PHost - Introduction to PHost

PHost 4.1h


What is the Portable Host?

The Portable Host (PHost) is a host program (game server) for VGA Planets 3.x[Remote] (this links to the site that used to be VGA Planets is a play-by-email space-combat game for the IBM PC, written in the early 1990's by Tim Wisseman. Client programs to play VGA Planets 3.x are available for MS-DOS, Windows, and now also for other operating systems.

PHost is intended to be a replacement for the HOST 3.2 program supplied with VGA Planets. 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 game-play. All versions of PHost are intended for version 3.x of VGA Planets, and do not work with Planets 4 (which is currently in beta stage).

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 that replace special friendly codes, a crew experience system, and many more.
  • 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/or 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.
  • 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. PHost has spawned a separate project, the PHost Development Kit (PDK)[Remote], which is distributed in source-code form these days.
  • New Features. The original HOST program does not get many updates these days. That's why it's now PHost which is trying out new ideas, especially in the 4.x line. Those features include new missions, new ship functions, and a system of crew experience.

What PHost is not: PHost does not contain everything you could need to play VGA Planets. You may need some or all of the following components, too.

  • PHost is not an autohost system. It processes turn files and produces result files, but it has no built-in transport mechanism. It cannot poll a POP3 account for turns and mail out results. You need a separate autohost program for that, roll your own, or transfer files manually.
  • PHost is not a client program. You need a client program to actually play; PHost does just the host-side part of the game. It is a boring console-mode application.
  • PHost is not a Master program. It cannot create new game universes. You need a separate Master program to make new games. See Setting up new games for some more information.
  • PHost is not not a Computer Player (AI). It cannot provide opponents for you to play against. You need an external computer player program for that.
  • PHost is not a referee. It cannot declare a game winner and end the game. PHost can only compute the standard VGA Planets score. To actually declare a winner, you have to use a third-party referee or scoring program. Many games also simply check victory conditions manually.
  • PHost does not contain a ship list or starchart (i.e. the game universe definition). You can use the definition supplied with VGA Planets, or one of the many redesigns, such as PList.

How do I get PHost?

The latest version of PHost can be found at

There are also a few mirror sites which might be faster than that one.

The most recent version of PHost is 4.1h as of June 2015. If it is more than a few months past this date, chances are good that a new PHost version has been released.

The web site also has an RSS feed you can subscribe to. New versions are announced on the phostdev[Remote] mailing list and usually in the newsgroups.

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.

VGA Planets itself is shareware; players have to buy a registered client if they wish to use the registered-only features. PHost does not bypass the registration system.

How do I install PHost?

The installation procedure is described in the Installing PHost section on the Hosting with PHost page.

Supported Platforms

The PHost set of programs is available as a native application on (at least) the following platforms:

  • PCs (386 or higher) running DOS or something compatible (Windows, OS/2, ...). We have a DJGPP-based version (DOS with extender), and a native Win32 version.
  • PCs (386 or higher) running Linux with ELF binaries (any distribution does).
  • PCs (386 or higher) running FreeBSD 4.x (or 5.x with compatibility libraries).
  • Sun SPARC computers running Solaris 2.7 (or 2.6 or 2.8).

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. PHost 4.1 is available for these additional platforms:

  • PCs running BeOS.
  • PowerPC computers running Linux.

We will not generally give out the host source.

What is new since the previous version?

For changes within the 4.x line of PHost, see the Changes in PHost 4.x document.

For changes in PHost 4.x compared to 3.x. see the What's new in PHost 4 document.

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Contacting the PHost Group

Your comments, suggestions, and bug reports are appreciated.

  • You can mail directly to the PHost group at Bug reports are probably best directed there.
  • Talk about PHost and related things, often quite technical, happens on the phostdev mailing list[Remote]. This is the ideal place for ideas for new rules, development of add-ons, and so on.
  • General discussion of VGA Planets happens in the newsgroup. This groups is mainly for players; rule questions ("how do I...") and strategies are discussed here.

We usually read the mailing list and the newsgroup, but the safest and fastest way to contact the PHost group is

Before sending in a bug report, please try to make sure...

  • ...that you're using the latest PHost version. Maybe we've already fixed your bug.
  • ...that you've really found a bug. The complexities of this game can make it very easy to think a bug exists when in fact it is just an artifact of how the game works. It probably helps to talk to other experienced players whether the observed behavior actually is a bug.

This is not to discourage bug reports, quite the opposite. 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. However, if in doubt, send it. A bug which turns out to be a feature is much better than a bug not fixed because no-one reported it.

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About the Documentation

The "old" PHost 3.x documentation has some known deficiencies, so I've been writing a new one for PHost 4.x. In particular, the "new" documentation should document all aspects of the game, not just the HOST/PHost differences. As of version 4.1, this documentation should be complete and usable stand-alone (i.e. no longer needs you to reference the 3.x documentation). It might still contain typos or omissions, any helpful hint is appreciated.

