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SDF – Public Access Unix System (sdf.org)
194 points by znpy on April 17, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

I received this email from them in January. HN might find it interesting:

SDF Celebrates 30 years of service in 2017!

On June 16th, 1987 Ted Uhlemann (handle: charmin, later iczer) connected his Apple ][e's 300 baud modem to the phone line his mother had just given him for his birthday. He had published the number the night before on as many BBSes around the Dallas Ft. Worth area that he could and he waited for the first caller. He had a copy of Magic Micro BBS which was written in Applesoft BASIC and he named the BBS "SDF-1" after his favorite Japanimation series ROBOTECH (Macross). He hoped to draw users who were interested in anime, industrial music and the Church of the Subgenius.

Slowly, SDF has grown over all these years, never forgetting our past and unlike many sites on the internet, we actually have a past. Some people today may come here and see us as outdated and "retro". But if you get involved, you'll see it is quite alive with new ideas and a platform for opportunity to try many new things. The machines are often refreshed, the quotas are gone, the disk space is expanding as are the features (and user driven features at that) and our cabinets have plenty of space for expansion here in the USA and in Europe (Germany).

Think about ways you'd like to celebrate SDF's 30th and join us on the 'bboard' to discuss what we could do.

I realize many of you have likely moved on yourselves, but I just wanted you to know we're still here and we'll keep doing new and exciting things with a foundation in the UNIX shell.


Stephen Jones (SMJ)


SDF and its "long-running public multitenant shell server" kin are all pretty old, and not one of them has been spared from slowdowns due to oversubscription.

It's sort of like an MMO: it's only fun when you're on a heavily-populated "shard", but that also means that you're all putting strain on the same server.

I'm surprised that there's no more modern implementation of the same multitenant "shell system" as a scale-free distributed architecture—like Mesos, z/OS, or any other "multi-tenant scheduler of interactive container-jobs with access to a common GlusterFS volume" kind of approach. A PaaS you can hang out in like a BBS.

Come to think, you could put one of these up on AWS, using EC2 autoscaling + K8s/Docker Swarm + Amazon EFS for storage, quite easily. Has anyone done this yet?

There /is/ a modern, well-managed open-registration shell and IRC service, similar to what you're talking about, called Hashbang. You can join via https://hashbang.sh.

We're reasonably active, and we have almost 1400 registered users [edited: i was corrected by a hashbang admin as to the amount].

The ultimate purpose of hashbang is to expose more users to a traditional remote UNIX server and command line, as well as teaching people how to use it. We've created a slight barrier to entry with the intentionally obtuse signup flow, as we don't want completely non-technical users flooding the service.

I promise we won't bite :D

To join would require me to run code from the website.. or initiate a call to their API via curl?

My initial reaction was to run (and the gpg call made me curious):

    curl hashbang.sh
I was encouraged by what i saw.

Yep. You can download/verify that script by hand, or hit the endpoints yourself. They just run stuff to provision your user and files and add you to our LDAP directory.

Can confirm hitting the endpoint with curl works. Thanks for the account! :) Going to go poke around.

Or take a look at the page source.

> Come to think, you could put one of these up on AWS, using EC2 autoscaling + K8s/Docker Swarm + Amazon EFS for storage, quite easily. Has anyone done this yet?

Cloud9 IDE works a bit like that. They provide free 'workspaces', and each workspace is hosted in a Docker container on their managed fleet. You have shell and file system access. They wrote a bit about how it works in this blog post: https://c9.io/blog/announcing-the-all-new-cloud9-development...

> Our new workspaces are powered by Docker Ubuntu containers. Every workspace is a fully self-contained VM, so you can run any development stack (e.g. a WordPress website and a Node.js web app) in parallel without running into configuration issues. Each workspace gives you full freedom over your environment, including sudo rights, so any development stack can be set up, built, and run without any hassle.

I use SDF daily. The message system is bboard, and if you stay off the anonymous board, it is full of smart and interesting discussion. The most active group chat program is com, and it stays active most of the day.

Long-time SDF user here as well (MetaARPA). Agree that bboard has some of the most interesting discussion that I've seen on the Internet in a long time.

This is what I'm currently working on, a much more sophisticated version of termbox.io, which I built last year to test the idea. Turns out that Docker has many pitfalls for this kind of thing, so I'm using LXD instead. Clustering is built on Consul and some custom code because the aim is to run on dedicated servers. I want it to be cheaper than DO/Linode, so EC2 is simply not an option.

When it's finished, it will let you launch machines in 5 seconds, with a choice of images for different purposes (like development, pentesting, offloading heavy computation etc).

My plan is to also open source most of it post-launch (it will require some additional efforts to extract specialized functionality). If anyone is interested in joining me, shoot me an email and we can talk.

This page is anonymous | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5638988 (4 years ago)


"there is one place where you can still host your content anonymously. That place is the Super Dimension Fortress or SDF. SDF lets you register an anonymous user over ssh (which is accessible via the Tor network) and takes cash over mail in order to validate the user."

