BBS: Running a “Bulliten Board System”

This tutorial is made based on some research, not necessarily a lot of experience actually running a BBS. (Actually, this “tutorial” was large created as a way to organize some notes. These notes were made as a step of preparation, while contemplating the idea of running a BBS.)

Considering BBS Software

Determine the features of a BBS. Key features include:


Does it work with the operating system that is going to be running? DOS was common, back in the day.

  • Some BBS software cost money
  • open source options do exist
Supported features
Connection options
  • Support for (incoming) SSH
  • Telnet
  • Support for using a COM port
    • This provides support for dial-up modems
    • In this case, the term “COM port” refers to a software concept. Software could communicate to a serial port by communicating with an I/O port and IRQ. Code supporting such a “serial port” could support actual hardware “serial ports” (such as a DE9 port or a DB shell port), as well as internal modems that responded to the same hardware signals as the actual hardware serial ports.
Basic features
“Door” software

These interactive programs included games, but could also do other things, such as:

Callback verification

Verify that the person's phone number appeared to be legitimate.

Time bank
allowing a user to store up “time” in a “time bank”. (BBSs were often used rather heavily compared to the limited resource of how many phone lines could accept calls, so daily limits were often enforced. By letting a player store unused minutes on one day, it could allow the user to be allowed extra minutes on a later day. A person with a slow modem could use this to be able to download a larger file without interruption. A person who was just going to leave town for the day could store up unused minutes that may be more useful at a later time.

(These do get discussed in more detail later.)

  • Forums
  • E-Mail
    • local E-Mail
    • Internet connectivity
    • Support for older multi-site networks

These used to be fairly popular, although now people have generally been getting interesting files from places other than a BBS. Back in the day, one way for a BBS to gain some popularity was to buy a CD-ROM drive, and have a CD filled with software that people could download. Many people who could connect to a BBS didn't have such a CD, or even a CD-ROM drive.

Allowing uploads involved having users type descriptions. BBS software might also support running some anti-malware checks. (For information on modern anti-malware software, see: protection software.)

For a related topic, see: file transfering (which is not specific to using a BBS).


In theory, this could just be implemented by a door. A common feature was:

  • Chat with the SysOp

A less common feature was:

  • Chat with somebody else who is connected to the same BBS (on another node, which historically typically meant another “dial-up” phone line)
Additional features
Multi-Node support

Supporting multiple dial-up phone lines would require multiple modems, and multiple phone lines. Multiple phone lines would incur a regular (monthly) expense.

I recall hearing/reading about one SysOp who figured out that phone companies get paid by other phone companies to receive incoming calls. So, when a customer of one phone company would call a customer of a second phone company, the second phone company was paid. This payment was more than what would be required for expenses, so this type of thing was profitable for the second phone company.

When a popular BBS figured that out, it helped him when negotiating rates with the phone company. After all, all those phone lines were causing the phone company to get paid for the phone calls that were being received.

Bi-directional file transfers

Most BBS software could support running a “file transfer” protocol like HS/Link. However, this feature was to have the BBS check for any unexpected new files, and ask the user for a description of those files.

Offline mail
  • QWK format (could be added via doors, but generally is integrated into the BBS software)

For BBS menus; typically RIPScrip is supported by doors regardless of whether the BBS does.

Actually, pretty much any BBS software could display a menu with RIPScrip. Like how ANSI codes could be easily supported, this simply meant having RIP codes embedded in a file that gets sent. However, some BBSs would allow for trying to auto-detect RIPScrip, and backing up to ANSI detection if RIPScrip wasn't supported. That required fairly little effort on the part of the BBS software. The effect can be quite nice for anyone who has RIPScrip support in their terminal software. RIPScrip was not widely supported by many popular terminal software programs, but since the effect can be quite substantial, and require very little effort for the BBS softare to provide this fallback capability, this feature is worth mentioning as a nice feature to support.

Local display (for the SysOp) would have been another feature that would be quite a bit more work for BBS software authors to support.

More info: TOOGAM's software archive: RIPScrip.


Like VT codes (e.g., the VT100 standard, or the VT220 standard), this could control the cursor's position. Another nice feature was colored text.


Typically, the only audio that an end user might experience is a beep.

ANSI Music was rarely supported. (SYNCTerm supported it. Maybe QModem client software did?)

The game called “The Pit” supported it.)

If a user paged the SysOp (seeking to “Chat” with the SysOp), maybe the SysOp could hear sounds.

Local preview mode:

allow a SysOp to see RIPScrip graphics; allow a SysOp to see rendered ANSI codes. Although, don't support allowing a malicious user to re-map the SysOp's keyboard.

Other built-in features

Many other features could be added via external programs (Doors, external file transfer protocols), but some BBSs supported such things built-in.


Is the system going to be able to be turned on 24 hours a day? Will electrical power be supplied by a battery-backup system?

Is there suitable disk space?

  • Clearly, hardware needs to be acquired. There may be some other costs.

    • Modems: ongoing cost for phone lines
    • Door games
    • The BBS software itself (if not free)

    Is there suitable funding?


Files are currently one of the least interesting aspects of a BBS. Back in the day when BBS usage was popular, many people enjoyed the Files section. This allowed people to acquire freeware and shareware programs. However, these days people can obtain freely available software from the Internet, using package managers (quite common for Linux and BSD systems, less common for Microsoft Windows) or websites like PortableApps or SourceForge, or websites from software vendors, or other relatively trusted sites (,, or people can obtain CDs. (Hyperlinks may be appropriate here... Consider also: file lists? Slashdot article: Jason Scott of wants CDs, Slashdot article: Jason Scott of wants manuals

Note that most of the files were for the MS-DOS platform. Some programs were available for Microsoft Windows, but such programs were a minority. These days, DOS programs are frequently easy to run from within software called DOSBox. Back in the day, the prominent versions of Microsoft Windows were 32-bit versions. Today, many computers use 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows, which does not run DOS programs nearly as well (except via DOSBox). Or, computers use other operating systems, which may also have more limited support for DOS programs.

Files used to be a bane of SysOps. People downloading files could spend quite a bit of time downloading files. During that time, their connectivity does not increase the amount of lively interaction among users. Typically a computer enthusiast did not benefit any other people by downloading files. However, this became a primary way that some people obtained files.

BBSs typically appreciated uploads, as people uploading were benefiting those who downloaded. Therefore, the uploaders benefited the community. Commonly, BBSs would reimburse a user for any time taken to upload a file. BBSs might even reward the user, such as providing extra connection time. (This might be an incentive for an uploader to specify a slower upload speed while uploading. Then, after being rewarded with more connection time for the day, switching to a faster speed.)

If you would like to run a files section, either have some unique files or start with a decently large library of files which is hundreds of megabytes. Some old Shareware CDs may help with that.

Commonly supported features included: sender started by sending a unique signature, which many terminal programs would search for and automatically start a download. Sender could send multiple files.

A less common feature is that a receiver could specify to stop downloading one file, but to move onto accepting the next file. The Shareware program GIFLink used this to useful effect: by previewing the file as it was downloaded, people could stop downloading an uninteresting graphic, and move onto the next graphic.

Things to do
As a BBS feature, look for a feature that supports bi-directional file transfers. This allowed users to upload while downloading, making use of potential bandwidth which would otherwise be wasted. BBSs needed to support this feature by checking if anything was uploaded. Then, if the user didn't specify that the file would be uploaded ahead of time, the BBS would ask the user for a description of the file.
Dedicate space for files

Keep in mind that BBSs were popular in the older times when data storage was smaller. Many programs were only hundreds of kilobytes, or much smaller. In fact, most programs on the old shareware CDs were probably much smaller.

Provide Z-Modem capabilities

Here are some brief (rather unorganized) notes:

Preferred client-side code for DOS could include SZModem and GIFLink. Both of these were Shareware.

beware of SZModem DELNUL; at least one version had undocumented behavior of deleting non-zero files

There were rumors that SZModem had back doors to provide access to a system. Whether that was true or not?

For both client and server-side, Z-Modem compatbility is often provided interally by software. This is also (slightly more true) for Y-Modem. Otherwise, a freeware release includes TXZM (Texas Z-Modem).

TOOGAM's Software Archive: Z-Modem, TOOGAM's Software Archive: #freebycf

Provide files
Provide other file transfer protocols

TOOGAM's Software Archive: File Transferring (see “Comm port protocols” section).


