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P. A. Stonemann, CSS Dixieland
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CSS Dixieland

Probing the depths of knowledge

These essays by P. A. Stonemann, CSS Dixieland, cover a wide range of historical, philosophical, scientifical and technical subjects. Each page deals with a particular topic, divided into sections and explained by itself. Every page shows at its top hyper links to every other page. The Start page also has short descriptions of the other pages. CSS Dixieland expresses gratitude to the readers that make this work meaningful.

This Web document has been tested with KDE Konqueror, graphic HTML interpreter for Linux. It may not be rendered correctly by other graphic HTML interpreters. It will probably be correct when rendered by text-only HTML interpreters (visual, aural, or Braille tactile interpreters), but if feasible, please use KDE Konqueror. Uniform Resource Locator:
https://konqueror.org/

Internet Gopher Protocol page

The most simple and uniform hyper text protocol, free of commercialism

Walkyrie who takes our dead heroes to Walhalla in Asgard
Walkyrie who takes our dead heroes to Walhalla in Asgard.
Wagner Frost Illustration

Sections in this page

  Introduction, chronology of hyper text
  History: past and present of Gopher
  Resources available for Gopher
  Gopher logs and Web logs

Technical note: In languages other than English or Latin, but which use mainly Latin characters, some characters are taken from other alphabets, or some Latin characters are modified with diacritic marks for representing different phonemic sounds or other orthographic conventions of those languages. Those characters, when used in this document, have been encoded as entities of Hyper Text Mark-up Language or sometimes in Unicode UTF-8. Therefore computers using other character encodings may render some characters inaccurately, but hopefully, it will still be possible to read non-English words without too much difficulty.

 

Introduction, chronology of hyper text

The idea of hyper text is surprisingly simple: to facilitate the location and retrieval of any information or piece of knowledge. A forerunner of the hyper text idea is the standard reference or citation. On paper this can be done by indicating, for instance, the book, chapter, section... of a text that bears relation to the subject that is being discussed, or by pointing to the page and line of a specific edition of that book.

With computers, that reference or citation can be done as well. The pointing link and the pointed resource may be both located inside a single isolated computer, or in a small local area network with a few computers, or in a wide area network with many computers, or in the entire planet with millions of computers or other connected devices. Even in outer space, by means of communications to or from astronautical vehicles.

The efficiency of the process will depend on various factors, such as the reliability of the computers and of their connections, the interoperability of the methods being used, the expertise of those who write the hyper links and of those who read them, the sustained storage of linked resources in a stable location, and other factors. In ideal circumstances, computers can reach a needed information in an instant.

Internet is since the late XX century and as of 2016 the most common medium. All kinds of text, even full books, can be read through Internet using different protocols: Wide Area Information System Protocol, File Transfer Protocol, Gopher Protocol, Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and its Hyper Text Mark-up Language (or other standard languages of the World Wide Web), or by some other protocols. Of those, only Gopher and HTTP-HTML (WWW) are forms of hyper text generally available. WAIS or FTP are not hyper text, properly speaking, although they can of course indicate the location of a resource and the method for retrieving a copy of that resource.

Chronology of hyper text

About 1945 Doctor Vannevar Bush (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) published the essay 'As We May Think', where he describes his vision for a computer aided hyper text system that he named 'Memex'. His description of browsing the Memex for finding linked information includes the ability of easily inserting new information by its different users, thus adding to the growing knowledge base of Memex, as the hyper text system does today in the Gopher Protocol, or in the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and Mark-up Language used by the World Wide Web.

In 1963 Douglas Engelbart (Stanford Research Institute, Director of the Bootstrap Institute) created with Joseph Licklider the Augmentation Research Center. He later helped to develop hyper text.

In 1967 Ted Nelson coined the term 'hyper-text' in his book 'Literary Machines and Dream Machines', which described hyper media and advocated for a global hyper text system that he named 'Xanadu'.

In 1969 began the distribution of 'Request for Comments', or RFC, method developed by S. Crocker (U. C. L. A.) for interchange of ideas and proposals among researchers. Initially distributed by the physical postal service, the Requests For Comments became commonly distributed in later years through File Transfer Protocol. Since the 1990's, they can also be accessed as hyper text documents via World Wide Web. They are edited and coordinated by Jon Postel (Stanford Research Institute), and have become the technical standard on which Internet is based.

On 2nd September 1969 Leonard Kleinrock performed the first transmission of a short distance message between two computers, both inside U. C. L. A. and connected by a 5 metre cable. The computers interchanged meaningless data while about twenty people watched the historical event, which MARKS THE START OF INTERNET. Because of its success, the Centre for Network Measuring of Leonard Kleinrock at U. C. L. A. was chosen for the installation of the first Interface Message Processor of Heart and Newman, THUS CREATING THE FIRST COMPUTER HOST-SERVER. Days later, the Human Intellect project of Douglas Engelbart (that included NLS, a forerunner of hyper text) was installed at the Stanford Research Institute, becoming the second computer host-server. Stanford maintained the Host Name list for the mapping of directory and addresses of Request For Comments.

In July 1972 Lawrence Roberts added to electronic post the functions 'List', 'Read selectively', 'Save', 'Forward' and 'Reply', making the SMTP and POP Protocols the most important Arpanet and Internet applications until the mid 1990's, with File Transfer Protocol and Telnet Protocol following suit, all of them overpassed since the mid 1990's only by Hyper Text Transfer Protocol.

In 1981 Ted Nelson made Xanadu operational, an early hyper text system.

In 1985 appeared 'Xerox Note Cards', a hyper text system based on Lisp programming language.

In 1986 'Owl Guide', professional hyper text system for large scale applications, inspired on Xerox Note Cards.

In 1987 'Hyper Card', programme to create graphical hyper text documents, by Bill Atkinson (Macintosh). Mister Atkinson was also known for 'Mac Paint', bitmap painting programme. Hyper Card featured bitmapped graphics, form fields, scripting, and full text search. Hyper Card spawned imitators such as 'Asymmetrix Toolbook', that created drawn graphics and was executable in the IBM Personal Computer.

Also in 1987 there was a workshop on hyper text systems in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, helping to form Siglink in 1989 (later renamed ACM Sig Web), organisation that has for many years centred attention with its annual conferences on most of the academic research on hyper text.

In 1989 came the proposal of a World Wide Web, system of linked information able to work with different kinds of computers, by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau (Centre d'Etudes sur la Recherche Nucleaire, Genevre, Switzerland). Most scientists of C. E. R. N. used TeX or Post Script for their documents at that time, others used Unics Troff, a few used Standard Generalised Mark-up Language. Mister Berners-Lee realised that something simple was needed to cope with dumb terminals through high end graphical X Window Unics work stations. His proposal was thus a simple Hyper Text Mark-up Language based on SGML, with an also simple network protocol that he named Hyper Text Transfer Protocol.

In 1990 began operations Archie search engine, for File Transfer Protocol.

In late 1990 came the public release of the HTTP-HTML 'World Wide Web' by Mister Tim Berners-Lee (Centre d'Etudes sur la Recherche Nucleaire, Genevre, Switzerland), and of WWW-Talk posting list.

In 1991 came the release of Gopher Protocol (University of Minnesota). Gopher is mainly used for transmission of text, although some Gopher clients present a graphic interface. Gopher went into a slow continuous decline after the spread of the HTTP-HTML 'World Wide Web' of Mister Berners-Lee. In terms of traffic (packet exchange) the Web overpassed FTP, Gopher and most other Internet protocols about 1995, but as of 2016 there are still over a hundred active Gopher servers. Gopher presents a list of menus from which a document or another resource can be chosen.

In 1992 was published the Hyper Text Mark-up Language, a proposal by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, loosely based on SGML. It was never official (there was never an HTML 1.0), but the CERN-Convex-Atrium specification of June 1993 is now known as 'HTML 2.0'.

In November 1992 appeared Veronica, search engine for Gopher Protocol, and in 1993 Jughead, a more limited search engine for a single server of Gopher Protocol.

In 1993 appeared Lynx, text-only user agent for many network protocols, working originally in VMS or Unics operating systems, later with ports to DOS, Macintosh, Windows, BSD, Linux and other platforms and systems. Among the many protocols natively supported by Lynx are Gopher and HTTP-HTML of WWW.

