The BBS Corner - Telnet BBS FAQ for SysOps

Are you looking for information on how to connect your BBS to the Internet? What is the Telnet Protocol? Should you use an add-on to put your BBS on the Internet, or should you start from scratch with a BBS that's Telnet-ready out of the box? get started. What is a domain name and how does Dynamic IP addressing work? This section should help BBS sysops get an introduction on Telnet and getting their BBS connected to the Internet.

Q: What is Telnet and how does it work?

A: Telnet is a client-server Internet-based protocol where a person can interactively connect to a remote computer with a text-based connection. Telnet requires a Telnet Server and a Telnet Client.

Most modern computer operating systems (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, etc.) have built-in Telnet clients that allow users to connect to a Telnet server without additional software, though third-party software is often better than the one that comes with the operating system.

Further Information: Wikipedia Article

Q: Why use Telnet for Bulletin Board Systems?

A: Telnet is similar to the client-server arrangement that was common with the dial-up modem-based BBS system. Telnet is text-based and allows the end user to directly interface with the BBS using their Telnet client. Most modern Telnet clients also support ANSI color schemes.

Further Information: Telnet BBS Overview Page 

Q: Is operating a Telnet BBS expensive?

A: Operating a Telnet BBS is only as expensive as you want it to be. Broadband Internet connections are fairly common - and most allow you to operate a Telnet BBS with little additional effort. Many kinds of BBS software are now freeware, but some are still commercialware and require you to purchase the BBS software.

Q: Can I use my old DOS-based BBS on the Internet?

A: Most older DOS-based BBS software can be adapted to be used on the Internet. For Windows, you can use a Virtual Modem or Virtual FOSSIL Driver to simulate a dial-up modem to the BBS. The BBS thinks it's talking to a modem, and a user via Telnet thinks it's a Telnet server.

Further Information: Virtual Modem/FOSSIL Driver Page

Q: How many nodes (simultaneous users) can I run on my BBS?

A: This is not an easy answer, as it depends on a number of factors.

If you operate an older DOS-based BBS using a Virtual Modem or Virtual FOSSIL Driver, you may limited in the number of nodes you can run. This has to do with the number of COM ports (serial communications ports) that are available. A typical DOS based BBS can typically handle up to four COM ports without much modification. Any COM ports above four were usually quite difficult to accomplish because of the strange IRQs (interrupt requests). The BBS may be able to work, but getting Door Games and file transfers (e.g. ZMODEM) to work with strange COM Ports (5 and above) and odd IRQs was never an easy task.

In a modern Telnet-ready BBS, this is not a problem because the BBS can simulate the same COM port for each node (e.g. Synchronet has all door games use a virtual COM 1). Therefore the number of "nodes" (simultaneous users) is now a limited to the the speed of the computer or the Internet connection. A dial-up connection may be able to handle 3 or 4 users, while a DSL, cable or fiber connection may be able to handle many more than that.

Q: Can I use my cable, fiber or DSL connection for inbound Telnet access?

A: Yes and no. Most cable, fiber and DSL services allow inbound Telnet connections on the normal TCP/IP port (Port 23). However, some block this port. A work around is to let your users come in to your BBS on a non-standard port (Port 24, 26, or other high port over 1000). Other potential problems include that you do not have a true IP address (usually due to Network Address Translation or NAT), therefore inbound connections to your computer won't work. Sometimes you need to subscribe to a "business class" (more expensive) version of your cable modem or DSL service to either get Port 23 open or to get a true routable IP address to your computer. (See more on Port 23 blocking and work arounds below.)

Q: How about Dial-Up or Satellite Internet connections?

A: Dial-up Internet connections may work, but the speeds the user sees may be slow. A BBS may be able to support 3 or 4 users on a dial-up connection. However, most Internet providers do not let you to stay connected 24/7.

Satellite connections are NOT recommended. The reason is that there is quite a bit of latency (lag) and the end user may become frustrated with a slow connection. Also, some satellite services do not use a true routable IP address. If you do not have an outside routable IP address, your users cannot reach you.

Further Information: Internet Connection Page

Q: Are there BBS software packages that are Telnet Ready?

A: There are several BBS software packages that are Telnet ready. For Windows, there are Synchronet, Wildcat, Worldgroup and Mystic. For Linux/Unix there are Synchronet and MBSE.

Further Information: BBS Software Page

Q: How do file transfers work over the Internet?

A: There are multiple ways to perform file transfers. For Telnet, the file transfer protocol called ZMODEM will work fairly well, but the end user MUST use a third-party Telnet client that supports ZMODEM (not the built-in clients). Some modern BBS systems support FTP and Web (HTML) access and can handle file transfers that way.


Q: How do FidoNet transfers work via the Internet?

A: There are several ways to transfer FidoNet message traffic via the Internet. There is the Direct (in-band) method where a BBS will connect to another BBS via a Telnet line, and the Indirect (out of band) method where messages are sent using other Internet protocols.

Further Info: Fidonet via Internet

Q: How about Web or FTP access?

A: There are some BBS software packages that offer built-in Web (HTML) or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access. For example, Synchronet offers both Web and FTP and Wildcat offers Web access.

Q: Can I use Secure Shell for my BBS?

A: Secure Shell (SSH) is a similar text-based client-server protocol to Telnet. The advantage of SSH is that the connection is secure (Telnet connections are "in the clear"). Very few BBS packages support SSH and very few clients support SSH. Telnet BBS servers that support SSH include Synchronet. Telnet BBS clients that support SSH include SyncTerm and PuTTY. These servers and clients can also support Telnet.

Further Information: Wikipedia Article

Q: How can I use my home router to allow for incoming Telnet connections?

A: You will need to use a process called Port Forwarding to use your home router to direct incoming Telnet, FTP, Mail and Web connections (if applicable) to your computer that runs the BBS.

Further Information: Telnet BBS Internet Connections Page

Q: My IP address changes all the time, how can I get people to find my BBS?

A: An IP address allows users to connect to your BBS. It is like a "phone number" for Internet connections. Most IP addresses for professional web servers are "static" (never changes) while most end users IP addresses are dynamic (changes regularly). If your IP address changes, it may be difficult for users to find you. Also, users are used to typing an easy to remember address (e.g. yourbbs.com). A Dynamic DNS (Domain Name Service) provider can help you get an "address" for your BBS.

Further Info: Dynamic DNS Services

Q: My Internet Provider blocks Port 23 (telnet port). What can I do?

A: This is not an easy answer as it depends on your particular situation. In the Internet world, each service is desginated a default "port" number. Each service uses a different port to allow multiple services to run on a single machine. Telnet is assigned port 23, HTTP is port 80, SMTP is port 25, FTP is on ports 20 and 21.

Often times Internet providers block certain ports to prevent residential customers from running illegal servers. The way around this is to use a non-standard port. For example, moving Telnet to port 24 or above 1000 (e.g. 2323) is common. You must inform your users of this non-standard port number, otherwise they will not be able to access your BBS. The best solution is to find a provider that does not block ports, or to upgrade to a "business class" service on your existing service. This may not be possible or practical depending on your situation.

Q: Once I have my Telnet BBS in operation, how can I promote it?

A: There are several BBS List websites that are dedicated to the promotion BBS systems. For starters, we recommend The Telnet BBS Guide (a companion website to The BBS Corner). There other BBS List websites as well.

Further Info: Telnet BBS Guide Lists of BBS Lists  

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