What is Usenet? An Introduction
What is Usenet?
Usenet was originally conceived as a way to send news and announcements between two universities in North Carolina. Within a short time it grew into a wide-ranging system of different discussion groups.
Usenet is now a global system of discussion and file sharing groups with more than 100k different groups with millions of users around the world.
Usenet discussion groups are called “newsgroups”, and the articles shared within them are still often referred to as “news”. However, usenet today is not really a news service at all; rather, it’s a system used to facilitate discussions and file sharing on an endless number of topics.
How Usenet Works
Like other familiar Internet services, Usenet uses a client/server system. You use a program (called a client) that runs on your computer to request files from another program (called a server) that runs on a remote computer. This is similar to using your standard web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) to communicate with remote web servers (ie. view websites).
The basic element of Usenet is a post. When a user wants to share, he or she posts to a related newsgroup to share the file, allowing other users to read/download and interact that file.
Most articles on usenet consist only of text. Remember that Usenet started as a way for people to participate in focused discussions. They would download all of the posts in a particular newsgroup, read through them, and then upload their own contribution as a text article. Think of it like commenting on online threads today – people post their comments, read the opinions of others, and contribute to a global discussion on their topic of interest.
Other usenet posts also have a file attachment just like an email attachment. Most commonly, attachments contain images, audio files, video files, and software applications. These Usenet posts with attachments are known as binary files.
2020 Contemporary Applications of Usenet
Although there are still active text communities within Usenet with many various discussions, usenet is primarily used as a method of global file sharing. Once users realized that large files could be broken up into many small parts and shared quickly through Usenet, it changed the way most people used Usenet forever.
How to Get Started with Usenet
Step 1 - Selecting a Newsreader
Usenet is based on a client/server system. To access Usenet, you run a client program called a newsreader on your computer. Your newsreader connects to the usenet news server and sends and receives data on your behalf.
Which newsreader should you use?
There are many newsreaders on the market – some are free, some cost money. How do you know which one to download and use? It all depends on how you are going to use Usenet.
If you’re just getting started, a more simple newsreader is better. The more familiar you become with Usenet, the more you may want advanced features out of your newsreader, such as automation, or plugin capabilities with other applications.
Some usenet providers, like Newshosting, come with a free newsreader that you can use out of the box.
For other providers that don’t provide their own newsreader, you’ll need to download a 3rd party one like Sabnzbd or NZBGet.
A small handful of providers, like Easynews, are browser based and don’t require a newsreader at all. But the majority of usenet providers require you to use a newsreader of some sort.
Step 2 - Selecting a Usenet Provider
In order to get access to files on Usenet, you generally need:
- A newsreader program, and
- Access to Usenet from a Usenet Provider.
What is a Usenet Provider?
Commercial Usenet Providers are servers that store files on Usenet and allow customers to download those files, usually for a small monthly fee. Different providers vary the amount of time they store a file after it is uploaded to their servers. Providers may also limit the bandwidth to their servers, or have different connection limits. Some Usenet providers also include bonus add-ons with their service, such as free newsreaders or VPNs.
Retention is the amount of time (usually shown in days) that a Usenet provider stores files on its servers. For example, if a provider advertises “3,400 days of retention,” that means they will keep a new file posted to its servers for 3,400 days before it is automatically deleted to make room for new files.
People post so much new data to Usenet every day that it’s nearly impossible for a Usenet provider to store all files forever. That’s why almost every provider limits their retention. However, some Usenet providers have more server space and capacity than others. You’ll find that retention varies from as low as a few days to as many as 4,000+ days. That difference in retention equates to having access to billions more files (yes, billions).
You may come across some Usenet providers who don’t advertise how much retention they have. To keep operational costs low, cheaper Usenet providers who operate their own servers limit the number of days they store articles. Storing vast amounts of data is expensive, so these small Usenet providers limit retention to a few months. After those few months go by, they delete the oldest files to make room for newer articles posted to Usenet.
These cheaper providers don’t want you to know that you only have access to a small archive of Usenet articles. Always check how much binary and text retention a Usenet provider offers before signing up. If you can’t find the retention displayed on their site, consider it a red flag that warrants further research.
The best Usenet providers “spool” their retention, which means that their retention grows by one day every day. That means no file ever automatically expires. Newshosting, UsenetServer, and Easynews have the best retention in the industry.
