1988 Networking: NetWare OS/2 Requester

A while ago, the question of antique NetWare OS/2 requesters came up. The oldest known surviving NetWare OS/2 Requester is version 1.2, which is designed to work with OS/2 1.2. There are clear mentions of older requesters supporting OS/2 1.1 and possibly even 1.0, but nothing seems to have survived.

Except something did survive, in an archive called REL102.ZIP–not a terribly obvious name. Said archive contains the “OS/2 Requester Developer’s Release” from April 6, 1988 (a bit over 31 years old as of this writing). This was clearly not the first such release, and the oldest files are from February 1988. Given its vintage, it’s obvious that the Requester was designed to work with OS/2 1.0.

1988 NetWare OS/2 Requester utilities

There are several device drivers and a number of OS/2 utilities (SLIST, ATTACH, MAP, etc.); a notable omission is LOGIN (although LOGOUT is included), possibly because LOGIN.EXE normally lives on a NetWare file server.

The documentation is extremely sparse, containing only a brief READ.ME file. There is no
information about installing and configuring the Requester. Fortunately, the documentation for NetWare OS/2 Requester version 1.1 yielded a few good hints.

It is notable that this pre-release Requester includes network drivers which are modular
(separate .SYS driver for each supported network card) but do not use ODI, or at least there is no separate LSL (Link Support Layer). The drivers are at least somewhat configurable using a NWREQ.CFG file (later called NET.CFG), which makes them a precursor to (or an early version of) ODI, which was officially introduced in 1989 with NetWare 386.

There was only one hitch, there was no driver for the network hardware emulated by VirtualBox. And because the driver model was not like any released version of the NetWare Requester for OS/2, the chances of finding a driver for AMD PCnet or NE2100 (leave alone Intel E1000) were zero.

NetWare Requester on IBM OS/2 1.0

So I sat down and wrote emulation of the venerable (or infamous?) 3Com EtherLink 3C501. For a while I was stumped by the fact that soon after Novell’s OS/2 E3C501.SYS driver loads, it just sits in a loop, not making any progress. After some head scratching I realized that this must have been an intentional stall inserted to make debugging easier (the machine stops when the NIC driver and IPX.SYS are loaded but before network traffic starts, so it’s possible to set breakpoints in interesting places). That sort of functionality (for lack of a better word) reflects the state of the preview OS/2 Requester. It is easy to patch out the loop in the driver, or attach a debugger and skip past it (“ew cs:ip 9090” in the VirtualBox VM debugger, writing two NOP instructions at the current code location to overwrite the “jmp $” instruction).

NetWare OS/2 Requester Developer Release, April 1988

As shown above, the Novell drivers call themselves “Alpha”, which is accurate.

Does It Work?

Yes, it really does! Mostly. At boot-up, the OS/2 machine finds the nearest NetWare file
server (NetWare version 2.1 or later required, tested with 2.12, 2.15, and 3.12 servers)
and automatically maps the L: drive to SYS:LOGIN, standard for NetWare OS/2 requesters.

NetWare OS/2 Requester utility versions

What does not work is logging in, because there’s no LOGIN executable for OS/2 (or rather none that would run with this pre-release Requester). It is possible that the problem was that NetWare servers then available had no support for OS/2 clients and no ability to handle OS/2 login scripts. Maybe.

Whatever the reason for the missing LOGIN, the ATTACH command works well enough, and allows accessing file servers and mapping network drives. File sharing works very well even in this early version of the OS/2 Requester, both in OS/2 sessions and in the DOS box.

Basic OS/2 utilities like ATTACH, MAP, SLIST, or WHOAMI work well. There is not much
and none of the later utilities from the version 1.2 NetWare OS/2 Requester or later work due to changes to NWCALLS.DLL.

NetWare utilities in the DOS box do not work and produce odd errors. IPX support appears to exist in the DOS box but isn’t fully functional. Whether it should be working is entirely unclear from the tiny amount of available documentation.

Message from a server console (from NetWare 3.12)

Both OS/2 sessions and the DOS box can receive messages, such those produced by the BROADCAST or SEND commands on the server console, or notifications from a server going down.