HS/Link was notable for bi-directional support, and rather widespread usage (unlike another, perhaps named BIDIR, which did not support multiple programs). The only major downside of HS/Link was that it was Shareware (before its current status of being free and, to at least some extent, “open source”, although the source code of the latest version may have been stolen and then lost).

YModem, XModem

Some terminal software supported only XModem and YModem, although some supported only XModem. XModem had two major issues not seen in YModem. First, YModem would send the filesize. XModem would simply pad the file, rounding up the filesize. Also, YModem would sen the filename automatically. With XModem, a person downloading would need to specify the filename. Both had variations; the most important was YModem-G. (discussed on CyberPillar or


May have been supported by some older operating systems

Other serial-based protocols

There were many other protocols, like JModem (presumably named after the XModem, YModem, and Z-Modem protocols that were widely supported, likely thanks to the source code by Chuck A. Forsberg's Omen Technology). They were typically not widely used; the few people who did have them installed were typically tech-saavy people who could also get by just fine with Z-Modem.

The one other protocol which may have actually been notably useful, back in the day, was CIS Quick-B (or variations, like B+). CIS stood for Compuserve Information Service, and was presumably used with the Compuserve online service. However, since CIS is no longer the important nationwide service that it once was, this is hardly a protocol that is widely useful anymore.

Some BBSs may provide support for FTP. (There might not be a lot of clarity on exactly what that precisely means. Maybe different offerings support different concepts?

There were typically two types of messages: E-Mail and Message Boards. E-Mail was for private communications. Message boards were quite similar to Usenet, which later got effectively replaced by web forums. A message board was also called "bulliten boards", and that is where the term BBS comes from.

Eventually FidoNET allowed people to communicate between BBSs.

Initially, people would typically spend time connected to a system to be able to obtain a message, and then people would read the message, and then type a response. All of this was done while being connected. Later on, a standard/common file format called QWK allowed people to download E-Mails, open them up in a QWK-reading program, and then upload responses that people typed offline. This greatly reduced the amount of time that people were connected to a BBS, and let people enjoy a common user interface even when they connected to multiple different BBSs which could have different menu options.

Things to do:
  • Enable QWK
  • Sign up for FidoNET or similar relay services?

The term "door" refers to the ability to run a program that will interact with the person who connects to the BBS. Games were probably the most popular category of “door” software.

BBS software would typically know how to pass parameters to a program, which was commonly used for supporting programs like external file transfer protocols. BBS software could also write information to a text file. The “door” software could read that text file to obtain some information, such as the name of the logged in user and how much time the person could still remain logged in for the day. Different BBS software used different text files. There were some “standard” text files that were commonly supported by multiple BBS software packages as well as multiple “door” software. Examples of such filenames are “DOOR.SYS” or “CHAIN.TXT”

To do:

Obtain “Door” software

Funding summary:

Note: Much of these funding details could be subject to change.

Solar Realms Elite

SRE: Crack per author's instructions (since author lost source code).

(See also: SRE/BRE page)

Trade Wars

TradeWars 2002: $10 to $30 for those on budget; $100 max

Details at: TW2002 page (section about registration))

John Daily Software
Recommended games

Recommended options include:

  • BRE for $15 or as part of Elite Bundle for $40. (See also: SRE/BRE page)
  • Global War for $15 or as part of Global Bundle for $25. (See also: Global War)

Note: John Daily software does have software beyond just what is in the bundles, including at least:

  • Call Back Verification $15
  • Dungeon Master Online Game $15
    • Dungeon Master Construction Set (freely available)
  • Melody Maker
  • Rapid ANSI Graphics Engine (R.A.G.E.)

Details at: Purchase page.

(LoRD and sub-pages)

HTML clean-up needed LORD/etc. may be a challenge to register? People have been reporting issues; noted by Michael Preslar at LoRD Legacy (LoRD Legacy: Legend of the Red Dragon News (if site is unresponsive, see: LoRD Legacy: Legend of the Red Dragon News (archived by the Wayback Machine @

Metropolis Gameport: LoRD seems to be the “home page” for trying to register.

