How to Access BBSes in Linux Using Telnet

In the '80s and early '90s, the most popular way to get online in the US was through Bulletin Board Systems or BBSes.

While they're nowhere near as numerous as they were during their mid-90s heyday, there are still hobbyists operating these systems scattered around the world. And you can access them from Linux, without a dial-up modem.

What Are BBSes?

A Bulletin Board System, or BBS, is an online system that allows users to communicate with each other. In the '80s and '90s, before internet access was widely available, computer users would dial into them using modems over phone lines. They were so named because they were like community corkboard bulletin boards where people could post messages.

BBSes were popular because most smaller ones didn't charge access fees, unlike large online services of the era like CompuServe. In the US, local calls were typically free, which also encouraged the few people who had modems to use them.

Many hobby BBSes were run by their “sysops”, or system operators, out of their homes on their PCs as a hobby, though commercial ones did exist. Even the hobby BBS sysops encouraged donations or charged access fees because the hardware, software, and multiple phone lines were expensive.

BBSes were the forerunner of modern web forums, as their most popular usage was discussion boards. They also offered games, software downloads, and real-time chat. They were even linked into a network called FidoNet, allowing users to send messages to users on other systems.

Many people moved from BBSes to the internet, but they never went away. A more extensive look at the heyday of BBS culture through the eyes of its users is Jason Scott's “BBS: The Documentary”, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube.

One of the best-known features of the BBS era is multiplayer games, also known as “door games.” The term comes from the way these games are running as external programs from the BBS server software, and connect through a “door” to the application. Of these, the RPG “Legend of the Red Dragon” was a staple of PC-based BBSes.

Related: The 6 Best Free Bulletin Boards to Set Up Your Own Forum

Finding a BBS

You can still access BBSes over the internet on Linux using telnet. Normally, the use of telnet is discouraged due to security concerns, but it's often the only way to access modern BBSes. If you don't have telnet installed, use your package manager.

Now you'll have to find a BBS to log in to. There are directories of telnet BBSes online. The biggest one is the Telnet BBS Guide, which, as the name suggests, lists BBSes accessible by Telnet.

Connecting to BBSes With Telnet

A good one to try is Particles BBS, which boasts, “We're so old, we're retro!” And they mean it: the system runs on a Commodore 128!

To access it, just type:

telnet 6400

With these boards, if you don't have an account, you'll have to make one. On this board, you just type “New” and then you'll be walked through the account creation process, such as picking a username and password. Since telnet sends passwords in the clear, pick one that you don't use anywhere else. Or better yet, use SSH if the board offers it.

Now that you're signed up, the real fun begins. The BBS will present its main menu once you've logged in. There are discussion boards where you can find messages left by other users.

Another PC-based BBS to try is Level 29, which bills itself as “the official BBS of”

To reach it, type:


The Black flag BBS is a pirate-themed board that shows off a lot of the fanciful ANSI art of the BBS community. To reach it, type:


Relive the BBS Era in Linux

While the height of the BBS might be long over, you can get a taste of what using a BBS was like over telnet, since most people have given up their modems and landlines long ago as well.

A lot of the things we do on the internet, including messaging and playing games, people were doing on BBSes back in the '80s and the early '90s. Retro enthusiasts are keeping old tech alive.

Logging into BBSes isn't the only way to use the modern Linux system for retro purposes. The Linux-based Raspberry Pi and Arduino have proven popular for lots of retro-tech projects.

Author: David Delony

Source: David Delony.” How to Access BBSes in Linux Using Telnet”. Retrieved From

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