back to article The Return of Gopher: Pre-web hypertext service is still around

An announcement about a new handheld games console a few days ago caused confusion, because it was online but not on the web. It was published on Gopher. The Gophie gopher browser running on a recent Linux distro, displaying the Playdate announcement The Gophie gopher browser running on a recent Linux distro, displaying the …

  1. DarkwavePunk

    Even when the Web existed...

    Back in the day when I first used the Internet at university I had the chance to use the early WWW. It was a rubbish experience (especially with the network connections in Australia then). I went back to Gopher, Archie, Veronica. When the web took off I still tended to use Lynx which is sadly no longer really possible for most sites these days. Glad to see there's various projects kicking back against bloat and prioritising information again - as it should be.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Even when the Web existed...

      Gopher was great for the hierarchiacal kind of information that academic institutions produce: course lists, faculty lists, etc. The breakthrough with WWW was about publishing articles where cross referencing was required and it was a simple step for an IT lab from publishing an article on particle-bashing to publishing the canteen's menu.

      Since then, even though we know all about the problems associated with taxonomies – those that from afar look like flies – we continue to return to classifications to keep our heads above the water!

    2. Auntie Dix

      Re: Even when the Web existed...

      If Lynx doesn't work on a website, it probably means that the site won't work for people using screen readers.

      1. Beeblebrox


        Pro tip - read El Reg using Lynx at work, if your boss looks at your screen they just see you 'working' in a terminal.

    3. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Even when the Web existed...

      Eh not all was bad, there was a few old websites that very very well designed.

  2. Filippo Silver badge

    doesn't solve ad bloat

    The reason for which gopherspace is not bloated with ads is not technical; it's merely economical. If, somehow, everyone started using gopher, then gopherspace would become bloated with ads in short order. They'd be text-only, maybe ascii-art, but they'd be there.

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

      "text-only, maybe ascii-art, but they'd be there"

      Very true; however there is much less damage and tracking that baked in text can really achieve.

      You are right though, the monetization arses will ruin it somehow.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      IT doesn't Need Ad Bloat to Float its AI Boats

      Surely, Filippo, anyone using Gopher Spaces are fully expecting their text contributions to be advertising their sensitive wares to like-minded smarter entrepreneurial types ...... and in all of the best instances for stealthily remotely commanding and controlling ..... well, who knows how many extremely interesting and enlightening programs there may be out there to play Greater IntelAIgent Games.

      One thing you can be absolutely certain of though, is such is a seriously ACTive nightmare for the likes of any spooky NSA or GCHQ type crews intent on exercising their own disruptive programs in support of status quo dinosaurs for they are not fit for any purpose therein/thereon and will suffer greatly and interminably should they choose to not leave future matters to that and/or those who would know better that they what both needs and can be easily remotely done via alien virtual means and attractively addictive virulent memes.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

      "They'd be text-only"

      Y'know, that might be fine. I sort of automatically ignore most ads in newspapers and magazines and even TV because they clearly aren't of interest to me. Don't need cat food. No cat. I'm moving on. Not currently in the market for a car. Moving on. Don't think solar panels in a rather cloudy and snowy climate at 45 degree N latitude can possibly be a good idea. Moving on. Once in a great while, they offer something of interest. I've even been known to buy stuff as a result of reading them.

      I think text only ads (within reason) MIGHT be OK. At least, unlike the web's Javascript abominations, they probably can't infect my computer with nasty malware.

      1. Irony Deficient

        Don’t think solar panels in a rather cloudy and snowy climate …

        … at 45 degrees N latitude can possibly be a good idea.

        Several solar plants exist in Vermont, most notably the 19.6 MW Coolidge Solar Farm in Ludlow. (Granted, that’s closer to 43° 30′ N than to 45° N, which is close to the border with Québec.) However, I’ve seen a couple of smaller installations in the Northeast Kingdom, e.g. the 2.6 MW Barton Solar Farm, around 44° 45′ N.

        (For folks who aren’t familiar with New England, the climate of northern Vermont is approximately the temperature range of Moscow with the annual precipitation of Galway.)

