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What is gopher?

Apparently some sort of a north American rat.

Also, gopher is an early network protocol, similar to HTTP, but much simpler and cleaner. Unlike HTTP, gopher doesn't make extensive use of HTML, but instead uses its own format called gophermaps. Unlike HTML those maps are far more straightforward: they consist entirely of text and links that occupy an entire line. This makes the gophermaps incredibly easy to write, render and view. In comparison, to write an HTML document the author has to almost manually position each element. This makes them much harder to write and review, often leading to hard-to-read WWW-pages and wildly different results in different browsers. Nowadays there exists an entire industry centred around fanciful displaying text!

The protocol itself also does not contain nearly as many fanciful features as HTML: there are no cookies, no referrers, no DRM... To some it may sound like a bad thing, yet I beg to differ. I do not doubt that at least some of those technologies have enabled a few good things, the greatest result is that our computing is being taken further away from us into the so-called "cloud" -- all while our computers are more powerful than ever! Almost everyone now uses a computer, yet almost no one is computer-literate as just one result.

How to use gopher?

Most people new to gopher will probably find it easiest to use some HTTP-gopher proxy. One such proxy can be found on floodgap and I know of another one at codemadness.org.

A slightly more direct approach would be to use a browser-extension that allows viewing documents over gopher as well as HTTP. For Firefoxes OverbiteWX exists, and for Chromiums there is Burrow. A list of such extensions and their locations is maintained at floodgap.

A specialised gopher client -- that is to say browser -- however is probably what most gopher-surfers will start looking for as soon as they discover how incredible it really is. A list of such clients is maintained on Wikipedia. I personally use the TUI client sacc, but there also are quite a lot of graphical options for those that want it.

Interesting on gopher

There are two gopher holes (i.e. sites) that I would recommend particularly: gopher.floodgap.com and bitreich.org. Both contain a lot of useful information to get one started with gopher, as well as links to the other holes. These holes are very diverse in nature: one can find encyclopaediae, cooking books, ancient and newer software, weather, interactive fiction... Of course, I too have a hole of my own that holds most of my public content: mineeyes.cyou.

Running gopher

Those familiar with hosting services will probably find that hosting a gopher hole is far easier than hosting a web-site or a mail server, and only slightly harder than maintaining an FTP site. Once again, Wikipedia has a list of gopher-servers. Most of them are pretty similar to each-other, but for the specific instructions I'd say to check the relevant documentation. Personally I use geomyidae because I find that its nonstandard format of gophermaps is even simpler to write than the normal ones (and the clients still get replied with a standard gophermap), and it supports a little bit of scripting as well, which is how I made a couple of the more dynamic pages on my hole.

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