Glossary of FidoNet terms

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Introduction

This glossary is not meant to be a definitive guide to the various terms associated with FidoNet.  All this is supposed to achieve, is to let someone new to FidoNet work out what the terms used mean for them.  This means that there are probably instances where I haven't used the most stringent definition available, and have not explained all of the related detail.  If you think that I have missed something out, or made an error then please mail me, all suggestions are welcome - but please do bear in mind who these pages are aimed at.

What is a BBS?

BBS stands for Bulletin Board System.  As far as hardware goes, it consists of a computer running some BBS software, and at least one modem connected to a phone line.  Most popular BBS's use a dedicated phone line, and the computer will be running the BBS (and mail handling) software and nothing else.  When you first call a BBS you are greeted with a log in prompt for your user name.  When you type it in (providing that there is no-one with that name already using the system) you will be asked if you are a new user.  This will be followed by a series of questions, for example, what computer do you have, when is your birthday, and what is your phone number (you may be called to check that you have given the right number).  All this information is to establish that you are who you say you are (for reasons explained in a moment).  You will then have to think of a password, this is to make sure that only you can access the BBS using your account.  For this reason use a sensible password (DON'T use people's names), and make sure that you remember it.  Most terminal software you use to access a BBS system with, will be able to remember your password for you (only useful when you know that no-one else can use your machine).

When you have done all this you will have various messages to read, explaining how the BBS works, rules that you will have to obey, when the users meet up for a drink and that sort of thing.  On the board you will have various conferences available, both local (only available to other users of that BBS), and networked ones.  If you have never posted before, it is recommended that you send a message introducing yourself to a local conference, so that if you have made any errors against convention (like posting in all capitals, excess quoting of another's message, high ascii) you can have them explained without annoying anyone.  You will also have some files available to you that other users have uploaded.

To start with, you will have only limited access (perhaps 15 mins access time per day, no write access to network areas), this will change when the sysop (system operator) verifies you.  This means he will look over your details and perhaps phone you up (although this is pretty rare - and has never happened to me).  This higher access will allow you to download more files (programs, humorous text files, pictures, icons, music, etc), give you longer access (1hr per day is typical), and write to different message areas, including letting you post on fidonet and other networks.  To increase your access level further (to get even more files) you will generally have to upload (put on the BBS) some new files, although this is getting more unusual as file networks make finding new files harder.

It should now be obvious why it is so essential that the sysop knows that you are who you say you are.  If you could have multiple accounts then you could get more time and more file access.  Many BBS's allow you to become a subscriber for a small fee, this goes towards the costs of running the system, and allows you unlimited (or very generous) access.

As well as traditional text based BBS you will also find graphical based systems that allow background downloading, on-line chat, and messages (often these messages also allow for different fonts, colours, in-line graphics, and attached files) all at the same time in separate windows.  These system are far easier to use, but you need specialised software to access them (which is available free of charge for download off the BBS), and you tend to spend longer on-line.  The one that I have used is Firstclass software - which I would recommend to be tried at least once, and is available for Macintosh, and PC's.

At first you will call many different BBS's, particularly at weekend when the costs are a lot lower, and you will no doubt find some that you like better than others.  Eventually you will find a BBS that you are happy with, and you will become a regular user, getting all your mail through that BBS, and becoming known by other users of that system.

What is FidoNet?

FidoNet is a worldwide amateur run network that allows, for no more than the cost of a local phone call, access to conferences on many subjects, private mail to other fidonet users, and semi-reliable email through free gateways.  The basic idea, which originated in America, is to allow BBS's to share mail between each other.  At a certain time (National mail hour - generally about two in the morning) BBS's around the country phone up (ideally on a local number) other BBS's and swap mail with each other in a highly optimised manner.  All the mail is compressed, so that phone bills are kept to a minimum, and the network is organised in a hierarchy so that mail is passed around in an efficient manner.  Although this means that holes can appear where mail goes missing, and a BBS can find itself without any mail, it does mean that when the system is working, sysops (the people who run a BBS) can afford to run it out of kindness and interest.

What is the difference between Usenet, and FidoNet? Well fidonet is generally distributed (and more importantly accessed) via a phone system, so that the number of people using it is lower, and the quality of posts are higher.  Also fidonet is like a club in a lot of respects, people realise that it isn't their god given right to use the system, and indeed it is possible to be thrown off fidonet for abusive behaviour.  The general motto behind posting on FidoNet is "don't offend, and don't be too easily offended", and indeed this is generally the first rule of many echos (conferences) that are moderated.  On a moderated Usenet conference all mail posted to it passes through a moderator (or team of moderators) to make sure that is contains no inappropriate material (abusive personal attacks, and subjects that are "off topic" - i.e. not meant to be discussed in this particular conference).  On fidonet it is posted, and if it is off-topic or offensive, you will receive a warning from the moderator, and persistent bad behaviour will result in you being banned.

It is possible to access Fidonet through the Internet although generally you have to pay (keeping a permanent connection to the Internet isn't cheap), and if you are on Fidonet you can usually send email to Internet users.  Why use Fidonet? Well it is cheap, with many different mail systems available to cut down the time you spend on the phone (it's possible to get over 100 hundred messages in the UK for the minimum 5p calling cost via BT), and there is no joining fee.  It is friendly, if you can't get the system to work then there will be plenty of people there willing to help you out, and flames (personal attacks) are very rare.  Certainly, cost is one of the main factors to consider, all you have is the phone bill, which if you don't start downloading files you can keep very small.  To get an Internet connection through something other than a university or company account will put you back at least nine pounds per month before you actually make any phone calls.

Finally there are many different, smaller, networks that use the same technology (programs and protocols) to distribute mail.  Indeed many BBS's carry several different networks, all of which you can access with the same software and swap mail with in the same phone call.

For a guide to what software you need to get started, check out the software page.

Who is a sysop?

Sysop stands for SYStem OPerator.  The sysop is the person who is responsible for the running of the BBS, and who is also held responsible for the actions of his/her users.  The sysop is often the person who owns the hardware that the BBS uses, and pays out of their own pocket for the dedicated telephone line and numerous telephone calls needed to swap mail with other BBS's.  Sometimes the original sysop will find that running a BBS is taking up to much of their time, and they will appoint co-sysops who will help out where they can.  Setting up and maintaining a BBS is harder than at first seems apparent!  A sysop will expect to get numerous messages from their users (software problems, asking for help, congratulating the board, new ideas for the board - the list is endless), they will also have to keep a check on how much disk space they have (files and countless message conferences take up a lot of room), and several other tasks.  All of this is outside of trying to improve and change the setup, and the on-going worry about cost.

You may wonder, with all this going on, why people bother to become sysops in the first place!  Well despite the cost and hard work, they enjoy it.  They know that there are many people from all over the country that appreciates their hard work, and that it is because of them that fidonet and other amateur networks actually work.

What is a Modem?

MODEM stands for MOdulator-DEModulator.  All it consists of, is a box or PC card that connects your computer to other computers via the phone network.  You tell the computer the phone number which you wish to call and the modem will then dial, negotiate a speed to connect at, and let you control the computer at the other end.  This is an essential piece of equipment as far as fidonet goes.  It is this that lets you connect to a BBS in the first place.

Modems are capable of different speeds of connection, and the general rule for purchasing one is "go as fast as you can afford", it will soon pay off if you start to download files.  28.8K is now the standard, although some BBS's will only support 14.4K or less.  However, when two modems connect they negotiate with each other the maximum speed they can achieve, so you don't have to worry about compatibility.  If someone offers you a modem second hand for a very low price make sure that it is at least capable of 2400bps (denoted by v22bis).  The reason for this is that many BBS's no longer accept connections at speeds lower than this, and so what may seem like a cheap way to get introduced to comms may turn out to be a waste of money.

Finally, a note on the running costs of using a modem: The amount that BT charge you for using your modem is exactly the same as if you were making a phone call of the same duration to the same location.  This may seem an obvious point, but I have known many people who thought it would cost more.  To try and keep the costs down, you can follow some simple guidelines.  Only call in the cheap rate period (6pm till 8am for BT), try to find a local BBS and use that for downloading large files, remember that (for BT) weekend calls are a lot cheaper - especially for long distance.  The easiest way to reduce your telephone costs though is to use either an offline reader or a point system.

What is an OLR?

OLR stands for Offline Reader, and it is the simplest way available to reduce the cost of using Fidonet.  The idea is simple: instead of phoning the BBS, reading through all your messages, replying to them, and then logging off, you do all of the reading and replying offline.  When you are using an OLR all you do is call the BBS, select the correct menu option, and you can then download all your messages in a compressed form, upload all your replies from the last time you were on, and log off.  You then decompress the messages (done automatically), and read through them and replying at your leisure; next time you call your new replies are uploaded.

To actually do all of this, you need two pieces of software: an Archiver and an OLR that the particular BBS supports.  To find the software that you need look at the software page.  There are different types of OLR available the most common being QWK, Bluewave, and XRS although others are also used.  To find out what is available, you will have to call the BBS you use the most and search through for what are commonly called "doors".  Select this option and you will be able to see which programs the BBS supports.

What is a terminal?

A terminal program is an application that lets you call a BBS and interact with it.  You will only see crude graphics and text on most systems, and it is because of this that you can connect any machine to any other.  More advanced systems to allow you to have different fonts, in line graphics, and more are available, the disadvantage being that you can only access these systems if you have a supported computer.  To see some more on this kind of system check out Firstclass which is available for Mac's and PC's.

You want the terminal program you choose to have certain features at a basic level: support for Zmodem (which is a way of getting and sending files to a remote system), ANSI graphics (makes the BBS a little more attractive), and the ability to remember passwords.  There are many other options available, and which terminal program you use, is a matter of personal choice.  For most systems you will have to use the settings of 8N1, i.e.  8 data bits, no parity, and one stop bit.  You don't have to understand what this means, but at some point you will have to enter this into your terminal program.  To find a selection of terminal programs for your computer check the software page.

What is a point?

A point system is a way to reduce the cost of phone calls to a minimum, and to increase your control of the system.  When you have a point setup you get a unique address (eg. mine is 2:250/107.124), and you can interact with fidonet without having to go through the BBS's menus.  The entire process of mail is automated.  All you have to do is say "get my mail", and the computer will automatically call the system you use, send messages, receive new messages, and log out without any user interaction.  So why isn't everyone using this system? Well, it is not an easy thing to setup on many platforms, and the sysop of the system you are using must trust you enough to let you use the system.  I would not recommend anyone to start with a point system.  But, when you have been using fidonet for a while, and you know your way around a bit more it is worth asking your sysop about it.  He or she should be able to help you, tell you either what software to get, or who can help you get setup.  If you want to become a point, and your sysop has given you your point number, but you can't find anyone to help you with the software then check out the software page.

What is an Archiver?

An archiver is a piece of software that can reduce the size of a file you are transferring.  When an archiver compresses the file it takes the files content and works out a more efficient way of storing it, making use of any patterns in the data.  When the file has reached it's destination it can then be decompressed into it's original form, so that it can be used.  There are many different techniques for doing this, and so different file formats have been born.  The most common of these are LHA (LHZ), ZIP, and ARC.  You will also find several others in use.  To find the software you need to handle these files try the software page.

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Last Modified: Sat, 02 Oct 2004 21:34:15 BST

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Copyright 2013 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at owlfish.com