FIDOHIST.DOC covered the early history of FidoNet, why it was done, how it was done, and the reasons for the organization and obscure rituals surrounding node numbers. If you havent read it yet, I suggest you do now, because I'll probably refer to things that won't make any sense otherwise.
The original FidoNet was organized very simply; each FidoNet system (each node) had a number that served like a phone number, uniquely identifying it. The NODELIST, generated by the folks in St. Louis that had all FidoNet nodes in it, contains information on all known FidoNet systems. Every system in FidoNet had a current copy of the NODELIST, which served as the directory of systems.
(In the interests of brevity I'm leaving out huge amounts of information; I hope you have read FIODHIST.DOC by now ...)
FidoNet has been growing steadily since it started by accident in May 84 or so. The node list continued to get out of hand; the original FIDOHIST.DOC was written to try and help smooth things out. It is impossible to overemphasize the amount of work involved in keeping the node list accurate. Basically, the guys in St. Louis were keeping track of hundreds of FidoNet systems in Boston, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm and Sweden, and publishing the results weekly. There has never been such a comprehensive and accurate list of bulletin board systems generated.
We talked for many months as to how we could possibly find a solution to the many problems; it was at the point where if a solution was not found in a few months (by Aug. 85 or so) that FidoNet would collapse due to the sheer weight of it's node list.
The newsletter, FidoNews, was, and still is, an integral part of the process of FidoNet. FidoNews is the only thing that unites all FidoNet sysops consistently; please keep up to date on it, and stock it for your users if you have the disk space. And contribute if you can!
There were many constraints on the kind of things we could do; we had no money, so it had to be done for zero cost. Centralization was out, so obviously localization was in; just how to do it was a total unknown. We thought of going back to having people in different areas handle new node requests in their area, but that always generated confusion as to who a person should go to, how to avoide having someone requesting a node number from different people simultaneously, etc etc.
The old method of routing was very different than the current method, and much more complex; instead of Fido automatically routing to hosts, each sysop had to specify (via the ROUTE.BBS file) how all routing was done in the system. The was done originally by hand, later by John Warren's (102/31) NODELIST program.
Then of course there was the problem that no matter what we did, it would not be done overnight. (ha ha.) It would take many weeks at the least, possibly months, so that whatever we did had to be compatible with the old method as well.
We went through probably hundreds of ideas in the next few months, some possibly useful, some insane. Eventually the insanity boiled down to a pretty workable system. We chatted by FidoNet and by voice telephone. Eventually, we settled on the two part number scheme, like the phone company does with area codes and exchanges. It accomodated backwards compatibility (you can keep your present node number) and the new "area code" (net number) could be added into an existing field that had been set to zero. (This is why everyone was originally part of net #1).
When a fortunate set of circumstances was to bring Ezra Shapiro and me to St. Louis to speak to the McDonnell Douglas Recreational Computer Club on XXXX 11th, we planned ahead for a national FidoNet sysops meeting that weekend. Ken and Sally Kaplan were kind enough to tolerate having all of us in their living room.
The people who showed up were (need that list) The meeting lasted ten continuous hours; it was the most productive meeting I (and most others) had attended. When we were done, we had basically the whole thing layed out in every detail.
We stuck with the area code business (now known as net and region numbers) and worked out how to break things up into regions and nets. It was just one of those rare but fortunate events; during the morning things went "normally", but in the afternoon solutions fell into place one by one, so that by late afternoon we had the entire picture laid out in black and white. Two or three months of brainstorming just flowed smoothly into place in one afternoon ...
What we had done was exactly what we have now, though we changed the name of "Admin" to "Region", and added the "alternate" node and net numbers. (We still seem to be stuck with that terrible and inaccurate word, "manager". Any ideas?) I previously had a buggy test hack running using area codes, and the week after the meeting it was made to conform to what we had talked about that Saturday.
When version 10C was done, it accomplished more or less everything we wanted, but it sure did take a long time. 10C was probably the single largest change ever made to Fido/FidoNet, and the most thoroughly tested version. At 10M, there are STILL bugs left from that early version, in spite of the testing.
Once the testing got serious, and it looked like we had a shippable version, St. Louis froze the node list, and started slicing it into pieces, to give to the soon-to-be net and region managers. (That word again.) This caused a tremendous amount of trouble for would-be sysops; not only was it difficult enough to figure out how on earth to get a node number, once they did they were told node numbers weren't being given out just yet. Explaining why was even harder, since FIDOHIST.DC2 (ahem) wasn't written yet. (I have to agree, this thing is a little bit late) It was a typical case of those who already knew were informaed constantly of updates, but thse in the dark had a hard time. Things were published fairly regularly (am I remembering "conveniently" or "accurately" on this part?)
