Simple Introduction to Gopher

What is Gopher?

Gopher is a menu-driven program for access to thousands of Internet resources. Gopher allows the user to navigate through a hierarchical arrangement of menu choices by selecting menu options. The selection of any given menu item triggers another sub-menu of choices until, at some point, the user arrives at the desired resource or information.

Gopher is based on a client/server arrangement between two computers. The server provides the information while the client provides the user interface. The client "asks" the server for the desired resource or information while the server "supplies" the desired information. Gopher supports many different kinds of session and information format including anonymous ftp, usenet NEWS telnet, text file, graphics, and more.

What do I need?

You will need access to a gopher client to use gopher. A gopher client provides the user interface and, as such, determines the commands and options available to the user. Different clients are available to support local platforms and systems like MacIntosh, Windows, and others.

The best way for an individual to use gopher is to use a gopher client that works well with their specific computer. For example, a user with Windows should use a gopher client that works well with Windows (Hgopher) while a user with a MacIntosh should use the TurboGopher client. PC Gopher is a good gopher client for DOS based machines.

Some systems, like the University Libraries LIAS (Library Information and Access System) and PSUVM provide built-in clients for use. At the Libraries, you may simply type SELECT GOPHER at the LIAS banner screen and you will automatically be using the built-in gopher client for the University Libraries. Likewise, on PSUVM, if you simply type GOPHER at the ready prompt or, alternately, select gopher from the network menu, you will be using the built-in VM gopher client.

It is easier to understand gopher clients if the user understands the basic principles of the gopher. The remainder of this document will describe the basic gopher. If you are using a specific gopher client for your specific computer, you will want to read the client documentation for further assistance.

What can Gopher do?

Gopher can automate the remote logon, document retrieval and file transfer activities currently available on the Internet. You will not have to remember Internet addresses or settings to use the Internet is you are using gopher. Instead, the gopher provides menu choices that represent these activities and makes these actions transparent to you. Often, you will not know where you are on the Internet, how you got there, or how activities are working ... as you pick and choose menu selections, you will only know that gopher is easily retrieving and connecting and searching for what you want.

Gopher Menus

All gophers are a collection of hierachical menus. This means that they cascade down from a top level menu so that each underlying choice may contain another sub-menu. Ultimately, a gopher menu choice is either the specific resource (i.e. telnet, ftp, document) that you want or it is another sub-menu.

The Penn State Libraries Gopher Menu is organized to allow access to the Main Penn State Gopher, LIAS (Libraries Information Access System) and internal Library materials. The entry called the Electronic Bookshelf contains the Libraries' electronic resources available via gopher. If you choose, you may access the Main Penn State Gopher. The Main Penn State Gopher is organized, in general, by distinguishing between Information Servers At Penn State and Information Servers Outside Penn State. Remember that a server contains and/or provides the resources you would like to use.

If you are using the PSUVM gopher client, or the gopher clients available through the CAC public microcomputer laboratories or the CAC Access System, you will be connected directly to the Main Penn State Gopher ( Penn State users configuring their own clients should set the server field to this server.

Gopher Commands

You can select a menu option, move back up a menu, or quit in most gopher clients. These commands are purposely simple to facilitate gopher use. Additionally, most gopher clients offer some kind of help system.

If you are using a gopher client that numbers the menu entries, you may use the arrow keys to move up or down to the desired choice OR you may simply type the menu number of your selection. Some gopher clients do not number menu entries. In this case, you will have to use the arrow keys to make your selection.

Regardless of your gopher client, using the gopher is an easy process because there are so few commands. By incorporating commands that represent menu choices, the gopher is a powerful yet pleasant way to use the Internet for both novice and experienced user.


One very useful facility that most gopher clients allow is the ability to create a bookmark. You may have noticed that moving up and down through menu choices can be somewhat confusing ... especially if you must burrow deeply into the gopher to find your information resource. A bookmark allows you to simply mark your place and assign a name of your choice to the marker. This way, in future use, you may simply select your bookmark and go directly to the resource of choice rather than re-navigating the menu tree. In general, using bookmarks means that you have an account or some means of storing the bookmark information. Thus, it is not possible to use a bookmark on the University Libraries gopher directly as you have no account with the University Libraries. Instead, you will want to use a local client through PSUVM or other means to store the bookmarked information.

Searching the Gopher

You may use a program called Veronica to search gopherspace. This means you may do a keyword search of all the gopher menu items in the world to retrieve items of interest to you. Additionally, another program called Jughead is frequently available to search only the local gopher holdings. The University Libraries provides menu options for both Veronica and a local search using the built-in client. From the Main Penn State Gopher you may access Veronica by selecting Information Servers Outside Penn State, selecting International Gopher Network, and selecting Search Titles in Gopherspace using Veronica.

This page is maintained and made available for educational use by Dr. Gerry Santoro, It is modified from an original authored by Tona Henderson, University Libraries, PSU.