[ih] Before the DNS: How yours truly upstaged The NIC's Official HOSTS.TXT (An Internet history lesson)

the keyboard of geoff goodfellow geoff at iconia.com
Wed Feb 5 19:04:24 PST 2020

copy and pasted from https://iconia.com/before_the_dns.txt:

Back in the early '70s of the ARPANET... before the Domain Name System (DNS)
even existed, the Network Information Center (NIC) based at SRI
International controlled and distributed The Official Host Table for The Net
called HOSTS.TXT. The NIC updated this table through "official channels" and
host administrators would periodically transfer over a new version of the
table to their systems. There was Just One Problem: The Official Channels
took forever for the NIC to update HOSTS.TXT and therefore The Nets host
table was frequently out of date with the reality of what was actually up
and operating on The Net.

What I did, as a nobody teenager and budding system and network janitor at
the time, was to notice new "nameless" hosts when they came up on the net by
looking at a 'netstat' of hosts that did not have host names and only
showed up as numbers.  This was easy because in those early days the Network
Control Program known as NCP (this was before TCP/IP) would broadcast
messages called RSTs to every possible host address on the network when they
booted.  What RSTs did was say to a host: "Hi there, please mark me as UP in
your netstat listing and if you have any left over connections from the time
I went down, please reset them".

I would then telnet or ftp to these nameless hosts and see what host name
the operating system login prompt gave me or what host name the ftp server
announced in its greeting. I would then plug this information into my
systems host table.

Word started to spread through the grapevine to other system and network
janitors that my system's host table was the most up to date on The Net. You
can imagine what happened next: many system administrators started to
reference my host table instead of the NIC's. Someone suggested I create a
notification list so that every time my hostable was updated they would know
to install a new one (Some even installed automated daily processes that
would transfer over my host table without any human intervention.)

When the NIC got wind of being upstaged by this guerilla/underground host
table information gathering and distribution network, they were mightily
unhappy about having their monopoly authority challenged. but, EACH OF THE
was more up to date and better managed than the NIC's Official HOSTS.TXT
table, so WE CHOOSE TO USE IT.

There was absolutely nothing the NIC could do to stop these individual
system admins from each making their own decision about who they wanted to
trust and where to get the most up to date host information. As far as
I know my host table was the preferred host table used by the majority of
sites on The Net until the DNS came along and host tables became moot.

Please note that I did not develop my host table for the net. I just needed
one for my site that was more up-to-date, so I figured out how to create it.
Then my friends copied it, and word spread, and the market made its free
choice. Of course, I did not mind this happening, since they were just
copying what I needed to make for myself.

Geoff.Goodfellow at iconia.com
living as The Truth is True

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