Stuff People Ask About Gopher
In this section, I try to gather up my basic, simple explanations for why Gopher is relevant.
The What and Why of Gopher
What is Gopher?
- In the simplest terms, Gopher is a way to get stuff online through quick, simple plain text lists. More accurately, it's a document retrieval protocol akin to the World Wide Web, but much more structured.
No one uses Gopher anymore!
- I hadn't noticed.
Surely it can't be that useful if no one uses it, right...?
- Wrong. Aside from the wealth of things to explore throughout the currently, rapidly-expanding Gopherspace (~260 servers last time I checked, doubled since 2017), Gopher's simplicity means it's not only easy to find things, but also there's a lot of untapped potential in finding new ways to interact with the protocol.
- It's also especially useful on slow connections and old devices because of its low overhead. Don't mistake the lack of mainstream pickup for uselessness; Gopher is far from it.
How is Gopher different from the World Wide Web?
- With Gopher, while it isn't very visual (mostly plain text, and while images can be delivered through it, most clients won't display them until they're selected for download), it's much lighter. The simplicity of the protocol means old computers and operating systems are just as equipped to access Gopherspace as a new machine. Gopher enables most anything the Web can deliver, but faster and more efficiently.
So why not just encourage simpler web pages, a la Motherfucking Website?
- The genie's out of the bottle on heavy, slow web pages. We won't be seeing a resurgence in simpler web page design in a long time, if ever, given the prevalence of CMS like Wordpress and frameworks like Bootstrap. Gopher is a good alternative precisely because these things just can't happen with it. Gopher features no client-side scripting support and no stylesheet support, the two biggest things that slow down web pages.
So if it's less capable, then what's the point?
- The lesser capabilities of Gopher are precisely why it's important. Most people don't need the full capabilities of the Web. While it's enabled web apps like YouTube and Flickr, it's also enabled sites that should be very simple becoming very complicated. Gopher is widely supported, faster, and cleaner for what it's good for. If all you need to do is tell people about stuff and let them download things, why support more than you need?
- (Gopher can support server-side scripting and access to more complicated apps and websites; Gopherchan and the Gopher version of Metafilter are two very good examples of Gopher being used to support forums and imageboards. As these are server-side, they're still much faster and still reap the benefits of Gopher's clean approach.)
Who will benefit most from Gopherspace?
- Everyone can, but those dealing mostly in text, images, and downloads (of any stripe), those with slower, older phones and computers, those with data limits, and those who prize substance over style will find the most value in a Gopher site.
Accessing and Building Gopherspace
So how do you access Gopherspace? Most web browsers won't take a Gopher link.
- This is true, and it's one of the main barriers to accessing Gopherspace. Older browsers such as Netscape and early versions of Firefox are perfectly equipped to handle Gopher, however, and standalone clients are available for just about any OS and device you fancy, including Android and iOS.
Does Gopherspace support any kind of encryption or security, like HTTPS does?
- There have been attempts and stabs at secure Gopher communication (I believe Gophernicus supports it), but by and large, Gopher traffic isn't encrypted. Don't expect it. This may or may not be an issue for you; it's not for me, since anything I put on Gopherspace, I want people to find. (If you are, use a VPN.)
So how do you go about hosting content on Gopher?
- There are several people out there who give out space on their Gopher servers (tilde.team and SDF Gopherspace are two I can think of), but the more fun thing to do (if you have a domain) is to set up your own server.
- (It should be worth mentioning that about any server setup isn't for the faint of heart. Even Bucktooth, my preferred server package, requires you to know the difference between inetd and launchd, like I didn't at first. :blobmaripensive: Expect some setup. If this is too complicated, find someone else's hosting.)
Cool, I have hosting. How do I make it tick?
- The basic structure of a Gopher site involves a plain text file called a gophermap; this functions very similarly to a web page, with links (Gopher called them selectors) and text and all the usual stuff.
Is there any limit to what I can host on a Gopher site?
- Not really. If it's a file, you can send it through Gopher. Those of you with art to show off and essays to preach, take note.