        On a smaller scale, A Vermonter’s Guide to Residential Solar (PDF, from September 2018) provides information for people in Vermont who might be considering photovoltaic systems for their homes.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Don’t think solar panels in a rather cloudy and snowy climate …

          The fact that they exist doesn't, by itself, make them a good idea.

          1. Irony Deficient

            The fact that they exist doesn’t, by itself, make them a good idea.

            They were sufficiently good ideas for people to make them exist in their climatic locations.

          2. agurney

            Re: Don’t think solar panels in a rather cloudy and snowy climate …

            The fact that they exist doesn't, by itself, make them a good idea.

            OK, not brilliant on a short dull winter's day, but I'm at 56 degrees north, currently generating more than 3KW with a 4KW PV system, have plenty of free hot water, and the feed in tariff has more than covered the initial outlay.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

        The greatest abomination about current ads isn't the ads themselves, (abominable as they are) it's the invisible part of the iceberg of trackers, identifiers, stolen personal information. Why? So that adverts can be 0.05% effective instead of 0.01% effective??

        Users are getting shafted, advertisers aren't really getting much more bang for their buck, and Google + Facebook are profiting from screwing both sides.

    4. Agamemnon

      Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

      I would actually Watch ASCII Art Ads!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

        The inevitable next step in the sequence can only be a revival of ASCII art pr0n…

        (Which, to be honest, those who very very carefully and laboriously laid out their tableau of characters did actually deserve quite some technical credit for…)

        Hmm, with a simple shell script for-loop you could even loop through a whole series of ASCII art images and make flipbook-style 'videos', I guess (you'd need to provide your own sound effects). Much smaller downloads than any other video format, too!

        (Rule 34 dictates that someone has probably already done this…)

        [I'll get my coat…]

        1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

          Re: doesn't solve ad bloat

          > Hmm, with a simple shell script for-loop you could even loop through a whole series of ASCII art images and make flipbook-style 'videos'

          No need. ASCII art can already replace Netflix: most of Star Wars has already been re-shot in ASCII.


  3. Flywheel
    Thumb Up

    Gopher never dies

    I've been running a public-access gopher server for about 5 years now, and am never ceased to be amazed by the minimal hardware it needs to run. I started off with a Pi Model 2B originally and it has since graduated to a small corner of my Intel NUC web server box. I get several hundred visitors weekly from all over the world, and no bots/scrapers. It's a very impressive protocol.

    1. EarthDog

      Re: Gopher never dies

      you should throttle down to 9600 baud to enhance the experience.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Gopher never dies

      even though browser code bases REMOVE it, gopher still lives. But the same browser authors that remove gopher and ftp POINTLESSLY put CRAP IN ITS PLACE (tracking, 2D FLATASS, etc.) instead of staying the way they were.

      You would think that browser devs (or the ones yanking their puppet strings) are a bunch of ARROGANT DWEEBS or something...

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Gopher never dies

        We are all individuals!


        1. theOtherJT Silver badge

          Re: Gopher never dies

          "I'm not"

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Gopher never dies

            I am, and so is my wife.

  4. IGotOut Silver badge

    I love the Reg

    One article going how great it is to want a bloat free experience.... And another demanding Safari updates so we can have more bloat.

  5. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    Gopher isn't actually any older than the Web...

    I only ever tried out Gopher briefly circa 1994-5 (when the Web was already the Next Big Thing and- in hindsight- rapidly displacing Gopher). I almost forgot about it, and later assumed that it had been one of those pre-web, pre-Eternal-September-era technologies which disappeared after that mid-90s transitional period (a la Usenet (*)- which I *did* use a lot- and telnet/text-based BBSs).

    But I found out just a couple of years ago that Gopher wasn't actually older than the web- they're pretty much contemperaneous!

    Wikipedia says

    "Gopher system was released in mid-1991"


    "In 1990, [Tim Berners-Lee] developed the foundations for the Web [and] the browser was released outside CERN to other research institutions starting in January 1991, and then to the general public in August 1991"

    Apparently Gopher's adoption was damaged by the announcement in early 1993 that licensing fees would be charged for implementations of the protocol, though I suspect the Web's more flexible design would ultimately have won out regardless.

    (*) Yes, I know it's still used for binaries, but as far as its original purpose- news and general discussion- goes, it's been dead for a *long* time.

