Return of the SneakerNet


It’s funny how occasionally you find a need for technologies that you thought you had seen the last of…

I have been developing a small UNIX webserver on a SPARCstation-10, and wanted to portability-check it on an x86 Solaris 8 system. The only such system I had “pre-installed” was a Toshiba Satellite 4000CDT laptop from with a broken CDROM drive and no built-in Ethernet port. Under Solaris 8, the only Ethernet interfaces that work in that particular machine are the 3Com 3C589 or 3C574 PCMCIA cards, which I have misplaced (doh!).

So how to get the source files from the SS10 onto the laptop? I could have FTP-ed the files from the SS10 over the network to another PC that has a USB port, and then transferred from there via a USB memory stick; except that the other PC around was switched off and packed away prior to some planned home decorating (painting the wall it occupied).

What to do? As the saying goes, “if all else fails, use brute force”, preferably mechanical.

Fortunately for me, both the SS10 and the laptop had a long-forgotten 3.5-inch diskette drive built in, so a quick rummage in my stash of bits to turn up an actual (rather dusty) diskette solved the problem – on the SS10, format the diskette as a DOS volume, copy the files onto the diskette, then physically carry the diskette over to the laptop and copy the files off it onto the laptop hard drive. Success!

Overall, not as fast as 100Mb/sec Ethernet, but quick enough for me this time. This particular method of transferring files used to be the primary way of doing so, before networks, CDROM drives, and so on existed.

Traipsing around with a diskette in hand: SneakerNet, gotta love it!

PS: I have not forgotten the other “veteran” 1970s method involving serial-ports and related file-transfer protocols (XMODEM, ZMODEM, Kermit, UUCP, or even raw ascii “transmit/capture-and-hope-for-the-best”). In this case, that would have been even slower to setup and use. If either of those diskette drives breaks, I might just find myself having to use such methods at some point.

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