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Various Tools

New and interesting ways to use the Internet are being dreamed up every day. As they gain wide-spread use, some methods become near-standard (or actual written standard) tools for Internet users to take advantage of. A few are detailed here; there are undoubtedly others, and new ideas spring up all the time. An active user of the Internet will discover most of the more common ones in time. Usually, these services are free. See section Commercial Services for applications that are commercially available over the Internet.

Usenet is often used to announce a new service or capability on the Internet. In particular, the groups comp.archives and comp.protocols.tcp-ip are good places to look. Information will drift into other areas as word spreads. See section Usenet News for information on reading news.


On many systems there exists the finger command, which yield information about each user that's currently logged in. This command also has extensions for use over the Internet, as well. Under normal circumstances, the command is simply finger for a summary of who's logged into the local system, or finger username for specific information about a user. It's also possible to go one step further and go onto the network. The general usage is

finger @hostname

To see who's currently logged in at Widener University, for instance, use

% finger @cs.widener.edu
Login       Name              TTY Idle    When            Where
brendan  Brendan Kehoe         p0      Fri 02:14  tattoo.cs.widene
sven     Sven Heinicke         p1      Fri 04:16  xyplex3.cs.widen

To find out about a certain user, they can be fingered specifically (and need not be logged in):

% finger bart@cs.widener.edu
Login name: bart                        In real life: Bart Simpson
Directory: /home/springfield/bart       Shell: /bin/underachiever
Affiliation: Brother of Lisa            Home System: channel29.fox.org
Last login Thu May 23 12:14 (EDT) on ttyp6 from channel29.fox.org.
No unread mail
Project: To become a "fluff" cartoon character.
Don't have a cow, man.

Please realize that some sites are very security conscious, and need to restrict the information about their systems and users available to the outside world. To that end, they often block finger requests from outside sites---so don't be surprised if fingering a computer or a user returns with Connection refused.


The ping command allows the user to check if another system is currently ``up'' and running. The general form of the command For example,

ping cs.widener.edu

will tell you if the main machine in Widener University's Computer Science lab is currently online (we certainly hope so!).

Many implementations of ping also include an option to let you see how fast a link is running (to give you some idea of the load on the network). For example:

% ping -s cs.swarthmore.edu
PING cs.swarthmore.edu: 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=251 time=66 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=251 time=45 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=251 time=46 ms
--- cs.swarthmore.edu ping statistics ---
3 packets transmitted, 3 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 45/52/66 ms

This case tells us that for cs.swarthmore.edu it takes about 46 milliseconds for a packet to go from Widener to Swarthmore College and back again. It also gives the average and worst-case speeds, and any packet loss that may have occurred (e.g. because of network congestion).

While ping generally doesn't hurt network performance, you shouldn't use it too often---usually once or twice will leave you relatively sure of the other system's state.


Sometimes email is clumsy and difficult to manage when one really needs to have an interactive conversation. The Internet provides for that as well, in the form of talk. Two users can literally see each other type across thousands of miles.

To talk with Bart Simpson at Widener, one would type

talk bart@cs.widener.edu

which would cause a message similar to the following to be displayed on Bart's terminal:

Message from Talk_Daemon@cs.widener.edu at 21:45 ...
talk: connection requested by joe@ee.someplace.edu
talk: respond with:  talk joe@ee.someplace.edu

Bart would, presumably, respond by typing talk joe@ee.someplace.edu. They could then chat about whatever they wished, with instantaneous response time, rather than the write-and-wait style of email. To leave talk, on many systems one would type Ctrl-C (hold down the Control key and press C). Check local documentation to be sure.

There are two different versions of talk in common use today. The first, dubbed ``old talk,'' is supported by a set of Unix systems (most notably, those currently sold by Sun). The second, ntalk (aka ``new talk''), is more of the standard. If, when attempting to talk with another user, it responds with an error about protocol families, odds are the incompatibilities between versions of talk is the culprit. It's up to the system administrators of sites which use the old talk to install ntalk for their users.

The WHOIS Database

The main WHOIS database is run at the Network Information Center (NIC). The whois command will let you search a database of every registered domain (e.g. mit.edu) and of registered users. It's primarily used by system postmasters or listowners to find the Points of Contact for a site, to let them know of a problem or contact them for one reason or another. You can also find out their postal address. For example:

% whois mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) MIT.EDU   
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM)                   MIT.EDU

Note that there are two entries for mit.edu; we'll go for the second.

% whois mit-dom
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM) @result{}Mailing address
   Cambridge, MA 02139

Domain Name: MIT.EDU @result{}Domain name

Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact: Schiller, Jeffrey I. (JIS) JIS@MIT.EDU (617) 253-8400

Record last updated on 22-Jun-88. @result{}Last change made to the record

Domain servers in listed order: @result{}Systems that can tell you the Internet addresses for a site STRAWB.MIT.EDU W20NS.MIT.EDU BITSY.MIT.EDU LITHIUM.LCS.MIT.EDU

To see this host record with registered users, repeat the command with a star ('*') before the name; or, use '%' to show JUST the registered users.

Much better! Now this information (sought, possibly, by a system administrator) can be used to find out how to notify MIT of a security issue or problem with connectivity.

Queries can be made for individuals as well; the following would yield an entry for the author:

% whois brendan
Kehoe, Brendan (BK59)		brendan@cs.widener.edu
   Widener University
   Department of Computer Science
   Kirkbride 219
   P.O. Box 83 Widener University
   Chester, PA 19013

Record last updated on 02-May-91.

Included is the author's name, his handle (a unique sequence of letters and numbers), information on how to contact him, and the last time the record was modified in any way.

Anyone can register with the whois database. People who are administrative or technical contacts for domains are registered automatically when their domain applications are processed. For normal users, one must simply fill out a form from the NIC. FTP to nic.ddn.mil and get the file netinfo/user-template.txt. The completed form should be mailed to registrar@nic.ddn.mil.

Other Uses of WHOIS

Also, many educational sites run WHOIS servers of their own, to offer information about people who may be currently on the staff or attending the institution. To specify a WHOIS server, many implementations include some sort of option or qualifier---in VMS under MultiNet, it's /HOST, in Unix -h. To receive information about using the Stanford server, one might use the command

whois -h stanford.edu help

A large list of systems offering WHOIS services is being maintained by Matt Power of MIT (mhpower@stan.mit.edu). It is available via anonymous FTP from sipb.mit.edu, in the directory pub/whois. The file is named whois-servers.list.

The systems available include, but are certainly not limited to, Syracuse University (syr.edu), New York University (acfcluster.nyu.edu), the University of California at San Diego (ucsd.edu), and Stanford University (stanford.edu).

@vskip 0pt plus 1filll @flushright ``Fingers were made before forks.'' Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation @end flushright