Archie Guide: History, Origin, and More

Archie creator Alan Emtage

Archie Guide: History, Origin, and More

While most exclusively use Google today, some will remember a time when a whole plethora of different internet search engines existed and competed with one another for the top spot. Before Google, before Bing, before Yahoo, even before Ask Jeeves, there was Archie. But what exactly is Archie? How was it used, and what ended up happening to it? This guide will walk you through the complete history, origin, and current status of the Archie search engine. 

Archie creator Alan Emtage
Alan Emtage, creator of Archie

What Is Archie: Explained

Alan Emtage was born in Barbados on November 27, 1964. After becoming the owner of a Sinclair ZX81 during his high school years, Emtage graduated at the top of his class and won the Barbados Scholarship — thus allowing him and his love for computers to flourish in North America at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Emtage earned a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and then went on to pursue a Master’s degree in 1991. 

Quick Facts

Creator (person)
Alan Emtage
Original Price
Operating System
FTP (file transfer protocol), Telnet
Developed By (company)
McGill University

While working as a systems administrator at McGill University’s School of Computer Science, Emtage conceived and implemented what would be known as the original version of the Archie search engine — the world’s very first Internet search engine and the first step toward today’s search giants like Google and Yahoo. The idea came to Emtage after spending countless hours trying to locate information for the students and staff of the faculty. This need became the basis of Emtage’s world-changing invention: ​​rather than continuing to do it himself, he set out to write software that would allow students and staff to come in and search the index themselves.

Emtage developed a set of programs designed to scour through the repositories of software on anonymous public FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites via the Telnet protocol. The programs then established an index of all the available software, which then became a searchable database based on file name. One thing led to another and word got out that he had an index available and people started writing in and asking if we could search the index on their behalf.

Today, Archie is considered the original search engine. Many of the techniques that Emtage and his colleagues and fellow students established are now used by Google, Yahoo, and every other major Internet search engine. At its peak, Archie had 30 servers up and running and more than half of all internet traffic in Canada was running through them.

How to Use Archie

Archie is quite simple to use — something you may have been able to surmise based off of the ease of modern-day search engines like Yahoo or Google. Users would simply search for the names of files they were trying to locate, and the Archie software would search through a long list of public anonymous FTP sites using the Telnet protocol. Archie would then index the files for the user’s convenience. This saved people an enormous amount of time, though each file transferred between computers would still have to be downloaded in order to view its contents. 

Archie’s Telnet protocol was a revolutionary way to allow users to find the titles of specific files much simpler, much faster, and much easier than ever before. However, because Archie could not index the content inside the files or comprehend natural language requests, users had to know the exact title of the file they were looking for in order to use Archie. 

Archie Release History

After the success and popularity of Archie on McGill University’s campus, Alan and his colleagues went on to develop various other versions of Archie that allowed them to split up the service and make the FTP/Telnet search engine available to other universities outside of McGill. This release of Archie’s proprietary technology led to the creation of Archie variants such as the University of Utah’s Jughead and the University of Nevada-Reno’s Veronica. 

Unlike Archie, though, neither of these variants are still operational in their original forms — A single Archie server is still being maintained and kept active for posterity at the University of Warsaw’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling in Poland. Although work stopped on Archie more than twenty years ago, this lone server is still accessible today.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Archie?

Archie is a search engine that pre-dates Google and the Internet used to index FTP archives using Telnet.

When Was Archie Invented?

Archie was invented in 1989.

When did Archie Come Out? 

Archie came out in 1989, but it was primarily used on McGill University’s campus.

Who Invented Archie?

Archie was invented by Alan Emtage, a graduate student at  McGill University’s School of Computer Science.

Was Archie the First Search Engine?

Archie was, in fact, the first search engine — however, it differed greatly from search engines as we know them today. Archie merely looked through FTP archives to help users find specific files.

What Was the Original Price of Archie?

Archie had no original price. Like all great Internet tools, it was free to use.

How Did the Archie Search Engine Work?

The Archie search engine worked by typing in the exact name of the file being searched for. Because Archie could not index the content inside the files or comprehend natural language requests, users had to know the exact title of the file they were looking for in order to use Archie.

What Happened to Archie?

Not one thing happened to Archie, necessarily — time just continued to move forward, other versions of the technology came along and improved on Archie’s capabilities, and eventually Yahoo, Google, and all the other search engine superstars succeeded this archaic search engine.

Is Archie Still Used Today?

Archie has been reduced to only one server at the University of Warsaw’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling in Poland, but it is still very much used today (though primarily for educational or historical purposes).

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