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BITNET was a co-operative U.S. university computer network founded in 1981 by Ira Fuchs at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Greydon Freeman, Inc. at Yale University. [1] The first network link was between CUNY and Yale.

Ira H. Fuchs is an internationally known authority on innovative technology solutions for higher education and is a co-founder of BITNET, an important precursor of the Internet. He was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2017. Since 2012 he has been President of BITNET, LLC a consulting firm specializing in online learning and other applications of technology in higher education.

City University of New York Public university system in New York City

The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, and the largest urban university system in the United States. CUNY and the State University of New York (SUNY) are separate and independent university systems, despite the fact that both public institutions receive funding from New York State. CUNY, however, is located in only New York City, while SUNY is located in the entire state, including New York City.

Yale University private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is an American private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.


The name BITNET originally meant "Because It's There Network", but it eventually came to mean "Because It's Time Network". [2]

A college or university wishing to join BITNET was required to lease a data circuit (phone line) from a site to an existing BITNET node, buy modems for each end of the data circuit, sending one to the connecting point site, and allow other institutions to connect to its site free of charge.

Modem Device that modulates an analog carrier signal to encode digital information

A modem is a hardware device that converts data between transmission media so that it can be transmitted from computer to computer. The goal is to produce a signal that can be transmitted easily and decoded to reproduce the original digital data. Modems can be used with any means of transmitting analog signals from light-emitting diodes to radio. A common type of modem is one that turns the digital data of a computer into modulated electrical signal for transmission over telephone lines and demodulated by another modem at the receiver side to recover the digital data.

Technical details

Bitnet's NJE (Network Job Entry) network protocols, called RSCS, were used for the huge IBM internal network known as VNET. BITNET links originally ran at 9600 baud. The BITNET protocols were eventually ported to non-IBM mainframe operating systems, and became particularly widely implemented under VAX/VMS, in addition to DECnet.

Remote Spooling Communications Subsystem or RSCS is a subsystem of IBM's VM/370 operating system which accepts files transmitted to it from local or remote system and users and transmits them to destination local or remote users and systems. RSCS also transmits commands and messages among users and systems.

IBM American multinational technology and consulting corporation

International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational information technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founded in Endicott, New York, as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) and was renamed "International Business Machines" in 1924.

In telecommunication and electronics, baud is a common measure of symbol rate, one of the components that determine the speed of communication over a data channel.

BITNET featured email and LISTSERV software, but predated the World Wide Web, the common use of FTP, and Gopher. Gateways for the lists made them available on Usenet. [3] BITNET also supported interactive transmission of files and messages to other users. A gateway service called TRICKLE enabled users to request files from Internet FTP servers in 64 Kb UUencoded chunks. The Interchat Relay Network, popularly known as Bitnet Relay, was the network's instant messaging feature.

Email method of exchanging digital messages between people over a network

Electronic mail is a method of exchanging messages ("mail") between people using electronic devices. Invented by Ray Tomlinson, email first entered limited use in the 1960s and by the mid-1970s had taken the form now recognized as email. Email operates across computer networks, which today is primarily the Internet. Some early email systems required the author and the recipient to both be online at the same time, in common with instant messaging. Today's email systems are based on a store-and-forward model. Email servers accept, forward, deliver, and store messages. Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously; they need to connect only briefly, typically to a mail server or a webmail interface for as long as it takes to send or receive messages.

The term Listserv has been used to refer to electronic mailing list software applications in general, but is more properly applied to a few early instances of such software, which allows a sender to send one email to the list, and then transparently sends it on to the addresses of the subscribers to the list.

World Wide Web System of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet

The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information space where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators, which may be interlinked by hypertext, and are accessible via the Internet. The resources of the WWW may be accessed by users via a software application called a web browser.

BITNET differed from the Internet in that it was a point-to-point "store and forward" network. That is, email messages and files were transmitted in their entirety from one server to the next until reaching their destination. From this perspective, BITNET was more like UUCPNET.

Internet Global system of connected computer networks

The Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies. The Internet carries a vast range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents and applications of the World Wide Web (WWW), electronic mail, telephony, and file sharing.

In telecommunications, a point-to-point connection refers to a communications connection between two communication endpoints or nodes. An example is a telephone call, in which one telephone is connected with one other, and what is said by one caller can only be heard by the other. This is contrasted with a point-to-multipoint or broadcast connection, in which many nodes can receive information transmitted by one node. Other examples of point-to-point communications links are leased lines, microwave radio relay and two-way radio.

Store and forward is a telecommunications technique in which information is sent to an intermediate station where it is kept and sent at a later time to the final destination or to another intermediate station. The intermediate station, or node in a networking context, verifies the integrity of the message before forwarding it. In general, this technique is used in networks with intermittent connectivity, especially in the wilderness or environments requiring high mobility. It may also be preferable in situations when there are long delays in transmission and variable and high error rates, or if a direct, end-to-end connection is not available.

BITNET’s first electronic magazine, VM/COM, began as a University of Maine newsletter and circulated broadly in early 1984. Two email newsletters that began as Bitnet newsletters in the fall of 1987 are known to still be transmitting. They are the Electronic Air and SCUP Email News (formerly SCUP Bitnet News).

BITNET's eligibility requirements limited exchange with commercial entities, including IBM itself, which made technical assistance and bug fixes difficult. This became a particular problem when trying to communicate on heterogeneous networks with graphical workstation vendors such as Silicon Graphics.


At its zenith around 1991, BITNET extended to almost 500 organizations and 3,000 nodes, all educational institutions. It spanned North America (in Canada it was known as NetNorth), Europe (as EARN), Israel (as ISRAEARN), [4] India (VIDYANET) [5] and some Persian Gulf states (as GulfNet). BITNET was also very popular in other parts of the world, especially in South America, where about 200 nodes were implemented and heavily used in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the rapid growth of TCP/IP systems and the Internet in the early 1990s, and the rapid abandonment of the base IBM mainframe platform for academic purposes, BITNET's popularity and use diminished quickly.


In 1984, a text-based BITNET game called MAD became the first global Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). Players connected from the United States, Europe or Israel to a single server running in France.

In 1996, CREN ended their support for BITNET. The individual nodes were free to keep their phone lines up as long as they wished, but as nodes dropped out, the network splintered into parts that were inaccessible from each other. As of 2007, BITNET has essentially ceased operation. However, a successor, BITNET II, which transmits information via the Internet using BITNET protocols, still has some users.

See also

Related Research Articles

A bulletin board system or BBS is a computer server running software that allows users to connect to the system using a terminal program. Once logged in, the user can perform functions such as uploading and downloading software and data, reading news and bulletins, and exchanging messages with other users through public message boards and sometimes via direct chatting. In the middle to late 1980s, message aggregators and bulk store-and-forward'ers sprung up to provide services such as FidoNet, which is similar to email.

FidoNet is a worldwide computer network that is used for communication between bulletin board systems (BBSes). It uses a store-and-forward system to exchange private (email) and public (forum) messages between the BBSes in the network, as well as other files and protocols in some cases.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol Internet protocol used for relaying e-mails

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is an Internet standard for email transmission. First defined by RFC 821 in 1982, it was updated in 2008 with Extended SMTP additions by RFC 5321; which is the protocol in widespread use today.

Email client computer software that allows sending and receiving emails

An email client, email reader or more formally mail user agent (MUA) is a computer program used to access and manage a user's email.

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a standard network protocol used for the transfer of computer files between a client and server on a computer network.

BITNET Relay, also known as the Inter Chat Relay Network, was a chat network setup over BITNET nodes. It predated Internet Relay Chat and other online chat systems. The program that made the network possible was called "Relay" and was developed by Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1985 using the REXX programming language.

UUCP is an abbreviation of Unix-to-Unix Copy. The term generally refers to a suite of computer programs and protocols allowing remote execution of commands and transfer of files, email and netnews between computers.

NetBIOS is an acronym for Network Basic Input/Output System. It provides services related to the session layer of the OSI model allowing applications on separate computers to communicate over a local area network. As strictly an API, NetBIOS is not a networking protocol. Older operating systems ran NetBIOS over IEEE 802.2 and IPX/SPX using the NetBIOS Frames (NBF) and NetBIOS over IPX/SPX (NBX) protocols, respectively. In modern networks, NetBIOS normally runs over TCP/IP via the NetBIOS over TCP/IP (NBT) protocol. This results in each computer in the network having both an IP address and a NetBIOS name corresponding to a host name.

VNET is an international computer networking system deployed in the mid-1970s and still in current, but highly diminished use. It was developed inside IBM and provided the main email and file-transfer backbone for the company throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Through it, a number of protocols were developed to deliver email amongst time sharing computers over alternative transmission systems.

FTPmail is the term used for the practice of using an FTPmail server to gain access to various files over the Internet. An FTPmail server is a proxy server which (asynchronously) connects to remote FTP servers in response to email requests, returning the downloaded files as an email attachment. This service might be useful to users who cannot themselves initiate an FTP session—for example, because they are constrained by restrictions on their Internet access.

In computer networking, a port is an endpoint of communication. Physical as well as wireless connections are terminated at ports of hardware devices. At the software level, within an operating system, a port is a logical construct that identifies a specific process or a type of network service. Ports are identified for each protocol and address combination by 16-bit unsigned numbers, commonly known as the port number. Inbound packets are received, and the port number in the header is used to decide which application is to be passed the packets.

A clustered file system is a file system which is shared by being simultaneously mounted on multiple servers. There are several approaches to clustering, most of which do not employ a clustered file system. Clustered file systems can provide features like location-independent addressing and redundancy which improve reliability or reduce the complexity of the other parts of the cluster. Parallel file systems are a type of clustered file system that spread data across multiple storage nodes, usually for redundancy or performance.

Barry Appelman is recognized as being the father of the "buddy list" and AOL instant messenger. Companies had been using crude forms of Instant messaging within their own networks for over forty years, but the idea of presence, i.e. who is logged on at any given time, was non existent. It was not until Appelman, and his colleagues at the Thomas Watson Research Center, first began to write programs on the mainframe system letting each other know when they were actually online, that modern day Instant Messaging was born.

CFT is a secure computer file transfer program and protocol from Axway Inc, used extensively in Finance and banking industries in Europe.

TRICKLE was a file-forwarding service on the BITNET (EARN/NetNorth/GulfNet) network.

The European Academic and Research Network (EARN) was a computer network connecting universities and research institutions across Europe, and was connected in 1983 via transatlantic circuits and a gateway funded by IBM to BITNET, its peer in the United States.

The history of email extends over more than 50 years, entailing an evolving set of technologies and standards that culminated in the email systems we use today.


  1. "A Brief History of """. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  2. Cailliau, Robert; Gillies, James (1 January 2000). How the Web Was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. San Val, Incorporated. pp. 74, 75. ISBN   978-0-613-92163-3.
  3. Hura, Gurdeep (28 March 2001). Data and Computer Communications: Networking and Internetworking. CRC Press. p. 779. ISBN   9780849309281.
  4. "Humanist Archives Vol. 4 : 4.1144 Bitnet in Israel (1/69)". 1991-03-08. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  5. "As emails turn 40, scientists recall India arrival | NDTV". 2012-10-09. Retrieved 2017-03-07.