Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 13, 1995

Hopkins in Cyberspace

By Mike Field

     Does this column help? What cyberspace questions would you
like answered? Please e-mail comments and suggestions to us at with "Cyberspace" in the subject
line, or fax us at 516-5251.

     Will the Constitution be amended, say for example, to
include a balanced budget amendment? Statistically speaking, the
chances are slim. Of more than 10,000 possible amendments
introduced into Congress since 1789, only 27 have become law (and
one of them was to repeal an earlier amendment). 

     Ah, you wonder, what are those 27 amendments and when did
they pass? To find out it's not necessary to call Congress or
search the shelves of your local library. Using anonymous ftp you
can retrieve the complete text of the Constitution and examine it
at leisure on your own computer. 

     In the Feb. 13 issue of the Gazette, we connected to and then followed the path /Gov/US-History to the
directory where documents like the Constitution are stored. Using
a Mac or Windows-based ftp program this is a fairly simple matter
that requires only point-and-click ability. Remember, though,
when transferring files to click on the ASCII format as Binary
transfer is meant for moving programs, not text. A menu selection
on your screen will allow you to choose between the two.

     Those without either an Apple Mac or an IBM compatible with
Windows can still transfer files using ftp, assuming the
necessary software is already installed on the computer (a
systems operator can help with this). The Feb. 13 column
explained how to use this software to connect to a remote source
and call up the directory of documents and programs available.
Usually, the first directory will contain further subdirectories
arranged by topic; these will be marked by the letter "d" at the
beginning of the line. Individual text files are marked with a
dash "-" at the beginning of the line. The word at the end of
each line is the title of the subdirectory or file and will
generally give some information about what is contained within.

     This is part of what the screen will look like when you
connect to and enter dir at the first prompt:

drwxr-xr-x      2 wiretap files     512  Aug 23   02:33         

drwxr-xr-x      4 wiretap files     512  Jul 1    1993      About

-rw-r--r--      1 wiretap files     791  Apr 6    1993     

drwxr-xr-x      3 wiretap files     512  Sep 29   02:38         

drwxr-xr-x      4 wiretap files     512  Jul 1    1993      Etext

drwxr-xr-x     30 wiretap files    1024  Aug 30   01:08         

drwxr-xr-x     16 wiretap files    512   Jul 1    1993     

     For our purposes, the only information on the screen we are
concerned with occurs at the beginning of each line where a "d"
means subdirectory and a "-" means file, and at the end of the
line, where the item is titled. For instance, this menu contains
a subdirectory titled "Gov," a good place to begin looking for
government-related documents such as the Constitution. To move to
that directory, you will need to use the "change directory"
command, which is generally "cd" followed by the subdirectory you
want to move to. In this example, we will need to type cd Gov at
the command line (which is the ftp prompt, ftp>). Keep in mind
that these commands are sensitive to use of upper- and lowercase
letters. Typing cd GOV will not work, because the remote computer
will look for a subdirectory labeled "GOV" and ignore the one
labeled "Gov." A complete list of possible commands is available
by typing help at the command line.

     After entering cd Gov the directory will disappear from your
screen, and in its place will appear a message confirming the
change of directories: "250 CWD command successful" followed by
the ftp prompt. Call up the new subdirectory by typing dir at the
prompt, and repeating the entire process to move from the "Gov"
directory to the "US-History" subdirectory. Again, call up the
directory of files within this new subdirectory by typing dir.
Within the US-History directory are more than three dozen
different files (all identified by the dash "-" at the beginning
of the line) including one titled "us-const.txt," our copy of the

     To retrieve the file, use the "get" command: at the ftp
prompt type "get" then leave a space and follow with the name of
the file, as in get us-const.txt. Remember these commands are
case sensitive, so copy file names exactly. If the command is
entered correctly, the remote computer will acknowledge this with
a string of lines telling how many bytes of information are
transferred, ending with the message "Transfer Complete." The
text of the Constitution is now in your computer! To retrieve it,
exit ftp by typing bye at the prompt. The remote computer will
acknowledge this by replying "Goodbye."

     To retrieve the text of the Constitution look for the file
labeled "us-const.txt" in the root directory of the prompt in
which you initiated the ftp process. For example, if you entered
ftp from C>, the file will be in the root directory of your C
drive. The file is stored in ASCII format. You can read it by
calling it up through WordPerfect or other word processing

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage