Kermit: more than a file transfer program, a tangible link to the past

Thirty years ago today, the first file transfer was made using the Kermit protocol, the brainchild of the Kermit Project. Originally designed to link workstations to mainframes, the Kermit Project grew to encompass software for dozens of platforms. The main versions of Kermit today, C-Kermit and Kermit 95, do more than just transfer files; they also function as terminal emulators with advanced scripting capabilities. But the Kermit Project will not see the end of its thirty-first year, for it has been terminated by Columbia University, effective July 1, 2011.

Some may consider this to be a small loss—after all, the Kermit software may seem like a relic of days past, when TCP/IP was not the common denominator it is today, and SSH did not yet even exist. But I think the real value in Kermit is not just the software itself, but in what it stands for. In an industry that seems to forget its history and tries to reinvent everything every few years, the Kermit Project has managed to keep the software up-to-date and relevant without losing touch with its roots. Kermit today will happily communicate with older systems, a fact taken advantage of by retrocomputing enthusiasts and technologists needing a way to migrate data off of dinosaurs. You may have a hard time making the physical connection—after all, serial ports have become awfully hard to find lately—but if you can, you’ll find that Kermit will happily communicate with a decades-old computer just as well as one from today.

At the same time, modern Kermit clients are also perfectly capable of working in today’s networked environment; Kermit clients today support network links over Telnet, FTP, HTTP, and SSH. And all of these features can be scripted using Kermit’s built-in scripting language. The scripting language takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite useful.
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