How to Use the Telnet Client in Windows

An explanation of the Telnet protocol

How to Use Windows Telnet

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Telnet (short for TELetype NETwork) is a network protocol that provides a command-line interface to communicate with a device. Telnet is used most often for remote management but also sometimes for the initial setup for some devices, especially network hardware such as switches and access points. Telnet is also used to manage files on a website.

Telnet is sometimes written in uppercase as TELNET and may also be misspelled as Telenet.

How Does Telnet Work?

Telnet originally was used on terminals (also called dumb computers). These computers require only a keyboard because everything on the screen displays as text. There's no graphical user interface like with modern computers and operating systems. The terminal provides a way to remotely log on to another device, just as if you were sitting in front of it and using it like any other computer. This method of communication is done using Telnet.

Nowadays, Telnet can be used from a virtual terminal, or a terminal emulator, which is essentially a modern computer that communicates with the same Telnet protocol. One example of this is the telnet command, available from the Command Prompt in Windows. The telnet command is a command that uses the Telnet protocol to communicate with a remote device or system.

Telnet commands can also be executed on other operating systems such as Linux, Mac, and Unix, in the same way as telnet commands are executed in Windows.

Telnet is not the same as other TCP/IP protocols such as HTTP, which transfers files to and from a server. Instead, the Telnet protocol has you log on to a server as if you were an actual user, then grants you direct control and all the same rights to files and applications as the user that you're logged in as.

Although not the same as Telnet, if you're looking for a way to communicate with another computer remotely, see this list of free remote access programs. This is free software that's secure, provides a graphical user interface that's easy to operate, and lets you control a computer as if you were sitting in front of it.

Is Telnet Still Used Today?

Telnet is rarely used to connect to devices or systems anymore. Most devices, even very simple ones, can be configured and managed through web-based interfaces that are more secure and are easier to use than Telnet.

Telnet provides zero file transfer encryption, meaning all data transfers made over Telnet are passed around in clear text. Anyone monitoring your network traffic is able to see both the username and password that's entered each time you log on to the Telnet server. Giving anyone listening credentials to a server is a problem, especially considering that the Telnet username and password could be for a user that has full, unrestricted rights to the system.

When Telnet first started being used, there weren't nearly as many people on the internet, and by extension not anything near the number of hackers seen today. While it wasn't secure even from its very inception, it didn't pose as large of a problem as it does now. These days, if a Telnet server is brought online and connected to the public internet, it's likely that someone will find it and hack their way in.

The fact that Telnet is unsafe and shouldn't be used shouldn't be much of a concern to the average computer user. You'll probably never use Telnet or run across anything that requires it.

How to Use Windows Telnet

Although Telnet isn't a secure way to communicate with another device, there are a reason or two to use it (see Telnet Games & Additional Information below). You can't just open up a Command Prompt window and expect to start executing telnet commands.

Telnet Client, the command-line tool that executes telnet commands in Windows, works in every version of Windows, but, depending on which version of Windows you're using, you may have to enable it first.

Enable the Telnet Client in Windows

In Windows 10Windows 8Windows 7, and Windows Vista, turn on the Telnet Client in Windows Features in Control Panel before any telnet commands can be executed.

Telnet Client is already installed and ready to use out of the box in both Windows XP and Windows 98.

  1. Open Control Panel. Open the Start menu and search for control panel. Or, open the Run dialog box (press Windows key+R) and enter control.

    Screenshot of Control Panel
  2. In the Control Panel, select Programs. If the Control Panel displays applet icons, choose Programs and Features, then skip to Step 4.

    Programs icon in Windows 10 Control Panel
  3. Select Programs and Features.

    Programs and Features in Windows 10 Control Panel/Programs
  4. In the Programs and Features dialog box, go to the left pane and select Turn Windows features on or off.

    Turn Windows features on or off link in Programs and Features Control Panel on Windows 10
  5. In the Windows Features dialog box, select the Telnet Client check box.

    Telnet Client checkbox in Windows Features dialog box
  6. Select OK to enable Telnet.

  7. When you see the Windows completed the requested changes message, close the Windows Features dialog box and the Programs and Features dialog box.

Execute Telnet Commands in Windows

Telnet commands are easy to execute. After opening Command Prompt, enter the word telnet. The result is a line that says Microsoft Telnet>, which is where Telnet commands are entered.

Telnet command in Windows 10

If you don't plan to follow the first telnet command with additional commands, type telnet followed by any telnet command, such as the ones shown in the examples below.

To connect to a Telnet server, enter a command that follows this syntax:

telnet hostname port

For example, launch Command Prompt and enter telnet textmmode.com 23. This connects to textmmode.com on port 23 using Telnet.

The last portion of the command is used for the Telnet port number but is only necessary to specify if it's not the default port of 23. For example, telnet textmmode.com 23 is the same as running the command telnet textmmode.com, but not the same as telnet textmmode.com 95, which connects to the same server but on port 95.

Microsoft keeps this list of telnet commands if you'd like to learn more about how to do things like open and close a Telnet connection, display the Telnet Client settings, and more.

Telnet Games & Additional Information

There is no default telnet password or username because Telnet is simply a means which someone can use to log on to a Telnet server. There's no default telnet password any more than there's a default Windows password.

There are a number of Command Prompt tricks you can perform using Telnet. Some of them are in text form, but you may have fun with them.

Check the weather at Weather Underground using Command Prompt and the Telnet protocol:

telnet rainmaker.wunderground.com
Telnet weather forecast for New York City

You can use Telnet to talk to an artificially intelligent psychotherapist named Eliza. After connecting to Telehack with the command below, enter eliza when asked to choose one of the listed commands.

telnet telehack.com
Eliza telnet AI commands

Watch an ASCII version of the full Star Wars Episode IV movie by entering this in Command Prompt:

telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl
Telnet Star Wars in Windows 10 Command Prompt

Beyond the fun things that can be done in Telnet are a number of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). A BBS is a server that provides a way to message other users, view news, share files, and more. Telnet BBS Guide lists hundreds of servers that you can connect to using Telnet.