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: Gopher isn't actually any older than the Web...

      I still lurk in various newsgroups, mostly in the rec.arts.sf.* hierarchy. Some of them see only a few posts per month (one group gets one post/month, the autoposted info post) but some get a lot of posts still. r.a.sf.written is not nearly as lively as it was in the 1990s, but still gets dozens of posts daily, mostly on topic (or as nearly on topic as they ever were). A lot of groups are full of spam and nothing but spam, and others have continuous flamewars involving under a half dozen regulars. Some of those flamewars have been going for nearly two decades or even longer; see, for example,, where certain regulars have been flaming and counter flaming since the 1990s. Anyone who thinks that I'm exaggerating can look up, for example 'Peter Nyikos'. (He is, apparently, a brilliant mathematician. He's also an Ancient Astronaut creationist crackpot and a firm believer in Directed Panspermia. Look that up, too. And he's rather far to the right. It could be worse. He's not a Velikovskian or a Young Earth Creationist; there are two or three YECs who are further to the right than he is currently posting on t.o, they merely haven't been around as long as he has.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gopher isn't actually any older than the Web...

        "[...] a Young Earth Creationist;"

        Like some recent Northern Ireland government ministers.

  6. Barry Rueger

    A Bit Before My Time

    Somehow gopher, archie, and veronica were almost forgotten about by the time that I graduated from C64 BBSs to the World Wide Web. (Pete's Pond Page anyone?)

    I honestly do look back nostalgically on those early, pre-HTTPS days, when you could write a web page in notepad, when you found all manner of very cool stuff at Yahoo, and when a home page likely as not included a photo of your own actual home.

    Those of course were the days when web sites, links lists, and everything else were managed by living, breathing, thinking human beings, not by brain-dead algorithms. There may have been significantly less volumes of content on the web, but the signal to noise ratio - or at least the signal to advertising ratio - was much, much better.

    Despite technical limitations and dial-up speeds, I could generally find what I wanted faster and easier than is the case today. At the very least I didn't need to battle algorithms, paywalls, SEO hacks, and endless YouTube popup ads trying to get a some simple answer.

    I can even recall, and I'm not making this up, a time when the web had NO advertising, and when anyone suggesting it should be allowed would be attacked mercilessly.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: A Bit Before My Time

      I remember the first time I tried a new fangled web search engine from a little company called Google, instead of my then favourite Altavista, and thought it worked well so started using it regularly ... hell, I even recommended it to people. That was about the time I last used Gopher ... When it comes to mistakes, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

      1. Barry Rueger

        Re: A Bit Before My Time

        Yeah, remember how amazing ut was that Goigle invariably turned up exactly what you wanted?

        And now? A giant SEO hash of utter useless garbage.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: A Bit Before My Time

      The rot set in the 90s with so called 'push technology', the ability to download unsolicited material onto a person's web browser so you could display advertising. This rapidly morphed into ways of downloading programs onto their computer, initially with Microsoft trying to download binaries and then as today's ubiquitous scripting environment.

  7. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    I have gopher in a OS/2 Warp 3 Connect VM

    It works fine. The sense of nostalgia and simpler times is very tempting. Now desktops need 4GB of RAM.

    1. Irony Deficient

      Now desktops need 4GB of RAM.

      How much RAM they need might depend upon their OS and which programs need to be run on them.

  8. Mr D Spenser

    The original Internet can still be found in remote corners

    Whenever I need a break from the current Web x.x dreck I slip away to

    A self funded holdover from the ARPAnet days. The Welcome page provides some context.

    1. Munchausen's proxy

      Re: The original Internet can still be found in remote corners

      Thanks. You just cost me an hour and a half -- to start.

      The internet has been useful today.

      (No really, thanks!)

  9. Pig Dog Bay

    Yearling - BBC?

    Way back in the 90's I remember someone called Yearling at the BBC hosting some interesting pages. They mostly talked about TV programmes and on occasion alien conspiracy theories, great stuff. I can't recall if the pages were Gopher, Lynx or early HTTP.

    Did anyone else come across this site?

    1. achillesneil

      Re: Yearling - BBC?

      I did. I remember when I stole a laptop from work in the 90's (it was going into landfill) and installed FreeBSD on it via a floppy disk and modem. Happy days.

