eMule, the Mods and You

With a number of eMule mods already upgrading and several more catching up with latest official eMule codebase, one question comes to mind: what use do all these mods have anyway?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

eMule’s unique characteristics and its open source nature may have added a daunting new dimension, especially for newer users.

Perhaps one of the bigger success stories in the open source community is the eMule client. The source is open and anyone with coding capabilities can peek inside at all the inner workings of the client. Does that mean you have to be a coder to use the client? Far from it. In fact, this opens the door for users to make more choices to customize the original eMule client. The thing to remember is that the eMule mods are there for advanced users who want something different from their day-to-day eMule routines.

For the beginners, the approach is surprisingly simple. Use the official client first. What about the mods? That’ll be explained later. The best start is usually to find someone who knows a fair bit about the client and can help guide you along – particularly with implementing measures to ensure you aren’t connecting to a fake server. If such an option isn’t available, then it’s simply a matter of installing the official client and configuring the application.

After that, it looks like you are ready to go, but there’s an additional step that needs to be taken. That is implementing a safe way to connect to other users. Perhaps a more blunt way is to simply connect to the Kademlia (Kad) network and be done with it. While definitely a good alternative, it requires a bootstrap. A bootstrap is an IP address of someone who is already connected to the Kademlia network.

One of the easiest ways to bootstrap is to simply connect to the eDonkey2000 (ED2K) network since many users on the ED2K network are already connected to Kad as well. Server lists for eMule are little ‘.met’ files and two of the best known met files are Gruk and the Corpo.free server lists. In the eMule client, there’s already a list of servers in the server window. Why get a server list when there are already servers on there? The servers featured are not verified safe servers. Unsafe servers usually return purposely faulty results in searches or cause other difficulties with the eMule client.

So the next step is actually to right click and delete all the servers. After that, it’s a matter of pasting the link to the known safe servers and configuring the eMule client to not update the server list any further. It also doesn’t hurt to configure eMule in the options>servers feature to connect to a static list only (at which you have to select all the safe servers and add to the static list). A number of other ways to safely connect to the eDonkey2000 network are available as well but the important thing to note is that once there is a connection to the ED2K network, a connection to Kad is easier. By that point, once a user has connected to Kad, the choice to continue use with Kad only or to stay connected to the ED2K servers is mainly preferential.

So what does this have to do with the mods available? Believe it or not, by using the official client, a user is also indirectly practicing to use other mods while familiarizing themselves with the official client. What does the user/search result color coding mean? How does a credit system work as opposed to strictly a line of users (often referred to as a horde system)? What’s a file blacklist/whitelist? These are just a few of the questions a user should be able to work out by the time they are ready to use a mod. One of the better things that will help users along is the eMule guide – though even the best guides sometimes won’t beat user interaction, so an alternative solution to any problem is talking to the eMule community. Slyck features a forum specifically for eMule users. There’s also the built-in help guide in the eMule client, or the eMule IRC chat feature (divided into different languages) or even the eMule help forum.

Let’s presume that everything so far makes your eyes roll and say ‘OMG, this is n00bie stuff! I’ve been using teh Mule for months now and I’ve got a few things that bug me!’ Perfect. Some users presume that because something is not quite to their satisfaction in the eMule client, that means it’s the end of the road and time to invest time in something completely different. This is ignoring the fact that there’s also a great diversity within the mod community. One mod like Xtreme Mule emphasizes a slimmed down version of eMule, another mod like the Morph XT utilities further upload customization, another might even use something completely different from the credit system like StulleMule – just to name a few examples.

There’s a key difference between switching from one BitTorrent client to another and switching from one eMule mod to another. In BitTorrent, when it’s time to swap out of one BitTorrent client to another, a user can uninstall the client, and then download and intsall the new BitTorrent client.

With eMule mods, there’s a very nice set of files called ‘binaries’. Binaries usually comes in a zipped archive. A user merely has to unzip the files and install them over of the current client folder. No preferences will really change, the partials will remain and the shared files won’t budge an inch in the process. The thing that will change is some of the features and possibly the overall appearance – though all the necessities like transfer windows, search windows and options will stick around. One interesting example is when Morph XT starts up, a brief audio sample will be played that could make one’s hair wave in the wind. New pictures will appear like a Morph XT theme banner alongside the options window and new options will be shown throughout the client.

So the boiling question is, ‘what mod do I use anyway?’ There is no universal answer because it boils down to preferences. In the eMule modding community, it’s a simple matter of, ‘if I were an eMule developer, what would I do differently to the eMule client?’ or ‘what would I like to see in the eMule client?’ Users searching for a client that’s a little lighter on the system resources may want to check out Xtreme eMule. Users wanting more control over upload bandwidth could consider Morph XT. A user who has hardly any bandwidth at all might like to look into that ZZUL client. Users looking for a Swiss Army Knife-like eMule client in features may be interested in NeoMule. Bottom line, there’s an untold number of mods to choose from. Using mods for eMule is like using a different jacket for a walk in the park. Is one sufficient? Sure. Is there any harm in trying different styles? Certainly not.

With an active modding community and an open source philosophy that allows such things to occur in the first place, this may be all the more reason to check out the 5 year old client. P2P development is dead? Says who?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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