Sunday, September 9, 2012

History of the Gopher Protocol (Pre-Technology of HTTP)

What is Gopher? (in an internet context )

Gopher is a protocol system, which in advance of the World Wide Web, allowed server based text files to be hierarchically organised and easily viewed by end users who accessed the server using Gopher applications on remote computers. Initially Gopher browsers could only display text-based files before developments such as HyperGopher, which were able to handle simple graphic formats though they were never used on a widespread basis as by this time the World Wide Web and its Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) were gaining in popularity, and had similar and more extensive functions.

The origins of the Gopher protocol

The Gopher protocol and original Gopher viewer application were first developed at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990’s as part of the drive to make use of the Internet to enable the simple sharing of documents with people who could be located in institutions on opposite sides of the country or even the world, and to have those documents organised so that similar / related pages would be easily accessible. The value of the Gopher system was enhanced by the development of two systems known as Veronica and Jughead which allowed a user to search across resources stored in Gopher file hierarchies on a global basis. As for the naming of the system, the University of Minnesota sports teams were called the ‘Golden Gophers’ and the sports mascot was thus a large gopher, it has been said that the protocol was named in honour of the mascot, and also as in an assistant who's sent to ‘go for’ things.

What happened to it?

By the mid 1990s the World Wide Web was growing at a huge rate, and given that the Web’s Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and its browser Mosaic could match the functions of the Gopher protocol and additionally offer added functions such as hyper linking from within HTML files which brought together related pages more efficiently than Gopher, there was no longer a compelling reason to choose the Gopher system. Another advantage the early Web had over Gopher was the decision of the University of Minnesota not to definitively rule out the option of exercising its intellectual property rights over the Gopher protocol, for any other organisation deciding whether to devote time, effort, and expense to adopting one of the systems the possibility of getting locked into a technology that they could then find themselves being charged for was good reason to prefer the World Wide Web. Most of the files and databases that had been available on Gopher were converted into HTTP compatible formats and made available on the Web, though for the interested it is still possible to access the Gopher root directory at the University of Minnesota and a few other places, but the vast majority of the other Gopher servers on the Net have since gone offline.



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