Grex has changed radically since this note was first written. It no longer runs on a Sun running SunOS, but rather on an x86 machine running an open source BSD-based operating system. However, IRC bots (or bots of any kind) are still not allowed on Grex. Though we have much better network connectivity now, we do not want to upset our network provider or colocation service with malicious activity originating from Grex, so we severely limit what services users can run on Grex itself. Sorry, eggdrop and other bots are still not allowed.


Grex Staff Notes: Frequently Asked Questions about Eggdrop and other Programs not Welcome on Grex

We have had thousands of users asking about running IRC bots, IRC clients, and bouncers on our system. We are sorry to say that we do not and can not support eggdrop or any other IRC bot or bouncer here on Grex. We do allow IRC clients to be run, but only by paying users, not for free. Since lots of people seem to be confused and irate about this, we thought we'd write a bit more about this policy.

What are IRC Clients?

IRC is the "Internet Relay Chat," a huge Internet-wide live chat area. You can create "channels" on IRC where you can talk to other people who also join the channel. Every line you type is seen by all the other people in the channel, and you see every line they type. To connect to the IRC, you need an IRC client, just like you need a web browser to read the web. If your computer has a web connection, you can run one there. Or you can connect to another computer, either over the net or by dialing in, and run an IRC client there to connect to the IRC.

Grex does not give non-paying users access to the IRC. Grex has the "irc 2.8.2" client installed for the use of our members. There are others that could be installed if our members wanted, like BitchX or mIRC, but there has been no demand for them. Occasionally people trying to get around this restriction try to download and install their own copies of IRC clients. This doesn't work. See below.

What is Eggdrop?

Eggdrop is the most popular of many so-called "IRC-bots". There is quite a bit of good information about eggdrop on the web. We obviously aren't eggdrop experts, so if you really want to know a lot about it, you may want to search elsewhere for info.

Eggdrop is used with IRC. Computer programs can be written that join IRC channels just like a human would through an IRC client. Such programs, called "bots" or "robots," can interact with people in various ways. Besides being cute, bots can perform some useful functions, like holding channels open when nobody is home, keeping them from being taken over by other users, controlling what users can join the channel, providing extra lag-free talk channels that aren't affected by net-splits, allowing users to upload and download files, and linking between different IRC networks. Lots of people who want to rule their own channels want eggdrop bots. It's a useful and valuable tool.

Eggdrop needs to run on a Unix system, which isn't hard to find (several excellent free Unix systems exist that can be installed on most any PC). However, to gain the full benefit of eggdrop, you need to be running it on a system that is connected to the internet 24 hours a day, which isn't true for most people's home computers. So lots of people are looking for systems to run eggdrop on, and lots of people come looking here at Grex. After lots of hard work, they eventually discover that eggdrop won't work here. See below.

What are Bouncers?

Some people would like to be able to connect to IRC without revealing their identities. One way to do this would be to install a small program on a system like Grex which just bounces their IRC connection. Then they point the IRC client on their computer to the bouncer running on Grex, which reflects the connection to an IRC server someplace else. Then it looks to everyone on the IRC as if the connection is coming from Grex, not from this person's own computer. You can even get fancier, and chain together several bouncers, so your connection goes through several places before hitting your destination, making it even harder to trace. And this doesn't only work for IRC, it works for almost any kind of net connection.

The most common bouncer is called bnc or boun or bounce. There seem to be several others, including datapipe and anonirc.

Since Grex accounts can be obtained without giving much (or any) personal information, lots of people think Grex is a pretty good place to put a bouncer. We currently have about half a dozen different people try to install one every day. None of them work. See below.

What is Grex?

Grex is a public access system supported entirely by donations from its users. We have no corporate or government funding. Although we have about 25,000 users, only around 100 of them ever give us any money and most of them don't give us much. All the staff work to maintain this system is done by unpaid volunteers who do work here only because they enjoy using this system and believe in our system's mission. We are not wealthy, and our computer is not one any sane person would be proud to own (you can take a look at it here).

What is this mission that inspires people to donate money to us and do work for us?

We'd love to be able to provide more free services, but given how few resources we have, it's a miracle that we can do as much as we do. We have to set some limits on services.

Why doesn't Grex provide free IRC access?

Our impression is that, second only to E-mail, IRC is the free service most in demand on the net. We sometimes still question whether offering E-mail was all that bright an idea. What we really want to do is conferencing, but providing free E-mail consumes vastly more of our computer resources and staff time than conferencing does. But it really does seem to be a very worthwhile service for an awful lot of people, so we're willing to keep it up, in spite of the headaches.

Though IRC can certainly be a valuable service, we think it is generally less valuable than E-mail is, and in our experience, it generates at least as many administrative headaches as E-mail does. We just don't see any way that we could stretch our resources far enough to be able to deal with offering free IRC. If we had another computer, another net connection, and a couple full-time equivalents worth of skilled staff time from people who really cared about IRC, we might be able to do it, but as it is, the thought of all that extra work just makes us vaguely queasy. Our plates are pretty full.

So we permit IRC access only to our validated, paying members. That's a small group of people, who tend to be generous and responsible people who cause us very few problems. In fact, very few of them ever use IRC.

Why doesn't Grex support eggdrop?

Eggdrop uses huge amounts of net bandwidth and cpu time. This may not seem obvious at first glance. It would appear that a big bloated mail program like pine, which we do allow, uses much more. But a user runs pine only while he is connected to Grex. Since we only allow about 80 users to be signed on at any given time, we never have to deal with more than 80 pine processes running at a time. But for an eggdrop bot to do it's job of holding a channel open while the user is gone, it would have to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we let all our users run eggdrop we would have 25,000 eggdrops running at any given time. The fact that it runs all the time means that it would add up to using vastly more computer resources than even big, fat, ugly pine. There is no way we could share our computer over 25,000 users if we let users run things like that.