 

History: past and present of Gopher

In the late 1980's there were hundreds of centralised computer networks or other computer connections belonging to public or private organisations of various sorts, such as government, academic, commercial, recreational, or other entities. Some were big, like AOL, Compuserve, Genie, Fidonet, Netcom or Prestel, others had a scientific or technical importance, such as Arpanet, NSFnet, Bitnet, Janet, EARnet or Vnet, others were communication protocols, as SMTP-POP, FTP or NNTP Usenet, but most of them were simply small centralised connections known as 'bulletin boards', similar in functionality to the Web fora that are more common as of 2016. Communication was not done in real time, instead, messages were sent to the bulletin board, which made then available for other persons to read or copy.

A bulletin board had a temporary connection of only a few hours per day (usually nocturnal, in the location of the central computer), and it was often managed by one or two individuals called 'system operators'. Client computers communicated to the central computer by dial-up using a telephone line and a modulator-demodulator that converted digital instructions into analogue signals, and viceversa. The bulletin board might have several telephone lines, for several incoming computer connections. Big bulletin boards had sections on different topics, small ones tended to be specific on some particular subject of interest, perhaps a very specialised subject. All had a set of rules on what was acceptable behaviour in that particular board.

Most bulletin boards or other networks were not a part of Internet, although some of the biggest ones were connected to Arpanet and later to the backbones of the National Science Foundation that became Internet. There were networks such as UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy, for computers using one of the many variants of Unics operating systems), where the location of an address or resource is indicated by a path composed of exclamation marks and, optionally, also by curly brackets for mentioning alternative hosts, as in the fictional example:
{CSA, CSN} !confederate!military!naval!cssdixieland
The Arpanet and NSFnet that gradually became Internet had little traffic till the early 1990's, when compared to bulletin boards or proprietary networks. The mass of consumer idiots became aware of Internet only about 1992 or later.

The vast majority of those bulletin boards or proprietary networks either disappeared, or were absorbed by Internet in the mid 1990's. Some of them survived for years as independent networks, such as Fidonet, or may even have survived until today in 2016, albeit certainly in a limited form, without the importance that they once had. Most of those still in operation are now part of Internet. In Internet proper, exist or have existed various protocols for communication among computers. The most important protocols are or were those that make possible the fundamental functions of a computer network:

-Transmission Control Protocol (1975), which in January 1983 replaced the Network Control Protocol (1969-1982). The Transmission Control Protocol was implemented for sharing resources of any network, not only of Arpanet, while the Network Control Protocol had been specific to Arpanet.

-Internet Protocol and User Datagramme Protocol (1978), for separating the function of routing packets of data from various other network functions.

Besides the above, other protocols were devised for particular purposes:

-Telnet (1969) and later TN3270, for emulation of terminal, a working session with a remote computer.

-Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and Post Office Protocol (1970 for the first version, version 3 is current in 2016), for messages from one origin to one or a few destinations. SMTP-POP was also much used as a gateway to many other protocols or services (see in this page the sub-section 'Gopher, Veronica, Jughead by electronic mail', in the section 'Resources available for Gopher').

-File Transfer Protocol (1972), for downloading all kinds of data sets, such as images, sounds, text documents or software. It inspired creation of Gopher.

-News Network Transfer Protocol 'Usenet' (1980), for reading or writing public messages. Created by Steve Bellovin, Jim Ellis, Tom Truscott and Steve Daniel (Duke University). Usenet was initially carried by UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy), but in the early 1990's most servers passed to Internet. Usenet was a very common resource for collective programming projects, or for other forms of interaction among computer enthusiasts, during all of the 1980's and most of the 1990's. Unfortunately, in the mid and late 1990's many ignorami got easy access to Usenet, and since most news groups were not monitored against abuse, they gradually fell into spam, flamage, 'holy wars', and harsh language.

-Finger, for finding all potential destinations of a message, receiving in reply an optional .plan data set with informative text stored at destination.

-CSO 'ph qi' (names, telephones and addresses of individuals, mostly academic).

-Wide Area Indexed Server (a kind of enlarged campus-wide information system).

Other protocols existed, but those named were perhaps the most commonly used. Communications were done mainly by physical teletype or telephone land lines (wireless only used for long distance communication among the main nodes), and the terminals often featured a teleprinter or a typewriter for input, a paper printer or a screen for output, perhaps a few other peripheral devices.

1989-1991: The introduction of hyper text

The File Transfer Protocol, FTP, was necessary for collaborational work among academics, researchers, programmers, or other persons involved in developing Internet or any of its parts. A common method of access to a remote computer by FTP was known as 'anonymous log-in', and data sets open to public download were usually placed in a directory called 'pub' or similar name. Anyone with the necessary hardware and software could obtain whatever might be available in that public directory. But that was not hyper text, FTP required a log-in into the storing computer, although it were an anonymous log-in. Because the concept of hyper text already existed (as it has been shown in the Chronology above), it was a matter of converting it into a general Internet protocol.

First the Centre d'Etudes sur la Recherche Nucleaire (in Genevre, Switzerland) and then the University of Minnesota, gave the earliest successful steps in that direction. In Switzerland, a team presented in 1989 a proposal for a Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, rendered by a Hyper Text Mark-up Language based on Standard Generalised Mark-up Language. It was released in late 1990 with the name of 'World Wide Web'. In Minnesota, another team engaged in hard work during 1991 into developing a protocol that could accomplish all that FTP accomplished, but without need of log-in. It was released in late 1991 with the name of 'Gopher' (a gopher is a small burrowing mammal typical of that region, mascot of the University and of the State of Minnesota, as well as of a sports team called 'The Golden Gophers'). Gopher was immediately acclaimed by the press as an impressive feat, a notorious enhancement over FTP. In very short time, thousands of public or private organisations had created their own Gopher documents, and placed them into a growing number of Gopher hosts, whence the contents could be served to client computers just by activating a hyper text selector, or by Telnet. FTP continued to exist until today, but Gopher knew a golden era, lasting from late 1991 to late 1994 or early 1995.

Most other protocols have not been so fortunate as Gopher and FTP, which have both survived until today. Protocols such as Finger, WAIS, CSO, TN3270, and many others, are for all practical purposes gone as of 2016, or they are now little more than historical (a few Unics enthusiasts still keep in their home directory a .plan data set, readable by the Finger Protocol). NNTP Usenet and Telnet still exist, but they are only shadows of their former selves. Usenet can today be accessed from Google Groups via World Wide Web, having increased irrelevant content posted by idiots who do not even know of the existence of NNTP. They think of it as part of Google and of the Web, much to the anger of long-time Usenetters, who already had a high noise to low signal ratio before Google (in September 1993, America On Line permitted thousands of stupids to post to Usenet, seriously damaging the average quality of Usenet messages). As for SMTP, POP3 or IMAP they continue in regular use, but nowadays they are very often accessed via World Wide Web. Electronic Mail clients are dwindling. Thus, the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol of the Web has become a hungry monster affected by an insatiable 'protocolphagia', having devoured many of the other protocols into itself. Many browsers (intended for ignorant consumers) assume an Internet address to begin with 'http://', it is not even necessary to give the prefix of the protocol. Donkeys know nothing about protocols.

This has been the case not only with Internet protocols, but also with most other forms of communication, which have been negatively affected by the Web or by other resources that have grown very rapidly in few years: video, mobile telephone, instant message systems. Newspapers and other publications printed on paper still exist, but they are dwindling. Short distance communication resources like teletext or videotext (which were often carried by television signals) knew some success but are now practically gone. Analogue wireless radio or television has been in many areas substituted by cable services or also by digital signals, especially television. Teletype (teleprinter) and traditional telegramme are today almost exclusively used by ships at sea, or in places where no other resources exist. Even long distance, trans-oceanic communications like Short Wave (High Frequency) wireless radio, have known a dramatic shrinking with the spread of the Web. Many international broadcasts have recently moved to stream audio in the Web, or have been seriously limited or completely closed down in the last years, mainly in West European countries (Radio Portugal, Radio Exterior de Espana, Radio Netherland, Radio France Internationale, BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Yle Radio Finland, RAI Italiana, Radio Poland, Radio Moscow 'The Voice of Russia', and many others).

Fewer ionospheric broadcasts still remain for the surviving enthusiasts of DX. Korea, China, Turkey, Romania, Czechia, Slovakia, and some private or semi official North American stations, are among the few that still invest in trans-oceanic Short Wave. Most of the existing Short Wave is now intended for regional audiences. Long Wave radio is almost gone (except for a few utility stations), and even Medium Wave has almost disappeared from most advanced countries, first in the competition against local Frequency Modulation (of shorter distance, but with better sound quality), and now also against the Web, which offers the best audio and video to those fortunates who have a suitable computer and Internet connection. For similar reasons, many public cinematographs have become forced to attend only a limited segment of the public, or they have been absorbed by official institutions, or they have closed down and been converted into commercial centres, exhibition areas, television studios, churches, or so on. We remember the days when we enjoyed reading a 'pulp' book or magazine, when we watched an 'old fashion' motion picture, or when we listened the faint sound of a remote Short Wave station in a thermionic valve wireless (vacuum tube radio) receiver, or of a Long or Medium Wave station in a piezo-electric (crystal) receiver built at home.

Likewise with a long list of things that were common at one time, but now are very rare or completely gone: phonograph cylinders, gramophone discs, magnetic tapes (wide format, eight track cartridge, or cassette), cellulose or acetate films for chemical Photography or Cinematography, and endless of other things. Such is the evolution of technical standards. Old or uncommon standards may see themselves swallowed or displaced due to a number of causes, not always necessarily because of 'being bad', but because of the complex interaction of various factors, especially commercial pressure. The present essay proposes to analyse some of the causes that provoked the rise and fall of the Gopher Protocol, to offer to the reader a reasoned explanation of that process, and to advocate Gopher as still a perfectly valid protocol, efficient until today. A simple and uniform hyper text protocol, free of commercialism.

1991-1994: The Golden Years of Gopher

The University of Minnesota was initially thinking of a campus-wide system of shared information. Besides the protocols mentioned above (and of others not mentioned), the 1980's saw the development of various systems of distributed data sets, such as the Network Filing System or the Andrew File System. Some of them became generally used, even commercial (sigh), while others had more limited use or remained in the experimental stage. Those systems inspired the University into creation of a new campus-wide information system, with some ideas taken from a number of those predecessors, and with other ideas evolved inside the University itself, by dedicated teams of scientists and engineers.

Two options presented themselves: or one mainframe computer with many dumb terminals connected to it, or one or more host computers that could serve information to any client computer that requested it. Still under the strong influence of 'Big Blue thinking' (affectionate name given to IBM Corporation), the adherents of the mainframe option were winning the debate, but those who were convinced of the feasibility of the host-client option took the bold step of declaring that they could make their solution work in a short time. The University gave them a chance to prove their optimistic assertions. And good that the University took that historical decision. It was the year 1991.

The optimists were these gentlemen: Farhad Anklesaria, Robert Alberti, Paul Linder, Mark MacCahill and Daniel Torry. The concoction of their privileged brains included programmes acting server-side, those acting client-side, and the protocol for communication between them. The client computer could get the desired information by one of two methods: or by using a Gopher programme installed in the client, or by starting a remote work session via Telnet and using a Gopher programme installed in the host. Either way, the client then received a Gopher document, whose first page was typically a menu listing other menus or directories, text documents, searchable data bases, protocols such as Telnet or WAIS, or other resources (later, even images or sounds).

All text was encoded in 7-bit ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), but a document of text was formatted differently from a menu, using numerical ciphers from '0' to '9', some alphabetic letters, tabulation characters, commas, periods, slashes or other formatting marks. Needless to say, all was done by command line, as it should be. Graphic interfaces with funny icons already existed, but were not used. Everything was fine and dandy for those computer operators who are always too lazy or too stupid for serious study of technicalities, because by activating a Gopher selector the requested resource appeared on their screen like if by magic, without needing to bother about paths, names and types, data set systems, operating systems, softwares, platforms, architectures, or other aspects of Internet too 'cryptic' for them.

Therefore, nearly from night to morning the Gopher Protocol and the University of Minnesota became famous. Headlines, reports and interviews abounded. Major newspapers and other public media praised the initiative of the Minnesotans. A new era had begun for Computing. Thus the original idea of a campus system disappeared in a puff of smoke, it was perfectly clear that Gopher was much too powerful for being confined within the narrow limits of academic campi. So, from late 1991 to late 1994 were the three Golden Years of Gopher, when lauding comments on the protocol were in every mouth, newspaper, magazine, wireless or television station. When the Sun shone in Minnesota, when the gracious symbol of a gopher illuminated every computer screen. But in the midst of all that ephemeral glory, the inextricable paths of History still had a long trek to be walked. The unforeseeable future was biding its time. The Norns of Destiny were already weaving the oblivion of Gopher...

The apparent 'coincidences' of History

In the realm of scientific or technical research, discoveries or inventions no rare have appeared in more than one place, in form apparently coincidental on identical or very similar fields of study, and almost at the same time, by two or more researchers or teams of researchers who were unaware of the work of one another. Dimitri Mendeliev was not the first one to classify chemical elements into a periodic table, Lothar Meyer had already done that, though in a less developed manner. The self-propelled heavier-than-air flying machine (the aeroplane, different from the balloon, the airship, or the glider) was invented by either Santos Dumont or by the Wright Brothers, both claims count with stern defenders until today (not forgetting the important contribution of Clement Ader and the pioneer effort of Otto Lilienthal). The infinitesimal calculus (differential and integral calculus) came from the genius of Wilhelm Leibnitz or from the not lesser genius of Isaac Newton, albeit using different methods (which proves that one mathematician did not plagiarise the other).

There is a list of names of those who invented various photographic processes and who could almost equally claim to have been the 'inventor' of Photography: Thomas Wedgewood, W. H. Fox Talbot, Nicephore Niepce, J. L. M. Daguerre, Hyppolite Bayard, Hercules Florence... So with Computing, apart from the pioneer work of Charles Babbage, there is Konrad Zuse, J. V. Atanasoff, J. V. Neumann, P. Eckert and J. Mauchly, Alan Turing, and others. The explosion engine is named 'Otto' in Germany and 'Beau de Rochas' in France, after its alleged inventors. The telephone has Elisha Gray and A. G. Bell as separate inventors. So with Cinematography. So with the submersible ship (submarine). So with a surprising amount of other examples. For those of us who love the History of Science, and who despise chauvinistic claims, those coincidences prove that more than one mind is focused on a given problem at a given time.

Of course, those 'coincidences' are more apparent than real. T. A. Edison once said that invention is one percent genius and ninety-nine percent hard work. That statement gives a clue to the 'mystery' of such coincidences. What happens is that the composing elements of a discovery or invention already exist, but separated. The enviromental conditions that make possible that development are already present, but not obvious to everyone. Society is ready to make use of the new gadget, but that social acceptance cannot be seen (obviously) until the gadget in question be offered in the streets. Thus one team worked in Minnesota and the other in Switzerland, both keen on developing hyper text, and without knowledge of what the other team was doing at the other side of the Atlantic. The former team was Gopher, the latter was the World Wide Web.

1990: The competition enters the scene

In truth, it is a common error to think of Gopher as 'older' than the Web. The proposal of Messieurs Berners-Lee and Cailliau for the hyper text system that they named 'World Wide Web' came in 1989 (see the Chronology above), its public release in late 1990, together with WWW-Talk posting list. The first 'proposed' HTML specification was published in 1992, and the first 'official' HTML specification finally saw the light in June 1993 (now called HTML 2.0). By comparison, Gopher was born in late 1991, by the frenetic work of a small team of specialists. It did not exist at all before 1991 (unless, perhaps, as a project in the mind of some of those specialists). Therefore, the Web is older. Also, the first implementations of the World Wide Web were not very different from Gopher, as of user interface. Everything was a 'wall of text', with no images or sounds, in Gopher or in the Web. Images and sounds came later, for both. The Web developed those visual and aural stimuli to their current maximum, while Gopher remained in a comparatively 'primitive' stage.

Louis Pasteur once declared that 'Science knows no national boundaries, although the individual scientist may have a national loyalty'. He himself was an ardent French patriot. But one thing is patriotism, and quite another is chauvinism, provincialism, parochialism, and narrow mindedness. In the Centre d'Etudes sur la Recherche Nucleaire of Genevre there was (and there is) a sizeable number of brilliant minds from all over Europe, who were (and are) in daily contact with the rest of the World. Scientists and engineers of many nationalities, by necessity fluent polyglots (capable of reading, writing, listening or speaking in several languages), who were engaged into some of the most advanced research that History has seen, and who were supported by many institutional agencies and governments through the Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire. In 1990, the year before the birth of Gopher, the CERN enthusiastically endorsed the proposal of Messieurs Berners-Lee and Cailliau, and began to use the World Wide Web inside the heterogeneus network of European computer systems.

An international Web against a provincial Gopher

As opposed to the professed internationalism of the Web, Gopher began as an internal information system for a single academic campus, where language barriers were not an issue at all (everyone in the University spoke English, and interacted with the others ONLY in English), and where the heterogeneity of computer systems was a relatively less important issue in Minnesota, than it was in Europe. Then, in spite of the huge boom that Gopher saw between 1991 and 1994, the mindset of most of those people who were responsible for the development of Gopher, continued as essentially a provincial mindset. Several examples can be cited in support of that hard accusation of provincialism. One is the symbol. The Minnesotans chose their most typical animal, a gopher, nearly unkown outside North America except by those who are interested in Zoology. The Europeans chose (later) a globe representing the whole Earth, much in the vein of the centuries-old Tradition of voyage and exploration that had begun with Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and some other ancient peoples, and had continued in Europe with Scandinavian Vikings and Varangians, Normans, Portuguese, Castillian, Basque, Catalan-Aragonese, French, Breton, Dutch, Flemish, English, Scotch, Venetian, Genovese, Prussian, Austrian, Russian, and other European peoples, even from minor countries.

In a similar vein of provincialism, Gopher did not seriously consider the use of human languages other than English. The mostly monolingual Minnesotans saw no need of bothering themselves with language support. There is a history of Scandinavian migration in Minnesota, but nearly everyone speaks English today. The Gopher team 'assumed' that everyone in the World can at least understand English. While this is partly true for those who are used to foreign travel, who are in frequent contact with foreigners, or who enjoy languages, it is by no means the case with a vast majority of the population in regions where, like in Minnesota, culture is closed into itself. There are millions in huge areas of Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and even in the South and the East of Europe, who cannot understand more than a dozen words in English. A really international language fluently spoken by everyone has never existed. Accadian, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French or German have had their high tide as languages of diplomacy, commerce, culture or science, but only for a relative minority outside the regions where those languages are or were commonly spoken. Efforts of promoting artificial languages such as Volapuk, Esperanto or Interlingua have seen limited results.

By contrast, the Web was born in a polyglot environment, and this fact was reflected from the start. Initially there was support for diacritic marks on Latin letters, which are standard for accented characters, distinct phonemic sounds, or orthographic conventions in many languages where some variant of the Latin Alphabet is in use. Later, the World Wide Web Consortium embraced Unicode. This is a 16-bit character code intended to cover all of the world's writing systems, including Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese hiragana, katakana or kanji, Devanagari, Thai, Laotian and many other scripts, even with plans for future support of the fictional Elvish languages of Middle Earth, from the immortal literary work of J. R. R. Tolkien (Angerthas Runic Alphabet of the Dwarfs and Tengwar Cursive Alphabet of the Elves). With a set of up to 65 536 characters (2^16), Unicode can perfectly cover all those scripts. Not all Web software supports the whole Unicode, but many Web servers or clients implement at least the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic subsets of Unicode, serving the needs of almost every European language in current use, and of many other languages, not in current use or not European, which also use those alphabets or variations of them.

There is little of that for Gopher. Motsognir Gopher server (see below in this page) supports 8-bit ASCII or UTF-8 characters, but Motsognir is a remarkable exception of recent introduction into Gopher. Until now, publishing in Gopher in a language other than English meant that certain characters would not be correctly displayed by every computer terminal. There are several major groups of character encodings. One is EBCDIC, started in the early 1960's by IBM. It has at least six varieties, but today it is only used by mainframe computers. Another encoding is ASCII, the most important at present, whose 7-bit standard (128 characters) began in 1961 and is now used by almost all computers. 8-bit Extended ASCII (256 characters) came later in two main varieties: IBM ASCII (used for example in DOS) and ANSI ASCII (a standard as ISO-8859-1 Latin 1). There is an EUC encoding for Japanese, Korean and other mainly Asian tongues, with over 10 000 characters. Finally there is Unicode ISO 10646, with 65 536 single characters, but capable of combinations giving millions of characters. Unicode can be variously encoded, the most common encodings are UCS-2 and UTF-8, less common are UTF-16LE, UTF-16BE, UTF-32LE, UTF-32BE (LE is 'Little Endian' and BE is 'Big Endian', in reference to the order of bits). Unicode is supported by most operating systems of recent implementation (not by DOS), and by the Web, but not by Gopher (except in Motsognir, and only for UTF-8). More information on this encoding of the highest importance at:

Unicode, Universal Encoding
65 536 characters, millions of combinations, covering almost every language past or present
http://www.unicode.org/

 

Gopher disdains voluntary help

Another example of provincialism is the lack of a board, forum, posting list, or another resource for interchange of ideas on the development of Gopher. The Web understood the importance of such interchange, and it began regular interaction with interested persons almost from its inception, with WWW-Talk posting list. By contrast, Gopher did NOTHING of the sort. Anklesaria et alii released their brilliant work, and that was all. Period. It did not occur to them that there might exist what Mister Berners-Lee called 'evolvability' for the Web, that other persons outside the University might help in the further development of Gopher, and that their enthusiam had to be mustered through some common channel (like Source Forge now is for development of software). Mister Anklesaria and his associates later published 'requests for comments' for Gopher, in 1993, when the Web was already well established and announcing itself as a strong competitor to Gopher. But in factual reality, RFC 1436 (The Internet Gopher Protocol) and RFC 4266 (The Gopher URI Scheme) were both merely informative documents, without any serious purpose of interaction with other programmers who might be able and willing to help with the growth of Gopher into maturity. Thus the cute little Gopher remained a child, for ever.

As of 2016 there are lots of resources for the Web, but only two resources for those who are interested in Gopher and wish to interchange ideas. One is a posting list, the other is a Usenet news group. Unfortunately, many of the messages seen in those two Gopher resources are not really useful, or they are not relevant at all. A number of messages are of the nostalgic variety: they weep over the loss of Gopher, or they complain on the causes that have made Gopher almost disappear, or they blame (fairly or unfairly) the guilty parties who have brought Gopher to its nearly demise, but they do not offer any workable solution. Other messages are of the brainless 'modernising' variety: they label Gopher as an 'archaic' protocol, and are glad to see Gopher almost gone. There is also spam, especially in Usenet. A few Gopher enthusiasts, in particular a tiny group of Gopher programmers, still post relevant information, but finding that information is difficult, it means looking at tons of uninteresting garbage that pollutes the posting list and the Usenet group. Not surprisingly, the very few who are serious about Gopher remain largely invidual heroes. No significant collective efforts have been done for many years. Most of the general public do not even know what is the Gopher Protocol, and they are completely unaware that Gopher ever existed.

These are the two resources that currently exist for Gopher development:

The Gopher Mailing List (accessible by SMTP, POP3 or IMAP protocols):

http://lists.alioth.debian.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/gopher-project

The Gopher Usenet News Group (accessible by News Network Transfer Protocol):

comp.infosystems.gopher

The Gopher Mailing List is hosted at a Uniform Resource Locator of the World Wide Web, and served thence to electronic addresses of interested persons. The Gopher Usenet News Group can also be accessed via Web, through the gateway services provided by Google Groups. Unfortunately, none of the two resources can be accessed directly from Gopher.

There are in RFC 1436 and RFC 4266 strong indications of extensions that had been planned to the Gopher Protocol, but which were never implemented. One example is the requirement of a dot 'standing in a line of its own', which must be included by the server (it does not need to exist in the source). After having carefully studied the Gopher specification, the purpose of that solitary dot was so mysterious, that P. A. Stonemann was impelled to consult the well known Gopher expert Mister Mateusz Viste. The expert confirmed that, in effect, the dot had been ruled in preparation of an intended feature that never became a reality. The small Gopher team at the University of Minnesota was limited in man power. So, however intelligent and dedicated, that handful of geniuses could never effectively compete against the uncountable crowds of Mongolian hordes that were massing behind the World Wide Web. The Gopher team might have followed the strategy of proposing extensions to Gopher and then recruiting volunteers for the project, of brain-storming Gopher enthusiasts for new ideas, but the team chose not to. It had a short-sighted tactics.

The mysterious 'dot on a single line' only affects the termination of Gopher item type zero (a text document) or Gopher item type one (a directory menu), it does not affect other Gopher item types. Gopher item types zero or one having any line starting with a dot (a period), must have another dot added by the server (for preventing confusion with a termination indicator), then the said dot must be removed by the client. Nice complication. Request For Comments 1436 is specific about all this rigmarole:

'Lines beginning with periods must be prepended with an extra period to ensure that the transmission is not terminated early. The client should strip extra periods at the beginning of the line'.

