BBS Wiki

The WWIV Bulletin Board System was one of the most popular dialup computer hosting systems in the online world between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. The modifiable source code allowed sysops to customize the main BBS program for their particular needs and aesthetics. WWIV also allowed tens of thousands of BBSes to link together, forming a world-wide proprietary networking system, much like FidoNet but with fewer problems with forum management.


WWIV started out in early 1984 as a single BBS in St. Louis, MO, run by Wayne Bell, who wrote the original 1.0 version in BASIC. Bell wrote WWIV as a high school programing project, and shared the software with 25 of his friends, many of whom had become disgusted with the local FIDONet sysops, who took a rather dim view towards networking with any other BBS whose sysop either didn't share their views on pretty much anything and/or used a BBS program other than something FIDO-centric. This naturally attracted the interest of various other potential SysOps across the country, who obtained copies of the source to modify and run for their own boards.

As the popularity of WWIV spread in the mid-80's, for practical reasons Bell switched to Pascal - specifically Borland's Turbo Pascal 2.0 - creating a compiled version of the BBS but distributing the source code for it to anyone who was interested in their own BBS. This encouraged sysops to develop new features for WWIV and these ideas were released as "Mods" that others could add to their own copies. There are many professional "C" programmers who got their start poring over WWIV source code.

Shortly after releasing the 2.0 version, Borland updated the compiler to the 3.0 and 3.1 versions, which saw WWIV revised numerically to reflect the compiler versions. One of Turbo Pascal's strong features was the ability to "chain" sub-programs and external modules into memory only as required; when the average available RAM for a program to load and run is only ~384KB, this became a very important feature. "Chaining" allowed for online games and other utilities to be used with WWIV without having to add the new source code for the game and then recompiling the entire BBS again. These programs - referred to as "Chains" or "Doors" - became very popular.

The Switch To C++[]

After Borland released Turbo Pascal 4.0 and changed the very structure of how compiled programs behaved - which made "chained" sub-programs such as the popular game Trade Wars II and Geopolitik impossible to run - Bell switched to Borland C++, which allowed for remote shell operations and easy porting of the old games and utilities written for the Pascal versions. Until Version 5.x WWIV was written in C. For the open source release of WWIV was converted to C++.

Bell also modified the base source so that multiple instances of the BBS could be running on the same system, with nonconflicting access to the various user databases. This was done to not only allow multiple-line BBSs to exist using WWIV, but to allow all WWIV sysops to access their own BBS without having to wait for a user to log off and/or be rude and kick them off. One other side-effect of the multi-line capability was that IBM's OS/2 - specifically the WARP version - became a popular choice for some WWIV sysops, as the default two instance configuration could easily run under the most basic OS/2 system with ease. In the BBS world, WWIV was referred to sometimes as the "only killer app for OS/2, and it wasn't even written for it!". WWIV did run well even in Microsoft Windows, though -- often better than Windows-native BBSs -- because DOS applications ran preemptively, even with Windows 3.1.

The switch to C also allowed for Bell to implement a rather flexible BBS network, allowing all WWIV boards to link to each other. Bell also took the opportunity to try and make some small amount of money back for his efforts. Starting with the C version, those who paid their $50.00 registration fees received copies of the source code to modify and recompile. The ability to modify WWIV as a sysop saw fit was one of its selling points - something that RBBS, Opus, Genesis, and many of the other BBS programs of the era failed to provide, and was a selling point that was not lost on the thousands of WWIV sysops, who had begun to regard Bell as a cross between a father figure and a revolutionary. Registration also was required for membership in WWIVNet, which encouraged the growth of alternative WWIV-based networks.

This also generated a subculture of unregistered WWIV boards, which at its peak represented a multiple of the number of officially registered boards, and even passed around pirate copies of the source code, as well as forming their own networks.

The Rise of WWIVnet[]

Registration also provided permission to link to the main network, WWIVnet, which soon connected thousands of boards together into a network which spanned many nations around the planet. Numerous other mini-nets such as IceNET (run by Jim Nunn in Buffalo, New York), FILEnet (run by Dennis Myers in Richmond, Virginia), WWIVlink and WWIVweb (run by Robt Maser in Worcester, later in Leicester, Massachusetts) were also founded to provide more localized and specialized network support, and some sysops even operated WWIVNet-FIDOnet gateways to allow some interconnectivity between the two traditionally hostile networks.

Thanks to the network implementation, WWIV sysops and their users worldwide became united to one another much in the same way forum communities exist on the Internet today. This cameraderie gave rise to WWIVCons, annual meetings where sysops and users of WWIV boards met in some central, real-life location to share stories, discuss the future of BBSing, and even hang one or two infamous sysops in effigy. But basically, it gave everyone a chance to see just what the person on the other side of the screen actually looked like in a day when GUIs and Browsers with tons of pictures available at a click simply hadn't been invented yet.

At their peaks, the large WWIV-based networks each had:

  • WWIVnet 1700 systems
  • IceNET 850 systems
  • WWIVlink 675 systems

WWIV vs FIDO: Controversies and BBS Wars[]

Despite its popularity, WWIV wasn't without its share of controversy. To quite a few non-WWIV sysops, using WWIV was a sign of rebellion against the status quo; in fact, several key FIDOnet administrators were quoted on several occasions that they firmly believed that running a WWIV board meant that you were probably running a "pirate" or "hacker" BBS, and that no WWIV BBS should be allowed access to FIDOnet. This would lead to Bell's creation of WWIVnet in 1988, which at its peak became was the world's largest proprietary BBS network, and while the total number of systems never exceeded 1600, the sheer amount of traffic passed over the network was almost double that of FIDOnet for almost a two year period between 1991 and 1993. Much of the traffic difference can easily be attributed to WWIVnet's general acceptance of Freedom of Speech as a right and not a privilege, something that many FIDOnet forum admins could not acknowledge, and even let abuse of the right get way out of hand on more occasions than the scope of this entry could account for.


Due to its popularity, WWIV influenced later BBS programs. VBBS, written by Roland DeGraaf in 1990 using QuickBASIC, contained a WWIV-type interface and networking that was compatiable with WWIVnet. Early versions of VBBS listed features such as "WWIV Compatible" and "Can be run as a door from WWIV BBS." Telegard and Renegade BBS packages were heavily based on an older version of WWIV source code, as were countless others. A WWIV clone for the Apple Macintosh called Hermes was also available.

Current status[]

Although BBSes have been eclipsed by the World Wide Web and the Internet, WWIV and other popular softwares still exist and are supported today. One popular WWIV support site is owned by Frank Reid, who runs Eagle's Dare BBS near Washington, DC.

The current 5.0 release has enhanced Internet gateway capabilities, such as telnet accessibilty, and other modern features.

WWIV is owned by Dean Nash aka Trader Jack, his bbs is

■ WWIV uses the synchronet fossil driver.
■ WWIV is released under The apache License

External links[]