Completion (or completion rate) is the percentage of articles stored by a Usenet provider versus the total amount of available articles. A Usenet provider has 90% completion if it stores 90% of all available articles.
The best Usenet providers invest in their server infrastructure so that they can offer both high retention and high completion.
For customers, you can think of completion rate as how often your Usenet provider has all of the articles you need to complete a download. Our top-reviewed Usenet providers generally offer greater than 99% completion.
3. Connections & Speed
If you’ve never downloaded via Usenet before, prepare to be amazed at the fast download speeds (if you have fast Internet speed and a capable computer). The best Usenet providers have powerful servers with high bandwidth connections to maximize download speed. Some providers allow uncapped download speeds while others might limit your speeds.
Every time your newsreader connects to your news server, that link is called a connection. Most Usenet service providers allow multiple simultaneous connections which can increase your download speed. Make sure you check the number of connections you get with a Usenet plan. More connections is almost always better.
Keep in mind that increasing the number of connections you use does not guarantee an increase in download speed. If you’re new to Usenet, start with the pre-configured amount of connections. As you get more comfortable with your newsreader, you can experiment with increasing the number of connections to see how it affects download speed. Generally the process is this: Start downloading a large file, and once the download speed stabilizes, increase the number of connections by one. Keep increasing by one until your download speed no longer increases. The goal is to get the fastest download speed with the least amount of connections. That’s why you want to choose a Usenet provider who allows you multiple connections for flexibility.
4. Privacy & Security
Though using SSL connections does give you privacy and security, your everyday online browsing activity isn’t always safe. Providers like Newshosting and UsenetServer offer a free VPN addon that protects all of your Internet activity. For example, when you download an NZB file from a Usenet indexer, that history will only be protected if you had first connected to a VPN.
Always Choose a Usenet provider who offers SSL connections. It’s an added bonus if they also include a no-log VPN.
Finally consider the monthly price of a Usenet provider when making your decision. Look carefully at what you’re paying for. Do you need unlimited download speeds? Are you getting unlimited downloads or is there a monthly cap on downloads? Is the annual plan going to save you money compared to paying month-to-month?
To relieve some of your stress in choosing a provider, many Usenet services offer great free trials. You get to test their service for a limited amount of time but with full access to all of the included features. We highly recommend that you take advantage of a Usenet free trial before committing to one or two providers.
When it comes to choosing a Usenet service provider, the most important things to look for are: retention, completion, connections and speed, privacy and security, and price.
Is Usenet safe?
As with all files on the Internet, people may try to exploit Usenet for their own gain in malicious ways. They sometimes upload files with viruses and malware, hoping that unaware people download them and execute files. You can avoid this trouble by using a reputable indexer, checking that what you’re downloading is an appropriate file size, and scanning downloaded files with a good antivirus program. Use SSL connections and a VPN for added privacy and security.
Should I use a VPN with Usenet?
We recommend using a VPN with Usenet, but it’s not required. A good VPN allows you to privately browse and download files, both from an indexer and from your Usenet provider. It usually won’t slow down your download speed either, if you connect to a low-latency server.
Should I connect through SSL?
Enabling SSL encrypts your Usenet traffic. There’s really no reason not to connect to your Usenet provider’s SSL port, which most good providers offer for free.
What are block accounts and unlimited accounts?
You are likely to read discussions online about having one unlimited account and one block (or fill) account.
An unlimited account is a Usenet plan with a certain provider that gives you unlimited downloads for a monthly fee. You can download as much or as little as you want from that provider, and you’ll be charged the same monthly fee for access (or one annual fee if you pay for a year in advance).
A block account is usually a certain gigabyte allotment that you purchase for a one-time fee with a different Usenet provider on a different Usenet backbone. For example, if you purchase 100GB block with Tweaknews, you can download 100GB of files before you have to purchase another block.
Why would you want both types of accounts?
Due to many factors affecting file propagation, certain articles could be absent on one Usenet provider but be available on another. When downloading files, your newsreader will first search your unlimited account (or primary provider) for all of the files you need. If it can’t find an article needed to complete the download, it then searches your block account (or secondary provider) and downloads the missing articles from it instead. In this way you have a higher likelihood of completing your Usenet downloads.
Usenet is still a great way to participate in global discussions and to download files from all over the world.
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