't want to receive mail, then there is no reason for you to be part of FidoNet!) The host system will have to have the unlisted phone number, of course. Fido 51 needs to have the phone number also, but it will be kept secret. This is so that they can contact you directly if there is any problem, such as a known bug or a question, or if your host drops out of the network, so there is some way to contact the local nodes. GETTING A NODE NUMBER This is the part that seems so arbitrary if you aren't aware of what's happening. What happens is: you send Fido 51 the message described above. When they receive it, they put the stuff into the node list and fido list, pick you a node number, and mail a copy of it to you the next weekend. This tests your system at the same time; you have to be able to sucessfully send and receive mail in order to get the node number. Out of it, you get a copy of the latest lists. NOTE: Fido 51 does not mail out copies of the lists to everyone on a regular basis; it would mean too many phone calls ($$$ ...). You can get the new node list Friday evening at Fidos 10 and 51, or Fidos 1 and 2 later that weekend or early the next week, and usually most any other busy Fido. If it all works, then 1) you know your system is working 2) Fido 51, the node list keepers, knows it's working 3) the other 160 or so Fido sysops know that your system was working at least as recently as the last node list. Print out the last few weeks nodelists; compare all the changes, not just the additions. This is why node numbers aren't given out "word of mouth", or at other sysops request. It has to be done directly, as a test. WHAT FIDO 51 REALLY DOES Making the node list is more than just typing in the information; they make sure that the information in the list is accurate as possible. This frequently means voice phone calls to double check, or calls to the new system to see what the problem is; sometimes it is as simple as the wrong baud rate, the time wrong on the new system, so that it is not running FidoNet at the right time. Ken Kaplan and Ben Baker do the node list work when they have "spare time"; please be patient! As the number of new nodes increases every week, response time goes up. Currently, the node list is done once a week; new node requests must be received in Wednesday nights mail (by Thursday morning) so that they can work on it Thursday night, and send it out on Friday night, so that you will have it over the weekend. The volume of mail is such that it may take a few days to get out. (Please note that Fido 51 is an unattended node; there is no one there to answer Y)ells unless someone happens to walk by. The machine is located at Data Research Associates, who kindly donated the phone line, and runs on a DEC Rainbow 100+, donated by Digital Equipment Corp.) Fido 51 is an extremely busy system; they receive 125 messages a week through FidoNet alone, so please be patient. CHANGES, MISTAKES AND UPDATES If you ever find wrong information in the node list, please send the information to Fido 51; they will include it in the next list. If you become part of a local net, ie. you have an incoming host, notify them, and it will be included in the node list also. Other changes might be baud rate (got a new modem!) hours of operation, board name or sysop, etc. SOME OTHER THINGS ... If you have questions or problems with any part of Fido or FidoNet, please ask. Here's where to go for problems: HARDWARE, SOFTWARE, PERFORMANCE OR INSTALLATION TROUBLES Call or FidoNet to Fido #1, me, Tom Jennings. FidoNet is best, if possible; that way, I have your "address and phone" handy. If not, then call Fido #1 and leave a message. If you leave it at G)oodbye, when you call back looking for a reply, remember to check in the ANSWERS area; Fido will NOT tell you if there is mail for you, you have to search for it. Fido #1 always has the latest versions of Fido for all hardware supported, available for download. Fido #1 ALWAYS runs one revision later than the released version; it is used to test new features or bug fixes, so that when released they will be working. Check the FIDO download area for the current Fido version. I have nothing to do anymore with maintaining the node list, nor do I hand out node numbers. ROUTING, NODE LIST, LOCAL NET QUESTIONS AND PROBLEMS Fido 51. Since they keep the list, they're the ones to contact for node list problems. If you want advice on how to set up a local net in your area, they can offer help and advice. SPECIALIZED SYSTEMS If you are setting up a private network, and it is to be truly private, what you do with it is your own business. If, however, there is any possiblility that members of your private network may wish to communicate with any members of the public network, you should contact Fido 51 for the allocation of a block of node numbers to be assigned by you to the nodes in your network. This is to avoid node number conflicts upon receipt of FidoNet mail in the public network. LOCAL NETS Neither I nor Ken Kaplan nor Ben Baker "run" FidoNet; local networks such as the one in Southern California and Massachusetts are entirely the responsibility of the sysops in the area; the only thing we ask is that the designated "incoming host" for that area be somewhat reliable, for the obvious reason that it will be receiving lots of phone calls from across the country. As a matter of fact, you are encouraged to form local networks, or join one that exists locally. IT makes it cheaper for other systems to send you mail, and generally streamlines FidoNet operation. Other than that, local nets are totally standalone; that is what they are for! For instance, SoCal can run their net anyway they please; it is their hardware, their phone lines, and their phone bills. It is their investment in work, and they should reap the benefits. If there is a "FidoNet policy", this is it. AND SO ON ... I hope FidoNet is a bit clearer now; if you have any suggestions, or want to volunteer to help, please let us know. Our only interest is in keeping the node list correct and up to date; this simple list is what ties the entire net together. Ken Kaplan Fido #51 314/432-4129 Tom Jennings Fido #1 415/864-1418 Ben Baker Fido #10 314/234-1462
FidoNet History 20 Aug 85 by Tom Jennings and others This is Part Two in the history of FidoNet. It turned out that the original FIDOHIST.DOC (now called FIDOHIST.DC1, or just "Part One") was useful, and many people read it. Unfortunately, by the time everyone read it, it became totally obsolete. Oh well. Here is Part Two. FIDOHIST.DOC covered the early history of FidoNet, why it was done, how it was done, and the reasons for the organization and obscure rituals surrounding node numbers. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you do now, because I'll probably refer to things that won't make any sense otherwise. The original FidoNet was organized very simply; each FidoNet system (each node) had a number that served like a phone number, uniquely identifying it. The NODELIST, generated by the folks in St. Louis that had all FidoNet nodes in it, contains information on all known FidoNet systems. Every system in FidoNet had a current copy of the NODELIST, which served as the directory of systems. (In the interests of brevity I'm leaving out huge amounts of information; I hope you have read FIODHIST.DOC by now ...) FidoNet has been growing steadily since it started by accident in May 84 or so. The node list continued to get out of hand; the original FIDOHIST.DOC was written to try and help smooth things out. It is impossible to overemphasize the amount of work involved in keeping the node list accurate. Basically, the guys in St. Louis were keeping track of hundreds of FidoNet systems in Boston, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm and Sweden, and publishing the results weekly. There has never been such a comprehensive and accurate list of bulletin board systems generated. We talked for many months as to how we could possibly find a solution to the many problems; it was at the point where if a solution was not found in a few months (by Aug. 85 or so) that FidoNet would collapse due to the sheer weight of it's node list. The newsletter, FidoNews, was, and still is, an integral part of the process of FidoNet. FidoNews is the only thing that unites all FidoNet sysops consistently; please keep up to date on it, and stock it for your users if you have the disk space. And contribute if you can! There were many constraints on the kind of things we could do; we had no money, so it had to be done for zero cost. Centralization was out, so obviously localization was in; just how to do it was a total unknown. We thought of going back to having people in different areas handle new node requests in their area, but that always generated confusion as to who a person should go to, how to avoided having someone requesting a node number from different people simultaneously, etc., etc. The old method of routing was very different than the current method, and much more complex; instead of Fido automatically routing to hosts, each sysop had to specify (via the ROUTE.BBS file) how all routing was done in the system. The was done originally by hand, later by John Warren's (102/31) NODELIST program. Then of course there was the problem that no matter what we did, it would not be done overnight. (ha ha.) It would take many weeks at the least, possibly months, so that whatever we did had to be compatible with the old method as well. We went through probably hundreds of ideas in the next few months, some possibly useful, some insane. Eventually the insanity boiled down to a pretty workable system. We chatted by FidoNet and by voice telephone. Eventually, we settled on the two part number scheme, like the phone company does with area codes and exchanges. It accommodated backwards compatibility (you can keep your present node number) and the new "area code" (net number) could be added into an existing field that had been set to zero. (This is why everyone was originally part of net #1). When a