A short history lesson will help in understanding FidoNet. This is being written in my/our own words after living in Fidonet for some years and reading more about what took place before we joined. What we read is known as FIDOHIST.TXT and is available in several "formats" under several names. It is available here in its "raw" format as FIDOHIST.ARC. Now, with that said, here is the basic historical story. There are links at the bottom that will take you to the text of the documents in FIDOHIST.ARC.
Tom Jennings was in San Francisco, and John Madill was in Baltimore, both working on the Fido BBS software. In the spirit of finding out if it could be done, they decided to add code to the system to support a dialup connection (AKA POTS) with no human intervention during the wee hours when the sysops were sleeping and the systems were free. This quickly became a useful function, since both systems and both sysops were busy and it was a convenient method of exchanging information.
From this chance beginning in May 1984, growth was phenomenal. By August 1984, there were 30 nodes; by September there were 50. By February 1985, there were 160 systems, and a group of sysops in St. Louis, MO had taken over the administration of the list of systems. This list is known as the nodelist. In June 1985 the network converted to a two-part addressing scheme to support the growth. Originally, each system had a node number. The new two-part addressing scheme introduced networks (AKA net) and grouped nodes within a net. The new addressing scheme used the network number and the system's node number as the basis for the individual system's address. Thus, node 42 in Net 123 now had an address of 123/42. By 1987 there were over 2000 nodes, and change continued with a zone-based addressing scheme to facilitate communication with systems overseas in Europe and Australia. Like the addition and implementation of nets, Fidonet came up with a "zone model" that covered the entire world with 6 basic entities. These zones are oriented around the major geographic and continental boundaries. Zone 1 is North America. Node 42 in Net 123 in North America now had an address of 1:123/42. Node 42 in Net 123 in Europe got an address of 2:123/42. In 1995, the size of the network had reached 35000 nodes and the size of the nodelist was over 2Megs. Before the network started loosing nodes, it had attained ~40000 nodes world wide.
Fidonet has always been a hobby network. That is, it has been run by sysops (pronounced sis ops) as a hobby. Everything about Fidonet has been free except for the cost of doing it. Like any hobby, there is a cost involved. In Fidonet, that cost has been the cost of the phone calls to make the connections. If it was a long distance call, then the sysop incurred a long distance call charge from the phone company. There are no fees involved with being in Fidonet. The only costs are those which you, as a hobby sysop, incur in the pursuit of your hobby.
Now, with the internet being so accessible, Fidonet technology is slowly taking advantage of the fast and generally inexpensive transport meduim that the internet offers. There are systems that use their normal Fidonet technology coupled with some inovative and unique ideas and make "phone calls" over the internet. As far as the mailer software is concerned, it is talking to a regular modem on a regular phone line. In reality, these systems are using virtual ports and virtual modems. In other words, these items are being emulated by software. What is really happening is that a connection to another Fidonet system on the internet is taking place but the software doesn't even know. All it knows is that it is receiving and sending the proper FTN communications packets.
An unfortunate side effect of the amazing growth of the internet and the technology that it offers is that Fidonet has shrunk in size considerably. It still has over 20000 members two years later. At the time of the initial creation of this page, it was the beginning of December, 1997. At it's peak, Fidonet's nodelist file topped out at close to 4Megs in size. Now, five years later, March of 2002, the fidonet nodelist is a paltry 1Meg in size. Fidonet Zone 1 has only about 700 nodes. That's a huge change from the almost 40000 that it once contained.
A lot has changed, that is for sure. Fidonet is making some headway at embracing the internet and it's protocols. One can use telnet to access some BBS' and FTN mailers. Other protocols have been invented and introduced that are quite a bit better than telnet. One of the more popular ones is known as BinkP and there are server and client daemons available for most operating system platforms. Here at WPUSA, we run the OS/2 version of BinkD in conjunction with the DOS and OS/2 versions of FrontDoor. It takes several "glue" programs but we do have the capability of allowing one to gather their FTN mail via FrontDoor by telnet, via BinkD by BinkP and even via FTP.
"What is this nodelist?" you ask. "Why does Fidonet need a list of all systems?" You see, Fidonet is not a fully connected real-time network like the internet. Each machine in Fidonet has to directly connect to any other Fidonet system it wants to transfer mail or files with. The nodelist is Fidonet's phone book. It lists every fullnode system with it's phone number, location, sysop name, system name, Fidonet address, and a lot more. Take a look at the links on the FIDONET page and you'll locate a wealth of additional information pertaining to Fidonet.