The intention of Mister Anklesaria and his Council of the Wise was double:

First, they were considering implementing a 'persistent connection' feature, as seen in Hyper Text Transfer Protocol version 1.1, which would allow a Gopher client to fetch several Gopher documents within a single Transfer Control Protocol connection (instead of having to establish a separate TCP connection for each resource), thus slightly decreasing the lag of the protocol, possibly perceived on hyper links with a very high latency. This might be interesting, but the added complexity versus the supposed benefit makes the 'solution' highly ineffective. Of course, computer speeds and Internet connections of the early 1990's were much slower than they are in 2016, but even so, the difficulties do not seem to compensate the results.

Second, the terminating dot that appears solitary in its own line is also an easy way for the Gopher client to know that effectively it has received the entire content of the Gopher text document (type zero) or Gopher directory menu (type one). Otherwise, the content may have been truncated at some point during the transmission of packets of information. This verification should really be done by monitoring the correct ending of the TCP connection, with a FIN/ACK - FIN/ACK exchange, but such verification is comparatively more complex for the Gopher client than it is the trivial checking of whether or not a single dot trailer exist in the received Gopher document or directory. This is an unfortunate feature, because it encourages lazy programming of the client software. Besides, the Gopher Protocol as defined in RFC 1436 is rather inconsistent in this approach, because it does not require the solitary terminating dot for any other Gopher type (such as an executable), which means that a client programmed in the lazy way will fail detecting corruptions of all other resources (unless using a check sum or some other verification).

In sum, the Geniuses of Minnesota were overloading themselves with hard work, not really knowing whether their ideas would find a continuation or not. In a scenario of software development by the collective efforts of many minds, this tentative 'enhancement' would have been hardly the case, because there is always someone who turns the attention of the others to the advantages or disadvantages of this or that proposal. But in the holy shrine of a reduced group with a well established hierarchy, of uncontested authority, there is a risk of a 'proposal from above' being taken by the acolytes as an 'order from above'. No one dare point to possible problems that might arise, then or in the future. Result: the proposal goes directly into official specifications, without any further discussion. No wonder that, outside the sacred recint, 'heretic' branches begin to appear, more or less chaotic, more or less in tone with the original 'orthodox' dogma. However well intended they might be, any deviations in the form of 'enhancements' or 'extensions' pose problems of lack of uniformity, which may seriously endanger general acceptability.

The 'extensions to Gopher' known as Gopher Plus and Hyper Gopher, or the more recent implementations such as Gopher Virtual Reality, never enjoyed a wide acceptance. Gopher VR is workable, but it is almost unknown, except to Mister Cameron Kaiser and a relatively reduced number of Gopher enthusiasts. Gopher + or Hy-Gopher are now in the trunk of old memories, together with so many other reminiscences that Time forgot, of a past that 'might have been'. The Gopher Conference of 1992 (Gopher Con'92) was the high tide for Gopher, with about fifty delegates attending and with important new ideas coming from it. The original Veronica search engine for Gopher released in November 1992, and Jughead in 1993, were two other boosts for Gopher. And so were other efforts, which the University could very well have guided and helped. Instead, the University chose to let time fly by, without any significant input. P. A. Stonemann, author of this essay, contends that the University of Minnesota bears a huge responsibility for the near demise in which Gopher is as of 2016.

Gopher demands his pocket money

The 'coup de grace' came when the University made public the possibility of exacting payment of money for legal royalties, from any 'commercial' uses of Gopher, though not from 'educational' uses. We all agree that commercialism is nothing short of repugnant, but it may be difficult to determine who is 'commercial' and who is not (albeit often it is quite clear), and besides, we voluntary programmers help a software project because we love the concept, but we go immediately out if we even suspect of someone making money from it. The solution would not have been to impose royalties, but to enact legal licences where all software development must be Free Use and Open Source, free for everyone to use or to modify, with minimal limitations. Only with the requirements of keeping it free, of acknowledging the original authors, of labelling derivative works or distributions as being the responsibility of other persons, and little else. The model is perfectly represented by the GNU Free Software Foundation of Mister Richard Stallman. Other free licences might have been devised by the University, instead of demanding money for legal royalties. The demand for money was never enforced, but it had already caused damage, spoiling the feeling of trust that many had initially held for Gopher.

The guiltiness of the University could be argued, especially by those who were involved at that time, but what is incontestable is that the doubtful idea of the royalties was a serious blow against a still infant Gopher. This is bluntly declared by the foremost competitor to Gopher, by the Father of the Web, Mister Tim Berners-Lee. In an interview of August 1996 (when the Web had already surpassed Gopher by far), Mister Berners-Lee made it clear that:
"The Internet Gopher was seen for a long time as a preferable information system, avoiding the complexities of HTML, but rumours of the technology being licensable by the University of Minnesota provoked a general re-evaluation".
Those words are valued their weight in gold.

So, the inventor of the Web recognised that Gopher was preferable in terms of simplicity, but that the lust for money signalled a massive escapade of those who, if they had stayed pampering Gopher, would have made the child grow into an adult. Today there would be two mature and efficient hyper text protocols standing on equal terms to each other, instead of a monopolistic Web that is overstuffed with commercialism, and an alive and efficient, but also marginal and underground Gopher, whose existence is only known to a select few. Mister Cameron Kaiser intelligently makes the case for Gopher, stating clearly that Gopher is not just a reminiscence for the nostalgic of times past, but that Gopher can perfectly co-exist with the Web even today. Wishful thinking, sadly.

Well aware he is that Gopher has about equal probabilities of co-existing in fair relation with the commercialised Web, as the probabilities that tomorrow every motorcar be voluntarily abandoned by its owner, driver, and passengers, who will start using horse, bicycle, or public transport, in order to stop polluting the natural environment and to diminish the number of accidents. The all too human tendency for predominant fashion and gregarious socialising will continue using the Web, or television, or mass consumption, as the human desire for 'comfort' will keep burning petrol in millions of motorcars or other motor vehicles world-wide. Only firm restrictions enacted at the level of international organisations and of governments, can counter-march the destruction of this planet. Dreams will not counter-march the chaos. Surely the final catastrophe will, but we shall better be dead than survive it.

1993: Gopher begins to go underground

In 1993 Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina of the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at Urbana, Illinois (part of the National Science Foundation) released Mosaic, the most flexible and advanced Internet user agent so far created. It was based on graphic interface (rather than command line, sadly), with different ports installable in X-11 Window for Unics systems, Apple Macintosh, or Microsoft Windows 3.x (based on DOS, but not for DOS as a stand-alone system). Mosaic featured many resources, including search, cache and book-mark, and supported various protocols such as FTP, NNTP Usenet, WAIS, HTTP-HTML WWW, and Gopher. It provoked a craze not inferior to the craze that Gopher had provoked two years earlier, with thousands of Mosaic copies being downloaded every day. For millions of people, Internet had until then been a kind of mysterious limbo that few durst traverse, because they felt awe at the technical 'difficulties' of the cryptic command line of dedicated clients, or because they had not the resources of hardware, software, or reliable connections. But with Mosaic, even the most stupid could now access Internet. And well known it is, that stupids are the most common rabble under the Sun.

So, the stupids won the day. Gopher relies on external indexing through menus separated from content, putting the work load for maintenance of resources on hosting administrators rather than on document authors. The Web is exactly the opposite, it relies on internal linking by in-lined anchors, with content and hyper links together in the same page, thus authors bear the work of correct document structure and updated links, while hosting administrators can attend to other tasks of server maintenance. At first glance it might seem that relying on thousands (and soon millions) of document authors is an error, in that most of them would never be sufficiently technical for creating correct documents. That is true, but it is compensated by browsers that 'forgive' errors in the HTML code, by Web creation software of the type 'What You See Is What You Get', by on-line or off-line HTML validators, and by plenty of other tools. Little of that has ever been available for Gopher. A Web Master is helped by innumerable aids of all sorts, while a Gopher Master is very much on his own. Unavoidably, little by little Gopher became relegated to a minority of sophisticated Computing enthusiasts, the ones with deep know-how.

Shortly after the appearance of Mosaic in 1993, plenty of ignorants believed (and they believe until today) in the myth of considering Gopher older than the Web, while the opposite is really the case. The Web appeared in 1990 at CERN, and Gopher in 1991 at the University of Minnesota. The cause of the error is that Gopher became popular immediately, while the Web only became popular in 1993, with Mosaic. Before that year, the Web was largely confined to a minority of knowledgeable souls. After that year, the reverse was true, the knowledgeable souls remained in Gopher while the mass of donkeys flooded to the Web. Intrinsically, it cannot in good faith be affirmed that Gopher be better than the Web, or the Web better than Gopher. They are simply different, with better or worse aspects largely depending on personal notions of what constitutes 'better' or 'worse', in regard to Internet protocols and to their ancillary components or their supporting tools. What it can be said is that the Web played very well the game of presenting its cause as a world-wide, cutting-edge technique for global communication, while Gopher presented its as an improvement over FTP, a local information system, a wide area network just a little wider than the others, a cute 'go pher this and go pher that'. The result of that provincialism soon began to tell in the mind of the public.

1995: Gopher permanently moves underground

In mid 1995 the Web had surpassed Gopher in Internet traffic. Shortly later, nearly all commercial corporations (who are always after grabbing the damned buck) began dismantling their Gopher servers and moving to the Web. Rather hesitatingly at first, more decidedly later, most official agencies gradually did that move as well, with plenty of libraries and of academic institutions following suit. Even the Fatherland of Gopher, the now infamous University of Minnesota, surrendered to the new trend and decided to leave Gopher an orphan. Charitable souls adopted the orphan. We take care of him until today, because we are convinced that he offers a valuable choice, a workable alternative to the Web. Amongst the many failures of the University, one was the failure to make the improvement of Gopher an open communications standard and an open source software project. In 1994 CERN had begun the construction of a really huge project, the Hadron Collider Accelerator, for the study of sub-nuclear particles. That milestone project absorbed all the energies of CERN, to the point that the World Wide Web could not efficiently be attended any longer. Thus, CERN intelligently chose to waive all claims to the property of the Web, and released it to the public, this is, to that minority of the public who is able and willing to work on further development of the Web.

Minnesota saw things differently. The University insisted on being the protecting 'tutor' of Gopher, on keeping all development efforts inside the walls of the campus buildings, or at least approved and closely watched by the zealous University authorities, like a naughty child who must be safe-guarded from bad acquaintances and evil places. That mindset of 'teacher of little boys' did not help Gopher. It alienated him from the surrounding world. He responded by following his instincts, by burrowing deep into the underground, and staying there. There he is today. The small team at the University could not possibly match the myriads of volunteers who helped to develop the Web. For Gopher, it was not permitted. Gopher had to be under the watching protection of his creators. One result of that short-sighted approach was that 'unapproved' Gopher variants began to appear. Sure, variants for the Web also appeared, but the World Wide Web Consortium knew how to harness them. And besides, the Web already stood on a firmer footing than the still infant Gopher. Projects that otherwise would have been a valuable nurturing assistance for Gopher, came and were quickly gone without the approval of the Minnesotans. An example was Project Panda, an advanced set of tools for Gopher that would have been the envy of the Web, but which only lasted from late 1992 to mid 1995, then disappearing in the blue. Gopher suffered some examples of forking, most of it rather chaotic, and most of it gone today. Some remaining Gopher resources are listed below.

 

Resources available for Gopher

Gopher was initially developed by the University of Minnesota in 1991, but years later that university abandoned its own protocol. Gopher is today maintained by enthusiasts of the protocol. It is the intelligence and the dedication of those enthusiasts that keep Gopher an alive and efficient protocol until today. So be it for many years to come.

Free host servers of Gopher documents

The following hyper link points to one of the few public servers of Gopher documents, Super Dimension Fortress, which will host the Gopher document for free during one year or two, then expecting a small one-time contribution. Besides its excellent Gopher hosting, Super Dimension Fortress also offers a plethora of other services for sophisticated Computing enthusiasts, such as Telnet for real time communication with other members, participative games, Unics technical informations, and programming advice.

Super Dimension Fortress. Gopher hyper link
One of the few free hosts for Gopher documents (for free during one year or two)
gopher://sdf.org/

 

Super Dimension Fortress. World Wide Web hyper link
One of the few free hosts for Gopher documents (for free during one year or two)
http://www.sdf.org/

 

The hyper links to Super Dimension Fortress listed above point to servers located in North America. There are other servers located in Europe, which offer similar services. The World Wide Web Uniform Resource Locator is:

Super Dimension Fortress Europe. World Wide Web hyper link
One of the few free hosts for Gopher documents (for free during one year or two)
http://sdfeu.org/

 

User agents without capability for direct access to Gopher Protocol, but with capability for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and Hyper Text Mark-up Language (or another standard language of the World Wide Web), may use the services of a Web to Gopher gateway (also known as a Web to Gopher proxy). This can be done mainly by one of four methods:

-First, by entering the Gopher Uniform Resource Locator into the Web interface of the gateway (as a command line or address line is entered into a browser).
-Second, by using a combined Web Uniform Resource Locator, where the Gopher address appears as a subdomain or a directory inside the gateway.
-Third, by activating a Gopher hyper link already listed in the gateway (as it is done in a portal).
-Fourth, by performing a search in Veronica-2, the search engine for Gopher, which can be done from the interface of the gateway.

Of the two Web to Gopher gateways hyper linked below (via World Wide Web), Meulie offers the first, second and fourth methods, while Floodgap offers the third and fourth methods. Thus, the two gateways provide access to Veronica-2 search engine, by which means a query delves into a data base containing the full text of all known Gopher documents world-wide.

Web to Gopher gateways

The two hyper links below are gateways from the World Wide Web to Gopher. These outstanding services allow computers with access to HTTP-HTML, but without direct access to Gopher, the ability of accessing indirectly all known Gopher documents in the World, plus access to Veronica-2 search engine for finding topics of interest in any Gopher document world-wide.

Besides a Web to Gopher gateway, Floodgap also offers other services for Gopher Protocol, such as Veronica-2 Gopher search engine, Bucktooth Gopher server, or Overbite Project for enabling Gopher Protocol in various Internet user agents that have it disabled by default. Not only Gopher, but also some other protocols are attended by Floodgap, such as Hyper Telnet. All those services are maintained by Mister Cameron Kaiser, who always provides useful advice to persons requesting information on Gopher, Hyper Telnet, or other important though not generally well known Internet resources.

Floodgap
Gateway from World Wide Web to Gopher, Veronica search engine, Hyper Telnet
http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/

 

As it has been explained above, the Meulie Web to Gopher gateway allows two non-search methods for reaching a Gopher document using a Web client, either by entering a Gopher Uniform Resource Locator into the Web interface of Meulie, or by using a combined Web Uniform Resource Locator, where the Gopher address appears as a subdomain or a directory inside Meulie. Meulie also permits a query into Veronica-2 search engine, to all known Gopher documents world-wide. There are about a hundred active Gopher servers as of 2016, which contain hundreds of thousands of items (pages showing a menu list, pages with a body of text, images, sounds, software, or other resources).

Meulie
Gateway from World Wide Web to Gopher, Veronica search engine
http://gopherproxy.meulie.net/

 

Search engines for FTP and Gopher

Archie (Archiver) was a general search engine for File Transfer Protocol. Created by Peter Deutsch, released in 1990. Last known public server of Archie was at a university in Poland, whose Archie service closed in 2013.

Veronica was a general search engine for Gopher Protocol. Created by Steven Foster and Fred Barrie, University of Nevada at Reno, released on 17th November 1992. Last known public server of the original Veronica closed in the early XXI century.

Jughead was a limited search engine for a single server of Gopher Protocol. Created by Rhett Jonzy Jones, University of Utah, released in 1993. Last known public server of Jughead closed in the early XXI century.

In the vein of good humour that is often characteristic of Gopher, Veronica means 'Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Netwide Index to Computerized Archives', while Jughead means 'Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation And Display' (HEY, DON'T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, I DIDN'T INVENT THOSE NAMES !). Out of a most fortunate 'coincidence', Archie, Veronica and Jughead are also fictional characters of a North American series of stories in drawings (comic strips in vignettes), printed on paper. It seems that some Gopher enthusiasts are fond of the Ninth Art. Peter Deutsch, who developed Archie, insisted that its name was a short form of 'Archiver', and had nothing to do with the comic strips. He was supposedly disgusted when Veronica and Jughead appeared. Or else, he did not appreciate certain manifestations of the Ninth Art.

Archie and Veronica offered keyword search of, respectively, most FTP and most Gopher documents in the World. A Veronica search produced a menu of Gopher items, each of which was a direct pointer to a Gopher data source. Because Veronica was accessed through a Gopher client, it was easy to use, and it gave access to all types of data supported by the Gopher Protocol. To search with Veronica, it could be selected from the 'Other Gophers' menu at the Gopher server of the University of Minnesota, or at a few other Veronica servers. Alternatively, a Gopher client could be pointed to, for instance:

Name=veronica Type=1 Port=70 Path=1/veronica Host=gopher.scs.unr.edu gopher://gopher.scs.unr.edu/1/veronica

The above Gopher address of the original Veronica is not operational anymore. All that functionality is still available in Veronica-2, a general search engine for Gopher Protocol created by Mister Cameron Kaiser, of Floodgap. Veronica-2 is operational as of 2016, accessible from Floodgap or from Meulie, hyper linked above. As of 2016, there is no known search engine for FTP.

