Skip to main content Logo

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Home | About | All pages | Cluster Status | RSS Feed

My first OpenVMS

Published: 31-03-2018 | Author: Remy van Elst | Text only version of this article

❗ This post is over six years old. It may no longer be up to date. Opinions may have changed.


(You can read all my OpenVMS articles by clicking the picture above)

Last week I registered myself with the DECUServe OpenVMS system. I also registered with HP as an OpenVMS hobbyist and got OpenVMS 7.3 for VAX. This small blog item describes my first steps with the hosted DECUS OpenVMS system. I'm excited since I now know how to create folders, navigate the filesystem and edit files. Oh and I had a nice chat with another OpenVMS user via the PHONE program.

Recently I removed all Google Ads from this site due to their invasive tracking, as well as Google Analytics. Please, if you found this content useful, consider a small donation using any of the options below:

I'm developing an open source monitoring app called Leaf Node Monitoring, for windows, linux & android. Go check it out!

Consider sponsoring me on Github. It means the world to me if you show your appreciation and you'll help pay the server costs.

You can also sponsor me by getting a Digital Ocean VPS. With this referral link you'll get $200 credit for 60 days. Spend $25 after your credit expires and I'll get $25!

As I like to mess around with legacy systems like the PDP-8 and the PDP-11, VAX/VMS and thus OpenVMS seems to be a great step forward. Started out as a hardware project to be a a 32-bit virtual address extension for the PDP-11, the VAX saw it's birth at DEC around 1977. Accompanied with several operating systems, like DEC systems before, the VAX could run a lot of software including PDP-11 software. Also released around 1977 was VMS, one of the operating systems for the VAX-11/780. Renamed to VAX/VMS with the release of version 2 in 1980. Ported to the Alpha architecture and renamed OpenVMS with version 6 in 1992. In 2001 with version 8.2 it was ported to the Intel Itanium architecture and now also being ported to the x86 architecture, hopefully ready in 2019, a port by VMS Software Inc. (VSI). A venerable operating system with lots of history behind it and a great future ahead.

Lively among hobbyists (Dutch article), with recent articles on clustering and installing OpenVMS, I wanted to enjoy this as well, so I decided to register as a hobbyist with HP Enterprise's OpenVMS Hobbyist program. It is required to be part of a 'chapter' of OpenVMS Hobbyists, and DECUServe seems to be the only club left that allows registration and is open to all.

At first I did not fill in a number and chapter, but was contacted by HPe to register with DECUS before I could become a member. So I did, via

DECUServe Online

Using the following SSH command you can connect to DECUS and register:

ssh -oHostKeyAlgorithms=+ssh-dss

Follow the online interactive instructions and you're good to go.

As I registered I can login with my username and password:

                                N O T I C E

This is Encompasserve.  Access is for subscribed individuals only.

 o  By logging into the system you agree to abide by the Encompasserve
    Canons of Conduct.

 o  Source code or any other information posted on this system is not
    warranted in any way.  YOU USE IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 o  If you submit source code to or post information on this system, you
    must allow its unrestricted use.  You must have the right to grant
    such permission.

 o  Refer to the Encompasserve Canons of Conduct, posted in the
    DECUServe_Information conference topic 4.3, for further guidance.

 o  Report problems in DECUServe_Forum.

For information about Encompasserve please login under -> Username INFORMATION
To subscribe to Encompasserve       please login under -> Username REGISTRATION
To report any form of a problem     please login under -> Username PROBLEMS
To renew an Expired account         please login under -> Username REGISTRATION's password:

    Last interactive login on Thursday, 29-MAR-2018 03:22:35.36
        1 login failure since last successful login

             You have 1 new Mail message.

%DCL-S-SPAWNED, process EXAMPLE_45713 spawned
  User [EXAMPLE] has 63 blocks used, 9937 available,
  of 10000 authorized and permitted overdraft of 0 blocks on DISK_USER
Subprocess EXAMPLE_45713 has completed

Navigating the filesystem

Now for the most exiting part of my OpenVMS journey yet, navigating the filesystem. It is not as you would expect on a Linux/UNIX system, as ls dropped me into some sort of file editor:

 $ ls

[End of File]

 Buffer: $MAIN                                                                                                                                                            | Write | Insert | Forward

(Pressed CTRL+Z)
LSE> exit


Okay, that's not working. Lets try the (Windows) alternative:

 $ DIR


MAIL.MAI;1          NOTES$NOTEBOOK.NOTE;1                   REMY.DAT;2
REMY.DAT;1          WWW.DIR;1

Total of 8

To be honest, I found out that command after reading through 9 chapters of OpenVMS documentation from HP.

As you can see I managed to create some files and a folder. As you might also notice, the names and structure is way different that a Linux filesystem.

This is my understanding so far. OpenVMS directories are not seperated by a / (as on UNIX) but a dot (.). A full file path can be addressed by it's file specification that has the following format:


So in the case above, there is an INDEX.HTML file in the WWW folder, which can be addressed via:

$ dir [.WWW]



Total of 1 file.

As far as I know a folder should be surrounded by [brackets] and the dot in front of WWW specifies the current folder. I could also write the full file specification:




Total of 1 file.