The PHost 4 documentation is generated from XML sources. It contains valid HTML 4.01 Transitional with a bit CSS, and should be viewable and look good in any browser.

You can link directly into the documentation HTML files as you see fit. For example, to refer to this section, you would refer to

Note that anchors starting with "gen-" change from one version of the documentation to the next, so don't use these.

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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 (Degi), 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 original PHost documentation was written by Andrew Sterian using AOLpress and Netscape Composer. The PHost 4.0 documentation was thrown together by Stefan Reuther, borrowing a lot from the original one, using XEmacs and LotusXSL resp. xsltproc. The PHost website is generated by a Perl script named

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.

  • German Translation: Thomas Voigt, Stefan Reuther
  • French Translation: Guenter-Paul Leiterer, Brivido
  • Spanish Translation: Mario Benito, Jorge Sánchez
  • Italian Translation: Fabrizio Di Meo, Danilo Antonelli, Brivido
  • Dutch Translation: Johan Meijdam, Pieter van der Eems
  • Russian Translation: Boris Novgorodov, Gena Svarovski, Evgeny Larionov
  • Estonian Translation: Rainer Margus
  • Polish Translation: Piotr Winiarczyk

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. Special thanks for their eagle-eyes go to Bart Dopheide and Ingo von Borstel. PHost would be quite a bit more inconsistent without them.

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

PHost is developed on hardware sponsored by Thomas Klebes, Christian Brückner, Matthias Gietl, Maurits van Rees, Michael Brückner, Matthias Degenhardt, Bernd Huneke, Holger Bauer, Mark Wendt, Gunter Schaumburg, Alexander Overmann, Georg Strünkmann, Uwe Kalinowski, Robert Schaumburg, Stefan Wäsche, Andreas Schikora, Jens Fuhrberg, Reinout van Rees, Gunther Löbach, Daniel Scharnweber, Oliver Manns, Carsten Krenz, Jan Windte, Timo Maschke, Steffen Frey, Olaf Selke, Sascha Rambeaud, David Wardlow, Michael Ledwa, Frank Kopf, Heiko Schlenker, Markus Krings, Daniel Brüdigam, Dirk Häger, Rainer Heil, and Jörg Habenicht. Thank you all!

Thanks for the Linux/PPC version go to Thomas Liesner who borrowed me an account on his machine.

Ian Adams gave me an account on his Macintosh for the MacOS X port.

Alexey Veselovsky did the port to BeOS.

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.

"Smilies with multiple right parentheses," he went on, shaking his head, "are a sure sign of a double chin."

Finally but foremost, many thanks to all those who participated in the testing of PHost, both as hosts and as players.

The Original Portable Host Project Team is:
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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Legal Notice

All software and documentation in this distribution is copyrighted and must only be distributed in accordance with the terms below. The software and documentation are NOT in the public domain but remain the property of the program authors. All users of this software are given a license to reasonably use this software subject to the conditions below. If you do not agree to abide by the below-mentioned terms, then you do not have the right to use and/or distribute this software and documentation.

Permission is granted to include this distribution as part of a compilation, including but not limited to a CD-ROM compilation, as long as this distribution is included in its entirety and without modification. As a courtesy, notification of inclusion in a compilation should be sent to the PHost Support List

The software and documentation in this distribution may be used at no charge and may be distributed freely but must always be distributed unmodified and as a unit with all files present, including this file. The documentation files only may be distributed separately from the software and may be freely copied or excerpted as long as proper attribution is given and the file(s) is/are not modified. The software and documentation may be modified for personal use but no modified files may be distributed under any circumstances. All copies of the software and documentation must be distributed at no cost, monetary or otherwise, except for a reasonable fee to cover the cost of physical media (if the copies are distributed on physical media). If this distribution is included as part of a compilation, including but not limited to a CD-ROM compilation, then no cost, service charge, fee, or other form of required payment is allowed for including this distribution over and above the cost of the compilation itself.

At all times, the receiver and/or end user of this distribution, regardless of whether this distribution is a stand-alone distribution or a part of a compilation, must remain aware that the distribution may be obtained electronically and at no cost from various sources on the Internet. As long as this distribution remains intact and unmodified, the above requirement is considered to be met.

The software and documentation in this distribution are provided "as is" without express or implied warranty including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event will the authors of this software be liable for direct, incidental or consequential damages of any kind, even if the authors have been advised of the possibility of such damages.

The documentation in this distribution is Copyright (C) 1995-1997 by Andrew Sterian, 2001-2014 by Stefan Reuther. The software in this distribution is Copyright (C) 1995-1997,2001-2014 by the program authors: Andrew Sterian, Thomas Voigt, Steffen Pietsch, Matt Mueller, Stefan Reuther, Alexander Babanov. All Rights Reserved. The PHost logo and graphic file logo.gif are Copyright (C) 1996-1997 by John W. Smith.

No Hommingberger Gepardenforelle was harmed in the making of this product.

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Last updated 31 May 2015.

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