What is FidoNet

By Tom Jennings, 1992

> How do I get information on the FidoNet, how it works etc?
> How do I get connected to the FidoNet network?
> Where can I find FidoNet sites near me?

by Tom Jennings (tomj@fido.wps.com)
July, 1992

FidoNet is the name of a store-and-forward computer mail system based
upon "FidoNet" technology. Fido is the name of the computer Bulletin
Board System (BBS) that was, amongst other things, the original user
interface to the network. Fido/FidoNet is the name of the original
program written by me in early 1984 that performed these two functions.
It ran on DOS machines only. There are now probably over a hundred
"FidoNet compatible" programs available on nearly any "personal
computer" hardware platform.

Fido and FidoNet are U.S. registered trademarks of Tom Jennings.


The FidoNet is a large, fully functional anarchism. It is a
communications system built with personal computers, modems, phone
lines, and many thousands of crazy and interesting people. It is run
in a profoundly casual manner. It is amazingly reliable and efficient.
There is no central repository for information, no fixed structure to
rely on. Last year's monolithic infrastructure has been thoroughly
forgotten and completely replaced with today's seemingly endless
monstrosity, which will be gone and forgotten next year. It is not
possible to tell you how to join it, because by the time you read this
it will have changed (I know, I've tried before). Neither is it
possible to tell you where to go to find some particular item. I'm not

FidoNet is run completely by volunteers, from saints to evil power
mongers, with most people somewhere in the middle, closer to the
saintly end of things. The FidoNet is intentionally and militantly
anti-commercial; we have resisted more than one attempt to
"commercialize" the FidoNet, that is, derive profit from the workings
of network itself.  The invaders were repelled quite viciously. (This
is not to say that people don't conduct business using FidoNet, or
don't sell FidoNet-related goods.)

At this writing there are 16,000 nodes (aka "host") in the FidoNet,
serving about 1,000,000 users (estimated by the EFF). FidoNet started
with two nodes in 1984, San Francisco (the authors site) and
Baltimore, John Madill. FidoNet continues to double in size every 12
-- 18 months.  (There are two ancient documents covering the period
1984 -- 1986, named FIDOHIST.1 and FIDOHIST.2, drifting around the

FidoNet carries 500 - 1000 echo conferences ("news groups") as well as
email. The FidoNet echo "backbone" carries a few megabytes per day.

There is a widely distributed weekly newsletter called FidoNews, in
it's 9th year, devoted to subjects of interest to FidoNet members and

A Technical Standards Committee does the usual bit with our evolving
technologies; documenting current practice, directing changes,
protocol testing, and determining whether 2000 is a leap year (it is).

It is no longer true that most FidoNet nodes are Bulletin Board
Systems.  Many are, and comprise the only public access to the
network. The remaining network access is through privately owned
"mail-only" systems.  While you can certainly email them, you cannot
dial into them from "the outside world", compounding the difficulty in
gaining access to the FidoNet.

There are at least a dozen networks based upon the FidoNet technology.
Some are a few thousand nodes. You'll have to contact them for


FidoNet is made of mainly personal computers -- in North America,
generally pc-clones; in Europe, mainly Atari's and Amiga's. There are
Radio Shack Color Computers ($99 retail), CP/M-80 machines (running
smart BYE programs) -- you name it we got it. While the "pc clone"
still predominates, it is by no means the only system suitable for
FidoNet.  All of them run some kind of "FidoNet compatible" software. 

Nearly all of FidoNet communicates with modems over ordinary dialup
telephone lines. Unlike networks with "sugar daddies", ie.
universities (our tax money!) or sites with the ability to parasite
from a bloated corpserate entity (knowingly or unknowingly), FidoNet
members pay their own phone bills. 

A major feature of FidoNet is the "nodelist", a list of all nodes in
FidoNet. (Maybe the phrase "host list" makes sense to you.) It is
updated weekly, and FidoNet members receive it (actually a
"difference" file) by an agressively efficient redundant distributed


There are many reasons, mostly technical, why FidoNet uses a single
list containing all member nodes. However the single most important
reason is that it gives each and every FidoNet node the information
and ability to contact any other FidoNet node directly, without
relying on any other system. No external authority can prevent any
other site from communicating freely. 

Freedom costs. Efficiency is for machinery, not people. A line of text
per FidoNet node is a small price to pay for self-defense and the
ability to talk with whoever you wish. It is almost never needed, and
when it is, it is too late -- you find yourself cutoff. 


How do you get up-to-date information on the FidoNet? Where can I get
a listing of FidoNet nodes nearest me? Where can I get files
describing the FidoNet technology? Where can I get FidoNet-compatible

Please keep in mind that even though you're probably looking for
information on the FidoNet itself, the only public access to it will
be through Bulletin Board Systems. 

Most BBSs exist for business, pleasure or a mixture. While you may
have expectations of timeliness etc. on commercial or university
systems, BBS operators are generally one person handling dozens to
hundreds of calls a day. Be patient and carry your own weight. 

My universal advice is this: seek out any source of information on
Bulletin Boards in your area; COMPUTER SHOPPER and BOARDWATCH
magazines are available in most places that sell computer books.
Finding one BBS will give you leads to finding others. Your goal is to
find a BBS that also has the FidoNet information you want. 

Many BBSs today are also FidoNet nodes, so if you stumble upon one --
your search still may not be over. Every BBS is completely
independent, even FidoNet-linked ones. There are various levels of
involvement with the FidoNet; from hundreds of public conferences and
files to merely a local BBS with email for the operator -- only.

So you thought you asked a simple question, huh? 

If you are on the Internet, and have further questions about FidoNet,
send your questions to deitch@gisatl.fidonet.org, who in real life is
David Deitch in Atlanta, Georgia, USofA. A volunteer also, so be nice
and have patience.