The BBS Corner - Telnet BBS Systems: A Background and Overview for SysOps

What Is Telnet? How is it different than the Web?

Telnet is one of many protocols on the Internet. The World Wide Web (which uses HTTP - Hyper Teletext Protocol) is also an Internet  protocol. So are E-mail (POP3 and SMTP) along with and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol). The major different of Telnet versus the Web is a real-time interactive connection between the with a remote (host) computer and the end user (client) computer. Web pages allow a user to go from one page to another or to download a file, but are not really interactive with the host computer (in this case, a web server). Most of the work is done your computer (client) rather than on the host computer (server).

Telnet allows users to be interactive in real-time with the remote computer. The host computer (in this case the BBS) takes in commands from the client (in this case the user's computer) and performs functions and sends the output to the remote computer

Further Information: Telnet article on Wikipedia

Why Use Telnet?

Telnet BBS Systems are very similar to that of older traditional dial-up BBS systems. This is good for several reasons. Many BBS Sysops still use "legacy" BBS systems that they've used for many years. They don't want to start all over. Adding a "Virtual Modem" software add-on to an existing BBS system will allow them to continue their dial-up BBS on the Internet. Even if a BBS Sysop chooses to use a BBS system with built-in Internet capabilities, many people still like the traditional BBS "ANSI" color interface. While this is somewhat crude by today's standards, a number of people still like it. There are a vast number of existing BBS related programs (such as Door Games) that work better on a traditional BBS interface rather than the Web. Since Telnet is almost like a dial-up BBS interface, it does not take much to change from the old way to the new way. Think of Telnet as yet another adapter to your BBS.

Using a Telnet Client Program

The down side of using Telnet versus the Web is that your users will have to use a program called a Telnet "Client". There are a number of them out there with various kinds of functionality. A number of them are either freeware or shareware. Such examples include mTelnet, ZOC and NetTerm. Make at least one available for users to download. My suggestion is to use mTelnet since its free, simple, yet powerful.

The Telnet Clients in Windows 10 is turned off by default. But even with it turned on, most of the time (depending on the video drivers used), the end user cannot go "full screen" with the built-in Telnet Client. Worse yet - ANSI colors and High ASCII characters do not display correctly in these more modern Windows operating systems. Fortunately, other Telnet Clients exist, such as SyncTerm and mTelnet.

Further Information: Accessing BBS Systems & Telnet Clients

Telnet-Ready BBS Software Packages

There are several BBS software packages that are designed with the Internet in mind and have built-in Telnet servers along with other Internet features such as E-mail, FTP and more.

Commercialware systems that are Internet ready and are currently in development include the Wildcat Winserver. Freeware systems that are Internet ready and are still in development include Synchronet.

Further Information: Actively Developed BBS Software

Using Legacy BBS Systems with Telnet

Many BBS sysops are using traditional legacy (DOS based) BBS systems, early Windows BBS systems, or OS/2 based BBS systems. These systems can be adapted for use as Telnet BBS systems by the use of a device known as a Virtual Modem. A Virtual modem acts an interface between the modem world and the telnet world. Your users see it as a telnet port, your BBS sees it as a modem. The most you will have to do is to change your "modem" configurations (COM port and "AT" modem settings) and maybe enable the use of a "FOSSIL" driver. Other than that, the legacy BBS system operates the same as if it were connected to a physical modem.

Further Information: Virtual Modems & FOSSIL Drivers for BBS SysOps

The Next Step

Now that you've read the above overview, here is some additional information to help you get started in setting up a Telnet BBS.

Types of Internet Connections
Don't know which type or speed of Interenet connection methods are available or which one is the best for you? This section describes various to physically connect your computer to the Internet.
Virtual Modem Interfaces
Virtual Modems are used to interface old-style (DOS based and early Windows based) BBS systems to the Internet. Your BBS sees it as a modem - your users see your BBS as a Telnet connection. Here is all the information you will need to find out which is the best one for you and how to set it up and run on your system.

Dynamic DNS Services
If you do not have a Static IP address, don't let that keep you from operating a Telnet BBS. Here is information on what Dynamic DNS (Domain Name Server) services are about, what they do, and how they can help your users find your BBS.

Running a BBS in the Cloud
If you don't want to run your BBS at home because of power issues, Internet issues, or computer issues - just run your BBS in the "cloud" such as Amazon Web Services. Here's what you need to know.