fortunate set of circumstances was to bring Ezra Shapiro and me to St. Louis to speak to the McDonnell Douglas Recreational Computer Club on XXXX 11th, we planned ahead for a national FidoNet sysops meeting that weekend. Ken and Sally Kaplan were kind enough to tolerate having all of us in their living room. The people who showed up were (need that list) The meeting lasted ten continuous hours; it was the most productive meeting I (and most others) had attended. When we were done, we had basically the whole thing laid out in every detail. We stuck with the area code business (now known as net and region numbers) and worked out how to break things up into regions and nets. It was just one of those rare but fortunate events; during the morning things went "normally", but in the afternoon solutions fell into place one by one, so that by late afternoon we had the entire picture laid out in black and white. Two or three months of brainstorming just flowed smoothly into place in one afternoon ... What we had done was exactly what we have now, though we changed the name of "Admin" to "Region", and added the "alternate" node and net numbers. (We still seem to be stuck with that terrible and inaccurate word, "manager". Any ideas?) I previously had a buggy test hack running using area codes, and the week after the meeting it was made to conform to what we had talked about that Saturday. When version 10C was done, it accomplished more or less everything we wanted, but it sure did take a long time. 10C was probably the single largest change ever made to Fido/FidoNet, and the most thoroughly tested version. At 10M, there are STILL bugs left from that early version, in spite of the testing. Once the testing got serious, and it looked like we had a shippable version, St. Louis froze the node list, and started slicing it into pieces, to give to the soon-to-be net and region managers. (That word again.) This caused a tremendous amount of trouble for would-be sysops; not only was it difficult enough to figure out how on earth to get a node number, once they did they were told node numbers weren't being given out just yet. Explaining why was even harder, since FIDOHIST.DC2 (ahem) wasn't written yet. (I have to agree, this thing is a little bit late) It was a typical case of those who already knew were informed constantly of updates, but those in the dark had a hard time. Things were published fairly regularly (am I remembering "conveniently" or "accurately" on this part?) Eventually, 10C was released, and seemed to work fairly well, ignoring all the small scale disasters due to bugs, etc. We couldn't just swap over to the new area code business until very close to 100% of all Fidos were using the new version. This was (for me) an excruciating period, basically a "hurry up and wait" situation. There had not been a node list release for a month or two, and for all practical purposes it looked like FidoNet had halted ... Finally, on June 12th, we all swapped over to the new system; that afternoon, sysops were to set their net number (it had been "1" for backwards compatibility), copy in the new node list issued just for this occasion, and go. I assumed the result was going to be perpetual chaos, bringing about the collapse of FidoNet. Almost the exact opposite was true; things went very smoothly (yes, there were problems, but when you consider that FidoNet consists of microcomputers owned by almost 300 people who had never even talked to each other ...) Within a month or so, just about every Fido had swapped over to the area code, or net/node architecture. With a few exceptions, things went very smoothly. No one was more surprised than pessimistic I. At this time, August, I don't think there is a single system still using the old node number method. This is all well and fine as far as the software goes, but it made a mess for new sysops. For us sysops who have been around for a while, there was no great problem, as we saw the changes happen one by one. However, new sysops frequently came out of the blue; armed with a diskette full of code, they attempted to set up a FidoNet node. Actually, I don't understand how anyone does it. The information needed is not recorded in any place that a non sysop could find. On top of that, most of it is now totally wrong! If you follow the original instructions, it said "call Fido #1 ..." if you found a real antique, or "call Fido #51 ..." if it is more current. Of course now it tells you to find your region manager. "Region manager???" Well, a list of region managers was published in FidoNews, but unless you read FidoNews, how does anyone ever find out? I'll probably never know. ANYWAYS ... the original reason for all the changes was to DECENTRALIZE FidoNet. It just wasn't possible for Ken Kaplan to keep accurate, up to date information on every Fido in the US and Europe. The decentralization has been more or less a total success. The number of problems introduced were negligible compared to the problems solved, and even most new problems are by this