The Gopher protocol is a communication protocol designed for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents in Internet Protocol networks. The design of the Gopher protocol and user interface is menu-driven, and presented an alternative to the World Wide Web in its early stages, but ultimately fell into disfavor, yielding to HTTP. The Gopher ecosystem is often regarded as the effective predecessor of the World Wide Web.
The protocol was invented by a team led by Mark P. McCahill at the University of Minnesota. It offers some features not natively supported by the Web and imposes a much stronger hierarchy on the documents it stores. Its text menu interface is well-suited to computing environments that rely heavily on remote text-oriented computer terminals, which were still common at the time of its creation in 1991, and the simplicity of its protocol facilitated a wide variety of client implementations. More recent[when?] Gopher revisions and graphical clients added support for multimedia.
Gopher's hierarchical structure provided a platform for the first large-scale electronic library connections. The Gopher protocol is still in use by enthusiasts, and although it has been almost entirely supplanted by the Web, a small population of actively-maintained servers remains.
Gopher system was released in mid-1991 by Mark P. McCahill, Farhad Anklesaria, Paul Lindner, Daniel Torrey, and Bob Alberti of the University of Minnesota in the United States. Its central goals were, as stated in RFC 1436:
Gopher combines document hierarchies with collections of services, including WAIS, the Archie and Veronica search engines, and gateways to other information systems such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Usenet.
The general interest in campus-wide information systems (CWISs) in higher education at the time, and the ease of setup of Gopher servers to create an instant CWIS with links to other sites' online directories and resources were the factors contributing to Gopher's rapid adoption.
The name was coined by Anklesaria as a play on several meanings of the word "gopher". The University of Minnesota mascot is the gopher, a gofer is an assistant who "goes for" things, and a gopher burrows through the ground to reach a desired location.
The World Wide Web was in its infancy in 1991, and Gopher services quickly became established. By the late 1990s, Gopher had ceased expanding. Several factors contributed to Gopher's stagnation:
Gopher remains in active use by its enthusiasts, and there have been attempts to revive Gopher on modern platforms and mobile devices. One attempt is The Overbite Project, which hosts various browser extensions and modern clients.
The conceptualization of knowledge in "Gopher space" or a "cloud" as specific information in a particular file, and the prominence of the FTP, influenced the technology and the resulting functionality of Gopher.
Gopher is designed to function and to appear much like a mountable read-only global network file system (and software, such as gopherfs, is available that can actually mount a Gopher server as a FUSE resource). At a minimum, whatever can be done with data files on a CD-ROM, can be done on Gopher.
A Gopher system consists of a series of hierarchical hyperlinkable menus. The choice of menu items and titles is controlled by the administrator of the server.
Similar to a file on a Web server, a file on a Gopher server can be linked to as a menu item from any other Gopher server. Many servers take advantage of this inter-server linking to provide a directory of other servers that the user can access.
The protocol is simple to negotiate, making it possible to browse without using a client. A standard gopher session may therefore appear as follows:
/Reference 1CIA World Factbook /Archives/mirrors/textfiles.com/politics/CIA gopher.quux.org 70 0Jargon 4.2.0 /Reference/Jargon 4.2.0 gopher.quux.org 70 + 1Online Libraries /Reference/Online Libraries gopher.quux.org 70 + 1RFCs: Internet Standards /Computers/Standards and Specs/RFC gopher.quux.org 70 1U.S. Gazetteer /Reference/U.S. Gazetteer gopher.quux.org 70 + iThis file contains information on United States fake (NULL) 0 icities, counties, and geographical areas. It has fake (NULL) 0 ilatitude/longitude, population, land and water area, fake (NULL) 0 iand ZIP codes. fake (NULL) 0 i fake (NULL) 0 iTo search for a city, enter the city's name. To search fake (NULL) 0 ifor a county, use the name plus County -- for instance, fake (NULL) 0 iDallas County. fake (NULL) 0
Here, the client has established a TCP connection with the server on port 70, the standard gopher port. The client then sends a string followed by a carriage return followed by a line feed (a "CR + LF" sequence). This is the selector, which identifies the document to be retrieved. If the item selector were an empty line, the default directory would be selected. The server then replies with the requested item and closes the connection. According to the protocol, before the connection is closed, the server should send a full-stop (i.e., a period character) on a line by itself. However, as is the case here, not all servers conform to this part of the protocol and the server may close the connection without returning the final full-stop.
In this example, the item sent back is a gopher menu, a directory consisting of a sequence of lines each of which describes an item that can be retrieved. Most clients will display these as hypertext links, and so allow the user to navigate through gopherspace by following the links.
All lines in a gopher menu are terminated by "CR + LF", and consist of five fields: the item type as the very first character (see below), the display string (i.e., the description text to display), a selector (i.e., a file-system pathname), host name (i.e., the domain name of the server on which the item resides), and port (i.e., the port number used by that server). The item type and display string are joined without a space; the other fields are separated by the tab character.
Because of the simplicity of the Gopher protocol, tools such as netcat make it possible to download Gopher content easily from the command line:
echo jacks/jack.exe | nc gopher.example.org 70 > jack.exe
The selector string in the request can optionally be followed by a tab character and a search string. This is used by item type 7.
Gopher menu items are defined by lines of tab-separated values in a text file. This file is sometimes called a gophermap. As the source code to a gopher menu, a gophermap is roughly analogous to an HTML file for a web page. Each tab-separated line (called a selector line) gives the client software a description of the menu item: what it is, what it's called, and where it leads. The client displays the menu items in the order that they appear in the gophermap.
The first character in a selector line indicates the item type, which tells the client what kind of file or protocol the menu item points to. This helps the client decide what to do with it. Gopher's item types are a more basic precursor to the media type system used by the Web and email attachments.
The item type is followed by the user display string (a description or label that represents the item in the menu); the selector (a path or other string for the resource on the server); the hostname (the domain name or IP address of the server), and the network port.
For example: The following selector line generates a link to the "/home" directory at the subdomain gopher.floodgap.com, on port 70. The item type of 1 indicates that the resource is a Gopher menu. The string "Floodgap Home" is what the user sees in the menu.
1Floodgap Home /home gopher.floodgap.com 70
|Item type||User display string||Selector||Hostname||Port|
In a Gopher menu's source code, a one-character code indicates what kind of content the client should expect. This code may either be a digit or a letter of the alphabet; letters are case-sensitive.
The technical specification for Gopher, RFC 1436, defines 14 item types. The later gopher+ specification defined an additional 3 types. A one-character code indicates what kind of content the client should expect. Item type
3 is an error code for exception handling. Gopher client authors improvised item types
i (informational message), and
s (sound file) after the publication of RFC 1436. Browsers like Netscape Navigator and early versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer would prepend the item type code to the selector as described in RFC 4266, so that the type of the gopher item could be determined by the url itself. Most gopher browsers still available, use these prefixes in their urls.
|3||Error code returned by a Gopher server to indicate failure|
|4||BinHex-encoded file (primarily for Macintosh computers)|
|7||Gopher full-text search|
|+||Mirror or alternate server (for load balancing or in case of primary server downtime)|
|d||Doc. Seen used alongside PDF's and .DOC's|
|i||Informational message, widely used.|
|s||Sound file (especially the WAV format)|
Historically, to create a link to a Web server, "GET /" was used as a pseudo-selector to emulate an HTTP GET request. John Goerzen created an addition to the Gopher protocol, commonly referred to as "URL links", that allows links to any protocol that supports URLs. For example, to create a link to http://gopher.quux.org/, the item type is
h, the display string is the title of the link, the item selector is "URL:http://gopher.quux.org/", and the domain and port are that of the originating Gopher server (so that clients that do not support URL links will query the server and receive an HTML redirection page).
Gopher+ is a forward compatible enhancement to the Gopher protocol. Gopher+ works by sending metadata between the client and the server. The enhancement was never widely adopted by Gopher servers.
The client sends a tab followed by a +. A Gopher+ server will respond with a status line followed by the content the client requested. An item is marked as supporting Gopher+ in the Gopher directory listing by a tab + after the port.