Each are $15 per "release", with 2 releases available (BBS and PC) (I made up the term "release"; not sure the official terminology, or what the differences is between releases... maybe the “BBS” release is just a registration code where the person making the registration had one more field to fill out on the registration form, which is a BBS name.)

Metropolis Gameport: Door games

  • LORD :
  • LORD II - The New World
  • Planets - The Exploration of Space (TEOS)

Robinson Technologies: LORD FAQ (interview with Seth Able Robinson)

DoorMUD: Land of the Forgotten

$20-$60 perhaps?

Individual Doors

Here are some more details about individual “door” options.


See also: BBS Door Games

Probably the most popular games were TradeWars 2002, LORD, and BRE (after it was released, and SRE before that).

Summary of some popular games:

TradeWars 2002 (a.k.a. TW2002)

This was one of the most popular games. There have been many different editions as different authors became involved with making a TradeWars game. Eventually all of the rights to the name TradeWars seems to have been acquired by Gary Martin who made TradeWars 2002. Version 1.03 and its bugfix, version 1.03d, were popular versions for quite some time. A version was released for compatibility with MajorBBS (MBBS) software, and this featured the ability for multiple people to play in the same world at the same time. Another feature of the MBBS release was an enemy ship called the Scorpion. Later, a version called TWGS (TradeWars Game Server) was released for Microsoft Windows, which is mostly the same as the earlier releases but it did add support for being a Telnet server. It does seem to lack proper support for the Scorpion. There is also a DPMI release for DOS, which may have supported some of what TWGS for Windows did; it did eventually stop being developed.

This was Shareware, although the limitations of the Shareware version were fairly severe; players would typically not be interested in playing games that used an Unregistered Shareware version. With people being unable to obtain other ships, the unregistered game is really severely limited/crippled. Many people feel these limitations result in a game that does not offer a good representation of the full version of the game.

(Newer releases may have different limitations.)

Of course, if you'd like to experience the full version of the game without playing it, simply play on a BBS that runs the game.

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				For official updates:
					$10-$100, depending on Game Slots (up to 13 @ $2 each) and player nodes (up to 23 @ $3 each).  Or, a game could max out on slots; For $24 of the total cost, a game could get 24 slots (so 11 slots were provided for the cost of just the last slot), and for $76 of the total cost, a player could get 99 nodes (so 76 nodes were provided for the cost of just the last node).  So the maximum cost was $100.  The minimum cost is $10 (the order form does not permit variations that add up to under $10).
					Note: Having 5 players online at the same time may be an unusual thing, according to some game playing that occurred on multiple free Internet BBSs in 2014.  So, spending more than 
$30 (6 slots @ $12, 6 nodes $ 18) will probably just be excess luxury; those who can afford to do so may wish to do so just to support the owners of the software.

				There were some add-ons, at least for older versions.
					Rogue Mercenaries 1.00 for Tradewars 2002 v.103: Sprinkles random amounts o
Others included some Star Trek references: Q, Borg, Crystaline Entity,

Kal Durak is a character who is mentioned by the game. Apparently he has a desk in the Underground. There is also an add-on named after him.
Yankee Trader 3.6

Seen available to play on May be similar to TradeWars? Not nearly as well known, but mentioned here because it may have some historical ties to TradeWars


Described below, in the section of games that might not be registerable

Solar Realms Elite (a.k.a. SRE)

A fairly popular game. Unfortunately, the author lost all copies of the source code. He even recommends cracking the game, and supplies a crack. Since he still owned the rights to the game, this is presumably legal.

Barren Realms Elite

Made by the brother of the person who wrote SRE (as I understand things...), this game is extremely similar to SRE.

Supports having BBSs share data, allowing for larger competitions.

Planets - The Exploration of Space (TEOS)

Unknown; may be similar to Global War? Made by the maker of LORD?

Global War

Is like the Risk board game. (Supports graphics using a specialized client called GWTerm.)

Games that seem fairly dead; future support seems questionable or unlikely; even registering the game may be a challenge:

Legend Of The Red Dragon (a.k.a. LORD)

Abbreviated as LORD.