time solved. It is interesting to note that with the hundreds of systems there are today, the national FidoNet hour is less crowded than it was when there were only 50 nodes. Please, keep in mind that no one has done anything like this before, we are all winging it, and learning (hopefully) as we go. Please be patient with problems, none of us is paid to do this, and it is more and more work as time goes on. Somehow it seems to all get done ... HOW TO GET A NODE NUMBER AND ALL THAT This is by necessity a very general idea of how it's done, and you were warned earlier that this may be obsolete this very minute; with that, here's the "current" process for starting up a new FidoNet node. You can of course skip all or part of this if you've done this before; if you haven't, well, be prepared for a lot of searching and asking questions. Of course, you need to have your Fido BBS system running first. It's probably best that you play with it for a while, and get some experience with how it all works, and whether you have the patience to run a BBS. It can get exasperating, and you will never find time to use the computer ever again. Obtain the most recent copy of the nodelist possible; this may take some searching. If you get totally lost, you can always contact Fido 125/1 or Fido 100/51; though these are very busy systems, they both usually have the very latest of anything, and can direct you to the right place. The big problem here is to find out if you are in a net or not, and if not, then who your region manager is. If you are in a large city (Los Angeles, Cincinnati, etc) then there is probably a net in your area. Look through the node list (use the N)odebook command in Fido, or a text editor) for the right area code or city. If there is no net in your area, then you are part of a region. This is a little harder, because regions are large, and sometimes cover many states. Look at all the regions in the node list, you should find a region that fits you. Once you find this, you have to contact the net or region manager to get your node number. Exactly how this is done depends on who the manager is, and how sticky they are for details. A near universal requirement is that you send your request via FidoNet, not by manually; this isn't done to make your life difficult, but to ensure that your system is really working right. IF you manage to get a FidoNet message to the manager, its usually safe to assume that you're system is working OK. If you get a reply in return, then you know both directions work. It is usually each sysops' responsibility to go get the latest nodelist and newsletters; they are not distributed to all systems because of the expense. (Though, I'm trying to get them distributed to more places than they are now, it's sometimes very difficult to get a copy of the nodelist!) Again, read the FidoNews newsletter regularly; it is about the only way to stay in contact with the rest of the net. Programs, problems, services, bugs and interesting announcements can always be found there. FidoNews articles don't come out of thin air; send in anything you think might be of interest. They don't have to be lifetime masterpieces, or even well written. Please remember the entire network is made of the sysops; there is no central location from which good things come, the net consists entirely of the sysops and their contributions. If you don't do it, chances are no one else will! Tom Jennings 20 Aug 85 Ken Kaplan Fido 100/51 314/432-4129 Tom Jennings Fido 125/1 415/864-1418 Ben Baker Fido 100/10 314/234-1462 [end of Part 2 of 3]
FidoNet History 30 Jul 93 [Part 3 of 3] Date: 09 Aug 93 20:29:00 From: Bart Mullins To: All Subj: FidoNet History ______________________________________________________________________ Hello All! A few days ago, some folks asked questions about the history of fidonet. Well John Madill is working with Infinite Technologies and I got the story straight from him. I re-post it here with his permission. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date and Time: 07-30-1993 at 15:43:02 Originated By: Scott Paterson (rsvp @ novell) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Hey, John Madill was famous in San Jose about two weeks ago. He made the front page of our Computing section in the San Jose Mercury News (it's nice to have a newspaper that has a whole section each week dedicated to Computing). Anyway, it spoke of the inception of FidoNet but didn't give any specific information on where you could find out more. How about it. -Scott ==================== R. Scott V. Paterson Novell Messaging ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 7/30/93 Time: 11:21 PM ---------------------------------------------------------------------- To: Mullins,Bart (Bart Mullins @ MWRS.12MWRSS) From: John Madill (John @ Infinite) Subject: FidoNet History ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Message: Originated By: John Madill (JOHN @ INFINITE) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, Scott, thanks for that nice intro!
