Here at FSF, nothing gets us more pumped than the discovery of a new (or old) method for file sharing. It’s what we do. A reader of our blog, “Zig” being one of his favourite nicknames, came up with this article to enlighten us on this long-lost (but not forgotten) P2P protocol. Introducing Hotline - a thriving ‘underground’ peer-to-peer community of hard-core filesharers.
First there were IRC, USENET and FTP for file sharing… And then Napster appeared, right? Well, not exactly. In the late 90s, another file sharing tool was highly popular: Hotline Connect, more commonly referred to as Hotline. Although no longer mainstream, it’s still used by some tight-knit groups of users to find what they look for. It was directly inspired by the BBS scene, but instead of a text user interface, it takes advantage of the GUI of modern operating systems; and provides, like any decent BBS, a message board similar to newsgroups, a public chat similar to IRC, private messaging and a file repository where users can browse folders and download and upload files. And like all BBSes, it is based on a client/server architecture (not P2P) with built-in support for resumable downloads, which means that traditional surveillance of peer to peer networks has no effect in this realm. So much for Mediadefender.
But let’s begin with a bit of history: It all started in 1996, when a talented Australian programmer, only 17 at that time, started coding Hotline on his Mac. After a while, he received an offer to move to Canada where Hotline Communications was incorporated, and work started on a Windows version to reach a wider user base. At that time, the application was distributed as shareware and adware, displaying advertisements on the banner of the main toolbar window. But unfortunately, soon after that, Hinks, the developer, and the company went in a major disagreement and the former took all the source code, encrypted what he couldn’t take with him and went back home to Australia. This of course halted the development for a long while and a bitter fight in court followed. The outcome was that Hinks lost all his copyright for this software and related libraries, but because of the dot com crash at that time and the distraction caused by the lawsuit, Hotline Communications went bankrupt. Its remains were bought by some of the previous staff and shareholders, who changed its name to HotSprings Inc and released Hotline’s source code under the GNU GPL. The problem was that the application was becoming more and more obsolete because of the lack of development and the competition from peer to peer networks, not to mention that many Hotline fans, still remembering the lawsuit, were backing Hinks and were reluctant to buy software not developed by him (some said stolen from him). HotSprings failed to release the long expected 2.0 version and went also out of business. Since then, everything relies on volunteer developers. That’s all for the history lesson, it’s time to get our hands dirty. Note that as mentioned above, Hotline was originally developed for Mac, and therefore there is a strong focus on Macintosh in the Hotline community even today.
Getting Started in Hotline
Since Hotline’s source code is now under the GNU GPL and the protocol specifications have been made public, there are many clones. You’ll first have to grab a client, the choice is yours. For this article, we chose GLoarbLine, directly derived from the original client with its Mac OS 9 look. Note that it supports neither the right button of the mouse nor the wheel, but if this is a problem, you can chose another client such as PhareRouge-GL, a cross platform, open source client/server written in Java. When you have it on your computer, the first thing you’ll have to do is to enter a nickname and choose an icon that other users will see on the user list. Of course, there are additional icon sets you can find on various Hotline servers, but you’ll find a good collection to begin with by default. When this is done, you’ll have to add a tracker so that your client is able to show you a list of available servers. Note that not all trackers list all servers, and not all servers are necessarily referenced on a tracker. To find a list of available trackers, the best place is http://www.tracker-tracker.com, which is, as the name suggests, a tracker of trackers (please remember what happened to IRC Klipper and don’t forget to click on the ads).
This service also provides a search engine to look for files on Hotline servers. It simply uses a bot which connects regularly to all servers it can access, checks them, indexes their files if the admins allow it to do so, and keeps an up to date database. For this example, we chose tracker.sunwave.com, run by http://www.sunwave.com.
