Meaning or Origin of dev/null?

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(For those not familiar with USENET folklore - a posting to "misc.test" will, I think, cause many sites to autoreply to the posting, mailing you back a message saying "yup, I got this posting".)




From: mpk@eniac.demon.co.uk (Mike Knell)
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.computers
Subject: Re: Meaning or Origin of dev/null?
Date: 11 Sep 1995 11:32:03 +0100
Organization: UK Centre for Lemur Fandom


In article <42ve68INNaaj@hancock.cc.williams.edu>,
Lancelot <97sah@williams.edu> wrote:

> What does dev/null or dev.null actually mean? I get the
> impression it is a site where files, postings, etc are sent to die,
> but I'm not entirely sure about this. Also, where did its name come
> from? The "null" device, perhaps? Or does dev stand for something
> other than device?

When Usenet was young, in addition to the net.* and mod.* newsgroup heirarchies, which you may have heard of, there was a third heirarchy called dev.*, which was used by those who were experimenting with news software. (dev.* meaning 'development, of course). There were various groups in the dev.* heirarchy, including amongst others:

dev.audio --
Used for testing voice-synthesis newsreaders. Yes, such things did exist.
dev.inet --
Used for testing newsgroup propagation over TCP/IP (as opposed to batching and transmission via UUCP, which was then the norm)
dev.tty --
Used for testing different user interfaces, particularly compatability with different tty's. This was a major headache before termcap became well-established.

There were also a number of oddly-named test groups (mainly used by individuals) which were mainly testing different revisions of software, including such things as 'dev.sda11' and 'dev.sd1g'. The numbers on the end denoted the software version being tested. The group you ask about, dev.null, was an early test group, which most sites didn't bother carrying -- articles for dev.null were generally discarded rather than queued for onward transmission.

In the Great Renaming, most of the dev.* groups were considered superfluous and removed, though some of them continue as various groups under news.*. dev.null, however, became misc.test, and has now acquired the role of a test group -- autoresponders have been implemented, which auto-reply to postings to misc.test to help verify article propagation.

So, when someone says "Flames to dev/null", or "Followups redirected to dev/null", they're actually asking you to crosspost any replies to misc.test, because they're having problems with propagation and want to make absolutely sure they see any replies. misc.test is very well propagated, so including it in the Newsgroups: header helps things along a bit, and also produces confirmation from the autoresponders to help figure out any problems.

The phrase "dev/null" is a hangover from many years ago, which continues in use by tradition, and in memory of those who made Usenet what it is today by their hard work. The slash used to delimit the newsgroup is a hangover from the old "D-News" news software, which rather oddly delimited newsgroup components with a slash rather than a period, which is now the convention.

Hope this helps!

Mike

--
- Mike Knell, mpk@eniac.demon.co.uk - Dictator of alt.fan.pratchett.announce. -
GCC/MC d--/s:/a--/C++++(---)/ULSI++++$/P+/L+++/E++/W+(--)/N++/o+/K+++/w/O/M-/ V-/PS+++/PE-/Y/PGP+/t+/5?/X/R-/tv/b+++/DI+/D+(--)/G++++/e/h/r--/y* (Geek-3.1)

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