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The gopher URI Scheme

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 4266.
Author Paul E. Hoffman
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 2005-01-03)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Proposed Standard
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 4266 (Proposed Standard)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Ted Hardie
Send notices to (None)
Network Working Group                                         P. Hoffman
Internet-Draft                                            VPN Consortium
Expires: July 2, 2005                                       January 2005

                         The gopher URI Scheme

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is subject to all provisions
   of section 3 of RFC 3667.  By submitting this Internet-Draft, each
   author represents that any applicable patent or other IPR claims of
   which he or she is aware have been or will be disclosed, and any of
   which he or she become aware will be disclosed, in accordance with
   RFC 3668.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on July 2, 2005.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).


   This document specifies the gopher1 Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)
   scheme that was originally specified in RFC 1738.  The purpose of
   this document is to allow RFC 1738 to be made obsolete while keeping
   the information about the scheme on standards track.

1.  Introduction

   URIs were previously defined in RFC 2396 [RFC2396], which was updated

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   by draft-fielding-uri-rfc2396bis [2396bis].  Those documents also
   specify how to define schemes for URIs.

   The first definition for many URI schemes appeared in RFC 1738
   [RFC1738].  Because that document has been made obsolete, this
   document copies the gopher URI scheme from it to allow that material
   to remain on standards track.

2.  Scheme Definition

   The gopher URL scheme is used to designate Internet resources
   accessible using the Gopher protocol.

   The base Gopher protocol is described in RFC 1436 [RFC1436] and
   supports items and collections of items (directories).  The Gopher+
   protocol is a set of upward compatible extensions to the base Gopher
   protocol and is described in [Gopher+].  Gopher+ supports associating
   arbitrary sets of attributes and alternate data representations with
   Gopher items.  Gopher URLs accommodate both Gopher and Gopher+ items
   and item attributes.

   Historical note: The Gopher protocol was widely implemented in the
   early 1990s, but few Gopher servers are in use today.

2.1  Gopher URL syntax

   A Gopher URL takes the form:


   where <gopher-path> is one of:


   If :<port> is omitted, the port defaults to 70.  <gophertype> is a
   single-character field to denote the Gopher type of the resource to
   which the URL refers.  The entire <gopher-path> may also be empty, in
   which case the delimiting "/" is also optional and the <gophertype>
   defaults to "1".

   <selector> is the Gopher selector string.  In the Gopher protocol,
   Gopher selector strings are a sequence of octets which may contain
   any octets except 09 hexadecimal (US-ASCII HT or tab) 0A hexadecimal
   (US-ASCII character LF), and 0D (US-ASCII character CR).

   Gopher clients specify which item to retrieve by sending the Gopher

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   selector string to a Gopher server.

   Within the <gopher-path>, no characters are reserved.

   Note that some Gopher <selector> strings begin with a copy of the
   <gophertype> character, in which case that character will occur twice
   consecutively.  The Gopher selector string may be an empty string;
   this is how Gopher clients refer to the top-level directory on a
   Gopher server.

2.2  Specifying URLs for Gopher Search Engines

   If the URL refers to a search to be submitted to a Gopher search
   engine, the selector is followed by an encoded tab (%09) and the
   search string.  To submit a search to a Gopher search engine, the
   Gopher client sends the <selector> string (after decoding), a tab,
   and the search string to the Gopher server.

2.3  URL syntax for Gopher+ items

   Historical note: Gopher+ was uncommon even when Gopher was popular.

   URLs for Gopher+ items have a second encoded tab (%09) and a Gopher+
   string.  Note that in this case, the %09<search> string must be
   supplied, although the <search> element may be the empty string.

   The <gopher+_string> is used to represent information required for
   retrieval of the Gopher+ item.  Gopher+ items may have alternate
   views, arbitrary sets of attributes, and may have electronic forms
   associated with them.