Other features of Gopher+ include:
The master Gopherspace search engine is Veronica. Veronica offers a keyword search of all the public Internet Gopher server menu titles. A Veronica search produces a menu of Gopher items, each of which is a direct pointer to a Gopher data source. Individual Gopher servers may also use localized search engines specific to their content such as Jughead and Jugtail.
Jugtail (formerly Jughead) is a search engine system for the Gopher protocol. It is distinct from Veronica in that it searches a single server at a time.
GopherVR is a 3D virtual reality variant of the original Gopher system.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2021)
These are clients, libraries, and utilities primarily designed to access gopher resources.
|Client||Developed by||Latest version||Release date||License||Written in||Notes|
|ACID||SSS8555||0.777||April 2021||?||C||GUI client for Windows. Supports page cache, TFTP and has G6 extension.|
|Gophie||?||1.0||April 2020||?||Java||GUI client for Windows, MacOS and Linux.|
|Lagrange||?||0.8||June 2021||2-clause BSD||C||GUI client with gemini and finger support.|
Web clients are browsers, libraries, and utilities primarily designed to access world wide web resources, but which maintain gopher support.
|Browse||?||Present||This browser is for RISC OS|
|Present||cURL is a command-line file transfer utility|
|felinks||?||Present||Offers support as a build option|
with plug-in only
with plug-in only
|Requires Falkon >= 3.1.0 with both the KDE Frameworks Integration extension (shipped with Falkon >= 3.1.0) enabled and the (separate) kio_gopher plug-in >= 0.1.99 (first release for KDE Frameworks 5) installed|
|Google Chrome||With extension only||N/A||With Burrow extension|
|Konqueror||With plug-in only||?||Requires kio_gopher plug-in|
|Mozilla Firefox||0.1||3.6||Built-in support dropped from Firefox 4.0 onwards; can be added back by installing one of the extensions by the Overbite Project|
|NetSurf||N/A||N/A||Under development, based on the cURL fetcher|
|Opera||N/A||N/A||Opera 9.0 includes a proxy capability|
|Pavuk||?||Present||Pavuk is a web mirror (recursive download) software program|
|WebPositive||?||Present||WebKit-based browser used in the Haiku operating system|
|Camino||1.0||2.1.2||Always uses port 70.|
|Hardcoded to port 70 from 9.0 to 9.2; whitelisted ports from 9.2.1|
|Unmaintained browser with gopher build option.|
|Epiphany||?||2.26.3||Disabled after switch to WebKit|
|Internet Explorer||N/A||6||Support removed by MS02-047 from IE 6 SP1 can be re-enabled in the Windows Registry. Always uses port 70.|
|Internet Explorer for Mac||?||5.2.3||PowerPC-only|
|libwww is an discontinued API for internet applications. A modern fork is maintained in Lynx|
|Line Mode Browser||Present|
|OmniWeb||5.9.2||Present||First WebKit Browser to support Gopher|
|SeaMonkey||1.0||2.0.14||Built-in support dropped from SeaMonkey 2.1 onwards; could be added back to some versions with the Overbite project, but is no longer supported.|
Browsers that do not natively support Gopher can still access servers using one of the available Gopher to HTTP gateways.
Gopher support was disabled in Internet Explorer versions 5.x and 6 for Windows in August 2002 by a patch meant to fix a security vulnerability in the browser's Gopher protocol handler to reduce the attack surface which was included in IE6 SP1; however, it can be re-enabled by editing the Windows registry. In Internet Explorer 7, Gopher support was removed on the WinINET level.
gopher://URLs to a proxy;
OverbiteWX includes support for accessing Gopher servers not on port 70 using a whitelist and for CSO/ph queries. OverbiteFF always uses port 70.
For Chromium and Google Chrome, Burrow is available. It redirects
gopher:// URLs to a proxy. In the past an Overbite proxy-based extension for these browsers was available but is no longer maintained and does not work with the current (>23) releases.
