How Does Usenet Actually Work?

Usenet has been around for longer than most of the Internet as we know it, but the majority of people don’t actually understand how it works and the magic that makes Usenet such a great protocol.

In fact, Usenet is a unique communication and data storage/transmission protocol. As a result, it is one of the freest, most private communication tools online. Let’s explore how Usenet stands out from the rest of the Internet.

Short But Relevant History

We’ve delved into the history of Usenet in other articles, but what’s important here is to understand that when Usenet was created, it linked two universities in North Carolina. Soon other colleges and universities adopted the protocol and it wasn’t long before Usenet was a network with many hubs, but no centralized authority.

The network created by the open Usenet protocol continued to grow over the years, at one point being a major draw for Internet providers to encourage signups, but the network was never consolidated. Rather, new connections were built, strengthening the infrastructure and adding redundancy. That’s led to today’s resilient, decentralized network.


To understand how Usenet actually works, let’s first look at the World Wide Web for contrast.

When you open a web browser and type a site into the address bar, the browser reaches out to a domain name server to find out which IP address is associated with that particular site name. An IP address is a string of numbers that tells your computer where to find the data that makes up that website so it can request it from the host computer.

The list of IP addresses and associated domain names is maintained by an international non-profit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Every website registers their domain name with ICANN, and the web server they host their site on shares its unique IP address with them to make it possible to find that site later.

Similarly, social networks are even more centralized and controlled. A social network is owned by a single company and, therefore, is subject to both legal and social pressures to engage in selective censorship. They also are much more vulnerable to requests from governments around the world, severely limiting users’ ability to have free, open discussions, organize, and protest.

Usenet doesn’t work like this at all.

While there is a management board for the Big 8 hierarchies, their job is only to help create and maintain newsgroups, not register every Usenet instance. Instead, Usenet is split into a series of “backbones.”

A Usenet backbone is a collection of servers connected to one or several providers. The servers store all Usenet posts and binaries for later retrieval by a newsreader. Most Usenet posts are available on any backbone, but because they are all operated independently of one another, there are often differences in what is and is not stored on a particular set of servers. This is why many Usenet users will have accounts with more than one provider, for example Newshosting and Tweaknews, to increase the number of potential Usenet articles they can access.

Censorship-Free and Secure

Because Usenet is a distributed, decentralized network, it is subject to a lot less censorship than other parts of the Internet. In fact, unlike social networks that are highly centralized and regulated, newsgroups are generally unmoderated.

There are moderated newsgroups, but most have “.moderated” appended to the end of the group name. Otherwise, newsgroups are an amazing place to post discussions without worrying about being unfairly censored or otherwise prevented from participating in the community.

Most Usenet providers also employ SSL security with their service to encrypt your data while browsing newsgroups. This is an important security feature that helps to protect your identity online and prevent others from being able to obtain your personal information.

Bottom Line

Usenet is unlike anything else online. While it was the first social network, it is a far cry from the highly centralized, highly regulated social networks of today. It doesn’t rely on a single entity to maintain its crucial infrastructure. Users have the ability to choose the provider or providers that will give them access to the articles that they most want. Usenet is closest to the ideal of a free and open Internet online today.Get a subscription from one of our Best Usenet Providers today and see for yourself how enjoyable a secure, decentralized platform like Usenet can be.