Windows: Change Your Default Telnet Handler

At this point I see basically two legitimate uses for telnet: mud’s and nethack. While both forms of entertainment are still popular, they are far from mainstream even in the geekier circles. They have mostly niche audiences, and general public has little or no use for telnet these days. You really do want to use ssh for any kind of remote shell stuff. This is evidenced by Microsoft disabling the telnet client by default in Vista. So the only remaining use for the tool is simply poking around by connecting to random ports. These days I mostly use telnet to see if I can access an email server from a remote location by telnetting to port 110 or 25. But then again, I could also use netcat for that with pretty much the same results.

As you may or may not know, I set up my own little public nethack server that can be found by telneting to And since for some reason he output is a bit garbled in the default windows client, I sought out replacement. PuTTY is probably on of the better free, open telnet clients for windows out there. There is simply not much competition on that market anyway, because the basic windows client is not that bad. Still, I find PuTTY superior.

The problem is, by default handling telnet links such as telnet://luke.kicks-ass.og is by default hard wired to the windows client. Therefore if I wanted to use PuTTY I had to manually open it, and type in the server address instead of just clicking on the link. I decided to change this behavior, and set PuTTY to be my default telnet handler from now on.

How to do it? You can use the little registry hack below:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

@="\"C:\\Program Files\\PuTTY\\putty.exe\" %1

Copy the code snippet, paste it into your favorite text editor and save it as a .reg file. Then double click it to run it. From now on, telnet links should open in putty, as long as you have it installed in C:\Program Files\PuTTY. If you want to change it back to the windows client, here is a snippet to reverse it:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

@="rundll32.exe url.dll,TelnetProtocolHandler %l


Btw, can you think about other legitimate uses of telnet, that would not be appropriate for ssh or other tools? Let me know in the comments.

[tags]telnet, putty, mud, nethack, nethack server, ssh, telnet handler[/tags]

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3 Responses to Windows: Change Your Default Telnet Handler

  1. Nathan Baker UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Not exactly an everyday thing, but if you’re debugging a server (mailserver, http server, whatever) then telnet is your friend.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Yup, that’s what I meant when I mentioned telneting to port 110 or 25. But you could theoretically use netcat for that with about the same effect.

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  3. Nathan Baker UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    Ah, I thought you meant you were sending or receiving mail the hardcore way ;)

    netcat and telnet are like the while and do loops of network tools. Very similar, but sometimes one or the other just feels more right.

    Just like nethack, I can see other scenarios where telnet makes sense even if ssh could conceivably do the job. But I’ll definitely grant you that I type ‘ssh’ multiple times per day and ‘telnet’ maybe once a month.

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