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Introduction to PHOST
The Portable Host


What is The Portable Host ?

The Portable Host (PHOST) is intended to be a replacement for the HOST 3.2 program that is supplied with VGA Planets. VGA Planets is a play-by-email game for the IBM PC written by Tim Wisseman. The PHOST program was designed to emulate the original HOST program in as many ways as possible yet it offers many new features that enhance both hosting and gameplay. PHOST's enhancements can be grouped into the following broad categories:
Gameplay Enhancements
From a player's point of view, PHOST adds many things that make playing easier or more fun. These include formalized alliances between players, wormholes, a wrap-around universe, multiple races in the same game, multi-language support, planets that fire torpedoes, extended missions instead of friendly codes, and many more. The "Playing with PHOST" page has a complete list of all playing-related issues.

Hosting Enhancements
From a host's point of view, PHOST provides many enhancements in the areas of game setup and operation. For example, there are more than twice as many configuration options as in the original HOST program, many of them separately configurable for each player. The set of special ship functions (such as cloaking, hyperwarping, chunneling, etc.) can be assigned independently to any ship in the game and restricted to certain players. Highly customized games or games which implement a specific scenario are well-suited to hosting with PHOST. Other enhancements include extremely thorough cheat checking, built-in turn file checking, and let's not forget speed! PHOST runs much faster than HOST, especially on older machines and machines without numeric coprocessors. The "Hosting with PHOST" page has all the hosting-related details organized in one place.

Documentation Enhancements
For players that like to leave nothing to chance, PHOST provides a complete list of formulas describing all important aspects of operation. You can predict exactly how much fuel your ships will use, whether or not your hyperjump will land on that planet, how many natives will be on your planet next turn, and more. A complete mission ordering is provided to answer all your questions about what happens when. A full description of the order of battle gives you the tools for precise combat planning.

Portability to Other Platforms
PHOST has been ported to many hardware/software combinations other than the PC running DOS. You can place one of these PHOST ports on an Internet-connected server machine and use it to automate the hosting process. Many VGA Planets games today are being hosted on non-DOS systems and offer many benefits for players, such as immediate turn file checking, automatic re-send of RST files, and so on. Hosting is easier, too, as the entire hosting process can be automated and turns can run unattended. The non-DOS distributions of PHOST enable these automated games on Unix-ish systems. The hardware/software platforms supported by PHOST are listed below.

Developer Support
PHOST provides many features for developers of add-on programs, both on the hosting side and the player side. Auxiliary data files present the information in the player messages in a binary format, freeing the programmer from having to parse text messages. The Fine-Grain Hosting Control implementation allows a high degree of control over the interaction between the add-on program and PHOST's internal operation. More details are provided on the "Developer Information" page.
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How do I get PHOST?

The latest version of the PHOST distribution can be found at: The most recent version is as of December 2014. If it is more than a few months past this date, chances are good that a new PHOST version has been released. See also the appropriate FAQ entry.

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How much does PHOST cost?

Nothing! PHOST is freeware (but is not in the public domain). You can use PHOST and its associated programs freely as long as you observe the copyright restrictions.

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Installing PHOST

There is no formal installation required for PHOST. You can place most of the files wherever you want. The PHOST executable (PHOST.EXE for DOS) should be on your path, or in the directory in which you will do your hosting. For more installation details, please see the Installation section of the "Hosting with PHOST" page.

The PLANG.HST file contains all of the messages that PHOST generates and their translations to several languages. PHOST expects to find this file either in the game directory, or (more commonly) in the root directory. Make sure you place the PLANG.HST file in one of these two places (note that "root directory" here means the directory you'll be running PHOST from, the root of your hosting directory tree so to speak).

If you are short on disk space, you may wish to use the PLANGENG.HST file instead of the PLANG.HST file. The PLANGENG.HST file only contains the English version of PHOST's messages. Players will not receive messages in any language other than English. If you wish to use this smaller PLANGENG.HST file, ensure that it is either in the game directory or root directory. You may then delete the PLANG.HST file to conserve disk space.

For more information, please view the "Hosting with PHOST" page.

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Supported Platforms

The PHOST set of programs is available as a native application on (at least) the following platforms: The above are the platforms that we can regularly expect to have access to. From time to time, we may be able to compile PHOST on other platforms as they become available, but we cannot guarantee that we will always be able to keep PHOST current for those platforms. Check the PHOST Home Page[Remote] for all available distributions.

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What does PHOST not do?

There are some differences between PHOST and the original HOST -- these are documented in the "HOST/PHOST Differences" page. PHOST is almost completely backward compatible with HOST 3.2. Be aware that results will differ, as the PHOST code is written entirely from functional requirements, not from HOST code. Many PHOST functions will provide more realistic results.

The only major function of HOST 3.2 that is not implemented in PHOST is ion storms. We believe that this feature is best implemented as an add-on program and does not add enough of importance to the game to warrant inclusion in the main host program.

==> It should also be noted that PHOST does not bypass the mechanism for distinguishing between shareware and registered users of the VGA Planets client programs. Registered friendly codes are still limited to registered users and only registered users can increase their starbase tech levels above 6.

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HELP!!! Where do I start?!

Players should read through the "Playing with PHOST" page, and hosts should read through the "Hosting with PHOST" page. PHOST offers its enhancements and its flexibility at a price, both players and hosts must take the time to read and understand what PHOST is all about. Two other pages worth reading are "HOST/PHOST Differences" which explains how HOST and PHOST differ in game operation, and "PHOST Features" which explains the enhancements that PHOST offers over the original HOST program. For a list of all the documentation files in this distribution, please see the "Table of Contents" page.

