The Hostess program has been designed to help you easily maintain your HOSTS file, primarily for the purpose of blocking servers that contain unwanted or malicious content. It stores the hostnames in an indexed database, eliminating duplicates and placing hosts into logical groups that can be ordered for efficiency. Hostess has powerful import, export and search features. It can even create a registry file for adding domains to Internet Explorer's Restricted Zone.

The HOSTS file is used by your operating system as a quick way of resolving hostnames (www.example.com) into IP addresses (123.234.1.2) without the need to request a lookup from an external DNS server. Normally, when you type a hostname into your browser, your DNS server (usually specified by your ISP) is queried to obtain the IP address. If a HOSTS file is present, it takes precedence over an external DNS server and is used first.

The primary focus of Hostess is on maintaining a list of hosts that you wish to block in order to avoid the bandwidth-hogging download of advertising graphics. The HOSTS file can be used to block hosts by supplying an address that points to the local machine instead of an actual external IP address. The IP address 127.0.0.1 refers to the local computer, or localhost; the same computer the request originated from. Unless you are actually running a web server on your computer, any requests redirected to localhost will fail! These failed requests mean that the advertising graphics don't get downloaded and your pages load much faster.

The original, intended purpose of the HOSTS file is to store the addresses and give human-friendly names to resources on your LAN that don't have entries in an external DNS server. Common examples of such a use would be making entries for the configuration addresses of your router or cable modem. Hostess makes it easy to do this as well by separating hosts into two categories - Good hosts and Bad hosts. Good hosts have an actual IP address associated with them, Bad Hosts do not.

Some people use the HOSTS file to store the IP addresses of their favorite Internet servers as a speed boost by eliminating the need for a DNS lookup. Due to the dynamic nature of IP addresses, the author of this program does not recommend such a use for the HOSTS file. Whatever time you may have saved by avoiding these DNS lookups will be lost many times over the first time you try to determine why you can't get to your favorite site because the IP address has changed.

A note on terminology: When I write "HOSTS" in all upper case, I am referring to the system's actual HOSTS file. When I use "hosts" in lower/mixed case, I am referring to the host names of computers on the Internet, in your Hostess database, or in a text file.

Context-sensitive help can be reached from any screen in the program by pressing the F1 key.

What's New in 4.0?

Hostess 4.0 was rewritten from scratch and should generally be faster than 3.x during every operation. Some of the highlights of the new verison are:

More efficient storage
The database was switched from dBase (DBF) format to file-based, in-memory datasets. The change in storage allows for new features like being able to store individual host comments without wasting huge amounts of disk space. The new format is also very fast!
Good Hosts vs. Bad Hosts
Since all the hosts you want to block are going to be redirected to the same IP address (127.0.0.1 or 0.0.0.0), there is no sense in storing that value over and over. Instead, a separate table was created for the hosts that you want to find - Good Hosts!
Groups excluded from the HOSTS file
Many people like to download and import HOSTS files that are maintained by others or community submissions. Sometimes, these files include hosts that you have decided you don't want to block. Finding and removing these hosts after each import is a pain. Now, you can place those hosts into a special group that is marked for exclusion from the HOSTS file. Future imports will see these hosts as duplicates and leave them alone. Then, when you Write HOSTS, these special groups are skipped and the hosts they contain stay out of your HOSTS file, permanently!
New Import report
You have always been able to get a count of new, duplicate or updated hosts during an import, but the new import report lets you get as much detail as you want about what Hostess did with each line of the file.
New Restricted Zone registry file formats
Hostess 3.x could create a REGEDIT4 format file to add naughty domains to Internet Explorer's restricted zone. Hostess 4.0 adds the ability to create a REGEDIT4 uninstall file, as well as a plain-text format file for use with handy IE security zone utility programs.

What's New in 4.1?

Hostess 4.1 added just one new feature, but it's significant enough to rate as a point release: You can now import and export files in plain-text format! Originally, all imports and exports had to be in HOSTS-format, the same layout as a regular HOSTS file. Now you can import or export text files that contain only hostnames, one per line.

Contact Information

For the latest news and updates, visit the website at http://www.raymarron.com/hostess/.

For email support, send a message to hostess@raymarron.com. Better yet, use the email link from Hostess' About box - it will include the full version number in the subject of the email.

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