Gopher, Veronica, Jughead by electronic mail

There is in the World Wide Web a document (not updated since 2001) that explains how to access Gopher documents, and how to perform a search for them using Veronica or Jughead, exclusively from a client of electronic mail (SMTP and POP3 Protocols), without need of a Telnet, Gopher, or Web client.

This service (which might be called a 'Mail to Gopher gateway') is necessary for those who lack Telnet, Gopher or Web software, or for those who work from a country where access to those protocols is difficult or impossible (such as Cuba or North Korea), but who can use electronic mail.

The technique consists in sending an electronic message to the Mail to Gopher gateway, specifying the word 'HELP' in the Subject line. The gateway will reply with a list of commands. It is also possible to send the electronic message including a Gopher Uniform Resource Identifier in the Subject line, in which case the gateway will retrieve a copy of that Gopher document (if being able to reach the indicated Gopher server), and will reply with the desired Gopher page, or with a message informing that the Gopher server is at the moment unreachable (or that it may not exist anymore).

Archie (for FTP), Jughead and the original Veronica (for Gopher) were wiped out of existence many years ago, but Veronica-2 can still be searched via electronic mail, using the Mail to Gopher gateway. The afore mentioned Web document explains the correct procedure in detail, but after due thought, CSS Dixieland has chosen not to include all that information in this page. That is because ONLY TWO of those gateways were known to exist in 2001, and there is a high risk of the information becoming obsolete in a short time. Or it is already obsolete, because it depends on the availability of those gateways.

CSS Dixieland expresses apologies to those persons who might find such a gateway service useful. The electronic mail addresses are given below, in a manner that is hopefully understandable to humans, but not understandable to programmes that automatically collect mail addresses (often for purposes of spamming). The two Mail to Gopher gateways are located in Japan, they are:

gopher AT ncc DOT go DOT jp

gopher AT dna DOT affrc DOT go DOT jp

The string "AT" must be substituted by the character "@" and the string "DOT" by the character "." without surrounding spaces and in single horizontal line.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but there is a bunch of niggers from Niggeria whose favourite sport is sending lots of spam. They use computer programmes for automatic harvesting of addresses, and the above substitution is one of the methods for thwarting such programmes and their nasty monkey users.

As it has been said above, the word 'HELP' in the Subject line will make the gateway reply with a list of commands. For search, the host of Veronica-2 is:

gopher.floodgap.com

Unfortunately, Gopher mail methods for reading Usenet news groups (NNTP), were already non-existent as of the year 2001. Usenet can be accessed via a dedicated client or via Web, but not via electronic mail anymore, except for a few Usenet news groups that maintain posting lists for their subscribers.

Free-DOS operating system

The following hyper link points to Free-DOS, the most advanced DOS operating system ever created, whose distribution includes two user agents (clients) with full Gopher support: Gopherus and DOS Lynx, and another with partial Gopher support: Arachne. Their hyper links are listed in the section 'Software, Net' inside the Web document of Free-DOS, beside many other resources of interest to DOS enthusiasts. DOS Lynx is text-only, Arachne is graphic. Gopherus was first released in 2013, being the work of Mister Mateusz Viste, a long-time member of the Free-DOS project who also created the Motsognir Gopher server. Intelligent and dedicated Gentlemen such as Mister Cameron Kaiser of Floodgap and Bucktooth, Mister Mateusz Viste of Gopherus and Motsognir, or the Gentlemen of Meulie, Super Dimension Fortress, Free-DOS, or BSD, keep Gopher an alive and efficient Internet protocol until today. So be it for many years to come.

Free-DOS
Operating system that includes three Gopher clients (Gopherus, DOS Lynx, Arachne)
http://www.freedos.org/

 

Gopherus is the best user agent for accessing Gopher documents from DOS. Its colours can be fully customised, if using polychrome screen and video card. They can even resemble the classic phosphor cathodic ray tube screens of the 1980's. Gopherus follows the official Gopher Standards RFC 1436 (The Internet Gopher Protocol) and RFC 4266 (The Gopher URI Scheme). Gopherus needs a packet driver loaded in Random Access Memory. There are ports of Gopherus for DOS, BSD, Linux, and Microsoft Windows Operating Systems.

As for Gopher server software, three stand out in 2016 as perhaps the most relevant for those Gopher Masters who operate their own computers AND WHO ARE LUCKY TO HAVE INTERNET CONNECTION IN THEM: Bucktooth, Py Gopherd, Motsognir. Bucktooth is the work of Mister Cameron Kaiser, mentioned above in relation to Floodgap gateway and to Hyper Telnet Protocol, besides other outstanding works. Motsognir is the work of Mister Mateusz Viste, also mentioned above in reference to Free-DOS operating system and to Gopherus, Gopher client. In a communication sent to CSS Dixieland in December 2015, Mister Viste informed of important modifications introduced into Gopherus, making it able to work in Unics systems (such as BSD or Minix) directly from the command line, without X-11 or any other graphic interface. Gopherus already worked directly from the command line in DOS systems (such as Free-DOS), without the Graphic Enviroment Manager (GEM, original from DR-DOS) or any other graphic interface. Mister Viste also pointed out that Motsognir can be used as a Gopher server even in an isolated computer, without network connection of any sort, thus it can be handy for creation and maintenance of Gopher documents, which may be uploaded to a remote Gopher host by a second, shared computer with Internet. The problem then is 'only' to find a workable Gopher hosting, because Super Dimension Fortress predominantly uses Telnet or R-login.

Motsognir is a server of Gopher documents stored in on-line or off-line hosts. It can be used in an isolated computer, local network, wide network, UUCP, or Internet, but the host needs Unics compatible operating system (Bell Seventh Edition - Official Standard IEEE POSIX 1003), it cannot be used in DOS. Motsognir has no external dependencies, it allows CGI or PHP for dynamic content, redefinition of Gopher item types, secure mode for serving only resources with 'world readable' permission, runnable as not Super-user after opening the listening port (often port 70, but it can be changed), it is trappable in a chroot jail, supports ASCII or UTF-8 characters, Internet Protocol versions 4 or 6, Gopher maps, CAPS.TXT with extra text, virtual hosting for different content in different domains (not a standard in Gopher Protocol), and has many other configuration options. Highly recommended !!!

Motsognir. Gopher hyper link
Very configurable server of Gopher documents, for Unics systems
gopher://gopher.viste.fr/1/projects/motsognir/

 

Motsognir. World Wide Web hyper link
Very configurable server of Gopher documents, for Unics systems
http://motsognir.sourceforge.net/

 

The image of the dwarf featured in Motsognir is believed to be in the Public Domain. It is based on the original work of Lorenz Froelich (1820-1908).

Gopherus Gopher client and Motsognir Gopher server have been copyrighted by Mister Mateusz Viste and are legally protected by GNU General Public Licence version 3 of 29th June 2007, which can be read or copied from the Uniform Resource Locator of the Free Software Foundation:

Free Software Foundation
Promotion and legal defence of free and open source software and other kinds of works
http://www.fsf.org/

 

The Free Software Foundation also announces as its address in the World Wide Web the Uniform Resource Locator http://www.gnu.org/

Open Source is another outstanding institution in the Open Source Movement. Its Uniform Resource Locator is:

Open Source
Promotion and legal defence of free and open source software, OSI approved
http://www.opensource.org/

 

Combining Gopherus and Motsognir

Gopherus is a Gopher client and Motsognir is a Gopher server, therefore they can be combined for complementary work. Mister Mateusz Viste, author of the two softwares, has provided valuable information to CSS Dixieland on how this combination can be accomplished. They must be installed in a computer running an operating system compliant with Bell Seventh Edition - Official Standard IEEE POSIX 1003, such as Minix, BSD, or another Unics system. Motsognir has no external dependencies, and Gopherus can be executed using X-11 Window system for graphic interface, or using the Curses library for command line. With Curses and the two softwares installed, access to a Gopher document located inside the local computer can be done by entering the command line:
gopher://127.0.0.1

After the Gopher Protocol prefix (or another communications protocol prefix), that number '127.0.0.1' is an address of the test loop-back interface, one of the about 16 million possible addresses for a local host (127.0.0.0/8). The packet of data thus sent is not routed to a network, but remains inside the local computer, which may be totally isolated, without network connection of any sort. By using that technique, Motsognir will serve the Gopher document to Gopherus, while in reality all of them are located only inside the local computer (Motsognir, Gopherus, and the Gopher document). This is necessary, because the Gopher Protocol does not resolve relative paths inside a local computer (unlike for instance the World Wide Web, which supports relative paths). Gopher needs an absolute path address, a Uniform Resource Identifier. In the case above, that address is in the local host (the local computer).