File server shutdown message (from NetWare 2.15)

How Does It Work?

It appears that the early NetWare OS/2 Requester works very much like old NetWare DOS shells. That’s even reflected in naming, the NWREQ.SYS driver creates a device named NWSHELL$, and the background process NWDAEMON.EXE calls itself the “shell daemon”.

Precisely how the requester works is unclear. OS/2 1.0 did not have an architected mechanism for redirectors to hook into the file operations. On DOS, NetWare shells hooked INT 21h, but on OS/2 the mechanism had to be different. Whatever it was, it was likely similar to what the early versions of the Microsoft LAN Manager workstation and the IBM LAN Server requester used.

Starting with OS/2 1.2, all major OS/2 networking clients (NetWare, LAN Manager/LAN Server) used installable file systems (IFSs) to add network drives, but on OS/2 1.0 and 1.1 it had to be done differently.

In 1988-1989, a networked OS/2 workstation was probably very much a rarity. For that reason alone, reviving the ancient NetWare OS/2 Requester was quite satisfying.

This entry was posted in NetWare, Networking, OS/2, PC history, Virtualization. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to 1988 Networking: NetWare OS/2 Requester

  1. Yuhong Bao says:

    Thinking about it, your emulated 3C501 is probably better than the real one.

  2. Yuhong Bao says:

    For fun, look for old posts by Donald J. Becker on Usenet on the 3C501.

  3. Michal Necasek says:

    I thought of mentioning Donald Becker’s warnings, but in the end forgot about it. I’m sure what he said was justified in the early 1990s, but of course at that point the 3C501 was a 10-year old design, which wasn’t particularly advanced even when it was new.

    Yes, the emulated one is definitely better — the host side can hold incoming packets for a while, so dropped packets aren’t an issue.

  4. Ice Karma says:

    From an ancient version of Linux’s Ethernet HOWTO, dated 1993 [ http://linux-distributions.org/docs/howto/Ethernet-HOWTO.txt ]:

    “(I have a standing offer: I’ll pay $2 for each 3c501 shipped to me postpaid, but only if you include the BNC ‘T’ connector and the jumpers. $2.50 if you just send the ‘T’, jumpers, and address PROM and promise to destroy the board. -djb)” (Donald Becker)

  5. Michal Necasek says:

    Donald Becker reeeeally didn’t like those cards 🙂 I am now beginning to wonder if part of the problem was that the 3C501 worked okay in a network consisting of 3C501 cards, which would have been quite common in the early and mid-1980s. In the late 1980s, there was an explosion of PC Ethernet adapters, many of them 16-bit, all of them with bigger buffers or even bus-mastering. LANs were no doubt much bigger, too, and PCs were much faster, capable of generating a lot more traffic. That is quite possibly where the EtherLink could no longer keep up.

    And TCP/IP is quite sensitive to packet loss, even 1-2% packet loss has a huge impact on bandwidth.

  6. Rm says:

    I just picked up a lot of old 3.5 disks today, one is labeled ‘netware requester for os/2 v1.1 public-2 copyright 1987. Is this of any interest to anyone?

    Also in the batch is

    Netware requstor for os/2 v1.1 SYSTEM c1987
    Netware gateway v2.15 c 1987
    Els level ii lan-drv-els c1987
    Netware 286 v2.15 lan_drv_180 c1987

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    Yes, the disks are definitely of interest, especially the OS/2 related ones! So far I have not seen anything of Novell’s requester for OS/2 1.1, but I know it existed.

  8. R M says:

    I need a few days a to give then a slight clean before I attempt to even read them. I uploaded a photo of the discs here https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10223875975519827&set=pcb.10223876000240445. Where should I then upload the files, in the case that they are readable? thx RM

  9. Michal Necasek says:

    Only yesterday I discovered this. That may or may not be the same files. Actually the SYSTEM disk could very well be different. BTW the NetWare OS/2 1.1 Requester is from 1989, not 1987 as the copyright on the disks suggests.

    As for upload, anything like file.io or mega.co.nz should work. If the files are too big, I’ll tell you how to upload to the OS/2 Museum FTP. But let’s see if the disks a readable first.

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