Steve Neighorn, Randy Bush, and Jeff Beadles


The Portland Oregon metropolitan area has one of the largest per-capita concentrations of private Unix systems in the United States. These systems are usually open-erated by an individual and support small user communities. The systems range from Intel 80x86 systems running SYS V flavors of Unix to Macs running A/UX to Tektronix and Sun Microsystems workstations. In the past, connectivity between these systems, for the transfer of electronic mail and news, was exclusively based on UUCP.

Some number of years ago several of the local private-site system administrators wanted to form a domain to ease email addressing problems and get away from the .UUCP zone. But the lack of local sites willing to do MX-forwarding, along with the costs of long-distance phone calls and IP connectivity, and the usual social issues involved with trying to get a diverse group to agree on a single plan, doomed those early attempts.

In April of 1990, several local admins received notice of AlterNet's "IP Networking for the rest of us" : a project that put a network connections into various cities (including Portland) with a cost factor which would allow small and medium sized organizations the opportunity to take advantage of both AlterNet's own network, and if desired, the NSF Internet.

The local sysadmins once again began working on ideas to get their own machines into a registered domain, and if possible, connect the various sites together and hook up to other larger networks.

Several pizza-based meetings were held, and a plan developed. Funding was a primary concern, because the initial charge for hooking up a 56kb line to AlterNet was close to $10000, with monthly recurring charges hovering around $1500. Finally a deal was struck with UNINET-ZA in which we received funding from them in return for engineering work on some of the low-cost IP connectivity technologies, and a connection for them.

RAINet first went online in January of 1991. These connections were local only. RAINet then purchased the 56kb service from AlterNet, and in June of 1991 connected to the outside world. AlterNet placed a restriction on the number of sites whose packets would be allowed to pass through to the AlterNet. Four sites in RAINet are directly on the Internet, and they act as a firewall or gateway to the rest of RAINet. Sites behind the fire-walls can not get directly to the Internet, and Internet sites can only reach those machines at the four firewall sites. RAINet can be though of as a hierarchical structure, with the AlterNet connection at the top, connecting to the Cisco Router, PSGnet (a private network) and the RAINet routers at the next level, which in turn connect to five other sites (three of which are on the Internet), which in turn connect to between zero and three other sites, and so on.

RAINet maintains several internal mailing lists, including lists for everyone one the .RAIN.COM domain, those who are IP connected, those who founded and continue to gently "guide" RAIN, and a security list.

Once every two to three months, all interested parties gather for an informal tech/policy/dinner discussion. So far, there have been few personality problems and we have all managed to stay friendly with one another.


RAINet was established to experiment with medium distance network technologies, and to improve electronic communications among local Portland-metro area Unix systems and users.

Although RAINet is small, it consists of a full range of users, including engineers, researchers, educators, consultants, and hobbiests.

RAINet users have examined several "thin wire" interconnect topologies, including standard phone lines, inexpensive leased lines, packet radio, and cable TV.

In addition, RAINet experiments with low-cost hardware options for routers such as cheap PC-based equipment, host-based IP protocols like SLIP and PPP, and medium speed modems (V.32, PEP, and other proprietary systems).

RAINet is explicitly not designed to provide production level services in the fashion of AlterNet, CompuServe, or TymNet. As an experimental network using common phone lines, inexpensive equipment, and run by volunteers with daytime jobs, there will frequently be times when parts of the network are inoperative.

RAINet will provide non-commercial connectivity to the Internet research and educational electronic communities, as a number of RAINet's founders are involved in the research with educational and research institutions outside of the Pacific Northwest.


RAINet has drafted and uses an acceptable-use statement similar to that of the CREN. It is modified in that RAINet does not attempt to provide production level service, and light commercial traffic will be allowed within (but not outside of) RAINet.

RAINet member sites and users are required to take reasonable measures, given the constraints of technology and management, to ensure that traffic using gateways between RAINet and other networks conforms to the guidelines of the other networks.


RAINet went online with its first connection in early January 1991. Currently there are more than 16 sites connected via SLIP. Ethernet is used within sites to connect hosts. These IP connected sites have over 70 hosts including work stations, X-terminals, PC's, and routers. In addition, RAINet provides MX-forwarding to dozens of other local sites within the .RAIN.COM domain in the Portland-metro area.