The topmost current authority for the Gopher Protocol, Mister Mateusz Viste, warns that such a concept of 'test loop-back interface' in a local host, must not be confused with another concept known as a 'Martian address'. He explains that a Martian address is a concept associated with Internet Protocol security in some operating systems. In such systems, whenever the kernel happen to receive an Internet Protocol packet on one of its interfaces, it performs a simple 'reverse-lookup' verification by asking to itself the question:

"Through which interface should I route a packet, if the destination were X ?"

...where 'X' is the source of the packet that has been received. If the result of such an internal look-up happen to point to the very same interface that the interface through which the packet has come, then all is fine. Otherwise, the packet is marked with a source address that is 'beyond this World' (hence the nickname 'Martian'). The packet is then tagged as a 'Martian packet'. It might be potentially dangerous, therefore it might be dropped by the receiving computer, depending on the security configuration of the operating system, or on the paranoia of the system administrator. In this regard, the address of a local host is not a Martian address, since it is closely attached to a test loop-back interface that is well-defined (typically lo0), which holds the 127/8 address plan:

# ifconfig lo
lo        Link encap:Local Loopback
          inet addr:127.0.0.1  Mask:255.0.0.0

Everything can be done by command line, with the Curses library installed in the computer. Thus, funny graphic interfaces are not needed at all. The good old command line can perfectly be used, but it is necessary to install the Curses library. This library is publicly available for free, or it may be already included by default in the distribution of Minix, BSD, or another Unics system. The combination of Motsognir and Gopherus can be used inside a single computer, or local area network, or wide area network, or UUCP, or Internet itself, but all the participating computers must possess both softwares and have them correctly configured. Instructions are given in the documentations of Gopherus and of Motsognir, which in part are presented in Adobe Portable Document Format (some converter to ASCII plain text may be necessary). For asking any questions AFTER HAVING READ ALL THE DOCUMENTATION, Mister Viste is reachable from the Motsognir hyper links given above (via Gopher or via Web), or by electronic post. He is a very helpful Gopher expert who will gladly explain all possible solutions. He has been of enormous assistance to CSS Dixieland, by the high quality of his technical reports.

 

Gopher logs and Web logs

Gopher logs, also known as 'glogs' or 'phlogs', and Web logs, also called 'blogs', are simplified documents of easy creation by non-technical authors. Gopher logs are transmitted by the Gopher Protocol, and Web logs by the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, these ones then rendered by the Hyper Text Mark-up Language or another standard language of the World Wide Web. The idea of logs began in December 1997, with the name 'log' reminding of an entry written into a navigation diary. They are a resource often used by those who wish to publish information in Gopher or in the World Wide Web, but who for whatever reason do not want to bother about learning the technical details necessary for programming their own documents. Gopher or Web logging organisations offer to them a certain variety of ready made templates and of authoring tools, and from those templates and tools they choose one of their liking, they define some parameters such as colour or text size if permitted by the tools and by the protocol to be used, and begin entering their own text.

A few loggers publish really interesting information that is a pleasure to read, but by far the vast majority of 'gloggers-phloggers' or of 'bloggers' write only garbage without any interest at all, except maybe for themselves. They just show family pictures, personal hobbies, holidays, daily life, and other idioticies that are typical of stupid average people. They are just the usual gang of idiots, in the words of Mister Cameron Kaiser. Nothing special, nothing lasting much beyond their empty lives. A few Gopher or Web loggers offer something better, but they are exceptions. In general we may say that a person who be serious about publishing in Gopher, in the World Wide Web, or in another Internet protocol, will also be serious about learning in detail the technicalities needed for it. The same with, for instance, someone being serious about Photography, who will enthusiastically study and experiment with photographic technique instead of limiting himself to ridiculous 'point and shoot' fool-proof amateur cameras.

Therefore, CSS Dixieland does not recommend publishing in logs. Instead of logs, those of our readers who have something important to say to the World, are encouraged to take the trouble of learning how to say it in a professional manner. The message will show much more respectability as a well composed and well constructed personal Gopher or HTML document than as a Gopher or Web log, and the satisfaction felt by its author-programmer will also be greater than if using a mass produced template. Notwithstanding that advice, those readers who may at present feel insecure about their technical preparation for the daunting task of creating their own Gopher or HTML documents, will do well in joining some community of enthusiasts who will help them in their quest.

One of those communities is Super Dimension Fortress, where members can create their own Gopher log, or their own full Gopher document if they feel prepared for it, under the tutoring and guidance of more experienced authors who can often be contacted via electronic post, Telnet, Gopher, or World Wide Web. It is even possible to include a book of visitors in the Gopher document, using a script of Common Gateway Interface for dynamic content, or to link to images, sounds, or other resources. Super Dimension Fortress is hyper linked via Gopher or via Web in the section of Resources available for Gopher, sub-section of Free host servers of Gopher documents, above in this page:

Resources available for Gopher (Free host servers of Gopher documents)

And with all that plethora of information, CSS Dixieland finishes this page devoted to the unforgettable Gopher Protocol. We have to recognise, sadly, that Gopher is as of 2016 'playing second fiddle to the Web' (in the words of Mister Cameron Kaiser). Yet, Gopher is an efficient protocol and does not deserve to be thrown into the attic of old memories. For one thing, because Gopher is fortunately free of the repugnant commercialism into which a vast part of the Web has fallen, with so many 'features' of dubious usefulness, supposedly for 'enhancing user experience' by means of uncountable pop-up advertisements, either legitimate or surreptitiously introduced by means of 'ad-ware' malicious codes, into the computers of many ignorant users who do not know how to protect themselves. Marketroid influence is rife in the Web.

For another thing, because Gopher is a simple and uniform standard, unlikely to change versions (Gopher Plus or Hyper Gopher never had a wide acceptance), which means that it is comparatively easy from the technical point of view to create and maintain a Gopher document. The World Wide Web, on the other hand, boasts of a huge collection of standards of all sorts: HTML up to version 4.01 (based on SGML), HTML version 5 (based more on XML), Cascade Style Sheets or other style sheet languages, Java Applets, Java Script, I-HTML or other proprietary languages, exaggerated dynamic content, frames, exclusive proprietary extensions in many Web user agents (such as Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or even X-Chaos Arachne), ActiveX Controls, Microsoft Active Server Pages, Java of Sun Systems, many other implementations for rendering visual effects... it all goes on ad infinitum.

The World Wide Web Consortium exerts tremendous efforts for preventing the appearance of a jungle of incompatible proprietary 'standards', or of a new edition of the 'Browsers War' (which happened mainly between Netscape and Microsoft in the late 1990's). Certainly, in the hands of a knowledgeable Web Master, those technical resources can be used intelligently. Unfortunately, most of those who own a Web document are not so knowledgeable. A few big corporations, or academic or government institutions, have their own experts, technicians and artists who create and maintain a presentable and efficient Web document. Medium corporations or private institutions tend to hire the services of professionals for Web creation, or for occasional maintenance. Small corporations, or individuals, too often use Web creation software of the type 'What You See Is What You Get', and rarely think of maintenance.

The result of using that 'WYSIWYG' software is, invariably, spaghetti code, which makes maintenance difficult and modification almost impossible. That is the consequence of having turned into mass consumption a number of complex techniques that only a relatively small number of experts are capable and willing to understand. For the rank and file of stupid consumers, it all sounds Greek. Correct construction of Web documents is too cryptic a task for them. They prefer watching television, it is much easier than perusing a manual of technical specifications and learning all its 'obscure' details.

Gopher, fortunately, is not so 'cryptic' as for example HTML 5 is. Again, this is not to detract HTML 5 at all, because a careful study of the HTML 5 specification of 2014 shows a remarkable work done by the World Wide Web Consortium and by the collaborators who prepared the HTML 5 draft. This is only to say that Gopher is the most simple and uniform hyper text protocol, free of commercialism. And that in all probability, so it will remain.

 

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