Eventually, 10C was released, and seemed to work fairly well, ignoring all the small scale disasters due to bugs, etc. We couldn't just swap over to the new area code business until very close to 100% of all Fidos were using the new version. This was (for me) an excruciating period, basically a "hurry up and wait" situation. There had not been a node list release for a month or two, and for all practical purposes it looked like FidoNet had halted ...
Finally, on June 12th, we all swapped over to the new system; that afternoon, sysops were to set their net number (it had been "1" for backwards compatibility), copy in the new node list issued just for this occasion, and go. I assumed the result was going to be perpetual chaos, bringing about the collapse of FidoNet. Almost the exact opposite was true; things went very smoothly (yes, there were problems, but when you consider that FidoNet consists of microcomputers owned by almost 300 people who had never even talked to each other ...)
Within a month or so,just about every Fido had swapped over to the area code, or net/node architecture. With a few exceptions, things went very smoothly. No one was more suprised than pessimistic I. At this time, August, I don't think there is a single system still using the old node number method.
This is all well and fine as far as the software goes, but it made a mess for new sysops. For us sysops who have been around for a while, there was no great problem, as we saw the changes happen one by one. However, new sysops frequently came out of the blue; armed with a diskette full of code, they attempted to set up a FidoNet node.
Actually, I don't understand how anyone does it. The information needed is not recorded in any place that a non sysop could find. On top of that, most of it is now totally wrong! If you follow the original instructions, it said "call Fido #1 ..." if you found a real antique, or "call Fido #51 ..." if it is more current. Of course now it tells you to find your region manager. "Region manager???" Well, a mlist of region managers was published in FidoNews, but unless you read FidoNews, how does anyone ever find out? I'll probably never know.
ANYWAYS ... the original reason for all the changes was to DECENTRALIZE FidoNet. It just wasn't possible for Ken Kaplan to keep accurate, up to date information on every Fido in the US and Europe. The decentralization has been more or less a total success. The number of problem sintroduced were negligable compared to the problems solved, and even most new problems are by this time solved.
It is interesting to note that with the hundreds of systems there are today, the national FidoNet hour is less crowded than it was when there were only 50 nodes.
Please, keep in mind that no one has done anything like this before, we are all winging it, and learning (hopefully) as we go. Please be patient with problems, none of us is paid to do this, and it is more and more work as time goes on. Somehow it seems to all get done ...
HOW TO GET A NODE NUMBER AND ALL THAT
This is by necessity a very general idea of how it's done, and you were warned earlier that this may be obsolete this very minute; with that, here's the "current" process for starting up a new FidoNet node.
You can of course skip all or part of this if you've done this before; if you haven't, well, be prepared for a lot of searching and asking questions.
Of course, you need to have your Fido BBS system running first. It's probably best that you play with it for a while, and get some experience with how it all works, and whether you have the patience to run a BBS. It can get exasperating, and you will never find time to use the computer ever again.
Obtain the most recent copy of the nodelist possible; thi may take some searching. If you get totally lost, you can always contact Fido 125/1 or Fido 100/51; though these are very busy systems, they both usually have the very latest of anything, and can direct you to the right place.
The big problem here is to find out if oyu are in a net or not, and if not, then who your region manager is. If you are in a lrge city (Los Angeles, Cincinnati, etc) then there is probably a net in your area. Look through the node list (use the N)odebook command in Fido, or a text editor) for the right area code or city.
If there is no net in your area, then you are part of a region. This is a little harder, because regions are large, and sometomes cover many states. Look at all the regions in the node list, you should find a region that fits you.
Once you find this, you have to contact the net or region manager to get your node number. Exactly how this is done depends on who the manager is, and how sticky they are fir details. A near universal requirement is that you send your request via FidoNet, not by manully; this isn't done to make you life difficult, but to ensure that your system is really working right. IF you manage to get a FidoNet message to the manager, its usually safe to assume that you're system is working OK. If you get a reply in return, then you know both directions work.
It is usually each sysops' responsibility to go get the latest nodelist and newsletters; they are not distributed to all systems because of the expense. (Though, I'm trying to get them distributed to more places than they are now, it's sometimes very difficult to get a copy of the nodelist!)
Again, read the FidoNew newsletter regularly; it is about the only way to stay in contact with the rest of the net. Programs, problems, services, bugs and interesting announcements can always be found there. FidoNews articles don't come out of thin air; send in anythnig you think might be of interest. They don't have to be lifetime masterpieces, or even well written.
Please remember the entire network is made of the sysops; there is no central location from which good things come, the net consists entirely of the sysops and their contributions. If you don't do it, chances are no one else will!
20 Aug 85
Ken Kaplan Fido 100/51 314/432-4129
Tom Jennings Fido 125/1 415/864-1418
Ben Baker Fido 100/10 314/234-1462