Winlink Express for Winlink Radio-Email and as a BBS Client


Overview, Installation, Initial familiarization & Weekly Exercises

If you are already familiar with Winlink Express and the Winlink system you may skip down to the Weekly Winlink Exercises at the bottom of this page.

Overview

Winlink Express a client program developed primarily for use with the Winlink radio-email system. It is compatible with a number of modes including packet for VHF plus Winmor, Pactor and Robust Packet for HF. It may also be used to send messages directly through the internet (Telnet mode). It may also be used for peer to pear (P2P) communications.

Winlink Express may also be used to access a BBS such as the BPQ bulletin boards in Knox County.

As a client for store/forward systems (i.e. Winlink email and bulletin boards), the Winlink system is an ideal adjunct to the "real time" NBEMS suite of programs.

This page is intended to provide a sequential series of exercises using the Winlink Express client software. These will start with the basics of sending and receiving Winlink messages through the various Remote Mail Server (RMS) stations that are operated by hams. WD1O (HF), WD1O-10 (packet) and KX1EMA-10 (packet) in Knox County are three examples.

If you don't have a radio that is configured for digital communications, don't worry. You can still use the Telnet mode of RMS Express as long as you have a computer that is connected to the internet. The intent is to gain familiarily with RMS Express.

Note: Winlink Express was formerly called RMS Express. Some of the documentation cited retains the previous name.

Prerequisites

Links to detailed information and the RMS Express software are below. While all of the Winlink client software is available from the Winlink ftp site, not everyone is set up with an ftp client. (You can add ftp plug-ins to most browsers.) For convenience, the install file may be directly downloaded from the links in the list below. Once installed, the program will check for updates whenever it is opened and an internet connection is available.

  • W4PHS Phil Sherrod's Getting Started guide to Winlink, Winmor and RMS Express and his Winlink 2000 overview.

  • Rick Frost K4REF has an excellent series of RMS Express Training videos on YouTube.

  • A XP or later Windows PC with a copy of RMS_Express and the ITS HF Propagation program. Install both per the defaults.

  • Your computer must have Microsoft NET Framework 3.5 installed for Winlink Express to fully function. If you are not sure, check your installed programs list. If it is missing, search for the program on the microsoft.com site. It's a free download.

The following information is based on a table that is in the "Winlink FAQ." The times are based on a 4k message after compression. (RMS Express compresses all messages using the B2 forwarding protocol.)

Mode

Transfer Time

Packet 1200 (Direct) 2 minutes
Packet 1200 (1 node) 2.5 minutes
Packet 9600 (Direct) 1 minutes
Pactor 1 15 minutes
Pactor 2 4 minutes
Pactor 3 30 seconds (fastest Pactor mode currently legal in the USA)
Pactor 4 15 seconds (currently illegal in the USA - exceeds 300 baud)
Winmor 500 10 minutes
Winmor 1600 3 minutes
Telnet (Internet) Really fast (if you have internet)

Suggested Guidelines:

In an emergency and/or there is a significant amount of traffic and the internet is available, use telnet to avoid congestion at the RMS stations.

Each RMS can only handle one HF connection at a time. Use packet if a reliable connection can be made.

Establishing and closing each connect session takes time. If possible, batch your messages rather than sending messages one at a time.

If there are multiple stations in an affected area that need to use the system, each station should try to use a different RMS.

Exercise 1: Installation and Set Up

Install and configure RMS Express. Follow Phil Sherrod's guide. The Help that is included with RMS Express is also quite excellent. You will find that RMS Express looks and operates very much like a conventional email client such as Thunderbird.

As of April 2016, every user of the Winlink system must have a Winlink account with password. The password is provided by the Winlink system. Once you have RMS Express configured in the Set Up screen with your call sign and other information (leaving the password box empty), compose a brief Winlink message to yourself: YOURCALL@WINLINK.ORG. Sending the message must be done while you are connected to the internet using the Winlink Telnet Session screen.

When you click the Send button, you will see the progress of the connection including which CMS you are connected to. Wait until the session is completed and your message has been sent.

Wait a few minutes and then connect again. You should receive one or two messages from the Winlink system that contain your password and some other information. Enter this password in your Password box on your Set Up screen.

Go to Winlink.org and click on the My Account tab. Check to be sure that all of your information is present including your password recovery email address. If you need to add or change any information, click on the Edit tab.