Users of Web browsers that have incomplete or no support for Gopher can access content on Gopher servers via a server gateway or proxy server that converts Gopher menus into HTML; known proxies are the Floodgap Public Gopher proxy and Gopher Proxy. Similarly, certain server packages such as GN and PyGopherd have built-in Gopher to HTTP interfaces. Squid Proxy software gateways any
gopher:// URL to HTTP content, enabling any browser or web agent to access gopher content easily.
Some[who?] have suggested that the bandwidth-sparing simple interface of Gopher would be a good match for mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), but so far, mobile adaptations of HTML and XML and other simplified content have proven more popular. The PyGopherd server provides a built-in WML front-end to Gopher sites served with it.
The early 2010s saw a renewed interest in native Gopher clients for popular smartphones: Overbite, an open source client for Android 1.5+ was released in alpha stage in 2010. PocketGopher was also released in 2010, along with its source code, for several Java ME compatible devices. Gopher Client was released in 2016 as a proprietary client for iPhone and iPad devices and is currently maintained.
Gopher popularity was at its height at a time when there were still many equally competing computer architectures and operating systems. As a result, there are several Gopher clients available for Acorn RISC OS, AmigaOS, Atari MiNT, CMS, DOS, classic Mac OS, MVS, NeXT, OS/2 Warp, most UNIX-like operating systems, VMS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 9x. GopherVR was a client designed for 3D visualization, and there is even a Gopher client in MOO. The majority of these clients are hard-coded to work on TCP port 70.
Because the protocol is trivial to implement in a basic fashion, there are many server packages still available, and some are still maintained.
|Server||Developed by||Latest version||Release date||License||Written in||Notes|
|Aftershock||Rob Linwood||1.0.1||22 April 2004||MIT||Java|
|Apache::GopherHandler||Timm Murray||0.1||26 March 2004||GPLv2 or any later version||Perl||Apache 2 plugin to run Gopher-Server.|
|Atua||Charles Childers||2017.4||9 October 2017||ISC||Forth|
|Bucktooth (gopher link) (proxied link)||Cameron Kaiser||0.2.9||1 May 2011||Floodgap Free Software License||Perl|
|Flask-Gopher||Michael Lazar||2.2.1||11 April 2020||GPLv3||Python|
|geomyid||Quinn Evans||0.0.1||10 August 2015||2-clause BSD||Common Lisp|
|geomyidae (gopher link) (proxied link)||Christoph Lohmann||0.34||13 March 2019||MIT||C|
|GoFish||Sean MacLennan||1.2||8 October 2010||GPLv2||C|
|Gopher-Server||Timm Murray||0.1.1||26 March 2004||GPLv2||Perl|
|Gophernicus||Kim Holviala and others||3.1.1||3 January 2021||2-clause BSD||C|
|gophrier||Guillaume Duhamel||0.2.3||29 March 2012||GPLv2||C|
|Goscher||Aaron W. Hsu||8.0||20 June 2011||ISC||Scheme|
|mgod||Mate Nagy||1.1||29 January 2018||GPLv3||C|
|Motsognir||Mateusz Viste||1.0.13||8 January 2021||MIT||C|
|Pituophis||dotcomboom||1.1||16 May 2020||2-clause BSD||Python||Python-based Gopher library with both server and client support|
|PyGopherd||John Goerzen||22.214.171.124||14 February 2017||GPLv2||Python||Also supports HTTP, WAP, and Gopher+|
|Redis||Salvatore Sanfilippo||6.2.5||21 July 2021||3-clause BSD||C|
|save_gopher_server||SSS8555||0.777||7 July 2020||?||Perl||with G6 extension and TFTP|
|Spacecookie||Lukas Epple||126.96.36.199||17 March 2021||GPLv3||Haskell|
|Xylophar||Nathaniel Leveck||0.0.1||15 January 2020||GPLv3||FreeBASIC|
OmniWeb 5.9.2 Released 1 April 2009: Implemented ground-breaking support for the revolutionary Gopher protocol--a first for WebKit-based browsers! For a list of Gopher servers, see the Floodgap list. Enjoy!. The same text appears in the 5.10 release of 27 August 2009 further down the page, copied from the 5.9.2 unstable branch. The Floodgap list referred to is at Floodgap: new Gopher servers and does not itself refer to April Fools' Day.