If it's the same article that appeared here (by Steve Snow, Knight Ridder), I could comment that I only had 1 small mention, and it basically stated that I was a "co-worker", but thanks for using up my 15 minutes of fame! Back in the early 80's, I was working at a ComputerLand in Baltimore (not Boston ... Tom Jennings was living in San Francisco, but he was working for Phoenix Technologies in Boston.) For those of you that care to remember, way back then there was a product that was introduced called the IBM PC ... which everyone wanted, but was in short supply. As an alternative, we were trying very hard to sell DEC Rainbows, which weren't exactly IBM compatible. Since I had purchased a Rainbow myself (really *smart* move ... NOT), and had an interest in BBSes and telecommunications, I started searching for a BBS and Telecomm software for the DEC. After visiting *many* BBSes and asking for help, I was beginning to fear that I'd have to write the stuff myself. Fortunately, someone recommended that I call a board in SF called "Fido's BBS". Trivia: The name Fido came from the mishmash of 68000 hardware that Tom was using to run the BBS on ... a real mongrel. How many 68000 systems did you ever hear of that had DOS as the operating system? Since Tom did implementations of DOS for Phoenix, he wrote a version for that system. Anyways ... I called Tom, we talked, and I found out that he actually did the original BIOS and DOS for the DEC Rainbow, and converted his comm programs (TelLink & MiniTel) to run on the DEC so he could port stuff over to the Rainbow. Now, I had a comm program. One of the things that we decided to do was to convert Fido's BBS to run on the DEC. Only one small problem: I had the DEC, and Tom didn't. We were stuck ... had to work together. As a result of this, we ended up working together to enhance Fido, and spent a lot of time "Yelling at the Sysop" ... chatting thru the keyboards back and forth. (This is NOT a recommended means of communicating via long distance, especially when we could have hung up, and called via voice.) After many gigantic telephone bills, we pretty much agreed that there *might* be a better way. The problem was that I'd call his BBS to leave a message, and he'd see me there, so we'd chat ... or vice- versa. Since the key was to deposit e-mail at another BBS, the solution seemed obvious. Make Fido call the other Fido ... deliver mail, and hang up. There were only 2 Fidos at that time, Tom's and Mine, so although we figured we add in a couple of more, we didn't think we'd need much sophistication for addressing ... just add in a "FidoNet" message area, secure it, and assign node numbers. Ask the user for the Node number, let the FidoNet module look up the phone number, and call off peak to save $. Well, word got around pretty fast, and nodes started springing up all over. That's when we got interested in the routing ... allowing the creation of centralized hubs, and piggy backing mail to nodes within a local call to a single node thru that node. We actually started dreaming one day of linking coast to coast only thru local phone calls! (I wonder if you can do that today?) Tom took on the responsibility of dishing out the node numbers - this was the only way we could eliminate duplicates - an since we only allocated 3 positions for node numbers (nnn), soon we had a *big* problem. We had close to 1000 nodes and growing. Now what? We took the opportunity to alter the Nodelist format so that we had regions and nodes within regions ... (region-node), divided the USA into regions, and appointed Sysops as "region leaders" who could give out node numbers and maintain the nodelist for that region. These lists were then distributed, and merged together at each site by add-in nodelist generators. Another stage in development was when we went international. We decided to add in Zones (Zone-Region-Node) *before* we ran out of Regions. This was pretty cool ... for a while ... and then IFNA got formed. The International FidoNet Association ... oh boy! Enter politics. For those of you that have never been there, you really don't know what missed. Mandates that the entire structure, protocol, and operation be documented ... and distributed ... all from people that had nothing to do with the design, creation or maintenance of the FidoNet software. Another demand by IFNA was that no changes could be made to the FidoNet system without approval by the Technical committee. A lot of really neat things came out of the members (not committees) ... like Echos, which are similar to Discussion lists (library@infinite and library@novell) and listservers on the internet. We also saw the creation of the internet gateway to FidoNet. People got upset ... alternate nets got created (AlterNet, etc.), and people left. What started as a grass-roots communications network grew rapidly out of control due to internal political struggles. I got disillusioned, and resigned from zone 1, region 2, node number 2. (I still love e-mail, though! ) P.S. Anyone out there know where Tom Jennings is? Perhaps we need to get his expertise involved with MHS! ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Well that's it folks. Hope it answers some questions. Cheers, Bart * Origin: The Unofficial BBS (1:387/615) -30- [end of Part 3 of 3]
Back in 1984, the sysop of a private bulletin board system in the United States of America, Tom Jennings, had an idea: He felt it would be nice if users of his system could send messages not only to each other, but also to users of a friend's bbs. With this in mind, he sat down and started programming... After a short while, the first FidoNet mailer and bbs, "Fido", was born. At night, "Fido" would pack all the messages destined for other systems, call them and deliver the mail. There, another "Fido" would happily accept the mail packets, unpack them and pass the messages on to the individual users of that system.
