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The gen on Tesco.NET.

Who runs Tesco.NET

You might think that Tesco PLC runs Tesco.NET. It doesn't. It owns it. But the day-to-day running of the operation is subcontracted out to an Internet Service Provider. And it's an Internet Service Provider whose name you might recognize: Virgin Media (formerly known as NTL).

(For those who are interested in the boring details: Tesco PLC subcontracted out the running of Tesco.NET to NTL Business, the business ISP division of NTL, in October 2002. Initially, the contract was for 3 years. Tesco has extended it since. When NTL got bought by Virgin Media, the Tesco contract came with it.)

This isn't exactly an unusual occurrence. All of these non-supermarket things that supermarkets do these days: You didn't think that the supermarkets actually ran them themselves, did you? They subcontract them. If a supermarket provides Internet services, it has subcontracted that to an actual ISP. If a supermarket provides banking and financial services, then it subcontracts those to an actual bank.

If you read the fine print for Sainsbury's Bank, for example, you'll see that the actual companies that are doing much of the grunt work of running the show are Halifax General Insurance Services (for Sainsbury's Home Insurance), esure Services (for Sainsbury's Car Insurance), Legal & General Assurance Society (for Sainsbury's Life Insurance), Bank of Scotland (for Sainsbury's Card Care), and so forth.

Tesco is no different, of course. I mention Sainsbury's to make the point that this is how everyone does things. The supermarkets do what they're good at — being supermarkets — and they subcontract the other stuff to companies that are good at that.

Account names

The account naming system at Tesco.NET is fairly simple. If your mailbox name is J.deBoynePollard@Tesco.NET, then the bit without the domain name and the '@' sign is your account name — i.e. J.deBoynePollard in this case.

Home pages

Tesco.NET provides its customers with a modicum of free WWW space which (subject, of course, to the normal rules on publishing stuff) you can use as a "home page". (Indeed, an older version of these very Frequently Given Answers is published on a Tesco.NET home page.)

The instructions for setting up one's home page that Tesco provides are aimed at the least common denominator. They are written in terms of just one editing program, Microsoft FrontPage, and just one utility, WSFTP. The big secret, that is only whispered, is that one doesn't have to use FrontPage or WSFTP at all. It's really very simple to set up a home page with Tesco.NET:

In many ways the official instructions over-complicate things. ☺

Where does one point one's FTP utility? At the very same place as the WWW site itself appears, as a matter of fact: homepages.tesco.net.. Log in using your Tesco.NET account name and password, and the FTP server will let you access your own (and only your own) WWW pages. Want to make a page? Upload a file. Want to delete a page? Delete the file from the FTP server using the FTP client's delete command. Want to make an index for the very top level, or for any subdirectory? Make a file named index.html in the relevant directory.

The URL where your WWW site ends up is a "subdirectory" of http://homepages.tesco.net./ named with your account name. So if, say, your mailbox name was J.deBoynePollard@Tesco.NET, the WWW site would be http://homepages.tesco.net./J.deBoynePollard/ … well what do you know?! That's a shocker. ☺


Tesco.NET provides an SMTP server, that its customers can use to send outgoing mail. (You can choose to run your own MTS, of course. If your computers run Unix, Linux, or OS/2 you've actually got a full MTS — variously Sendmail or Postfix — on the machine straight out of the box.) The domain name of the SMTP server, that you tell your MUA to use, is mail.tesco.net.. The port number that you tell your MUA to use is port 25. (Tesco.NET provides SMTP Relay service masquerading as SMTP Submission service, with a server that speaks the Old-Fashioned Mail Injection Protocol. It doesn't provide a proper SMTP Submission service on port 587.)

Incoming mail can be read either via a POP3 client MUA, or via the Webmail interface.

The Webmail interface is at http://webmail.tesco.net./, where one logs in with one's Tesco.NET mailbox name and password. Note that if you have JavaScript enabled in your WWW browser, the Webmail interface will keep adding "@Tesco.NET" to your mailbox name, even if it ends in that already. Depending from WWW browser page sizes, it's not always obvious that this has happened. So check what's in the name field if your login fails. Of course, if you prefer to browse the WWW securely, without JavaScript enabled, this is not a problem.

The POP3 server lives at pop3.tesco.net. (a.k.a. pop.tesco.net.), on the usual POP3 port: port 110.

In fact, the Webmail server and the POP3 server live in the same place. Both webmail.tesco.net. and pop3.tesco.net. are (client-side) aliases for the domain name mail.tesco.net..

Unlike other ISPs, Tesco.NET does not provide IMAP service. This has several negative consequences. If you've configured (as you can do) your mailbox to automatically sort junk and non-junk mail into different folders as it arrives, you won't be able to see all of those folders, as the POP3 protocol only "knows" about one mail folder.

One particular negative consequence is the interaction between this and high volumes of junk mail. Tesco.NET's advice on junk mail is to "just delete it". But in order to "just delete it" with almost all POP3-speaking mail programs, one must first download it. At one point, in 2003, I was receiving so much junk mail per day that downloading and then deleting it, per Tesco.NET's instructions, would have resulted in my exceeding the Tesco.NET daily limit on download traffic, contrary to Tesco.NET's instructions. (For more on this Kafkaesque situation, see Holy Deluge of Microsoft Worms, Batman!.)


Several gotchas with Tesco.NET have already been mentioned: the JavaScript behaviour of its Webmail interface, the "just download and then delete it" attitude towards customers who have problems with junk mail, the lack of IMAP service.

Another more subtle gotcha is that Tesco.NET knows when you are using it as an ISP, and only provides access to various of its services when you are, conceptually, "inside its borders".

For example: FTP service on homepages.tesco.net. is only accessible within Tesco.NET's borders. If you attempt to contact the FTP server from outside of Tesco.NET, your requests will simply vanish into the wild blue yonder. Your computer won't even be told (by Tesco.NET's Internet traffic routers) that it cannot reach the server. So you won't get an error message from your FTP utility, just a very long wait followed by a timeout.

So don't think that you can update your Tesco.NET WWW pages from work, or from an Internet café, or from a friend's house. You can only do it from a computer that has either a broadband or a dial-up Internet connection that is provided by Tesco.NET itself. (If you use dial-up access as an emergency fallback for non-Tesco.NET broadband, note that you must actually have the dial-up connection active and dialled up.)

© Copyright 2010 Jonathan de Boyne Pollard. "Moral" rights asserted.
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