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|Internet protocol suite|
The Gopher protocol // is a TCP/IP application layer protocol designed for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents over the Internet. Strongly oriented towards a menu-document design, the Gopher protocol presented an alternative to the World Wide Web in its early stages, but ultimately HTTP became the dominant protocol. The Gopher ecosystem is often regarded as the effective predecessor of the World Wide Web.
Invented by a team led by Mark P. McCahill at the University of Minnesota, the protocol offers some features not natively supported by the Web and imposes a much stronger hierarchy on information stored on it. Its text menu interface is easy to use, and well-suited to computing environments that rely heavily on remote text-oriented computer terminals, which were still common at the time of its creation in 1991, and the simplicity of its protocol facilitated a wide variety of client implementations. More recent Gopher revisions and graphical clients added support for multimedia. Gopher was preferred by many network administrators for using fewer network resources than Web services.
With its hierarchical structure, Gopher provided a useful platform for the first large-scale electronic library connections. Gopher users remember the system as being "faster and more efficient and so much more organised" than today's Web services. Although largely supplanted by the Web in the years following, the Gopher protocol is still in use by enthusiasts, and a small population of actively maintained servers remains.
The original Gopher system was released in late spring of 1991 by Mark McCahill, Farhad Anklesaria, Paul Lindner, Daniel Torrey, and Bob Alberti of the University of Minnesota. Its central goals were, as stated in RFC 1436:
The general interest in Campus-Wide Information Systems (CWISs) in higher education at the time, and the ease with which a Gopher server could be set up to create an instant CWIS with links to other sites' online directories and resources were the factors contributing to Gopher's rapid adoption. By 1992, the standard method of locating someone's e-mail address was to find their organization's CCSO nameserver entry in Gopher, and query the nameserver.
The name was coined by Anklesaria as a play off of several meanings of the word "gopher." The University of Minnesota mascot is the gopher, a gofer (same sound) is an assistant who "goes for" things, and a gopher burrows through the ground to reach a desired location.
The World Wide Web was in its infancy in 1991, and Gopher services quickly became established. By the late 1990s, Gopher had largely ceased expanding. Several factors contributed to Gopher's stagnation:
Gopher remains in active use by its enthusiasts, and there have been attempts to revive the use of Gopher on modern platforms and mobile devices. One such attempt is The Overbite Project, which hosts various browser extensions and modern clients.
As of 2012[update], there are approximately 160 gopher servers indexed by Veronica-2, reflecting a slow growth from 2007 when there were fewer than 100, although many are infrequently updated. Within these servers Veronica indexed approximately 2.5 million unique selectors. A handful of new servers are set up every year by hobbyists – over 50 have been set up and added to Floodgap's list since 1999. A snapshot of Gopherspace as it was in 2007 was circulated on BitTorrent and is still available. Due to the simplicity of the Gopher protocol, setting up new servers or adding Gopher support to browsers is often done in a tongue in cheek manner, principally on April Fools' Day.
|Browser||Currently Supported||Supported from||Supported until||Notes|
|Camino (discontinued)||Yes||1.0||current||Always uses port 70.|
|Classilla||Yes||9.0||current||Hardcoded to port 70 from 9.0–9.2; whitelisted ports from 9.2.1.|
|cURL||Yes||7.21.2 (October 2010)||current||cURL is a command-line file transfer utility|
|Epiphany||No||2.26.3||Disabled after switch to WebKit|
|Google Chrome||No||never||An extension to automatically forward to Gopher proxies was available, but needs to be rewritten to work with current versions of Chrome.|
|Internet Explorer||No||1||6.0||IE 6 SP1+ and IE with MS02-047 requires registry patch to re-enable. Always uses port 70.|
|Internet Explorer for Mac (discontinued)||No||5.2.3||PowerPC-only|
|lftp||Yes||?||current||lftp is a command-line file transfer program|
|libwww||Yes||1.0c (December 1992)||current||libwww is an API for internet applications|
|Line Mode Browser||Yes||1.1 (January 1992)||current|
|Mozilla Firefox||Addon||0||3.6||Always uses port 70. Built-in support dropped from Firefox 4.0 onwards; can be added back with OverbiteFF.|
|Netscape Navigator (discontinued)||Yes||?||22.214.171.124|
|NetSurf||No||Under development, based on the cURL fetcher.|
|OmniWeb||Yes||5.9.2 (April 2009)||current||First WebKit Browser to support Gopher|
|Opera||No||never||Opera 9.0 includes a proxy capability|
|Pavuk||Yes||?||current||Pavuk is a web mirror (recursive download) software|
|SeaMonkey||Addon||1.0||2.0.14||Always uses port 70. Built-in support dropped from SeaMonkey 2.1 onwards; compatible with OverbiteFF.|
Browsers that do not natively support Gopher can still access servers using one of the available Gopher to HTTP gateways.
Gopher support was disabled in Internet Explorer versions 5.x and 6 for Windows in August 2002 by a patch meant to fix a security vulnerability in the browser's Gopher protocol handler to reduce the attack surface which was included in IE6 SP1; however, it can be re-enabled by editing the Windows registry. In Internet Explorer 7, Gopher support was removed on the WinINET level.
For Mozilla Firefox and SeaMonkey, OverbiteFF extends Gopher browsing and supports Firefox 4. It includes support for accessing Gopher servers not on port 70 using a whitelist and for CSO/ph queries, and allows versions of Firefox and SeaMonkey that do not support Gopher natively to access Gopher servers. Plugins are also available for Konqueror and a proxy-based extension for Google Chrome.
Some have suggested that the bandwidth-sparing simple interface of Gopher would be a good match for mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), but so far, mobile adaptations of HTML and XML and other simplified content have proven more popular. The PyGopherd server provides a built-in WML front-end to Gopher sites served with it.
