Telnet to a BBS using a PC terminal program within the DOSBox emulator

Login screen for Digital Distortion BBS as seen in Telemate under DOSBox.

Login screen for Digital Distortion BBS as seen in Telemate under DOSBox.

A few months ago I wrote about my experiences trying to telnet in to Atari BBSes using an emulated Atari on my Mac.

Basically the solution boiled down to this: Use tcpser4j to change a telnet connection to a serial connection, use socat to pipe that serial connection to a file, and set the Hatari emulator to use that file as a virtual RS232 device. After those steps, I could run my favorite old Atari ST terminal programs like ANSIterm and Freeze Dried Terminal.

Recently I decided I wanted to do the same thing with a DOS emulator like DOSBox — but for different reasons.

What I wanted to try this time were DOS front-end programs for BBS door games like Global War, Land of Devastation, and TradeWars. These front-ends work only in DOS, and each one is unique. They offer special features like EGA or SVGA graphics or sound effects. I’ll write more about these front-ends in the near future.

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Setting up DOSBox

Before I could do try using front-ends, first I had to learn how to telnet from a regular terminal program on an emulated PC.

Turns out that it’s really easy. And the folks at StarBase 21 BBS have already written a great tutorial on how to do it.

Basically, you don’t need anything except DOSBox! No socat. No tcpser. DOSBox has its own built-in routines for piping a telnet connection through its virtual serial port.

I’ll condense the SB21 instructions (and clarify one detail for Macs), in case you’d like to try this yourself:

  1. Download a copy of Telemate or Telix or whatever DOS terminal program you want

  2. Download a copy of the latest version of DOSBox for your platform (for me, Mac OS X)

  3. Install DOSBox on your machine. This is fairly easy, but if you get stuck you can find help on the DOSBox wiki

  4. Edit the config files in a text editor like Notepad, Sublime Text, Text Edit, etc. As the SB21 tutorial explains, the location of the file varies by platform:

Windows XP: %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\DOSBox\dosbox-#.##.conf Windows Vista / 7: {system drive}:\Users\{username}\AppData\Local\DOSBox\dosbox-#.##.conf
Mac OS X: {username}/Library/Preferences/DOSBox #.## Preferences

(Please note that the SB21 tutorial is slightly mistaken about OS X. On the Mac it is not a .conf file)

4a. Go to the “serial” section beginning on line 199 and change these two lines:



serial1=modem listenport 23

4b. Go to the “autoexec” section beginning on line 239 and add a mount instruction. This will tell DOSBox to use a folder on your computer as a hard drive for the emulated DOS PC.

If you’re on Windows, you might put this:

mount c c:\dos

On a Mac, you might put this:

mount c ~/dos

Save and close the config file after making this change.

  1. On your computer, create that “dos” folder at the location you specified in step 4b.

  2. Unzip the terminal program you downloaded in step 1 into the dos folder you created in step 5.

  3. Run DOSBox. You should now be able to launch your terminal program! Be sure to change the baud rate to the highest available speed.

  4. To telnet to a BBS, just type old Hayes “AT” modem commands into the terminal — but with a telnet address instead of a phone number. For example:


Typing an "AT" style Hayes command in Telemate.

Typing an “AT” style Hayes command in Telemate.

You should be golden!

2 thoughts on “Telnet to a BBS using a PC terminal program within the DOSBox emulator

  1. Hobbes

    Thanks for this! Brings back fond memories seeing Telix in action! Thanks to your notes, it runs well, and connects to an IP without any issues!

  2. Denys

    Great tutorial, I’d love a tutorial like this to see if these old wardialers for DOS could be resurrected. The programs operate but no way to virtually connect a modem into DOSBOX that I’m aware of.
    Any ideas?


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