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BBS CGI Application

Here's a new suite that makes it easy to run a threaded bulletin-board system on a Macintosh running a WebSTAR-compatible server.

by Dave Winer,

The BBS suite implements a hierarchic and sequentially threaded bulletin-board. Every message lives in both structures. The BBS runs on the web. You use a web browser to navigate thru the bulletin-board database. It's a two-way system -- you can reply to messages.

Try it out first

I suggest you try the BBS out, as a user would, before you decide to operate one yourself. It's easy to set up and maintain, no scripting required; but it's a committment to manage and nurture a community.

Log on, leave a message introducing yourself, and browse around and read the messages other people have posted.

Who this is for

I've streamlined the information storage for the BBS suite in this release, so all the data is stored in the user.bbs table. Therefore I can upgrade the software without interfering with your message base. Many of the glitches that were in earlier releases should be out in this release.

But... setting up this BBS should not be your first Frontier project. You need to know how Frontier's outliner and object database work. There are pointers at the end of this page that link to information about the Frontier environment.

Please discuss this on the Frontier-talk list. Thanks!

Installing your BBS

Please follow these instructions carefully.

  1. If you don't have Frontier 4.2 or greater, you can download it from the Frontier website.

  2. Download the UserLand BBS package. Open the folder and move the bbs sub-folder into the same folder as the WebStar application. It contains two folders with GIFs that are referred to by the CGI scripts.

  3. If necessary, set up WebSTAR so it knows how to route URLs that end with ".fcgi" to Frontier. See WebSTAR Setup for Frontier CGI Scripting for instructions.

  4. Open the UserLand BBS folder and double-click on webServerScripts.bbs. Frontier will launch if it's not running. Click on OK to the confirmation dialog. A window opens in Frontier. It's OK to close it. Double-click on suites.bbs and follow the same steps.


When you install suites.bbs, it automatically adds a command to Frontier's Suites menu called BBS. Choose this command. A new menu appears in Frontier's menu bar, just to the right of the Suites menu, called BBS.

Choose the "Init user.bbs" command from the BBS menu. Click on OK to confirm that you want to create a new user.bbs table. The new table opens. Here's what it contains:

Name Value Kind
backupfolderMacintosh HD:UserLand BBSalias [154]
messages5 itemstable
outline5 linesoutline
staticpages3 itemstable
titles10 itemstable
users0 itemstable

backupfolder points to the folder that will contain backups of the BBS.

messages is a table containing the BBS messages.

nextmsgnum is the message number for the next message that's added to the BBS.

outline is an outline of the threading structure.

staticpages is a table containing text of pages that you may want to customize.

titles is a table containing the titles of web pages displayed by the scripts.

users is a table containing information about each of the users of the BBS.

Customizing the BBS

The BBS is initially created with five messages, entitled BBS Home Page, Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 3, and Scratchpad. You may want to change these subjects. The subject for message 4 is stored in user.bbs.messages.["00004"].subject. You should also edit the text for each of these messages.

Next, you should check out user.bbs.staticpages. Open each wptext object, and edit it. It's especially important that you change user.bbs.staticpages.welcomepage and user.bbs.staticpages.infopage.

Check out user.bbs.title. The only title that's really important to change is user.bbs.titles.welcomeTitle. This is the title that will appear on your Welcome page.

When you're ready to try out your new BBS, choose "Rebuild Refcons" from the BBS menu. This script stores invisible information in user.bbs.outline to be sure it reflects the information in user.bbs.messages.

That's it!

Your BBS is now on the air. To test it out, log on and add a message introducing yourself. Its URL will be:

Go ahead and click on it, you'll get an error. Then, in the Address part of the browser window, change to the domain name of your server. Log on.

When you're satisfied that it's working, link the URL into your website.


  • Guestbook CGI Application -- shows you how to install a Guestbook CGI script on your server. It's an easier project than setting up a BBS and requires less care and feeding.

  • CGI Scripting in Frontier -- explains how CGI scripts work in Frontier.

  • "Outliner Cribsheet" -- an explanation of Frontier's built-in outliner.

  • Database Cribsheet -- the same treatment, for Frontier's object database storage system.

  • "Outliners & Programming" -- a history of earlier BBSs I've written.

© Copyright 1996-97 UserLand Software. This page was last built on 5/7/97; 1:55:03 PM. It was originally posted on 8/4/96; 8:53:36 AM. Internet service provided by Conxion.