The early 2010s have seen a renewed interest in native Gopher clients for popular Smartphones. Overbite, an open source client for Android 1.5+ was released in alpha stage in 2010. PocketGopher was also released in 2010, along with its source code, for several Java ME compatible devices. iGopher was released in 2011 as a proprietary client for iPhone and iPad devices.
Gopher was at its height of popularity during a time when there were still many equally competing computer architectures and operating systems. As such, there are several Gopher clients available for Acorn RISC OS, AmigaOS, Atari MiNT, CMS, DOS, classic Mac OS, MVS, NeXT, OS/2 Warp, most UNIX-like operating systems, VMS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 9x. GopherVR was a client designed for 3D visualization, and there is even a Gopher client MOO object. The majority of these clients are hard coded to work on TCP port 70.
Users of Web browsers that have incomplete or no support for Gopher can access content on Gopher servers via a server gateway or proxy server that converts Gopher menus into HTML; known proxies are the Floodgap Public Gopher proxy and Gopher Proxy. Similarly, certain server packages such as GN and PyGopherd have built-in Gopher to HTTP interfaces. Squid Proxy software gateways any gopher:// URL to HTTP content, enabling any browser or web agent to access gopher content easily.
The conceptualization of knowledge in "Gopher space" or a "cloud" as specific information in a particular file, and the prominence of the FTP, influenced the technology and the resulting functionality of Gopher.
Gopher is designed to function and to appear much like a mountable read-only global network file system (and software, such as gopherfs, is available that can actually mount a Gopher server as a FUSE resource). At a minimum, whatever a person can do with data files on a CD-ROM, they can do on Gopher.
A Gopher system consists of a series of hierarchical hyperlinkable menus. The choice of menu items and titles is controlled by the administrator of the server.
Similar to a file on a Web server, a file on a Gopher server can be linked to as a menu item from any other Gopher server. Many servers take advantage of this inter-server linking to provide a directory of other servers that the user can access.
The protocol is simple to negotiate, making it possible to browse without using a client. A standard gopher session may therefore appear as follows:
/Reference 1CIA World Factbook /Archives/mirrors/textfiles.com/politics/CIA gopher.quux.org 70 0Jargon 4.2.0 /Reference/Jargon 4.2.0 gopher.quux.org 70 + 1Online Libraries /Reference/Online Libraries gopher.quux.org 70 + 1RFCs: Internet Standards /Computers/Standards and Specs/RFC gopher.quux.org 70 1U.S. Gazetteer /Reference/U.S. Gazetteer gopher.quux.org 70 + iThis file contains information on United States fake (NULL) 0 icities, counties, and geographical areas. It has fake (NULL) 0 ilatitude/longitude, population, land and water area, fake (NULL) 0 iand ZIP codes. fake (NULL) 0 i fake (NULL) 0 iTo search for a city, enter the city's name. To search fake (NULL) 0 ifor a county, use the name plus County -- for instance, fake (NULL) 0 iDallas County. fake (NULL) 0
Here, the client has established a TCP connection with the server on port 70, the standard gopher port. The client then sends a string followed by a carriage return followed by a line feed (a "CR + LF" sequence). This is the selector, which identifies the document to be retrieved. If the item selector were an empty line, the default directory would be selected. The server then replies with the requested item and closes the connection. According to the protocol, before the connection is closed, the server should send a full-stop (i.e., a period character) on a line by itself. However, as is the case here, not all servers conform to this part of the protocol and the server may close the connection without returning the final full-stop.
In this example, the item sent back is a gopher menu, a directory consisting of a sequence of lines each of which describes an item that can be retrieved. Most clients will display these as hypertext links, and so allow the user to navigate through gopherspace by following the links.
All lines in a gopher menu are terminated by "CR + LF", and consist of five fields: the item type as the very first character (see below), the display string (i.e., the description text to display), a selector (i.e., a file-system pathname), host name (i.e., the domain name of the server on which the item resides), and port (i.e., the port number used by that server). The item type and display string are joined without a space; the other fields are separated by the tab character.
Because of the simplicity of the Gopher protocol, tools such as netcat make it possible to download Gopher content easily from the command line:
echo jacks/jack.exe | nc gopher.example.org 70 > jack.exe
Item types are described in gopher menus by a single number or (case specific) letter and act as hints to the client to tell it how to handle a specific media type in a menu, analogous to a MIME type. Every client necessarily must understand itemtypes 0 and 1. All known clients understand item types 0 through 9, g, and s, and all but the very oldest also understand file-types h and i.
A list of additional file-type definitions has continued to evolve over time, with some clients supporting them and others not. As such, many servers assign the generic 9 to every binary file, hoping that the client's computer will be able to correctly process the file.
Historically, to create a link to a Web server, "GET /" was used as a pseudo-selector to simulate an HTTP client request. John Goerzen created an addition to the Gopher protocol, commonly referred to as "URL links", that allows links to any protocol that supports URLs. For example, to create a link to http://gopher.quux.org/, the item type is "h", the display string is the title of the link, the item selector is "URL:http://gopher.quux.org/", and the domain and port are that of the originating Gopher server (so that clients that do not support URL links will query the server and receive an HTML redirection page).
The master Gopherspace search engine is Veronica. Veronica offers a keyword search of all the public Internet Gopher server menu titles. A Veronica search produces a menu of Gopher items, each of which is a direct pointer to a Gopher data source. Individual Gopher servers may also use localized search engines specific to their content such as Jughead and Jugtail.
GopherVR is a 3D virtual reality variant of the original Gopher system.
Because the protocol is trivial to implement in a basic fashion, there are many server packages still available, and some are still maintained.