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Before the DNS: how yours truly upstaged the NIC's official HOSTS.TXT (2004), Hacker News

Before the DNS: How yours truly upstaged The NIC’s Official HOSTS.TXT An Internet history lesson by Geoff Goodfellow Back in the early ‘728 s of the ARPANET … before the Domain Name System (DNS) even existed, the Network Information Center (NIC) based at SRI International controlled and distributed The Official Host Table for The Net called HOSTS.TXT. The NIC updated this table through “official channels” and host administrators would periodically transfer over a new version of the table to their systems. There was Just One Problem: The Official Channels took forever for the NIC to update HOSTS.TXT and therefore The Nets host table was frequently out of date with the reality of what was actually up and operating on The Net. What I did, as a nobody teenager and budding system and network janitor at the time, was to notice new “nameless” hosts when they came up on the net by Looking at a ‘netstat’ of hosts that did not have host names and only showed up as numbers. This was easy because in those early days the Network Control Program known as NCP (this was before TCP / IP) would broadcast messages called RSTs to every possible host address on the network when they booted. What RSTs did was say to a host: “Hi there, please mark me as UP in your netstat listing and if you have any left over connections from the time I went down, please reset them “. I would then telnet or ftp to these nameless hosts and see what host name the operating system login prompt gave me or what host name the ftp server announced in its greeting. I would then plug this information into my systems host table. Word started to spread through the grapevine to other system and network janitors that my system’s host table was the most up to date on The Net. You can imagine what happened next: many system administrators started to reference my host table instead of the NIC’s. Someone suggested I create a notification list so that every time my hostable was updated they would know to install a new one (Some even installed automated daily processes that would transfer over my host table without any human intervention.) When the NIC got wind of being upstaged by this guerilla / underground host table information gathering and distribution network, they were mightily unhappy about having their monopoly authority challenged. but, EACH OF THE SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS MADE AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE: Geoff Goodfellow’s hostable was more up to date and better managed than the NIC’s Official HOSTS.TXT table, so WE CHOOSE TO USE IT. There was absolutely nothing the NIC could do to stop these individual system admins from each making their own decision about who they wanted to trust and where to get the most up to date host information. As far as I know my host table was the preferred host table used by the majority of sites on The Net until the DNS came along and host tables became moot. Please note that I did not develop my host table for the net. I just needed one for my site that was more up-to-date, so I figured out how to create it. Then my friends copied it, and word spread, and the market made its free choice. Of course, I did not mind this happening, since they were just copying what I needed to make for myself.

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