Creating a folder is not done with mkdir:

 $ mkdir raymii
%DCL-W-IVVERB, unrecognized command verb - check validity and spelling

But with the logically named create command, and the correct folder specifications, with brackets and a leading dot:

 $ create /dir [.RAYMII]
 $ dir [.RAYMII]
%DIRECT-W-NOFILES, no files found

Changing folders, again, not done with cd. Printing the current folder is not pwd as well, but show default:

 $ show default

Changing the folder is set default:

 $ set default [.WWW]
 $ dir



Total of 1 file.

Changing back to the previous folder:

 $ dir

MAIL.MAI;1          NOTES$NOTEBOOK.NOTE;1                   REMY.DAT;2
REMY.DAT;1          WWW.DIR;1

Total of 8 files.

Editing text files

I very briefly dabbled with EVE to create some files:



this is a test

[End of file]

 Buffer: REMY.DAT                                                                                                                                                         | Write | Insert | Forward


It seems to be an interactive editor, pressing CTRL+Z saves the file:


Other editors are available, like TECO, which was on several PDP-8 operating systems as well. To be continued in a new article.

File versioning

As you saw in the above examples, OpenVMS by default supports file versioning. On every file on it's filesystem. How awesome is that? 32,767 versions are supported by default and there is nothing you have to do or remember. Just create and edit files!

Managing versions is quite easy as well. Since the version number is appended to the filename (REMY.DAT;1) after a semicolon, you just use file system commands (which I haven't figured out yet) to remove or edit specific versions.

Editing version 2 of the file REMY.DAT:


Or using the TYPE command (cat on linux) to show the difference:

Version 2:

 $ type REMY.DAT;2

this is a test

Version 1:

 $ type REMY.DAT;1

this is a test

I don't understand we don't have this as an option on modern linux systems to enable. Windows has something like it, VSS, but that has to be set up and provides only timed backups. This however is default and awesome.


Using the SHOW USERS command I was able to see a list of currently logged in users:

 $ show users
      OpenVMS User Processes at 31-MAR-2018 14:46:06.54
    Total number of users = 9,  number of processes = 11

 Username         Interactive  Subprocess   Batch
 EXAMPLE                  1
 HARROD                1
 HENKLE                2         1
 JACKSON               1
 MALMBERG              1
 PARRIS                1
 REICHERT_D            1
 SCHENKENBERG          1
 SPALDING              1

There was a user online and I used the PHONE program to initiate a chat with CORNELIUS (hi George). It was a nice chat, until work required attention. Exit with CTRL+Z.

Thank you George for the nice talk we had!

The above image shows my discussion with George and my enthousiasm on just having figured out how to create a folder on this OpenVMS system.

Other commands

I found out, with the documentation, some other commands.

The show command shows general information:

 $ show system
OpenVMS V8.4-2L2  on node EISNER   31-MAR-2018 14:32:46.22   Uptime  9 03:43:15
  Pid    Process Name    State  Pri      I/O       CPU       Page flts  Pages
00000201 SWAPPER         HIB     16        0   0 00:00:04.75         0      4
00000204 LANACP          HIB     14       69   0 00:00:00.03       112    138
00000206 FASTPATH_SERVER HIB     10        9   0 00:00:00.03        78     95
00000207 IPCACP          HIB     10       10   0 00:00:00.00        37     51
00000208 ERRFMT          HIB      8    13946   0 00:00:03.87       113    134

 $ show network

Product:  MULTINET      Node: Address(es):
Product:  DECNET        Node:  EISNER               Address(es):  11.91

 $ show cpu

System: EISNER, AlphaServer DS20 500 MHz

CPU ownership sets:
   Active               0,1
   Configure            0,1

CPU state sets:
   Potential            0,1
   Autostart            0,1
   Powered Down         None
   Not Present          None
   Hard Excluded        None
   Failover             None

 $ show memory
              System Memory Resources on 31-MAR-2018 14:39:40.52

Physical Memory Usage (pages):     Total        Free      In Use    Modified
  Main Memory (1.50GB)            196608       21718      163141       11749

Extended File Cache  (Time of last reset: 22-MAR-2018 10:48:42.07)
 Allocated (MBytes)            749.39    Maximum size (MBytes)           768.00
 Free (MBytes)                   0.04    Minimum size (MBytes)             3.12
 In use (MBytes)               749.35    Percentage Read I/Os                92%

The HELP command is very good as well:

 $ help show


     Displays information about the current status of a process, the
     system, or devices in the system.


       SHOW  option

  Additional information available:

  Description           ACCOUNTING ACL        AUDIT      BROADCAST  CLUSTER    CPU        DEFAULT    DEVICES    DISPLAY    ENTRY


I'm very happy this system exists and that there are still other people around to keep it running and let new folks like me enjoy and learn about it. The last time I was so enthousiastic about navigating a file system was with the PDP-8 and OS/8, and now with OpenVMS. I do expect to learn more about OpenVMS and eventually installing my own system with simh and the Hobbyist binaries I got from HPe, including a ISO image for OpenVMS 7.3 for the VAX architecture.

I do have one unread email, but no idea how to read that. So that will be the next challenge ahead, figure out how to read and reply to emails. Fun times ahead!

Oh and I also don't know yet how to exit an SSH session other than closing the window.

Tags: alpha , blog , dec , decus , itanium , openvms , pdp , simh , vax , vms