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networking, protocol A distributed document retrieval
system which started as a Campus Wide Information System at
the University of Minnesota, and which was popular in the
early 1990s.
Gopher is defined in RFC 1436. The protocol is like a
primitive form of HTTP (which came later). Gopher lacks the
MIME features of HTTP, but expressed the equivalent of a
document's MIME type with a one-character code for the
"Gopher object type". At time of writing (2001), all Web
browers should be able to access gopher servers, although few
gopher servers exist anymore.
Tim Berners-Lee, in his book "Weaving The Web" (pp.72-73),
related his opinion that it was not so much the protocol
limitations of gopher that made people abandon it in favor of
HTTP/HTML, but instead the legal missteps on the part of the
university where it was developed:
"It was just about this time, spring 1993, that the University
of Minnesota decided that it would ask for a license fee from
certain classes of users who wanted to use gopher. Since the
gopher software being picked up so widely, the university was
going to charge an annual fee. The browser, and the act of
browsing, would be free, and the server software would remain
free to nonprofit and educational institutions. But any other
users, notably companies, would have to pay to use gopher
server software.
"This was an act of treason in the academic community and the
Internet community. Even if the university never charged
anyone a dime, the fact that the school had announced it was
reserving the right to charge people for the use of the gopher
protocols meant it had crossed the line. To use the
technology was too risky. Industry dropped gopher like a hot