Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

6.22. Where can I find the program called ______, or what is Archie?

Answered by Dave Taylor (

Imagine that you've just walked into a library but aren't familiar with the organizational system it uses. You thought you'd figured out the Dewey Decimal System, and almost have a handle on the Library of Congress organizational scheme, but this appears to just be a semi-random ordering of books, sorted by whether they're intended to be for the public, for special groups, or others. Now multiply that by a few thousand libraries and try to find a copy of "The New Holistic Herbal." It's impossible.

On the Internet, FTP archives are akin to libraries of information. Imagine it: thousands of repositories of information and no way to know which might have the information you seek.

It's enough to cause a headache, and indeed it did for a creative team at McGill University in Canada. The result, however, wasn't that they went to lie down, but that they created a centralized database of all files available on all anonymous FTP sites throughout the world. All sites. Over 2.5 million different files! Then, because this is the Internet, they designed a server that would allow other systems to connect and find information without having to replicate the massive database on each computer on the network. The result is Archie.

They did a fantastic job, and Archie is a lifesaver if you ever search for specific files or programs, no matter what computer they run on. But that's not all, because FTP archives include all sorts of curious things, so there's also a large recipe database, and Archie can find all the cookie recipes if you're interested!

There are caveats to this service, though. The greatest is that the program doesn't really know anything about any of the millions of files listed in the database other than the name of the file, the name of the computer on which it lives, and the directory within which it resides. If you are looking for a program called Wanda but it's in the archives as "wnd," searching for Wanda will not find it. If you want a specific version of the program, you might find yourself retrieving and examining a half-dozen copies before you find the one you want; Archie doesn't know about version numbers, either.

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