"I challenge you to send me a postcard to my mailing address with the content that says "I see you voidnull" and a self-addressed postage-paid envelope. I will then send you a $10 bill back as a prize."

For those wondering what exactly is SDF, a summary loading quickly:


Interesting. Anyone know what they mean by

We are using a 'swamp' class C 192.94.73...?

Edit: Found https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc4632 (CIDR: The Internet Address Assignment and Aggregation Plan), which says this. Still not quite sure what they mean.

   Note that, as defined, this plan neither requires nor assumes the
   re-assignment of those parts of the legacy "Class C" space that are
   not amenable to aggregation (sometimes called "the swamp").

Good question. Some quick googling turned up: https://www.safaribooksonline.com/library/view/bgp/978059600...

> Since more than half the global routing table consists of /24 announcements, those are the first candidates for being filtered. More aggressive filters may even filter out everything smaller than the smallest assigned PA blocks, possibly with some exceptions for “the swamp,” the part of the Class C space assigned in pre-CIDR days(192.x.x.x and part of 193.x.x.x). The currently allocated smallest PA blocks are /20, but much of the Class C space is allocated to ISPs in /19 and larger blocks.

(paid up sdf user since ~2004) FWIW they had to give back that IP space to the actual owner a few months back and are in the 205s now.

Hard to navigate and full of strange beasts, some of which will bite you if challenged.

I remember learning how to use telnet into SDF when I was in middle school, around 2001, looking for something more interesting to do in computer lab while everyone else was doing typing assignments, and I _seem_ to remember playing a MUD on their server as well. I also have a distinct memory of copying the source code of their site's index when I was learning to edit HTML, probably within a month of that, because their site was very legible and easy to tinker with. How time flies!

Another memory -- I also ordered a Red Martian CD from them! I need to see if I can dig it up at my mom's house sometime

What would be some reasons to use SDF or Hashbang? Running my own system on Digital Ocean or a similar service seems quite straightforward.

I have a lifetime account at SDF, and I've set it up as an emergency email address of last resort. If I ever let my domains and all other freemail accounts expire (perhaps I'll get hit by a bus and stay in a coma for 10 years), I'll try to use my SDF account to regain control of my online presence.

Well, I'll actually have to do a few more things in order to make that possible, but at least I think SDF will last longer than most other services of its kind.

Back in the day it was prohibitively expensive to colo your own box just for fun, so you got someone who already had a box to throw you an account in exchange for not hammering it. We used to keep collections of shells across the net. Now they're mainly for nostalgia, camaraderie, and a quick remote terminal if your own system is inaccessible. Them being usually free makes it unnecessary to have your own vps if all you need is a remote place to run commands from.

SDF isn't merely renting some ethernet and platters of rust: It's a community where you can be "local", even though it's an Internet site.

I was introduced to a new customer via SDF; The person sharing the hardware your "droplet" runs on can't do that.

It's much cheaper. Before I had money to use Digital Ocean and the like, there was a similar service called bur.st that offered shells and it was one of my first introductions to *nix systems.

I know you were wondering: SDF stands for Super Dimension Fortress, or at least that's what they tell a noob.

"a networked community of free software authors, teachers, students, researchers, hobbyists, enthusiasts and the blind. It is operated as a federally recognised non-profit 501c7 and is supported by its members."


"Our mission is to provide remotely accessible computing facilities for the advancement of public education, cultural enrichment, scientific research and recreation. Members can interact electronically with each other regardless of their location using passive or interactive forums. Further purposes include the recreational exchange of information concerning the Liberal and Fine Arts."


"Members have access to games, email, usenet, chat, bboard, gopherspace, webspace, programming utilities, archivers, browsers, and more. The SDF community is made up of caring, highly skilled people who operate behind the scenes and in the underground to maintain a non-commercial INTERNET."

SDF is a bizarre part of the internet / well-kept gem of a secret. Bob Odenkirk hosts his website there, which is something I wouldn't have expected.

I've been on SDF for over 18 years, absolutely love it. And the fact that they run a pdp-10 emulator is so cool! These guys rock and I consider myself lucky for finding them so many years ago.

How does SDF keep itself funded? What kind of bandwidth do they have to the outside world?

I can see hardware not being an issue - with the right contacts you can be swimming in older x86 and Alpha gear, storage and networking, etc, with enough spares to last until the apocalypse.

I signed up in 2008 when I wasn't even old enough to legally drink alcohol. I remember I literally mailed them a 5€ bill and got my account validated.

Tomorrow I'll be updating my subscription to an ARPA membership (36$/lifetime).

to actually execute any commands or do anything you need to get "validated" which costs $3 by paypal or $1 + postage by us mail

If you know a MetaARPA user, they can validate you for free.

There's a European subsidiary of SDF as well: https://sdfeu.org/ . So the latency is much better than accessing US servers.

I've been using this for IRC and it works satisfactorily.

Pub400: free *PGMR user profile on IBM i 7.3 mainframe


Definitely getting hugged by HN right now. When changing my password I get "passwd: The passwd file is busy, waiting..." until it finally gives up and times out :)

SDF is awesome. It's just nice to have an account on a cluster that is straight on the internet and lets you play with whatever unix and web things you want.

