Telnet Talkers Rebooted

A "telnet talker" is a colloquial term for a virtual space where users can chat - what some might call a "chat room" - using the telnet internet protocol. Telnet is one of the older protocols, originally introduced in 1969 under RFC15 extended in RFC854 in 1983, becoming STD 8 by Internet Engineering Task Force. The name is derived from "teletype network." For our purposes, we rely on a talker server somewhere on the network and users communicate with it using telnet client software.

The server is a customized environment consisting of server software running on an actual server with a static IP connection - normally required so users know where to find it anytime they wish to log in. We could run it on the desktop at home, but it would become a moving target in the sea of internet addresses. ALG was run this way for a short time before really going "live" but a serious talker needs a static home address on a server that is running and available all of the time.

The client is any of many available software packages running on your desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, or perhaps your "Smart" TV. This can be very simple, such as using 'telnet' from a command prompt (terminal window) in many devices running Linux, Mac OS-X, OS/2, Un*x, CP/M, DOS, or even - gasp! - Windows. Generally, one opens a "command window" and types something like:

This instructs the internet-connected device to connect to on port 4405 using the telnet protocol. This is about as simple and pure as it usually gets. While we can look for fancier software to do the job, it really isn't necessary. Talker servers are designed to work very well in this environment.

If the telnet command fails in your command window, it simply means that the telnet protocol client must be installed. Some later versions of Windows omit the telnet client by default, but it is easily obtained from microsoft and trivial to install. Windows XP and earlier has it, Windows 7 and newer may or may not. Linux, Mac OS-X, OS/2, and Un*x include it in default installations. If you are using DOS or CP/M, your mileage may vary, but it's out there somewhere.

Once connected to the server, we are presented with a login screen such as:

At this point, we have three options:

  1. Type "who" to see who is logged in
  2. Type "quit" to abandon the login attempt
  3. Enter a name

Here is the "who" option:

We see that "Kesey" is logged on currently, but we have not yet logged in. We don't really want to talk to him, so we invoke the "quit" option:

On the other hand, perhaps we wish to actually create an account and log in. The user chooses a name and at the next prompt, a password. There are few restrictions, as evidenced by the creativity of many of the over 1300 users who were frequenting ALG "back in the day." That list is available to view once logged on, if interested. Here is the first-time login for imaginary user "noob":

At this point, repeat your password. If you've changed your mind, simply fail to confirm the password and you're done - and disconnected. Note that the passwords do not echo back to you by default.

Once you are logged in, you simply type messages and hit enter. Everything you type in this mode can be seen by everyone in the virtual "room" where you typed it. I will get into more details about commands in the next chapter, just remember these few items for now:

  1. All commands begin with a "."
  2. To see who is on the talker, type .who
  3. To set a short description that appears next to your name, use .desc [text]
  4. To see a list of commands, type .help
  5. For details about those commands, type .help [command name]
  6. To log out, type .quit

Don't take any advice to "take the quiz of the day! type .qu!", ok?

Thanks and I hope to see you there even if just to take a peek.


Telnet Talkers Rebooted 26 March 2017

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