I have noticed that the number of people interested in using telnet to access BBSs seems to be growing, which I’m really pleased to see. However lots of people seem to be having trouble getting colour ANSI emulation working properly with telnet under Linux. I have therefore put this tutorial together to show just how easy it is.

The process of getting colour ANSI emulation working properly in telnet is quite simple. All you need is the correct font and be using the correct terminal emulation mode. This is easily done as follows:

Installing the Correct Fonts

  • Download the correct fonts from here, so that you can display the ANSI block characters properly.
  • Check where your X fonts are stored, under Debian Lenny I would use /usr/share/fonts/X11/misc.
  • As root extract the archive downloaded above to the font directory using:
$ tar -xvzf ansifonts.tar.gz -C /usr/share/fonts/X11/misc
  • Ensure that X knows about the fonts:
$ mkfontdir /usr/share/fonts/X11/misc/
    $ xset fp rehash
  • Check that X now knows about the fonts (Should return at least one line with the text ‘vga11x19’):
$ xlsfonts | grep vga11x19

Setting Up Your Terminal Emulator

The only terminal emulator I could found that does ANSI colour emulation properly is rxvt, if you haven’t already got this installed then now is the time to do that. You now need to make sure that your terminal emulator is using one of the correct fonts. To start rxvt with the vga11x19 font, a black background and white foreground, type:

$ rxvt -fn vga11x19 -bg black -fg white &

Now you need to make sure that rxvt is emulating an ANSI display. To do this you need to set the TERM and COLORTERM environmental variables to ‘ansi’. If you are using the bash shell type the following from within the rxvt window:

$ export TERM=ansi
$ export COLORTERM=ansi

Connecting to BBSs with Telnet

Now you can just telnet as normal to the BBS you are interested in. If you wanted to connect to a made-up BBS called somebbs.com:

$ telnet somebbs.com

There is quite a lot of information on the internet about telnet BBSs, some of the best sites are: BBS Corner, BBS Finder, The Telnet BBS Guide and BBS Scene. Have fun, and I hope we can expand the use of BBSs, as I still believe they have a lot to give.