Note: I started this file because I found that I was getting the same questions about NetBots over and over. A new section was added to the NetBots documentation in version 1.1 that offered a tutorial on TCP for people unfamiliar with ports. This document may be a bit obsolete in that respect. I've tried to add more general information about the future of NetBots. If you have any questions to add to this FAQ, please let me know.
Table of Contents
I can't make any promises about new features, but I can tell you what I'm planning on. I've divided the features I'd like to include for the next version into several stages. I'm going to implement these stages individually. In November '96, I shipped the second release of NetBots, version 1.1. This version contained all of the features through stage two. NetBots 2.0, which came out in June, implemented everything through stage five. At this time, I haven't announced when the next release will be. However, it is likely to include complete these stages when it is done. Here are basically what the stages I mentioned include:
Stage 1: Totally rewrites the networking code. OT native.
Stage 2: Touchups -- new docs, beginner tutorials, log file, others
Stage 3: Enhancements -- new bots, modifications to the old ones
Stage 4: Interface -- new bot manager, more preferences, bots saved
Stage 5: Support -- AppleScript, other technologies (Internet Config?)
Stage 6: Extension -- allows third-party bots
Stage 7: Intelligence -- bots that are more useful, diagnostic bots, web bots
Stage 8: Reanalysis -- ported to another platform. Rhapsody?, Java?, Both?
Stage 9: Reaction -- based entirely on user request
Again, there are no promises that any of these features will actually be implemented. I'd like to stress the fact that I'm a student trying to graduate a year early from Stanford and things can get busy very quickly. I tend to use school breaks and weekends as my only real time to write shareware. As in previous versions, registered users of NetBots are entitled to the next two subsequent releases.
2) This stuff with ports makes no sense to me. Could you explain it?
Sure. And I'd also like to offer my apologies for the documentation that shipped with 1.0. While it was adequate for someone experienced with UNIX and ports, it offered little support for people who aren't familiar with these concepts. If you're still using that version, please download version 2.0.2. It comes with a tutorial on TCP ports. The answer to this question has been removed because it is better described in the docs.
3) How do I use a PortBot to let me know when I have new mail?
This is by far the most-asked question. Unfortunately, the answer is that you probably can't very easily. On some UNIX hosts, PortBots can be used to alert you of new mail, but an increasingly large number of operating systems aren't displaying this information any more (for example, System V-based OS's don't seem to do this). I know that some versions of SunOS do it and so do some other flavors of UNIX. Also, it may be possible to check for new mail if your mail is on a POP server. For that, I would highly recommend the freeware program MailSniffer by William Leshner:
If you don't have a POP account and want to see if NetBots can alert you of new mail, there are a few things you can try. One way is just to send out a PortBot as described below and then to send yourself an email message. If the PortBot works, you know your host is capable of working this way. If it doesn't, you know that it won't work. The other way (which is far better) is to send yourself mail, then finger your account by typing "finger [username]" (where [username] is your username) from a UNIX prompt. Look at the text that comes back. It should have some information about you. If it says something like "new mail received" or "unread mail" or something like that, you can use a PortBot. Here's how you configure it:
In the host field, put the part of your email address that comes after @ sign. For me, that's "elaine.stanford.edu" (of course, leave the quotes off)
In the port field, put "79" since we'll be using the Finger protocol to see if you have mail.
In the send string field, put your username followed by \r\n, for me it would be "klep\r\n" (again, without the quotes).
In the search string field, put whichever string your host uses to tell you that new mail has been received. In most cases (for UNIX anyway), this will be "mail received", but yours might be different.
Put whatever you want in the alert text field and send the bot. To test it, send yourself mail and see if the bot alerts you the next time the queue runs. If you're having problems, it's probably because your host doesn't put mail information in the finger text. A future version of NetBots might be able to work with stubborn hosts. I'm looking into it...
4) Does NetBots work with Firewalls/proxies? Will it?
I can sense that there's a demand for firewall support and I'll definitely look into it when I start the next version. The thing is that I'm just not real clear on how they work and I have no way of testing them since I don't have accounts on any systems behind firewalls. But again, I'll look into it and see what I can do.
5) Will there be a NetBots for OpenDoc? Java?
Back when OpenDoc was all the rage, I started to port NetBots to it and didn't get to far. At this point, I don't see any reason to write NetBots in OpenDoc. As far as Java is concerned, I know the language and it seems like a Good Thing. A friend and I ported most of NetBots 1.0 to Java a few months ago but we didn't go much beyond the basic functionality. I plan to obtain the code from him and take over the project shortly.
6) Will there be plugins so I can write my own bots in C or C++?
Sure would be cool. I'm looking into how to do this and from what I've seen, it's not too hard. The ultimate goal would to make NetBots open to third-party bots so that programmers who have great ideas for net agents but don't want to learn net programming could have an easy interface to the net through NetBots.
7) I need AppleScript! Why is this taking so long?
I feel your pain. It's coming, really. I actually experimented with AppleScript support shortly before 1.1 was released but I didn't want to delay the release further. There is support for the basic events in 1.1, but that's fairly useless. Ideally, you'll be able to add bots, remove bots, rename bots, reconfigure bots, and get events. I did manual AppleScript support for HTML Markup so I'm expecting it to be much easier with PowerPlant.
8) How about running multiple bots concurrently?
You can do that in NetBots 2.0 and later.
9) How about a Windows version?
No. I don't write Windows software so please stop asking. There is a solution for you though. Eventually, I'll port NetBots to Apple's Yellow Box, which will have a free runtime for Windows. That way, you'll be able to run the same binary on Mac OS, Rhapsody, and Windows.