The RAINet-to-AlterNet link is a 56kb line connected via DSU's to a Cisco router. The router sits on an Ethernet with three other 80286- based PC- routers running KA9Q. Each PC-router has an Ethernet card and two serial ports utilizing 16550AFN UARTs. The UNINET link is accomplished with a V.32bis modem. The other connections are accomplished using either V.32 or V.32bis modems, including Intel and Telebit products. Each of the NSF-connected and several of the downstream sites connected to the NSF- connected (firewall) sites also use PC-routers. The standard hardware is a faster (12MHz+) 80286 or 80386SX PC clone, monochrome monitor and mono card, keyboard, high density floppy disk, WD8003 Ethernet card, 640k of DRAM, and one to four serial ports using the faster 16550 UART. Software on the PC-routers is either a customized version of KA9Q or a customized version of PC/ROUTE. RAINet users are responsible for all the special customizations to the router software. The Unix workstations tend to use either ROUTED or GATED for routing (RIP), and SMAIL for the mail delivery system. RAINet has one primary DNS server, one secondary server, and several cache-only and resolver systems. Since most of the RAINet connections use standard phone lines, the auto redialer function of KA9Q is heavily used, so if a connection is broken, one end can call and reconnect to the other end. One of the customizations to PC/ROUTE was the addition of this feature. Also, RIPMERGE is used as much as possible to cut down the size of a RIP.

RAINet has a class B address space and uses a 0xffffffe0 netmask. Since each end of a SLIP connection requires its own subnet, plus the subnet for the group of hosts at the site, a class C network was not large enough. We figured that 30 usable hosts per site was plenty, and if there was a need for more, the site was probably too big for RAINet anyway and it should get its own class C.


Because of our current funding and volunteer workforce, there is no charge to any site or user for using RAINet.

If an existing site with UUCP connections wishes to become part of .RAIN.COM, but not RAINet, a simple application is all that is required.

If a site wishes to become part of RAINet, another short application is required (this is similar to the existing NIC form). In addition, the site must go through the follow steps:

1) Arrange with an existing RAINet site with an open slot for the connection. Generally each RAINet site limits their downward connections to three. Along with their upstream connection, this totals the number of serial connections a single 80286/80386 router can handle. A site can handle more than one router, and one of the firewall sites is already doing that.

2) Install residential phone lines at both sites. Since RAINet is using dial-up SLIP but keeping it up once the connection is made, a dedicated phone line for both the the site wishing to hook up and the site where the other router is located mush be purchased. In Portland, the cost of a new phone line including installation is between $50-$75 dollars, and the monthly charge is under $25/month for each line.

3) Purchase modems for the two sites. The RAINet policy on hardware is that a site wishing to hook up to RAINet is responsible for purchasing all the hardware needed for the hookup. While V.32 and V.32bis modems are preferable, at the beginning of RAINet several sites were running SLIP over 1200 and 2400 baud modems. A V.32bis modem such as a Telebit T3000 or Intel 14.4EX running with a DTE speed of 57.6kb can achieve 3kb/second with FTP. V.32 modems can be purchased for under $400. V.32bis modems are slightly more expensive. The basic difference between a V.32 and V.32bis modem is that the modulation rate of V.32 is 9.6kb while V.32bis is 14.4kb. This shows up as both faster throughput and a better ability to handle simultaneous traffic with the V.32bis.

4) A site has two choices on where to hook their modem. Some sites choose to use a host-based SLIP, which means that one of the computer's serial ports is dedicated to the RAINet connection. The modem is plugged into the serial port and the SLIP (or someday PPP) is run on that port. No external router is needed. Host-based machines do not make good routers for other sites to connect to, since if the workstation crashes or is taken down for backups, the sites below are effectively cutoff. RAINet encourages those sites who may at some point be taking on other connections themselves to go with a PC-based router. A 12MHz+ 80286 or 80386SX monochrome 640K single-floppy system with Ethernet card and serial port (16550 UART) is all that is needed. The PC-router can run either KA9Q (which supports PPP) or PC/ROUTE. A complete PC-router can be purchased for less that $500, including Ethernet card and serial ports. The PC-router is hooked up to the site Ethernet. A typical PC- router can handle one Ethernet and four serial ports. As long as the PC- router stays up, the downstream sites are unaffected. All of the RAINet firewall sites use PC-routers, and most of the downstream sites use routers as well. But for a single machine site with no downstream connections, host-based SLIP is perfect.