   To retrieve the data associated with a Gopher+ URL, a client will
   connect to the server and send the Gopher selector, followed by a tab
   and the search string (which may be empty), followed by a tab and the
   Gopher+ commands.

2.4  Default Gopher+ data representation

   When a Gopher server returns a directory listing to a client, the
   Gopher+ items are tagged with either a "+" (denoting Gopher+ items)
   or a "?" (denoting Gopher+ items which have a +ASK form associated
   with them).  A Gopher URL with a Gopher+ string consisting of only a
   "+" refers to the default view (data representation) of the item
   while a Gopher+ string containing only a "?" refer to an item with a
   Gopher electronic form associated with it.

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2.5  Gopher+ items with electronic forms

   Gopher+ items which have a +ASK associated with them (i.e.  Gopher+
   items tagged with a "?") require the client to fetch the item's +ASK
   attribute to get the form definition, and then ask the user to fill
   out the form and return the user's responses along with the selector
   string to retrieve the item.  Gopher+ clients know how to do this but
   depend on the "?" tag in the Gopher+ item description to know when to
   handle this case.  The "?" is used in the Gopher+ string to be
   consistent with Gopher+ protocol's use of this symbol.

2.6  Gopher+ item attribute collections

   To refer to the Gopher+ attributes of an item, the Gopher URL's
   Gopher+ string consists of "!" or "$".  "!" refers to the all of a
   Gopher+ item's attributes.  "$" refers to all the item attributes for
   all items in a Gopher directory.

2.7  Referring to specific Gopher+ attributes

   To refer to specific attributes, the URL's gopher+_string is
   "!<attribute_name>" or "$<attribute_name>".  For example, to refer to
   the attribute containing the abstract of an item, the gopher+_string
   would be "!+ABSTRACT".

   To refer to several attributes, the gopher+_string consists of the
   attribute names separated by coded spaces.  For example,
   "!+ABSTRACT%20+SMELL" refers to the +ABSTRACT and +SMELL attributes
   of an item.

2.8  URL syntax for Gopher+ alternate views

   Gopher+ allows for optional alternate data representations (alternate
   views) of items.  To retrieve a Gopher+ alternate view, a Gopher+
   client sends the appropriate view and language identifier (found in
   the item's +VIEW attribute).  To refer to a specific Gopher+
   alternate view, the URL's Gopher+ string would be in the form:


   For example, a Gopher+ string of "+application/postscript%20Es_ES"
   refers to the Spanish language postscript alternate view of a Gopher+

2.9  URL syntax for Gopher+ electronic forms

   The gopher+_string for a URL that refers to an item referenced by a
   Gopher+ electronic form (an ASK block) filled out with specific

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   values is a coded version of what the client sends to the server.
   The gopher+_string is of the form:


   To retrieve this item, the Gopher client sends the following text to
   the Gopher server.


3.  Security Considerations

   There are many security considerations for URI schemes discussed in
   [2396bis].  The gopher protocol uses passwords in the clear for
   authentication, and offers no privacy, both of which are considered
   extremely unsafe in current practice.

4  Informative References

   [RFC1738]  Berners-Lee, T., Masinter, L. and M. McCahill, "Uniform
              Resource Locators (URL)", RFC 1738, December 1994.

   [RFC2396]  Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R. and L. Masinter, "Uniform
              Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax", RFC 2396,
              August 1998.

   [2396bis]  Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R. and L. Masinter, "Uniform
              Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax", work in
              progress, draft-fielding-uri-rfc2396bis-nn.txt.

   [RFC1436]  Anklesaria, F., McCahill, M., Lindner, P., Johnson, D.,
              Torrey, D. and B. Alberti, "The Internet Gopher Protocol
              (a distributed document search and retrieval protocol)",
              RFC 1436, March 1993.

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Author's Address

   Paul Hoffman
   VPN Consortium
   127 Segre Place
   Santa Cruz, CA  95060


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Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).  This document is subject
   to the rights, licenses and restrictions contained in BCP 78, and
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   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
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