There have been two games known as LORD. The first is called LORD, and the second is LORD II: New World. There are substantial differences. LORD II: New World uses ANSI graphics to display a map, and has a person move around the map similar in style of The Legend of Zelda (the first 8-bit NES game in the series). This isn't to say that the game is nearly as exciting as Zelda, Ultima, or the Atari 2600 game called Adventure; just that an overhead-style map is provided. LORD II: New World seems to have been far less popular than the earlier LORD, and may have more significant troubles with PuTTY's ANSI animation.

At least the first game is known to have supported RIPScrip.

A freeware (and open source?) clone has been made: Legend of the Green Dragon. That game may be designed for web use (rather than BBSs)?(Hyperlink...)

Some add-ons did exist. They were called IGMs (Inner-Game Modules?)

The game had some content that may be considered crude. The game itself involved violence (killing players or enemies; they could return, though, so "death" just may not be quite what we are used to? It does seem like the dragon may turn children into bones, though?) In addition to violence and disrespect, this game contained getting laid, getting divorced, flirting. There may have been more “adult” (sexual) content, perhaps via IGMs.

DoorMUD: Land of the Forgotten

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	There are multiple versions (e.g. a Synchronet release designed specifically for those BBSs).

	cost $20 per some documentation
		for a basic registeration
		supports 4 players
	DoorMUD Professional is another $40 (so, $60 total)
		adds support for 12 more players (so, 16 players)
		also adds hard difficulty mode, and other features/options
		refers people to
		but that is a 404
		says "It is actively supported, with new versions coming out on a regular basis. A World Editor add-on is also in the works, allowing Sysops to modify the game  world and create your own new dungeons, quests, artifacts, and more!"
		Although, the page also shows a copyright date of 2002.  There is no indication of how old that message is; since the website provides instructions on how to register (that is, how to pay for the game), and those instructions no longer work, the game's future seems quite questionable.
		Website hit counter looked like 29611 on June 27, 2014, and 30276 on September 19, 2015.
		says is $20 for basic version, and "Free demo version allows training up through level 7, allowing users to get a good feel for the game. The demo never "expires", either. Registration for the basic version costs only $20."


Rather similar to LORD, but made to be more complex (a.k.a. complicated), supporting many different types of weapons.etc.

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addon located:       Collection of "Quests" for Exitilus! has stated, "The final version by Tao Ge (2.05) was riddled with bugs - so much so that the game earned itself an imfamous reputation among BBS's until the 3.XX versions were released by ECI Software. In 2.05 all areas of the game worked, but there were numerous data corruption bugs mostly having to do with the money system that would ultimately ruin the game if used, giving kingdoms and players a very unfair advantage over others. In version 3.XX the game is more stable but is missing large portions of the original."

A remake may have been started by some fans of the original game.  The remake was called "Exitilus Online:.  See:
"Exitilus was originally coded by a developer named "Tao Ge" in 1996. In 1998, Exitilus was sold to ECI Software." ... "As an interesting aside, Tao Ge was famous for not being able to be found. After the sale of Exitilus to ECI, nobody on the entire internet has been able to find him, and nobody seems to know who he really was - not even ECI Software!"
Eventually ECI Software wished to stop supporting the game, and the future of the game seemed to be in the hands of Robert Scheibel.  However:
"I have read that Robert Scheibel was contacted after the "death" of Exitilus, and claimed that due to multiple hard drive failures over the years, he no longer has any copies of the uncompiled sources of any of ECI Software's Exitilus releases. I have not been able to find a means of contacting Tao G."
mentions using version 2.05, which is presumably an old version.  The page
has also stated,
“it is VERY buggy!”,25,25#msg-25
“Well apparently the 2.05 version is bugged beyond belief...”,89,89#msg-89
identifies Exitilus as buggy.
mentions some patches.


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Others Games

Others may include:

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Food Fight! Foot Fite Synchronet Food Fight! Usurper - Classic Usurper - Modern .20 Usurper -- It's like LORD on steroids! Offers LORD-style combat (menu-based) but you often fight 10+ monsters at once. 100 levels, AI-controlled NPCs, gang warfare, and much more. -- The Pit (See also: (See also: The Pit (BBS door game)) Falcon's Eye Faclon's Honor DoorMUD DoorMUD v0.99 Pimp Wars The Arcadian Legends Ambroshia v4.5 Ambroshia: Test of Time The Clans Evangelist Wars Bordello Kannons And Katapults Land Of Devastation Operation Overkill II Arrowbridge 1 Arrowbridge 2 Barney Splat 1 Barney Splat 2 The Beast's Domain The Clans Death Masters Dragon's Hoard Dungeon Master (3 games) LORE (seen on DMine) Mines of Gorr Synchronet Blackjack! Yankees & Rednecks Yankee Trader 3.6 1 BullsEye! Bulletins 2 Synchronet BBS List 3 Synchronet Match Maker 4 Post It! Sea Hunt 1.1: Online BBS Door. Diagonal Ships, ScatterBombs, Mines,& Fatal BBS Pac Man 2.0 for Wildcat 4.x BBS: wcCode Online BBS Door Game. Chomper 1.0. Online Pacman BBS Door game! _[ Chomper v1.0 Othello 1.2: The classic board-game comes to your BBS! 100% ANSi Graphics. Double Solitaire 1.0: Online BBS DOOR game from J & W Software. Features: ChessMagic 4.96: "Best Chess Door" with RIP GRAPHICS emulation now. USCF st Falken Chess 3.5a: Online BBS Door Chess game with RIP, ANSI, ASCII multi-u BBS Checkers 2.1: Online BBS Checkers Door Game. Now your users can test th Other Chess Doors bbs* dr* at

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Other types of Door software
Remote Access

This would typically be a restricted door. The menu option to start such a “door” program would only appear for authorized people. This could provide a shell to the DOS prompt. The problem is that many programs, like DOS Edit, might use direct video writes instead of BIOS calls. (This refers to how memory gets written to the video card.) Such programs would often be rendered unusable when using such remote access programs. Other commands, like the COPY command, may work fine. PKZip probably supported direct writes (if memory served correctly), but if PKUnzip unzipped successfully without needing interaction, it was relatively okay if the program became unresponsive but then exited, leaving behind positive results.

A program called DOORWAY was Shareware, and might have been useful for this purpose.

Callback verification

The program would ask a user for a phone number. Good programs would then check the phone number to make sure that it would not dial the local emergency phone number (911 in the USA) or “long distance” phone calls that could incur phone bills.

True story: a local unpopular kid became a SysOp (by running a BBS out of his home). Police officers visited his house to figure out why a prank call was made to the “emergency” phone number (which was in America, so the number was 911). Turns out that phone records were able to be checked, and so the police were able to determine the phone number that was used to make the phone call just before the Callback Verification. The innocent BBS SysOp got away unpunished. Presumably the prankster ended up being the one who really got into trouble.

Time Bank

Many BBS door games would support time limits, commonly 60 or 30 minutes. A time bank would allow a user to store unused minutes, often with a maximum of a day's worth of minutes. This could allow for an extra-long BBS session in the future. This was one way that people with slower modems could download multiple files without needing to have an interrupted file transfer.

(This was also described, at more length, earlier.)


Surveys, database lookups of various BBSs

Misc notes

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GIF Preview 1.00 Online BBS GIF viewing and download door. Allows users to Archives Scovetta Index of directory: BBSDoorGames Don't Wake The Sysop v.1I: MULTI-NODE BBS Door Log Off Game! So you want to wake1i WebBBS 1.3 WebBBS 1.3: WebServer door for BBS's. When callers connect to your BBS usin USBBSDoor USBBSDoor 5.4: USBBS National BBS Listing Online BBS Door. Searches by Area
Chat support

Many BBS software programs offered a menu option, "Chat with SysOp", which would frequently make an audible sound (perhaps as simple as a Ctrl-G-style beep) to try to get the SysOp's attention. The SysOp could join in chat; then again, a SysOp could always interrupt a user's activity and start a chat. Chatting with the SysOp typically did not reduce a user's limited about of connectivity time for the day. Since the SysOp could grant the person even more time, or make other changes (like reducing a person's time to zero), chatting with the SysOp typically meant showing some respect.

Later developments of multi-node BBSs would typically allow users to chat with other users. This could be done if both users joined the chat session. At least some implementations would allow a user to interrupt what another user was doing, by sending a brief message about wanting the second user to join the chat functionality. Better implementations would check what the second user was doing, and not send such a message during a file transfer. (Perhaps the message could be queued, and delivered when the file transfer was over.)


See: backup