What Exactly Is 'Telnet'? What Does Telnet Do?

Hands typing against bright screen background
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Telnet is an old computer protocol (set of programmatic rules). Telnet is famous for being the original Internet when the Net first launched in 1969. Telnet stands for 'telecommunications network', and was built to be form of remote control to manage mainframe computers from distant terminals. In those original days of large mainframe computers, telnet enabled research students and professors to 'log in' to the university mainframe from any terminal in the building.

This remote login saved researchers hours of walking each semester. While telnet pales in comparison to modern networking technology, it was revolutionary in 1969, and telnet helped pave the way for the eventual World Wide Web in 1989. While telnet technology is very old, it is still in some use today by purists. Telnet has evolved into a new modern version of remote control called 'SSH', something that many modern network administrators use today to manage linux and unix computers from a distance.

Telnet is a text-based computer protocol. Unlike Firefox or Google Chrome screens, telnet screens are very dull to look at. Very different from Web pages that sport fancy images, animation, and hyperlinks, telnet is about typing on a keyboard. Telnet commands can be rather cryptic commands, with example commands being 'z' and 'prompt% fg'. Most modern users would find telnet screens to be very archaic and slow.

Here are examples of telnet/SSH client software packages.

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