Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.3. What is command-line access?

Command-line access through a local Internet service provider is one of the most common ways to access the Internet. It is cost-effective, simple to learn, and similar across different computing platforms. The term command-line access can be a misnomer, because access through a local Internet service provider might be either via a command line ([ag]a la the UNIX operating system) or through a custom menu-driven interface.

Navigating the Net using a command-line or menu-driven interface isn't particularly elegant. A multimedia experience it ain't: you get screensfull of text but no online graphics or sound. You can transfer files and access databases, send electronic mail, participate in interactive chat sessions and lots of other good stuff--but it's not particularly pretty and you don't get to fiddle with a mouse. (The keyboard is usually the only means of input. If you're really lucky, you'll get to learn to use the h, j, k, and l keys like arrows to move the cursor around. Yuk!) Depending on your service, you may see unhelpful prompts and be obligated to type obtuse commands like trn -xDD Not that I'm complaining (all right, I admit I'm complaining), but I've been using primarily command-line access for years. It works, it's reliable, and it's cheap. Here is an example of reading Usenet news with this type of access:

bolero[5] rn
Unread news in                      1 article
Unread news in                      453 articles
Unread news in comp.infosystems.wais                       37 articles
Unread news in                     11 articles
Unread news in comp.sys.mac.hypercard                     188 articles

******   1 unread article in -- read now?
****** 453 unread articles in -- read now?
******  37 unread articles in comp.infosystems.wais -- read now?
******  11 unread articles in -- read now?
****** 188 unread articles in comp.sys.mac.hypercard -- read now?
******  12 unread articles in alt.etext -- read now? [ynq]n
****** 329 unread articles in news.newusers.questions -- read now?
Reading overview file....
14245 Re: Fido Net
14246 Using NEWS as a teaching tool
14247 Re: PICO query: including .sigs
14248 Welcome to news.newusers.questions! (weekly posting)
14249 Re: Yes, another .sig question
14251 Re: Q: how to create a kill-file
14252 Re: Internet World
14253 Pine mail question
14254 Re: kibo?
14255 Re: Help!
14256 Need contact in US Local Govt. Comp Ops.
14257 Sports scores listservers
14258 Re: vi idiot wants to know: how edit .login?
14259 Re: vi idiot wants to know: how edit .login?
14260 Re: HTTP? WWW Questions
14262 This is a test. Do not adjust your set...
14263 Interface TLI
14264 Re: Internet 'Navigator' Software ?
14265 Re: ELM aliases from TIN?
14266 Re: How to choose editor in elm
14267 Assorted questions: where to ask?
What next? [npq] 14248

news.newusers.questions #14248 (328 more)
From: (Leanne Phillips)
Newsgroups: news.newusers.questions,news.answers
Subject: Welcome to news.newusers.questions! (weekly posting)
Supersedes: <news-newusers-intro">
Followup-To: news.newusers.questions
Date: Fri Feb 11 19:30:13 PST 1994
Organization: University of Maryland, College Park
Lines: 314
Distribution: world
X-Version: $Id: news-newusers-intro,v 1.24 1994/2/3 02:33:24 phillips Exp

Archive-name: news-newusers-intro
Version: $Id: news-newusers-intro,v 1.24 1994/2/3 02:33:24 phillips Exp $

Changes: This is now being maintained by Leanne Phillips
  (, rather than by Jonathan Kamens.

  Welcome to the news.newusers.questions newsgroup!  According to the
"List of Active Newsgroups" posting in news.announce.newusers, the
purpose of this newsgroup is "Q & A for users new to the Usenet."  So
if you've got questions about the USENET, this is the place to post

                 Get to know news.announce.newusers.

  However, before you do that, there is another newsgroup with which
you should become acquainted. The news.announce.newusers newsgroup
contains (once again according to the "List of Active Newsgroups"
posting) "Explanatory postings for new users."  Its purpose is to
provide a base set of information with which all participants in the
USENET should be familiar in order to make the USENET a better place
for all of us.
Command-line access is easy to set up and generally less expensive than an IP connection (which is discussed in the answer to Question number 2.4), and is usually comparable in price to access to commercial online services. This type of access works reliably from any kind of personal computer because specialized software isn't needed. This can be a benefit if you use, for instance, a Macintosh at home and a 486 PC running Windows at the office. Although the computers are very different, Internet access using a command-line would be similar from either machine.

Finding a public access site for a command-line account is usually more difficult than joining a commercial online service. Although there are only a few commercial online services that offer full Internet access, there are hundreds of public-access UNIX hosts, each offering different features, pricing structures, and local access from different locales. (I find it ironic that finding an access site is difficult because there are so many. Wouldn't it make sense if it were difficult because there were so few?)

With command-line access, your computer is not "on the Internet;" that is, it doesn't have its own Internet name or address. Instead, your host is connected to the Internet, and you access the net via that remote computer. Although this is an important distinction to understand, know that a command-line account isn't a bad way to use the network: this kind of access is simple to use and (unlike an IP link) doesn't require a complicated software configuration on your own computer.

Because your computer isn't directly on the Internet when you use a command-line account, certain functions require extra steps. A good example is file transfers: imagine there's a new shareware program, a llama racing tracker, for your personal computer available at a popular anonymous FTP site. You decide you must have this program, so you use FTP to get the software. The remote FTP site dutifully sends the file to your service provider's computer, because that is the computer actually on the Internet. When you end the FTP session, you'll notice that a copy of the program is at your host. It doesn't do much good there because you want to run it on your own computer. You need to take the second step: copying the llama tracker from your host to your computer, this time using a file transfer protocol like XMODEM, ZMODEM or Kermit. This extra step is not much of a hassle, but it is worth noting.

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