Telnet: Basics

What is Telnet?

When browsing the Web or reading newsgroup messages, you may have seen links to Telnet sites or statements about "telnetting" to sites. Telnet, like the World Wide Web, is a way of reaching computers that are connected to the Internet. Telnet typically gives you access to electronic library systems, often at universities, and distant bulletin-board systems. But, unlike World Wide Web sites, there are no images, as Telnet sites are text-only.

Why do I want Telnet?

Telnet allows you to gain access to large electronic libraries of information and to access distant bulletin board systems without the expense of a long distance telephone call. These systems contain information that is relevant, current and interesting, but cannot be accessed directly through the Internet as easily as the World Wide Web. However, the same information may available at a World Wide Web site that is easily reached through your browser.

What do I need to use Telnet?

To use Telnet, you need Telnet client software, which is a program specifically designed to connect to these types of sites. Your browser automatically opens this program when you click on a telnet link or enter a telnet URL (also called Address, or Location).

If you're using Windows 95, you have a built-in Telnet client program. You can click General Preferences on the Options menu in Netscape Navigator, and on the Apps tab tell the browser where to find the telnet client (typically C:\Windows\Telnet.exe). Microsoft's Internet Explorer seems to automatically find the built-in telnet client program without your help.

If you are using Windows 3.x or you do not have a Telnet client program, you can obtain one from sources on the Internet such as C|Net's site. Then you'll have to tell Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator where to find it for automatic startup.

How do I use Telnet?

Note: This site will explain the basics of using Telnet client software, but much more in-depth and advanced information is available. You can find links to many sources of Telnet information at Yanoff's Internet Services site.

With Netscape Navigator, once Automatic Telnet is configured, you don't need to know much about how to find and connect to computers. You can simply click a link in a mail message, click a link on a web page, or just type the address of the site in the Location (also called Address, or URL) text box and press ENTER. A Telnet site's address always starts with telnet://, whereas a World Wide Web site's address always starts with http://. Your browser will automatically start the Telnet client program, which then displays the site. The next part varies, depending on the Telnet site.

Notes: Because various shareware Telnet clients are available, you might have to slightly adapt the following steps for the client you're using.

You can also Telnet to a computer on the Internet from within the Telnet client itself, such as the one included with Windows 95. A client is a program that accesses information from a server, which is a computer making information available to the Internet. You don't have to type "telnet://" like you do when you're telnetting from the browser. You only need the part that would appear after "telnet://". For example, to telnet to Hubble Space Telescope information you type in the Telnet client and enter stinfo at the login prompt.

With Telnet, you access a remote computer, located somewhere else on the Internet. Often, the remote computer suggests a guest log-in name for you to type. If you reach the remote computer by clicking a link, the site with the link often tells you what to type when you see the words "Log In." Sometimes, though, all you see is a log-in prompt and no clues about what you should type. This usually means you must be a registered member or student with the institution providing the site. Only members receive log-in names and passwords, and the general public (you) can't access the site. Other times you'll see text explaining that you must pay for a log-in name and password before you can go farther. If you choose to do so, the transaction is between you and the organization providing the site, and it doesn't affect the Internet access fee you pay to your regular provider.

Once you've logged in, you'll find each site has slightly different methods for navigation. When you Telnet, you are visiting a remote computer, and you have to learn and follow its rules. The screen often displays a menu of commands you can type to accomplish various tasks. Getting around usually is fairly easy, and most sites have online help systems. When you leave the site, you "return" to your computer and its methods and rules for accomplishing tasks.

Listed below are a couple of good World Wide Web resources for finding links to Telnet sites or equivalent World Wide Web sites.

Hytelnet, or one of the various versions of it, exists at several Web addresses. You can search for all kinds of Internet sites at any Hytelnet site. Or, you can narrow your search to sites accessible via Telnet.

Some of the links at Yanoff's Internet Services take you directly to Telnet sites, but most of its links go to World Wide Web sites. Yanoff is indexed by topic. It's many links include an excellent selection of games you can download or play online. That includes a link to the MUD (Multi-User Domain/Dungeon/Dimension) Connector, which helps you find online role-playing games.

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