Sometimes you want it raw...

Your console connection, that is!

When you are using a console server for remote access to serial consoles, you're defaults are usually a telnet-type listerner on the console server. That means a 7-bit session, with the high-order bit normally being "0". (That's why you sometimes have a session that displays unusual characters...something trips the high-order bit to "1", and you need to reset the session/port to clear the bit.)

But, what if you NEED to pass 8-bit data? Sam Crooks recently had the need to upgrade the OS on a router, but didn't have a the ability to use the network to get the code to the unit. He could, however, use XMODEM-1K from a locally-attached laptop serial port to the console of the unit. Except that his laptop was across the network. The gotcha here was the 8th-bit was set to "1" in much of the data, and certainly in the file transfer sequence numbers. This botches up the connection, and you need to start over again. (I'll explain about the modes first, but I'll also share notes from Sam's solution towards the end of this article.)

Fortunately, most console servers today have legacy roots in "Terminal Server" service, as in dial-in modem pools, and binary file transfers. So, besides their 'default' 7-bit session mode, most have an "8-bit, escapable" mode, and some even have a full "raw 8-bit, non-escapable" mode. You just may have to dig around a bit to find out how to access them. To demonstrate the issues, we'll use Cisco access servers as the example.

With the Cisco devices, to reach across the network to a particular serial port, you normally use a telnet client, to the IP address of the access server, at the TCP port 2000 + n, where n equals the (async) line number. That is, line 21, would be at TCP 2021. This is for the normal, 7-bit session. So far, so good?

If you need to use the 8th bit regularly (specialty keys, alternate characters, etc.), you can get the "escapable" 8-bit mode by using the TCP port 4000 + n. (The same n as before.) The 'escapable' pat means that you still have a couple of the 254 possible characters that you cannot use as data, because these will be used for the client to escape from sending data, so it can send control info (like "quit this session"). Most folks could use the 7-bit mode or the 8-bit mode interchangeably.

But, if you need to send ALL 256 possible characters (think the block sequence numbers, if you think that your data wouldn't have all the characters), then you need to use a "raw 8-bit" mode. But, if you can't escape from the data session (because your escape characters are "just data" now...), how do you close the session? You need to get the device connected to the async port to toggle it's handshake line. (Think of it as a modem call ending, and the modem drops the DCD line, or it cycles the DSR line...because that where that code has it's roots.)

In the Cisco access servers, you can invoke the "raw 8-bit" mode at TCP port 6000 + n.

Here are the notes from Sam's solution, once he discovered these different modes;

The serial speed of 9,600 bps is too slow for big file transfers, so he increases the port speeds to 115,200 bps. (In his case, he uses autobaud on one side, and manually sets the speed on the other. I presume this is so the speeds will resort to 9,600 after everything's finished.)

Next, he sets the port for the data transfer;

Switch#terminal download
Switch#copy xmodem: flash:/c3560-advipservicesk9-mz.122-37.SE1.bin
Destination filename [c3560-advipservicesk9-mz.122-37.SE1.bin]?
Begin the Xmodem or Xmodem-1K transfer now...
now here, we go to TermTerm's, menus....
Pick the file, select 1K at the bottom of the window (vs CRC or checksum)...
and off the file transfer goes....hopefully to completion, and in a reasonable time...

Finally, when the transfer completes, he needs to break the session from the far end, so he uses the command clear line n (where n is the line number of the serial port you are using for the transfer).

Cisco also has a good, older page about the various commands related to configuring access servers for modem usage, which has some useful clues as well, including transport in and out, and changing your escape characters. You'll find references to these binary modes on this page, in the section relating to 'rotary'.

You can also find useful information searching for "configuring lines for modem support". For example, you can find a brief summary related to contacting the AUX port on a Cisco DSLAM using these three modes here.

Related Cisco commands (Anyone can search the public Documentation part of the Cisco website, but Cisco support contract holders can find more information if they are logged in.)
  • reverse telnet
  • configuring modem line rotary
  • telnet break-on-ip
  • exec (look for telnet-related BREAK info)
Good luck with that!



Insert Wire A into Slot B (specialty cables and adapters)

The other title for this article could be "Pocket Notes (you really CAN take it with you)". Here's how I 'remember' how to wire a serial crossover cable when I'm in a data center, without easy web access.

I used to carry a small pocket notebook with notes and adapter diagrams, but those got worn and ratty and dog-eared. So I kept them in a computer, printed the notes and drawings, and carried a small (5" x 8.5") binder. This way, I could mark-up the notes when I was away from the computer, and make changes on the computer, and print more 'clean' pages. It was also easy to give a page away, since I knew I could easily replace it. Eventually, the binder got bigger, thicker, and heavier, until I finally started carrying the computer around.

Now, ten years later, I keep my console information pages on the web, but I also keep critical notes on my Treo (Palm OS device). But the OS isn't important! If you have a pocket/palmtop computer, you can use the memo functions to carry useful cable info in the note files.

ASCII art isn't easy, and it isn't pretty unless you are using a mono-spaced font. But recording the wiring for specialty cables is easy. In an earlier posting, I described how to determine the wiring for specialty cables. And most of us could easily spout off the wiring sequence for an AT&T 468B-wired CAT-5 cable, right? So, you start with that color sequence on one end...but what colors do you need on the other end? THIS is easily described with text, and proportional fonts do not get in the way.

I usually show the cable, wired from both ends, since I can use a simple RJ-45 cable continuity tester...but, I add the Cat-5 color code in between the pin numbers. I use the AT&T 468B sequence on the first end, since it's a good visual starting place. Then, I show the sequence on the 'other' end, with the resulting color sequence. It's this other sequence that it hard to translate in my mind, so I keep a 'note' that won't get dog-eared in my phone, since it's almost always going to be with me.

Here's an example of a crossover cable between Cyclades ACS Console Servers;

Cyclades crossover
one end...
1 whi-orn 5
2 orn-whi 8
3 whi-grn 6
4 blu-whi 4
5 whi-blu 1
6 grn-whi 3
7 whi-brn 7
8 brn-whi 2

other end...
1 whi-blu 5
2 brn-whi 8
3 grn-whi 6
4 blu-whi 4
5 whi-orn 1
6 whi-grn 3
7 whi-brn 7
8 orn-whi 2

Using the PalmOS memopad feature, I have note files for a variety of console servers. It's easy to combine wiring notes (crossover, loopback, signal inputs/outputs) for a single vendor into a separate file, for quick reference. You should be able to do something similar with other PalmTop devices.

I do still keep post-its handy at a few sites, with the "other end" wiring sequence, in case the memos aren't available. (The battery died, or I can't take a camera-phone into certain data centers...) When they start to get worn, I make new ones, using the records on my phone, or my web pages.

I hope this note is helpful to some of you. I know that it saves me a LOT of time.