When you have the URL of your tracker, click on the widget right before it’s name to see referenced servers. First come their name, then the number of connected people, and then a short description, often with the login and password for guest access. A login and a password? Indeed… Hotline is not only about file sharing, first of all it’s a community thing. Each server has its own flavour (those using [Direct Connect](/2007/11/05/direct-connectdc/ “Direct Connect Protocol for P2P Filesharing”) and OpenNap already know what we’re talking about); and although you’re free to have a look, you’ll need an account to get full access. Then again, it depends on each server: some are free for all, others ask for requests to be filled to provide an account, others require a small donation to cover hardware and bandwidth costs, on some other servers the admin has to fall in love with you. Some are private or invitation only, others only provide commercial back up services for important data, and some servers do not even focus on file sharing but only on chatting. In all cases if there’s a guest login and password in the description, you’ll have to enter this in the appropriate dialog box as with the tracker. In other cases, a double click should be enough to get you connected.
Once you’re in, you should join the public chat and read the news (similar to the newsgroups) before rushing on files. On servers which do not provide a guest login and pass on the description, their access rules are often mentioned on the message board, so in most cases rushing for files will only mean that you’ll have to come back to the message board anyway, after seeing that you don’t have required permissions to download: as anywhere else, leechers and freeloaders are not welcome on Hotline. These boards also contain topics such as the latest news regarding the server like downtimes, sharing week-ends (basically “I share you share - no shit - finish your downloads – don’t upload stuff already there — look to the offline folder also” stuff), member requests, and download and upload speeds posted by members. To make it short, it’s not only about typing a file name in a search box and start downloading but taking the time to find the right server, to get used to its customs, to honor members’ requests. Needless to say, this is only a basic introduction, but from this point on you should be able to find out more by playing around. Moreover, detailed guides in PDF format at Nailbat.com will have an answer for most of your questions. If still in trouble, the best place is, of course, a friendly Hotline server.
Here’s a screenshot to show how GLoarbLine at work looks like, with almost all windows open (main window, servers, chat, news, files, tasks, and user list):
When you get used to the client side, nothing prevents you from starting your own server in a couple of minutes: as an administrator, you’ll then have total control on who can access, who can download and who can just take a look, possibilities are nearly endless. For small communities, this provides several advantages: Hotline protocol not being in mainstream use, it’s not filtered at all, the server can remain fully private with no search engine even trying to index it as long as you don’t add it to trackers, and files do have a central, stable location on which they are stored. No swarming, but no unstable peers fading away with no warning during the night either… All this to say that each method has its up and downsides and Hotline is no exception to the rule, but it adds yet another choice for those who’d like to share files with their neighbours. For more information on Hotline, a list of client and server software and a collection of interesting links, we recommend the relevant category of the Open Directory Project (aka dmoz).
And to bring this article to an end, we’d like to mention that there is a noticeable demand for a new client with new features such as end-to-end encryption, support for files over 2 GB and a skinnable interface - to mention a few. So if you have coding skills and would like to give a hand, feel free to take a look at VivaHX and to the Hotline Development Meetpoint (this is a hotline link, you need to have GloarbLine to enable the protocol handler) where you can find all the source and documentation along with friendly people to get started. Happy sharing!
I always hated those unruly popup windows. It would have been much more convenient to have page tabs like modern p2p clients.
The server-client model created its own bottleneck, and having a decent server required lots of bandwidth, which back then meant the expense of an ISDN or T1 line, so most hubs charged for access. That’s what killed it in my opinion. Hotline was started back in the days before movies and TV shows were being shared online, so about the biggest files routinely downloaded back then were MP3s.
It seemed that Hotline was never very popular, except maybe among the Mac crowd. Newsgroups, IRC, and FTP sites (ratio servers being the norm) seemed to be much better sources for files.
Today it’s just too cumbersome - as well as dangerous legally - to have files, especially big files like movie DVDs, passing through a central server. Direct Connect became the next evolutionary step up from Hotline.
One thing Hotline would be very useful for is for posting Rapidshare-type download links on the message board, since these files could be downloaded without loading down the server. I don’t know if any hubs do this though.
Well, this multi-windowed interface is typical of Mac OS 9 on which Hotline was originally developed and it’s rather unusual today, indeed. PhareRouge-GL has a tabbed interface, maybe I should have taken some screenshots of it as well. Sorry for that. In all cases there are many clones for a variety of operating systems, so there’s a version for every taste.