SDF also has some fairly active Gopher holes: gopher://sdf.org

(or via the floodgap[1] http<->gopher proxy: http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/gw?gopher://sdf.org:70/1 )


[1] http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/

For those interested, Panix in NY offers Unix shell access (and much more).


"Access to a Panix Web server where you can keep your Web pages (even your own CGIs), with 1 GB (1024 MB) of transfers per month included. (Transfers in excess of this allocation are $1/GB.) We will even install WordPress in your web space if you wish."

That could result in a nasty surprise.

I was a Panix user for many years. Reliable, competent, flexible, reasonably transparent, and a decent value if you're after the kind of thing they're offering.

My only recommendation would be to stay away from the local panix.* usenet hierarchy. They're frequented by intelligent but remarkably insular folk, and they could easily leave you with a rather poor impression of the service. Just ignore them.

I've had an account with SDF for so long... If only I could remember my password!

Same. I appreciated the offer when I found about it.

Did you try and ask for a password reset ?

Oh, this is beautiful!

Should have signed up some time ago. Had a free few minutes and took the plunge.

I got online in early 91, dialup PPP on some cobbled together PC. Prior to that time, I was online with Apple //e using various BBS gateways.

This brings back some great memories. I'll lifetime this and get to know a few people ASAP.

The first of their three nameservers is non-responsive for at least some users. There is no round-robin.


This will obviously slow down lookups for those users. If this is intentional, I would be curious why they are doing this.

There is the concept of a "hidden master", where the public nameservers are slaves to the real authoritative server, which is kept hidden. Some people put their hidden masters in their public NS records, which I've always found odd.

I remember sending in the mail the money and verification info for my SDF account. God I wish I remembered my account's password, it might still be there.

It seems that the SDF website is suffering from the HN hug of death and the webservers aren't liking it that much.

When I got on SDF years ago I was very enthusiastic. It's old and it has a legacy and a story with it which, to be honest, I never could connect to and I don't blame SDF, people, or myself for that. It just didn't click. I got my account validated using paypal, back in 06 from India, where I used my cousin's card to pay $5. Then I got the ARPA account spending $36 one time fee which was a decent sum considering my country's currency and my pocket money at the time. I tried to hang out on IRC, COM and even tried the boards but I just didn't quite get the appeal of it. It was not like I didn't fit in. More like I didn't try to fit in or belong because I couldn't connect to the culture or the environments. As in it was bad? No, not at all. Whoever I communciacated to, and got a response or so, it was always supportive and positive. It was just, how do I put it, too USA oriented. The chatter, the matter and it was fine because that was where it was from and it's cool. I am just talking about my experience. I realise, kinda realised then too, SDF's appeal might have gone by the time I went there. People gush over it (sometimes) or talk about it is the nostalgia, maybe. What it was - not even what it could be, let alone what it is. Or maybe I still don't get the very idea of SDF.

After I got a job, one day I thought of going for MetaARPA. It was again some kind of curiosity and and a sense of giving back - because in all honesty it was SDF where I had first accessed a remote shell and sent a file via FTP to a remote server. I checked around on the net and SDF how is this, what do I get with it and I sent a short mail to support asking few questions. I never got a reply. Tried asking on IRC and COM too didn't really receive much in info. Docs are really insufficient. Maybe I was not patient enough - having been accustomed to StackOverflow and tutorials.

Fare enough, it was nothihng that anyone owe me. Then at the same time email started to act strange and many other problems. Yes, I was using <my-user-name>@sdf.org really at many important places (except my bank and all). It would sometimes bounce back and then would act funny. The delay in fetching email of course. Didn't receive any communication regarding any of these. I read a blog post by someome who gave up and has started to change his email everywhere because of SDF's unreliability. He mentioned he had used the sdf.org email for close to 20 years. Recently the link where one could access roundcube webmail (and no, IMAP never never really worked - for me; I guess it might be because of my membership level but then I did want to upgrade) stopped working and there was no communication regarding it, no response. And on IRC I figured I am not the only one wondering about it. It was not the first time mail/webmail had a problem. The link still doesn't work (https://wm.sdf.org/rc) and there still hasn't been any communication or response regarding that (at least I didn't get one - not I am owed one). Amyway that's how it was. I also think it's pretty much one person setup (not sure) - maybe not full time and how such roles at non-profits can be a thankless job especially when people start expecting services as they expect from commercial entities. Anyway, I never proceeded much further than that. I kinda realised me and SDF are not a match, or a fit so to speak.

I am really not complaining (really really not; it may sound like one) I am just sharing my experience. I think my connection with SDF is just all about curiosity and maybe I never really had the real SDF experience. Either I didn't try enough or maybe the relevance was lost to time by the time I got on SDF (around 2006-07). Or maybe I tried to treat SDF as a service provider (a commodity?) and it is/was supposed to be more of an experience, an anecdotal memory collected over time.

sdf.org also runs a Minecraft server, if anyone here plays.

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