FidoNet History and Operation - Part Two

The second part of The History of Fidonet presented by Tom Jennings

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        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 
        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 

        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 avoid 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 layed 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 thee 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  problem  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 ...


        20 August 1985

        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 coursve,  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 fir  details.  A 
        near  universal  requirement is that you send  your  request  via 
        FidoNet,  not  by  manually;  this  isn't done to  make  you  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 fidonet 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 100/51314/432-4129
        Tom Jennings Fido 125/1415/864-1418
        Ben Baker Fido 100/10314/234-1462
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