The idea received massive feedback, and more and more sysops wanted to take part in the big mail exchange. In just three months about 50 other systems joined in, and in the beginning of 1985 there already were 150 "FidoNet nodes". FidoNet was born.
The initial software was not comfortable enough for a number of programmers, and so countless utilities and tools arose, to make mail transfer more efficient and thus, cheaper. Nowadays, we find lots of different FidoNet programs for various computers and operating systems, with sonorous names like BinkleyTerm, FrontDoor, D'Bridge, Dutchie, TrapDoor, Opus, Confmail, QMail, TosScan, Chameleon, GoldED, to mention a few.
In the beginning, it was easy to know who operated what system, and what telephone number to call to reach a particular node. As the number of systems in FidoNet grew, it was becoming harder and harder to stay up-to-date. The routing of messages was getting more complicated as well. A new numbering scheme was developed, and therefore today's FidoNet addresses consist of four parts: Zone, Net, Node and (optionally) Point.
The data for all FidoNet systems is kept in a single database, the "nodelist". It lists all the details of every node, such as the bbs name, the sysop's name, the telephone number, modem flags, and more. And it lists the FidoNet address (the node-number) for each node. Every week, the nodelist is updated; closed systems are removed, new participants added, telephone numbers get updated. All this is done with more tools and utilities.
Today, FidoNet consists of almost 10000 nodes with an uncountable number of users. There is private mail between users (Netmail), and there are public conferences (Echomail areas), some of which are distributed over the globe. There are conferences about cooking, about politics, sports, and much more. And about computers, of course, and programming and telecommunications. There are local conferences in the language of that particular region, and there are international areas (mostly in English).
Programs and other files are also distributed via FidoNet, especially if they are Public Domain, Freeware or Shareware. There are excellent distribution systems, where a programmer of a utility just has to pack it into a compressed archive (together with the documentation), send it to the next coordinator, and the file will be moved around the world within a few days. And what's more, the software that allows you to run a FidoNet node is distributed via exactly this method -- it is usually available for free.
There is another nice point about FidoNet, which allows normal bbs users to save telephone charges: when reading or writing messages, you usually have to stay online (connected to the other modem) all the time, and during all this time, your telephone company is happily cashing away... Because of that, FidoNet offers the option of "Points". With a point system, you can pick up all waiting mail in compressed form when calling your "boss system". After that, you can read and write messages offline, without your money ticking away. The ones you write are later packed and sent to your "boss" at the next call. From there, the mail travels out into the rest of FidoNet. As a bonus, you will obtain your own FidoNet-address, which is the node number of your boss, plus a dot (".") and your point-number appended, i.e., Point 24 of node 2:310/3 becomes 2:310/3.24. That's also the reason for the name "point" - because of the separating dot.
An additional feature available to point systems (compared to normal bbs users) is "file requests". With file requests, new programs and files that are available at the boss system can be "requested" and will be sent automatically during the next call.
A last word on the organization of FidoNet: The sysops of FidoNet nodes are usually individuals, who run their node just for fun. It is their hobby, and they pay for their usually high telephone bills out of their own pocket and partially from donations from users and points. None of the FidoNet coordinators receives a reward/payment for his work or his expenses.
Still, FidoNet works, and it works well. Sure, once in a while, the other node will quit working, just because a sysop went for a holiday and his machine decided to crash as soon as he closed the door, but overall, the network runs fine.
(This history text was taken from the documentation of TrapDoor, thanks Max)
"Fido", "FidoNet" and the dog-with-diskette are U.S. registered trademarks of Tom Jennings
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