      It had a hard disk of 325MB and 4M of RAM. You had get inventive then. I had a kid and little spare money. You make the most out of what you have.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Internet via JANET in mid-1980s?

    "Your humble scribe started exploring the internet via JANET in the mid-1980s, and used Gopher, Archie, Veronica and so on when they were new, so it's been enjoyable to read about people discovering it anew."

    No mention of WAIS ( from the same timeframe which was the other main alternative to Gopher and WWW.

    Also regarding the author "exploring the internet via JANET in the mid-1980s", according to Wikipedia JANET only came into existance (as an X.25 network) in April 1984 and, according to Wikipedia , JIPS (Janet's IP-over-X.25 service) did not start until March 1991 - I certainly remember the particular Uni I was at didn't get on JIPS until at least 1992. I don't know when the PAD-to-Telnet gateway at Imperial College went online, perhaps it predated JIPS.

    So I'm wondered how he explored the Internet via JANET in the mid-1980s (unless via mailing lists or possibly UUCP newsfeeds)...

    I'm guessing the passing of time is making the author's memory unreliable (it happens to us all).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Internet via JANET in mid-1980s?

      Actually found this Uni of Surrey guide to the Internet from 1993 which mentions the PAD-to-Telnet gateway:

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Internet via JANET in mid-1980s?

      Not so sure ...

      JANET was already a thing before I left Manchester Computer Science Department In 1982.

      Now it may only have been in bits but it was definitely coming together,

      The Computer Science department was absolutely connected to the 'Internet' of the time with a relatively slow link - probably dial-up.

    3. CJ_C

      Re: Internet via JANET in mid-1980s?

      UK Universities had extensive but not fully connected networks by 1973, based mainly around the Regional Centres. The Wells report from the Network working Party of that year eventually led to the formation of JNT (Joint Network Team) in 1979. By 1986 a recognisable national JANET network running a single set of protocols with with backbone was in place. See: Janet: The First 25 Years, by Christoper S. Cooper, ISBN 0954920724.

  11. fidodogbreath

    "Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Gopher. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the lost simplicity of plain text…AAAACKKKKKK"

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      All hail Darth Goldy

      "That's no moon; that's the University of Minnesota!"

      (And we'll have Mr. John Williams guest-conduct the marching band for the soundtrack...)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    for a simpler way to access the text ...

    Just rewrite the gopher link a bit:

    Job done :)

    1. spireite Silver badge

      Re: for a simpler way to access the text ...

      Am I the only one to think this was a Playboy link?

  13. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    Plain text is beautiful!

    Indeed it is. After trying various outliners, for my own documents I eventually went back to plain text (sometimes markdown) files in a fairly shallow folder hierarchy. Although I never used gopher much, I did use it to download an early Netscape Navigator (v 2.1?). I recall that took overnight and two tries. Now http is just bad, bad, bad. The gopher protocol benefits from not having been similarly "improved" by first Netscape, then Microsoft, and lately Alphabet.

  14. martinusher Silver badge

    What do you mean "Removing FTP Support"?

    I've never liked FTP because it takes a stream protocol and impresses a rather naff packet oriented protocol on top of it. Its been widely accepted and used despite it being grossly inefficient. Its obsolete, I gather because HTTP/HTTPS has supplanted it.

    The snag is that HTTP uses exactly the same naff protocol mechanism as FTP. It is, effectively, FTP with a few hypertext bells and whistles bolted onto it. Every time you get a 404 error, that's FTP. Same with all the other three digit codes. These codes seem to be eliminated by the 'view source' but like other protocols those nuts and bolts are there, just under the surface.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: What do you mean "Removing FTP Support"?

      *ahem* there are still a few ftp-only resources out there. REMOVING IT from the various browsers was ARROGANT, LAME, and JUST! PLAIN! STUPID!!!

  15. JimmyPage Silver badge

    ... and USENET

    nntp is still around ...

  16. Binraider Silver badge

    Gopher. Only one step removed from BBS territory!

    The bad old days really were much more fun.

  17. Long John Silver

    Fond memories

    Thank you for the pointer to Firefox add-ons.

    The simplicity and elegance of solely textual displays aroused nostalgia.

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