What is Usenet? Complete Guide to Usenet & How to Use It in 2023
If you’ve never heard of Usenet, you are certainly not alone. This amazing communication platform is still kept tightly under wraps by the community of people who use it.
Even though it came before things like the World Wide Web, blogs, online forums, and social media, Usenet has been quietly evolving in the background and will likely be around for many more decades.
Usenet is one of the oldest working network communication platforms and is like a symbiotic cross between Reddit and BitTorrent, but it’s also so much more.
If you like to chat online, have access to almost every discussion topic ever, download digital media, or stream video, and if you want to be able to do all this while enjoying super-fast speeds and reliability, Usenet is definitely something you should consider using!
In this article, we’ll look at what Usenet actually is and show you how it works so that you can use it too.
History of Usenet
Usenet – or ‘Unix Users Network’ – could have been the foundation of our modern internet, but was slightly too difficult to use.
It was initially developed all the way back in 1979 and was created to transfer information across space, providing an alternative to the US military-controlled Arpanet system, which did eventually develop into the internet we know today.
Duke University students Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott, along with their University of North Carolina companion, Steve Bellovin, first successfully exchanged data between these US universities in 1979 using two UNIX computers running the UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) protocol. This brought Usenet to life.
While it is much less known than the internet, the Usenet has since grown steadily in the background and there are now hundreds of thousands of Usenet news servers across the globe, comprised of around 30,000 terabytes of data.
What is Usenet?
Today, Usenet is similar to an online bulletin-board, discussion platform or forum, comparable to other forums on the internet. Usenet is segmented into different topics, called ‘newsgroups’ and these are posted on a worldwide network of servers, called ‘news servers’.
It is a platform that also allows its millions of users to save files (called binaries) on the news servers for other members to download. So, it allows you to chat and share files, which might not sound like such a big deal; however, the difference between Usenet and similar services on the internet is that Usenet offers full, unrestricted download and access speeds and generally offers a truly free exchange of content and information.
We say ‘generally’ because it depends on which Usenet newsgroup you’re using at the time. Each one is dedicated to a different topic and some of the newsgroups you’ll find in the top hierarchy of topics include:
- alt. = ‘alternative’. This is the most popular and offers unfettered and unmoderated access to its diverse discussions and downloads.
- comp. = computer-related topics
- humanities. = humanities, culture, and the arts
- misc. = miscellaneous topics that don't fit other categories
- news. = discussions about or related to Usenet
- rec. = recreational activities, leisure, art, culture, relaxation
- sci. = science and technology
- soc. = social topics
- talk. = general chat, religion, politics, etc
There are around 200,000 newsgroups with thousands of messages and other content. If you can’t find one to suit your interests, you can form your own.
So why isn’t everybody using Usenet all the time? Unfortunately, Usenet is a bit difficult to access and navigate, especially if you’re aiming to download some of its available binaries. In the late 90s/early 00s, a site called Newzbin created the NZB file format when they started to index Usenet’s binaries.
NZB files are the equivalent of a torrent file for Usenet, meaning they are files that simply point towards the binary downloads on Usenet’s servers, allowing you to download their content. Newzbin is no longer functioning; however, there are other applications you can use to find and get the content you want from within Usenet’s huge database.
Read on to find out how.
How Does Usenet Work?
To access Usenet’s content – including binary downloads – you’ll require three primary components.
You’ll need a Usenet provider subscription (which gives you access to the files on Usenet’s servers), a Usenet indexer (a search engine to search for content or find NZB files), and a Usenet client or newsreader (which allows you to view Usenet content and/or download binary files).
1. Choosing a Usenet Provider
Unfortunately, you can’t just visit Usenet in the same way you’d visit a website. It’s also not a peer-to-peer file-sharing service like most torrent download sites. Instead, you need a Newsgroup Service Provider in order to access and browse Usenet.
There are quite a few good Usenet providers to choose from, but when choosing, you may want to consider these major features:
Retention refers to the length of time providers will guarantee you access to the Usenet content and binaries they keep on their servers. As there is so much data being added to Usenet news servers each day, providers can’t store it all forever.
To get around this, they’ll only retain a specific number of days’ worth of data (from the date it’s first posted) and this varies from provider to provider. This is usually a year for most providers but can vary.
Also, many providers have different retention days for binary and text, with text retention days usually being higher (i.e. they may offer binaries for 365 days, while text will be retained for 1,460 days, for example).
- Monthly Transfer
The monthly transfer denotes the amount of data you can download per month. This is usually measured in GB and ranges from under 5GB to unlimited.
This refers to the number of connections you can make simultaneously. This is relevant for users who want to connect using more than one device at a time, but also to users who want to have more than one download at any one time. Thankfully, most providers offer more connections than most casual users need.
- Completion Rate
This refers to the proportion of posts which are sent successfully between service providers. If there’s even one missing post, this can cause a binary to be completely unreadable, so it’s important that your provider has a high completion rate; however, most providers offer over 99% completion rate, so you should be ok.
- Other Features
Features like SSL access and similar vary greatly between access providers. It’s always a good idea to encrypt data when downloading and many Usenet providers offer this as standard. If not, you can always use a VPN to improve your overall online security.
You should never use a company who doesn’t offer free support to its customers, no matter who they are! It’s also important to ensure you can easily opt out if you’re not satisfied. Free trial periods are good too.
Once you’ve decided on a provider and signed up, take note of your username and password, as well as the server address (this will look something like ‘something.examplehost.com’) and port number they’ll provide you with (if SSL is included, be sure to get a port number for SSL too).
2. Set Up Your Index (Or Search Engine)
Unlike searching the internet using an internet search engine, Usenet’s data isn’t so easy to explore. Yes, you can manually browse your Usenet provider’s servers, but this is truly cumbersome, so most people get a Usenet index, as they do the work of a search engine for you.
All you need to do is enter the search term for what you want to find, select the posts that match, download the.nzb files you want, and then open them in a Usenet client/newsreader.
There are a number of indexers available and some are free if you’re willing to put up with adverts or similar. Just search the web for ‘Usenet indexer’ to find the one that best suits you.
3. Find a Usenet Client (Or Newsreader)
A Usenet newsreader or client is a program that allows you to access and view Usenet content, as well as actually download the binary files.
There are three client types:
A newsreader is almost always used exclusively for browsing text in the newsgroups. You can actually download binary files with a newsreader, but they are quite difficult to use, so not recommended for downloads.
- NZB downloader
As the name indicates, these are designed for downloading the binary identified by the.nzb files, but not really meant for browsing text discussions.
This is a combination of the above two client types, allowing you to access text posts and download binaries. Hybrid programs obviously have their benefits but they are almost never free, plus most of them aren’t cross-platform programs, so this needs to be considered when choosing.
4. Final Steps
The final steps will vary based on what Usenet provider, newsreader/client, and indexer you’ve chosen, but here is a brief summary of the steps you will probably take:
- Install and begin to set up your Usenet client and/or newsreader.
- When your client/newsreader asks you for your server details, this is where you add your Usenet provider’s server details. You’ll also need to add your provider username and password.
- If your provider gives you SSL, you should enable it here and add the relevant SSL number in the ‘Port’ field. The ‘Connections’ field is where you’ll enter the maximum number of connections your provider gives you.
- Continue following the instructions to set up your Usenet client/newsreader. It should restart after completion and at this stage, you’ll likely be given the address you’ll use to access your client/newsreader from your browser (it will probably be something similar to ‘http://localhost:8080’). Bookmark this link. This is the link you’ll need to access your client/newsreader interface.
- Open your Usenet search engine and search for whatever content you want. When you’ve found one, click the box next to it and then click on the button that says something like ‘Create NZB’ or similar. This will download the.nzb file to your PC.
- Once downloaded, go to your bookmarked link to access your client/newsreader interface. Find the button/link that says something like ‘Add NZB’ and click it. When prompted, choose the file you just downloaded and click ‘Upload’.
- Your binary files will be downloaded to your computer in the form of compressed.rar files. When these have fully downloaded, just un-rar them and place them in the file of your choice on your computer. You can run a quick anti-virus check on your new file, but that’s it – you’ve downloaded your first Usenet file!
There are a number of programs that can automate some of this process for you, or schedule past or future content downloads. Most of these programs focus on downloads of things like movies, TV series, and music. Search the web for ‘Usenet automation’ to find these.
Should I Use a VPN with Usenet?
Accessing Usenet is fairly safe, but using a VPN will keep you even safer. When accessing Usenet, your IP address will usually be logged and stored at the point when you get an NZB file from your indexer, as well as when you’re downloading the binary file to your computer.
Using a VPN will prevent you from being seen at these points, and will stop anyone from seeing that you’re accessing Usenet-related sites and programs online.
If you do decide to use a VPN to access Usenet, we recommend trying out Newshosting’s free trialthat runs for 14-days or 30GB, whichever comes first. Newshosting is a Usenet provider that offers some excellent Usenet service plans as well as a VPN service as an add-on.
It offers a truly secure connection using the OpenVPN, PPTP, or L2TP protocols and 256-bit encryption, an easy-to-use interface, and amazing reliability with unlimited and unmetered bandwidth.
If you want more functionality from your VPN, we suggest trying out user favorite ExpressVPN. It ranks first in almost every category and offers users great speeds, streaming, and security.
It’s an amazing feat that Usenet has kept pace with technology since before the internet was even a thing, and is still the best method for sharing files.
Yes, it’s a little bit clunky in regards to accessing and using it, but it’s well worth the effort to have access to the world’s largest and oldest communication platform, alongside full-speed content downloads.
If you’re looking for a download platform similar to Usenet, check out our 10 Most Popular Torrent Sites.
You’ll find other options for accessing peer-to-peer downloads by reading about the Best VPNs for Tor Browser in 2019 – Which is Best for You?
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