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A modular server for Windows that emulates Unix file system, and includes telnet and FTP services

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 5, 2002


The computer world is a flood with server software these days, so if someone (or some enterprise) is intent on sitting down and writing another, it helps if that application has an interesting twist that will make it stand out. One such example is GuildFTPd's integration of IRC capabilities.

The computer world is a flood with server software these days, so if someone (or some enterprise) is intent on sitting down and writing another, it helps if that application has an interesting twist that will make it stand out. One such example is GuildFTPd's integration of IRC capabilities.

To this end, Dragon Server presents an intriguing concept: Create a virtual filesystem, or VFS, that emulates a Unix-like filesystem atop an existing Windows filesystem. Then, on top of this virtual filesystem, create a modular server engine that provides remote access to the Windows machine as if it were a Unix machine via protocol-specific services, such as telnet and FTP.

Put more directly, Dragon Server 2.0 enables an organization to run an FTP server or telnet server from its Windows system. Of course, the plain act of running a Windows-based FTP server is not exactly novel; it is the telnet server idea that is more unusual, since Windows does not operate natively in a command line environment. In this sense, Dragon Server's telnet service is interesting. It allows remote command line access to a Windows machine. In theory, an administrator could connect to a Windows machine running Dragon Server from afar and, for example, manage files (i.e., rename, move, delete, and unzip). That said, there is not much more one could do, since the telnet environment is not graphical and therefore does not support any use of Windows-based graphical programs (e.g., most software).

All in all, Dragon Server's philosophy looks great on paper. A wide array of standard service modules could be built to operate through the Unix-like virtual filesystem. But as things stand, what we actually have is a product that is essentially an FTP server and telnet server. And the latter is of rather limited use by the sheer nature of the Windows operating system.

With that in mind, the 650 KB download of the shareware version of Dragon Server is speedy enough, and the install routine functional, albeit basic (not InstallShield here). The installed footprint of 2 MB is not unreasonable these days. On launching Dragon Server, you are required to select a local path to map, as the root virtual filesystem directory. The program then exits, and the user must relaunch it to take effect. This makes for a bit of a rocky start. It appears that whichever local path is selected as the root filesystem must apply to all services, be it telnet, FTP, or any others later made available

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Dragon Server's interface is clean and intuitive. The first time through the administrator must configure which services to run, and can add either (or both) FTP and telnet. He or she can customize each service, including which users have access, what commands are supported, and what the greeting message is. Access control for all services is implemented by a user list, a group list, and optional IP filters. Users can be banned on limited criteria, such as a given number of login attempts in a given number of seconds. The internal filesystem browser enables administrators to navigate the virtual filesystem and graphically apply Unix-style Read/Write/Execute permissions to directories and files. This is one area where the idea of a Unix-like virtual filesystem shines, since it supports more granular protection than a native Windows 9x filesystem.

The shareware version of Dragon Server does not allow any new users to be created — only the default root user can be modified. That's the only noted limitation.

We, however, experienced a much more serious problem. Testing on a Windows 98SE system with plenty of resources and a cable modem connection, we attempted to connect to Dragon Server's services from both the local machine, a remote Windows machine, and a remote Linux machine. In none of these cases could we actually log in to a Dragon service, using the root account and a correctly configured password. The telnet service posed its greeting and accept a user name, but would halt at that point without ever proceeding to the password prompt. The FTP service would also greet and request a username, but it rejected any password supplied, even when it was verified to be the same password as configured in the Dragon Server interface. Needless to say, this shortfall effectively crippled Dragon Server's usefulness left us assuming that there is some bug between Dragon Server and our installation of Windows networking, since this product would never have been released were this problem significantly common.

It's not difficult to imagine the connections having succeeded, and if they had, we would have enjoyed the use of an average FTP server with moderate access reporting, and an innovative but limited telnet shell. For these reasons, Dragon Server remains a better-laid plan than a reality, especially if an organization's main goal is obtaining an FTP server.

Pros: Innovative architecture, Unix-like virtual filesystem provides improved protection to directories and files compared to Windows native file system, Intuitive interface, Easy to set up

Cons: Telnet service of limited value in a Windows environment, Average FTP service compared to similar products, Remote possibilities of additional services being developed, Shareware version would not authenticate any remote logins at all on our Windows 98SE system

Version Reviewed: 2.0
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Last Updated: 3/13/01
Date of Original Review: 5/3/00

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