Currently RAIN consists of two services: .RAIN.COM and RAINet

.RAIN.COM is a registered domain name under which mail sites wishing to leave behind the pseudo .UUCP domain may register. The name space is allocated as simple nodes ( or using sub-domain allocation for sites or organizations with multiple systems ( In the latter case, a sub-domain administrator is responsible for allocating the sub-domain name-space and coordinating with the .RAIN.COM administrator(s). Administrators at sites wishing to register under .RAIN.COM fill out a simple application similar to the regular zone registry form used by the NIC.

RAINet is the IP network using a class B address space allocated by the NIC. IP connectivity offers the typical services:

Electronic Mail : Sites directly on the Internet use DNS for hostname resolution and deliver email directly to the host or the designated mail forwarder. Sites below the firewall direct their non-RAINet email to the closest firewall site for delivery.

Remote Access : Several users on both RAINet firewall sites and downstream sites need Internet access to carry out research and/or school projects. A few accounts for non-firewall-site users have been set up to allow Internet access both from RAINet to the outside and visa-versa. For example, Portland Public Schools uses one of the firewall sites to access other Internet sites and exchange research in the area of psychometrics. Another proposed experiment will allow students at a local high school to access Internet resources listed in the various Internet cookbooks such as "Zen and the Art of the Internet."

News : RAINet gets an NNTP feed from Uunet. The main news site in RAINet in turns feeds news to several other RAINet machines as well as several other Portland area systems. Local area groups, including a RAINet hierarchy, are passed around in a triangle with Oregon Graduate Institute and Tektronix. The other RAINet sites feed several other Portland area systems via UUCP. The total news traffic in and around RAINet is several hundred megabytes per day. In addition, RAINet sites offer news-reading accounts for several hundred users.

File Transfer : Though file transfer at V.32/V.32bis speeds is not the greatest, FTP is still a popular use of RAINet. Some of the firewall sites have set up anonymous FTP areas for use by the Internet community.

Other: Several users are experimenting with such things as WAIS, IRC, MUDs, Gopher, and various proposed RFC's (such as RFC931 - Identity server).


RAINet is currently adding three to five .RAIN.COM sites a month and one to two IP connected sites per month. Our sub-netted class B network allows for over 4000 32-host nets, so we have plenty of address space. As we add sites, our hierarchy grows. In order to keep the number of hop counts down, we may need to expand sideways by adding more routers to the Ethernets of upstream sites. This is not a problem now, but if the growth rate continues, the hop-count problem will be a definite consideration.


The term toasternet came into popular use as a description of networks that have a multitude of devices hooked up to it, including in the case of one demonstration at a recent Interop conference, an Ethernet equipped toaster. We use the term TOASTERNET to convey the multitude of systems in RAINet, and the various pieces of hardware and interconnect technology used to hook these systems together.

It is our hope that low-cost IP "Toasternets" continue to spring up all over. With more companies providing IP connectivity options, we feel such low-cost networks are ideal for the next generation of Internet inhabitants, such as public schools, libraries, hobbiests, and computer clubs, to join the global electronic community.

A mailing list for Toasternets is available: for add/delete. is the mailing list reflector..

We are in contact with several other individuals and groups who either already have toasternets running or are in the planning or implementation stages.


RAINet hopes to continue to examine alternative connection topologies, in terms of both higher reliability and lower cost, as well as the simple research aspects of discovering and perfecting new methods of hooking computers together. Also expand the use of leased lines instead of regular residential phone lines, as they are both less expensive and more reliable.

As soon as is feasible, move from SLIP and CSLIP to PPP. Several of the sites running host-based SLIP are unable to run host-based PPP because it is not available. In addition, some of the PC-based routers in RAINet are running PC/ROUTE rather than our modified KA9Q. PC/ROUTE does not support PPP.

Continue to look at other alternative protocols such as POP and IMAP for supporting simple (MS-DOS) mail-only clients.

Continue to add new .RAIN.COM and RAINet sites. We are actively working on expanding our public school connections both within the Portland Public Schools, and with other local school districts. In addition, we are in contact with the county library system in hopes of getting them connected to RAINet as well.

Only a few of the sites have workstations and/or routers that have SNMP agents. We are interested in using SNMP-based products for both trouble- shooting and network load management. We would like to expand the number of sites involved with SNMP.

RAINet continues to discover new and wonderful things about community networking. We hope these discoveries never stop.


Steve Neighorn is at: Randy Bush is at: Jeff Beadles is at:


Questions can be emailed to any of the authors, and the RAINet administrative email address is:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific