Project Details

General information useful for prospective developers and users.

Compatible Clients

Any UTF-8 client is compatible. For Apple systems, Andale Mono works wonderfully for cp437 blockart. Please note that many modern terminal emulators (especially Apple) modify the default 16 colors away from their original CGA specification. This will cause CP437 block-art to appear milky and poor, you should ensure your colorscheme is configured exactly as the CGA specification

  • PuTTy
    • Under preference item Window -> Translation, option Remote character set, change iso8859-1 to UTF-8.
  • iTerm/iTerm2
    • Menu item iTerm -> Preferences, section Profiles, select tab Text, chose Andale Mono font.
    • Menu item Terminal -> Preferences, chose profile Pro, select Font Andale Mono, and enable use bright colors for bold text.
  • uxterm
    • Or other utf-8 rxvt and xterm variants: urxvt, dtterm. Recommended font is Deja Vu Sans Mono.
  • Amtelnet (Amiga workbench)
    • Enable the tool type NOSCROLLER in the Amtelnet icon file in order to disable the scrollbar and enter full screen width.
  • Non-unicode Terminals
    • Other than UTF-8, only IBM CP437 encoding is supported. Any telnet client with CP437 font is (currently) supported.
    • Examples of these include PuTTy, SyncTerm, mtel, netrunner, various minix/linux/bsd consoles with a linux or bsd telnet client.
    • Some non-DOS terminal emulators may require installing a fontset, such as Terminus to provide CP437 art.

Binding to port 23

x/84 does not require privileged access, and its basic configuration binds to port 6023 for telnet and 6022 for ssh. Multi-user systems do not typically allow non-root users to bind to port 23 or 22. Below are various techniques for allowing it.

Alternatively, you can always use port forwarding on a NAT firewall.


using privbind, run the BBS as user ‘nobody’, group ‘nogroup’:

sudo privbind -u nobody -g nogroup x84

The default board, runs from the git master branch from a virtualenv using command:

PYTHON_EGG_CACHE=/tmp/nobody.python-eggs sudo privbind -u nobody -g nogroup `which python` -mx84.engine

with system files /etc/x84/default.ini and /etc/x84/logging.ini configured to save data in nobody-owned files and folders at path /var/x84.

Solaris 10

grant net_privaddr privilege to user ‘bbs’:

usermod -K defaultpriv=basic,net_privaddr bbs


redirection using pf(4):

pass in on egress inet from any to any port telnet rdr-to port 6023


Using socat, listen on and for each connection, fork as ‘nobody’, and pipe the connection to port 6023:

sudo socat -d -d -lmlocal2 TCP4-LISTEN:23,bind=,su=nobody,fork,reuseaddr TCP4:

This has the disadvantage that x84 is unable to identify the originating IP.

Other Telnet BBS Systems

Listed here is software known in the “bbs-scene” as still being actively used, in descending order of their (estimated) popularity.

  • synchronet: C formerly commercial, now open source.
  • mystic: Pascal, create a sourceforge account to access source code.
  • daydream: C open source.
  • enthral: C++ open source.

Many more systems can be found at List_of_BBS_software

How x/84 compares

It might best to compare x/84 with the most popularly used surviving BBS systems, mainly: mystic, synchronet, and daydream.

Process Management

  • All other systems are single process: executed as a “login shell” by xinet.d or similar, they depend on additional 3rd-party systems and distribution packages for telnet or ssh support.
  • x/84 on the other hand, is a single process that manages the telnet, ssh, sftp, web, and rlogin server. This means no additional steps are required to start a working bbs once installed; no special user accounts, xinet.d, or database setup required, only python.
  • This tight integration allows one to login by ssh or sftp with your bbs user account and public key, for example. Or to react to and determine window-size changes over telnet and ssh.
  • as a dynamic language, it also allows one to rapidly develop on much of the system without compilation or publishing layer – simply login again to see the new changes afresh without restarting the server, and without a compilation step.
  • a “script stack” allows exceptions in scripts to be managed and optionally displayed to the client. One can rapidly develop a script from the main menu, try it, see an exception such as a SyntaxError thrown, with the traceback and offending line. Then, fix and save changes from your editor, and select the menu option to try it again – without ever logging off!

Scripting Layer

  • All other systems are written in C or Pascal, published in binary form, providing a limited subset of functionality through a scripting layer in an entirely different language, such as a particular dialect of javascript, python, perl, or pascal.
  • x/84 is python throughout – you may extend the engine layer to provide new features in the same language and with full access in the scripting layer without providing any stubs, function exports, or facilitating modules. The same methods used in the engine for session and user management are available in the scripting layer.


  • Most systems take an approach of providing a proprietary layer of customization: special menu files with codes for navigating between other menus and scripts, or displaying artfiles with special codes for displaying dynamic data such as a login name.
  • x/84 customization is done only by python scripting. Making a menu is simply writing a script to do so. One may simply echo out the contents of an artfile, move the cursor to the desired location, and echo out any variable. Special functions are provided to gain access to, for example, “Terminal” and “Session”, but do not necessarily require it. There are no limitations, you may use anything python is capable of.


  • All other systems are completely agnostic of encoding – so most systems assume an IBM-PC CP437 encoding, or must specify which “character set” to use. This means a bbs must either conform to english-only, or require connecting clients to chose a specific character set for their terminal emulator, which means compromising to ascii-only art.
  • x/84 primarily supports only UTF-8, with special accommodation for CP437-only terminal encodings, such as SyncTerm. This allows the same BBS containing CP437-encoded artwork and DOS-emulated Doors (such as Lord) to be presented on modern terminals, yet host any number of UTF-8 supported languages such as japanese, swedish, russian, etc.


In 2002, Jeff Quast, author of x84 ran mystic on Linux which gained popularity due to its association with a pirate channel he managed on efnet, regularly receiving 30-50 daily callers, which exposed numerous bugs and design issues. Frustrated by its closed-source nature and the (intermittent) abandonment of the author, Jeff set out to write his own from-scratch.

He and Johannes Lundberg of Sweden met who had already began writing his own system, initially named just “pybbs”, this was authored in the Python language. Overnight, a 5,000-line patch was returned to Johannes and they agreed to collaborate on a new system, with focus on the new Unix developer traditions and open source.

They grew apart over time with their forks, Johannes providing a new redesign called “The Progressive (PRSV)”, which Jeff re-based and began to contribute to when they re-combined efforts years later. Johannes continually asserted that he would maintain and later release PRSV, but as his involvement wanned, Jeff renamed his fork as x/84, with the intent to merge upstream some day.

x/84 retains only some of the design and basic variables, such as the concept of a session but is otherwise completely rewritten by the work of Jeff alone through 2013, when many contributions over github were received after being released to pypi.

What does x/84 mean?

x/84 is a re-imagination of the early dial-up systems. Targeted for, but not limited to, running a bulletin board over the TCP/IP protocol. The name x/84 is derived from the theme of an “amiexpress-style system for an Orwellian future”.

It was thought of as a small part of a science fiction universe: an alternative future where governments have banned internet anonymity and free speech, and those who wish to have it must gateway to underground systems such as these to communicate.

It was a lot farther on the “science fiction” end of the spectrum 10 years ago...

Future Directions

basic v3.0 roadmap:

  • python3 using async i/o
  • windows support, requires ansi.sys support emulation for PDCurses in blessed
  • ftp, ftps, fxp support
  • modeling (using ‘schematics’ project) for userbase, messagebase, etc.
  • support for agoranet, zeronet, etc. messaging networks

Feel free to contribute ideas as a github issue.