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What's the gopher protocol?

Gopher is a distributed document search and retrieval network protocol designed for the Internet. Its goal is to function as an improved form of Anonymous FTP, enhanced with hyperlinking features similar to that of the World Wide Web.

The Gopher protocol offers some features not natively supported by the Web and imposes a much stronger hierarchy on information stored on it. Its text menu interface is well-suited to computing environments that rely heavily on remote computer terminals, common in universities at the time of its creation in 1991 until 1993.

The original Gopher system was released in late spring of 1991 by Mark McCahill, Farhad Anklesaria, Paul Lindner, Dan Torrey, and Bob Alberti of the University of Minnesota. Its central goals are:

• A file-like hierarchical arrangement that would be familiar to users
• A simple syntax
• A system that can be created quickly and inexpensively
• Extending the file system metaphor to include things like searches

The source of the name "Gopher" is claimed to be threefold:

1. Users instruct it to "go for" information
2. It does so through a web of menu items analogous to gopher holes
3. The sports teams of the University of Minnesota are the Golden Gophers

Gopher combines document hierarchies with collections of services, including WAIS, the Archie and Veronica search engines, and gateways to other information systems such as ftp and Usenet.

The general interest in Campus-Wide Information Systems (CWISs) in higher education at the time, and the ease with which a Gopher server could be set up to create an instant CWIS with links to other sites' online directories and resources were the factors contributing to Gopher's rapid adoption. By 1992, the standard method of locating someone's e-mail address was to find their organization's CCSO nameserver entry in Gopher, and query the nameserver.

The exponential scaling of utility in social networked systems (Reed's law) seen in Gopher, and then the Web, is a common feature of networked hypermedia systems with distributed authoring. In 1993-1994, Web pages commonly contained large numbers of links to Gopher-delivered resources, as the Web continued Gopher's embrace and extend tradition of providing gateways to other services.

How do I use gopher?
To start gophering around, you need a gopher browser. Some modern web browsers comes with gopher support by default, but you could also use a stand-alone gopher client. If you're looking for a plain console-based gopher client for Linux/Windows, feel free to try out Digger Dwarf!