Upon installation you will see a request to donate a small amount to support the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc. (ARSFI). This is optional but a good gesture if you use the Winlink system regularly. Upon making the donation you will receive a registration number which you enter into the registration area in the set up screen. There is no functional penalty for not donating but you will get a nag screen every time Winlink Express is opened.

Use the system regularly. This will keep you in practice and will also keep your account current. Winlink deletes accounts that are inactive for more than 400 days. That seems like a long time but many people learn and lose.

Exercise 2: Sending a Message

At this point you have obtained and entered your Winlink password. You are now set to send messages to anyone at their Winlink address or to a commercial address. All FCC rules for content apply of course, even if your message is going internet all the way.

Compose a Winlink message to someone you know who monitors their email and can reply to confirm that your message went through the system. You may send messages to Winlink addresses (e.g. call@winlink.org) or to commercial email addresses (e.g. anyguy@geemail.com). Also, send a message to KB1TCE.

Send the message(s). You may use packet, HF Winmor or, lacking the required digital bits and pieces at your station, send via Telnet (internet). If using HF, be sure to listen before you transmit on HF. The software contains busy detectors but they are not infallible.

Learn how and under what circumstances people using commercial email addresses can send messages into the Winlink system. The interoperability with conventional email and non-hams can be very useful in the event of a communications outage.

Packet users should study the Help file section on setting paths. HF users should open the HF session screen and study the various options including the Channel Selection feature. This uses the progagation program to provide an estimate of the best possibilities for a successful HF connection.

Exercise 3: Sending an Attachment

First off, this is ham radio: HF and packet. Be very careful with attachments. They should be plain text and not of ginormous size. Messages should normally be in the 1-10 kb size range. Do not send your favorite kitty pictures by radio email.

Winlink Express and the Winlink system can handle attachments to Winlink emails. In this exercise you will send an NBEMS flmsg ICS-213 form. If you are familiar with NBEMS (fldigi, flmsg, etc.) you already are familiar with this application and have it on your computer. If not, download the current version here: http://w1hkj.com/. Follow the download link to the SourceForge site.

Open flmsg and pick the ICS-213 template from the Form menu. Fill out the form and save it in a convenient location e.g. on your desktop. The file will have a .213 extension.

Open Winlink Express, create a new messsage and attach your .213 file. Send the message to your commercial email address.

When you receive the message with the file, open it with flmsg. You will see the same template that your filled out. Now, go to File - View - HTML delivery and the message will open in a browser window, nicely formatted and ready for printing. The flmsg ICS-213 form is 100% compliant with the published FEMA form.

A note on the Winlink forms: Winlink has its own form system for use with RMS Express. The issue as we see it is that the Winlink forms are only compatible with RMS Express. The forms cannot be sent via other methods e.g. via commercial email clients. We feel that this is a severe limitation as multiple programs and platforms may have to be used to send a file. Flmsg files are compatible with any program that may be used to transmit a file. See the flmsg page on this site for more information.

Exercise 4: Using the Catalog Feature

Winlink Express includes a catalog containing weather bulletins and help information. To access the catalog feature go to Files - Winlink Catalog Requests.

The first thing you need to do is update the catalog list. This must be done using the internet. If you are going to use the catalog, perform this update on a periodic basis.

As an example, let's say that I want information on weather on the Maine coast. I select the category WX_US_COAST. This brings up a list of items in the center panel. I pick FZUS51.KGYX. This is the weather from Stonington ME to the Merrimack River. It also tells me that the file is 3.2 kb.

Double clicking on the item brings it to the Selection box. At this point, click Post Request. You can now close this window.

Back on the RMS Express main screen, open a Winlink session with your desired mode and connect to a RMS or (if using Telnet) a CMS. This operation will register your request and the desired file will be put in a queue for pick up.

After a brief period of time (it takes about a minute to fulfill the request) connect a second time to a RMS or CMS. The requested file will be sent to you during the session.

For this exercise, obtain a few files through the catalog using Telnet to see which categories might be of interest. Then request and receive a file using the RF mode of your choice.

Weekly Winlink Exercises

During Q1 2017 KB1TCE conducted a weekly Winlink exercise. This will resume by late summer 2017.

Stay tuned for details.

For comments or questions, please contact KB1TCE at kb1tce(atsign)maine-ares(dot)org