PHOST can be as simple to set up and run as the original HOST, or it can be incredibly complex, depending upon what kind of game the host wants to set up. There are different levels of complexity, too. In the simplest case, a host can use one of the stock configuration files that comes with PHOST, master a game, and that's all there is to it -- 5 minutes of work and the game is ready to play. At the other extreme, a host can pore over all of PHOST's configuration options, tweaking each one to his/her tastes, use the HULLFUNC.TXT interface to modify the ship functions of an alternative ship list, introduce wormholes and a wrap-around map, and also make use of other add-ons. Clearly, the latter game requires more knowledge than the former, both for hosts and for players.

The advanced features of PHOST (such as the HULLFUNC.TXT interface) should only be used by advanced hosts. Similarly, only advanced players should play in PHOST games where there are many non-standard configuration values and other enhancements in use. PHOST's philosophy is to give hosts the tools and the power to be completely creative in their hosting scenarios. This, however, may be enough rope to hang one's self.

==> Remember, PHOST is only as complex as you want it to be. Match PHOST's complexity to your own ability and experience.

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What's with this long version number?

The version information for PHOST has 4 components: the first 2 describe the original HOST version which PHOST tries to emulate. For example, PHOST version 3.2.X.XX means that this version is intended to be a replacement for HOST 3.2. The last 2 components describe the revision level of PHOST itself. The third component is the major revision number and changes when the latest revision of PHOST becomes incompatible with previous versions. The last component is the minor revision number and changes with each new release.

It is safe to simply replace an older version of PHOST with a newer version when only the minor revision number changes. When a backwards-incompatible version of PHOST is released, the major revision number will be incremented. Upgrade instructions will be provided at this time.

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Contacting the Portable Host Project

Your comments, suggestions, and bug reports are appreciated. Please send all messages to the following address:

You can also post questions, comments, bug reports, etc. to the alt.games.vga-planets newsgroup if you think that your message will be of interest to other PHOST users. We usually read this newsgroup, but using mail is probably a faster, safer way to reach us.

Before sending in a bug report, please ensure that:

It is not our intention to discourage bug reports, quite the opposite, but handling bug reports is a very time consuming process being handled by people with limited time. Spurious reports only serve to slow down the fixing of real bugs.

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Cast of Characters


PHOST was programmed by Andrew Sterian and Thomas Voigt with help from Steffen Pietsch and Matt Mueller.

The New PHost Team

In early 2001, daily care & feeding of PHOST was handed over to a new PHOST Team, consisting of: Stefan Reuther, Alexander Babanov, Stefan Glasauer, and Matthias Degenhardt, with wisdom and advice from the seniors, and with all the ideas, suggestions, opinions & flames from all the cool guys on the phostdev mailing list[Remote].


The PHOST documentation was written by Andrew Sterian. Many thanks to the people who took the time to point out mistakes and provided suggestions for improvement.


Translating the PHOST language database into a foreign language is a painstaking and time-consuming task. The following people deserve special recognition for their translation efforts.

Supporting Players

Michael Lemon helped with the documentation. The work of Falko Poiker and Chris Smith is appreciated. Thanks to Jeff Hupp for maintaining our infrastructure. Thanks to Dave Boynton for the use of his HOSTEDIT program. Thanks to Mike Campbell for the Solaris port and John Spickes for the use of his swampthing. Thanks to Matt Mueller for his work on alternative combat. Thanks to Robert Jackson for his hyperjump formula. Thanks to Joshua Io for his advice. Thanks to Daniel Tryba for helping with the FreeBSD port. Thanks to Robert Dejournett for helping with the BSD/386 port. Thanks to Stefan Glasauer for his many PHOST support hooks in EchoView[Remote]. Thanks to Alex Ivlev for his excellent PHOST support in VPA[Remote]. And special thanks to Thomas Voigt for knowing more about this game than anyone else in the Echo Cluster and for freely contributing his knowledge to the project.

Many thanks from the new crew go to Piotr Winiarczyk, Heiko Schlenker, and Thomas Klebes, who help with ideas, code and testing. And finally, hard-to-satisfy Hans Wilmer...

In addition, Stefan Reuther wishes to thank Olaf "Falo" Selke for the schnitzelmitkartoffelsalat and the beer :-).

Also, many thanks to the people who submitted suggestions for enhancing or improving PHOST. Many of the new features that have appeared over time are a direct consequence of your ideas.

Finally but foremost, many thanks to all those who participated in the testing of PHOST, both as hosts and as players. Special thanks to the PHOST 3.2 beta test list for their patience and their tolerance of new releases every few days. Many thanks to the players in the first PHOST 3 beta test game for their persistence.

The Portable Host Project's success is due to the many ideas, discussions, and support provided by the original project team:

Mike Campbell, Jeff Hupp, Michael Lemon, Stefan Lundgren, Sean Martens, Matt Mueller, Steffen Pietsch, Falko Poiker, Chris Smith, Andrew Sterian, Thomas Voigt

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These HTML pages were authored using AOLpress,  Netscape Navigator 3.0 Gold, and Netscape Composer 4.02. QBullets are courtesy of Michael Herrick/Matterform Media[Remote]. Background texture provided by Texture Land[Remote]. Thanks to Ender's Design with graphics from Realm Graphics[Remote].


PHOST logo design by John W. Smith. Copyright and all rights reserved by the artist. The PHOST documentation is copyrighted by Andrew Sterian. Full copyright information is available on the "Legal Information" page. 
This document is maintained by The Portable Host Project[Remote] (support@phost.de).

Last updated 16 December, 2002