Given the huge demand for eggdrop, if we permitted people to run it from their free Grex accounts, our system would be almost instantly completely overwhelmed with eggdrop bots, and would be unusable for anything else. Having eggdrops running on our system would not contribute to our on-line community at all, and it does not seem to be such a basic service that we need to offer it to everyone in the world for free. Since eggdrop does not particularly serve our mission, we can not justify allowing its use on Grex, even for users who help us out by donating money.

Why doesn't Grex support bouncers?

Bouncers share the same basic problem that IRC bots have: they need to run continuously. This is one stroke against them.

Grex is trying to provide valuable services to people, and the social value of bouncers is somewhat questionable. It would be easy to say that anyone trying to hide their identity is trying to escape the consequences of their actions, and is thus immoral scum. But we shouldn't forget that a person speaking out against the immoral actions of their government might also want a way to do so without paying the consequences their government deals out to such people. In many cases, a degree of anonymity is a boon to free speech. That is why we allow people to take out accounts on our system without having to be validated. Our primary purpose is to be a conferencing system, and we don't want to put any obstacles in the way of speaking freely in our forums. It is true that a small fraction of our users try to use this anonymity to do harm to our system or to attack other people, but within the limits of our own system, we have chosen to put up with that as the price of allowing other people some legitimate anonymity.

However, we cannot make the same decision for the rest of the systems on the internet. If we want to unleash anonymous people on our own system, that's our right. Allowing people to use our system to gain anonymous access to other people's systems is a far more dubious enterprise. We suspect that if we did so, it would be used far more for ill purposes than for good ones.

Of course, the most common reason people want bouncers is to prevent other users from knocking them off the net by launching denial of service attacks against their machines. With a bouncer on Grex, the attack would be directed against Grex instead. No thanks.

How can I convince you to change your minds?

Grex runs as a democracy. All policies are ultimately determined by the members with public discussions in the Grex Co-op Conference. If you think you can convince our members that you should be able to run a free IRC client, eggdrop, or a bouncer here, you are welcome to try. I don't think your chances of success are good though - this is not a new issue.

What if I just install the program myself?

Every week, we have three or four users try to compile and install eggdrop or BitchX on Grex, and several dozen trying to install bouncers. None have ever succeeded. Here's why:

  1. FTP transfers of programs as large as eggdrop or BitchX slow down our net connection badly. When staff members notice the net connection is slow they look for the cause, and if they see it is an eggdrop ftp, they kill it.
  2. Compiling eggdrop or BitchX on a system as slow as Grex takes a long time (maybe a hour) and slows the system noticably all that time. Staff members tend to notice and kill it.
  3. Once you have your client, bot or bouncer compiled, you'll find that it won't work. We have modified our kernel to prevent non-members from making most kinds of outbound internet connections, including all IRC connections. This is what stops everyone cold. For information (with source) about the Grex kernel blocks, see our technical notes on kernel blocks.
  4. If you got past that (nobody ever has), you'd still have to get past the robocop daemon that kills all background processes not associated with a logged in user. This means that your eggdrop or bounce process will be automatically killed shortly after you log off of Grex.
  5. And if you got past that, you'd still have the fact that we banned these things because running them slows down the system too much. So the staff would presumably notice if you somehow miraculously got the thing to work here.

Normally, we wouldn't mind very much if you wanted to waste your time in any activity as futile and hopeless as trying to install eggdrop or an IRC client on Grex, but we get far too many people doing this and futile attempts to build eggdrop are consuming a significant fraction of our scarce resources. So please don't even try. Bouncer programs, on the other hand, are usually quite small, so you can build those all you like, and we won't even care unless you somehow get it working, in which case we will break it.

Do you know of anyplace where I can run eggdrop?

If there was a public access system anywhere on the internet that was deranged enough to allow random strangers to run eggdrop, we'd be delighted to direct you there, but we've never heard of such a place. We've seen a couple systems try, but they all gave it up within a week. If you want to find a place to run eggdrop, you'll either need to pay money for the privilege (there is a list of places where you can run eggdrop for a small fee here), set up your own system (also likely to cost money), or exercise some inside connections.

So what good is a shell account if you can't run eggdrop or bouncers?

Yes, this is really is a frequently asked question. These days it seems that most people looking for "Unix shell accounts" know only that it is something you need to run eggdrop, and haven't the faintest idea what it is.

A "shell" is is the Unix name for a program whose primary purpose is to let a user run other programs. It's the interface that you use to tell the computer what to do. It normally starts up automatically as soon as you sign on to the computer. If some heathen ported "Microsoft Windows" or the MSDOS "" program to Unix, then we'd probably call them shells. Most Unix shells work by typing commands, but we have some menu based ones that are easier for people new to Unix to use. The best known Unix shells are "csh" and "sh", but there are dozens of different ones around, including some restricted shells that let you do only a few things. Grex's shells are unrestricted, but our network connection is restricted.

Having a shell account generally means that you have the access to do all sorts of things, not just a limited list. We give out shell accounts because we believe in giving away lots of access.

So what good is a shell account? I dunno. What good is a computer? Grex offers a very large number of services, a few of which are accessible through the web, but most of which are accessible only through our shell accounts. Please do enjoy using the services we provide, and good luck finding a server for your IRC bot.

Document History:

Mar 9, 1998: Jan Wolter (janc) - Initial revision.
Aug 5, 1998: Steve Weiss (srw) - Increased users to 25,000.
Feb 4, 1999: Jan Wolter (janc) - Replaced references to "kill_orphans" with "robocop".
Feb 16, 1999: Jan Wolter (janc) - Broaden discussion to talk more about IRC clients and bouncers too.