FidoNet History and Operation - Part One

The History of Fidonet presented by Tom Jennings

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        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85

                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

                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. 


                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.
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85

                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
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85


                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
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85

                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.


                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
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85

                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.


                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

                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

        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.


                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
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85

        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


                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.


                If you have questions or problems with any part of
        Fido or FidoNet, please ask. Here's where to go for


                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.


                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
        FidoNet History and Operation    8 Feb 85


                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

        Ken Kaplan              Fido #51        314/432-4129
        Tom Jennings            Fido #1         415/864-1418
        Ben Baker               Fido #10        314/234-1462
last updated by MFL on
15-Mar-2010 13:00
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