As for the client/server model and its bottlenecks, it’s true that a Hotline server will never be able to sustain the same (or even approaching) user number than a Direct Connect or OpenNap server. P2P brought the whole thing to a new level, but in some particular cases a Hotline BBS has its advantages. It has a niche, for communities of a few dozens of members at most, where you *know* others. Many servers do charge for access, but others don’t. It depends on the user’s needs and choice - and on the time he spends to find a good server.
As for Rapidshare links, I haven’t seen any so far (and no NZB or torrent files either), probably because with recent symmetrical fiber connections and Terabyte hard disks, it’s possible to host enough DVD Rips, so interestingly the client/server model can still keep up. Add to that the fact that some people like the community feeling and/or appreciate having no fakes, no poor quality files, no par checks/rar reassembling and a stable download source.
Finally, for the legal side: this message explains it quite nicely. In all cases, some Hotline servers were online before Napster and they’re still here
Hotline was a very popular p2p client on apple computers, but most of the sites required a password you had to search on xxxxxx.com and read the 6th line from bottom to top, of the 4th paragraph and find a word with 3 letters that was capitalized and started with Y, geeeeeeeee what a hassle., crappy interface with lots of windows gets you confused and all the information is not ordered on screen.
Hotline RIP , will rather go to utorrent, ares, emule.
you could setup a server very easily for file sharing with hotline.
the good old days of p2p, I miss ‘em.
The first time, I digitized my music collection,
circa, 1998, my neighbor across the street was too,
neither of us could not afford portable mass storage,
(I got a 100MB zip drive, eventually)
Hotline, overnight on 56k dial-up would help us “sync” our new
Hotline, is the original Napster!
zigazagazaig zig zix Says:
that’s ridiculous - yeah yeah, i’ll be happy with an e-donkey and torrents!
on hotline we used to have chats and files at the same time
- now it’s just leeches and torrents!
zigazagazaig zig zix Says:
Sorry, Eidentity - the above was not in response to you (lag) - it was in response to those who’re only interested in plain and simple leeching. i empathise with your sentiments - i used to run my own server in oxfordshire and my phone bills were astronomical - and we shared software and projects and our own work and that of artists we admired. I remember sending a CD by Air Mail to Spain because it was cheaper and quicker than downloading… i saw something called frostwire but that didn’t quite seem like it….
The first I heard of it was something in the vicinity of the beginning of 2000. I was in college and was passing through a dorm hallway when I heard someone watching TV. I spied in on it and it was a grad student (a VERY strange grad student, to still live in the dorms) watching dubbed Ramna 1/2 which he had gotten off of hotline. Yeah, I know, there’s no accounting for taste. But I asked him where he downloaded it from nonetheless, mostly because I had been of the impression that it was impossible to download full episodes of anything because those websites get shut down post haste…. and he showed me Hotline. Manta’s anime paradise was the server. A haven for people too pathetic to read subtitles…. And I can honestly say, that I never, ever got anything interesting via hotline. I don’t know why, you’d think it wouldn’t be inferior to bittorrent in any fundamental way, but even in its heyday, if you were looking for something, chances were, you weren’t going to find it. I guess it’s a matter of popularity. The sheer volume of internet usage now has picked up maybe. Because it certainly seems to me that anything that can be done with bittorrent could be done with hotline, really. Well, except that you’re at the mercy of the bandwidth of the server, not any and every other user. That’s the only thing bittorrent has over it. That peer x can transfer to peer y, not to server d and then to peer y. The daringness of people to download things illegally has made it so no one even has any inhibitions to that any more. Which is weird, since hotline seemed to be fundamentally SAFER in that respect. Well, at any rate, it’s dead NOW. tracker-tracker died in July of 2009 after “serving the hotline community for 11 years” based on the message I just saw when I went there just now. tracker.sunwave.com doesn’t exist either. Oh well. I certainly won’t miss it.
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Isparta Haberleri Says: