ARCHIVED: What was BITNET, and what happened to it?

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Based on IBM's VNET, which the company used for internal communications, the Because It's Time NETwork, or BITNET, was launched in 1981. It first connected Yale to CUNY, but throughout the 1980s, BITNET experienced rapid growth, reaching thousands of computers in the US and Mexico. Sister networks, physically part of BITNET but governed by different bodies, formed in Canada (NetNorth), Europe (European Academic and Research Network, or EARN), Japan (AsiaNet), and other locales. It became the preeminent network for universities and research institutions worldwide. Through it, users could exchange electronic mail, files, and interactive messages between member institutions. A number of today's popular technologies, including LISTSERV mailing lists, originated on BITNET.

Compared to the Internet, BITNET was not robust, nor did it have much bandwidth. To reduce costs, network traffic passed between two institutions by just one path. Partially making up for this lack of redundancy was BITNET's foundation as a store-and-forward network. As it passed to its destination, data was often relayed through several institutions or nodes. Each node would temporarily store this data before forwarding it to the next. If there was a temporary break in the network preventing a node from forwarding its traffic, it could hold the data until the network became available again.

As the Internet grew and became more affordable, it became apparent that BITNET was obsolete. In 1996, BITNET's managing body, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN), recommended that its members terminate their use of BITNET by the end of that year. Today, BITNET in its original form is largely defunct. However, BITNET II, which uses the Internet as a medium to transfer BITNET protocols, is still in use by some institutions.

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Last modified on 2018-01-18 09:27:45.