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Internet Classics from the Internet Gurus

[Zap!] Updated: Jan 20, 2000

These days, most people use the Internet for two things: e-mail and the World Wide Web. But back in the old days (1992), many other Internet services flourished, including telnet, finger, ping, and gopher. Here's a quick introduction to these old-fashioned Internet services.


Telnet is a system that allows you to log into other computers systems on the Internet as if you were using a terminal connected to that computer system. A few computers allow the public to telnet it, mainly large libraries. Otherwise, you need to have an account, with a user name and password, on the computer into which you want to telnet. You also need a telnet program.

From Windows 2000, 98, or 95, which come with a built-in telnet program, click the Start button, choose Run, type telnet, and press Enter. Then choose Connect, then Remote System from the menu bar to display the Connect dialog box. In the Hostname box, type the name of the computer you want to telnet to. Click the Connect button.

From UNIX, you type telnet followed by a space and the name of the computer you want to connect to. In the process of connecting, the telnet program tells you the escape character, which is the key combination that you should press if you have trouble disconnecting from the remote computer.

From Windows 3.1 or a Mac, you need to get a telnet program (try the TUCOWS Web site at to download one).

Once you are connected to a computer via telnet, you log in as though you were directly connected. Usually, the computer asks you to enter your username on that system and then your password. Some systems don't need a login and move directly to a welcome screen.

After telnet makes contact with the remote computer, it may ask what kind of terminal you are using. It doesn't want to know what kind of computer you actually have; it wants to know what kind of dumb terminal your telnet program is pretending to be. Common terminal types include VT100, ANSI, and 3101. If you indicate the wrong type, the information on your screen (in the telnet window, if any) will be scrambled. If the telnet program suggests a terminal type, accept it and see what happens.

When you are ready to disconnect, log off of the computer system you are telnetting into. The telnet program closes the connection and (on most systems) exits. Usually, you log out by typing logout or bye. On windowing systems, if the telnet program doesn't exit, close its window.

If you have trouble logging out, and you can't just close the telnet window to kill the program, try this: Type the escape character, which is usually Ctrl-] (close square bracket). You should see the telnet> prompt. If you don't, press Enter. At the telnet> prompt, type quit and press Enter.

For more information about telnet, see MORE Internet For Dummies, 4th Edition, or UNIX For Dummies, 4th Edition.


Finger is a system that lets you find out the current status of a computer system on the Internet or about one of its users. To use finger, you need a finger program (or Eudora, which has a finger command built in).

Under UNIX, type finger to find out the status of a computer. Don't forget the at-sign (@). To find out about a person, type finger followed by the person's e-mail address.

The results of the finger command varies from machine to machine and from person to person. The information about a computer might look something like this:

Login   Name           TTY  Idle  When        Office
root    0000-Admin     co   12:   Wed 16:04
johnl   John R. Levine vt   1d    Wed 16:03   Rm 201A

The results of fingering a person look something like this:

Login name: margy             In real life: Margy Levine Young
Directory: /usr/home/margyl   Shell: /bin/bash
On since Jun 30 16:03:13 on vt01   9 hours Idle Time
Project: Working on Web pages for The Internet Gurus
Plan: Take a vacation sometime soon. Or go feed the chickens. Or both.

For more information on finger, see MORE Internet For Dummies, 4th Edition.


The point of ping is to test that your Internet connection works and to see how long data packets are taking to get from your computer out to the Net and back. When you ping another computer, a little packet of information zings out to that computer, which responds right away. The ping program checks that the response it received, along with how long the response took. Normal responses are well under one second.

To ping, you need a ping program. Under UNIX, type ping, a space, and the name of a computer to ping. With Windows 2000, 98, or 95, click the Start button, choose Programs, and then MS-DOS Prompt. At the DOS prompt, type ping, a space, and the computer to ping, and press Enter.

From Windows 3.1 or a Mac, you need to get a ping program (try the TUCOWS Web site at to download one).

Which computer should you ping? You can ping a computer at your own Internet provider's site, for example, the computer from which you pick up your mail. Or you can ping a big, well-known computer, like or or

The results of ping look something like this:

Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from bytes=32 time=381ms TTL=244
Reply from bytes=32 time=192ms TTL=244
Reply from bytes=32 time=192ms TTL=244
Reply from bytes=32 time=196ms TTL=244

The time= tells you how long the ping's round-trip took in milliseconds (one-thousandths of a second).

For more information on ping, see MORE Internet For Dummies, 4th Edition.


Before there was the Web, there was Gopher. When Gopher was invented, it was just starting to revolutionize the Internet, because it provided an easy way to find and read lots of different kinds of information using a standard interface. Then the World Wide Web came along and did it better, and Gopher faded into obscurity.

Just as the Web organizes everything into pages with links, Gopher organizes everything into menus. From one menu, you can choose an item that displays another menu. Menus can also include text files, graphics files, and other information; when you choose a text file, the gopher program displays that file.

A gopher server is a computer on the Internet that stores gopher menus and sends them to you when your gopher programs requests them. (Just like a Web server, which is a computer on the Internet that stores Web pages and sends them to you when your Web browser requests them!) The mother of all gopher servers is, a computer at the University of Minnesota, where gopher was invented.

To use gopher, you need a gopher program or a Web browser that can pretend to be a gopher program (Netscape and Internet Explorer both can). From a UNIX system, type gopher followed by a space and the name of a gopher server.

From a Web browser, click in the Location box and type gopher:// followed by the name of a gopher server. For example, this URL takes you to the gopher server we mentioned above:


The URL of a specific menu on a gopher server will look longer and hairier, like this:


The additional information tells the gopher server exactly which item you want to see.

When you use your Web browser to see gopher menus, they appear as links. Just click on things and see what happens!

For more information on gopher, see MORE Internet For Dummies, 4th Edition.

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