USENET is a worldwide distributed discussion system available on
computers. It was developed from the general-purpose
Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in
1979, and it was established in 1980. Users read and post messages
(called _articles_ or _posts_, and collectively termed _news_) to one
or more categories, known as newsgroups .
Usenet resembles a bulletin
board system (BBS) in many respects and is the precursor to Internet
forums that are widely used today. Discussions are threaded , as with
web forums and BBSs, though posts are stored on the server
sequentially. The name comes from the term "users network".
One notable difference between a BBS or web forum and
Usenet is the
absence of a central server and dedicated administrator.
distributed among a large, constantly changing conglomeration of
servers that store and forward messages to one another in so-called
news feeds. Individual users may read messages from and post messages
to a local server operated by a commercial usenet provider, their
Internet service provider , university, employer, or their own server.
Usenet has significant cultural importance in the networked world,
having given rise to, or popularized, many widely recognized concepts
and terms such as "
FAQ ", "flame ", and "spam ".
* 1 Introduction
* 2 ISPs, news servers, and newsfeeds
* 2.1 Newsreaders
* 2.2 Moderated and unmoderated newsgroups
* 2.3 Technical details
* 2.4 Organization
* 2.5 Binary content
* 2.5.1 Binary retention time
* 2.5.2 Legal issues
* 3 History
* 3.1 Network
* 3.3 Public venue
Internet jargon and history
* 3.5 Decline
Usenet traffic changes
* 5 Archives
* 5.1 Archives by
Google Groups and
* 6 See also
* 6.2 Usenet/newsgroup service providers
* 7 References
* 8 Further reading
* 9 External links
Usenet was conceived in 1979 and publicly established in 1980, at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and
Duke University ,
over a decade before the
World Wide Web was developed and the general
public received access to the
Internet , making it one of the oldest
computer network communications systems still in widespread use. It
was originally built on the "poor man's
ARPANET ", employing
its transport protocol to offer mail and file transfers, as well as
announcements through the newly developed news software such as A News
. The name
Usenet emphasized its creators' hope that the USENIX
organization would take an active role in its operation.
The articles that users post to
Usenet are organized into topical
categories known as newsgroups , which are themselves logically
organized into hierarchies of subjects. For instance, _sci.math _ and
_sci.physics _ are within the _sci.*_ hierarchy, for science. Or,
_talk.origins _ and _talk.atheism _ are in the _talk.*_ hierarchy.
When a user subscribes to a newsgroup, the news client software keeps
track of which articles that user has read.
In most newsgroups, the majority of the articles are responses to
some other article. The set of articles that can be traced to one
single non-reply article is called a thread . Most modern newsreaders
display the articles arranged into threads and subthreads.
When a user posts an article, it is initially only available on that
user's news server. Each news server talks to one or more other
servers (its "newsfeeds") and exchanges articles with them. In this
fashion, the article is copied from server to server and should
eventually reach every server in the network. The later peer-to-peer
networks operate on a similar principle, but for
Usenet it is normally
the sender, rather than the receiver, who initiates transfers. Usenet
was designed under conditions when networks were much slower and not
always available. Many sites on the original
Usenet network would
connect only once or twice a day to batch-transfer messages in and
out. This is largely because the POTS network was typically used for
transfers, and phone charges were lower at night.
The format and transmission of
Usenet articles is similar to that of
Internet e-mail messages. The difference between the two is that
Usenet articles can be read by any user whose news server carries the
group to which the message was posted, as opposed to email messages,
which have one or more specific recipients.
Usenet has diminished in importance with respect to Internet
forums , blogs and mailing lists .
Usenet differs from such media in
Usenet requires no personal registration with the group
concerned; information need not be stored on a remote server; archives
are always available; and reading the messages requires not a mail or
web client, but a news client. The groups in _alt.binaries _ are still
widely used for data transfer.
ISPS, NEWS SERVERS, AND NEWSFEEDS
Internet service providers, and many other
operate news servers for their users to access. ISPs that do not
operate their own servers directly will often offer their users an
account from another provider that specifically operates newsfeeds. In
early news implementations, the server and newsreader were a single
program suite, running on the same system. Today, one uses separate
newsreader client software, a program that resembles an email client
Usenet servers instead. Some clients such as Mozilla
Outlook Express provide both abilities.
Not all ISPs run news servers. A news server is one of the most
Internet services to administer well because of the large
amount of data involved, small customer base (compared to mainstream
Internet services such as email and web access), and a
disproportionately high volume of customer support incidents
(frequently complaining of missing news articles that are not the
ISP's fault). Some ISPs outsource news operation to specialist sites,
which will usually appear to a user as though the ISP ran the server
itself. Many sites carry a restricted newsfeed, with a limited number
of newsgroups. Commonly omitted from such a newsfeed are
foreign-language newsgroups and the _alt.binaries _ hierarchy which
largely carries software, music, videos and images, and accounts for
over 99 percent of article data.
There are also
Usenet providers that specialize in offering service
to users whose ISPs do not carry news, or that carry a restricted
See also news server operation for an overview of how news systems
Newsgroups are typically accessed with newsreaders : applications
that allow users to read and reply to postings in newsgroups. These
applications act as clients to one or more news servers. Although
Usenet was associated with the
Unix operating system
developed at AT">
Usenet is a set of protocols for generating, storing and retrieving
news "articles" (which resemble
Internet mail messages) and for
exchanging them among a readership which is potentially widely
distributed. These protocols most commonly use a flooding algorithm
which propagates copies throughout a network of participating servers.
Whenever a message reaches a server, that server forwards the message
to all its network neighbors that haven't yet seen the article. Only
one copy of a message is stored per server, and each server makes it
available on demand to the (typically local) readers able to access
that server. The collection of
Usenet servers has thus a certain
peer-to-peer character in that they share resources by exchanging
them, the granularity of exchange however is on a different scale than
a modern peer-to-peer system and this characteristic excludes the
actual users of the system who connect to the news servers with a
typical client-server application, much like an email reader.
RFC 850 was the first formal specification of the messages exchanged
Usenet servers. It was superseded by RFC 1036 and subsequently by
RFC 5536 and RFC 5537 .
In cases where unsuitable content has been posted,
Usenet has support
for automated removal of a posting from the whole network by creating
a cancel message, although due to a lack of authentication and
resultant abuse, this capability is frequently disabled. Copyright
holders may still request the manual deletion of infringing material
using the provisions of World Intellectual Property Organization
treaty implementations, such as the United States Online Copyright
Infringement Liability Limitation Act , but this would require giving
notice to each individual news server administrator.
On the Internet,
Usenet is transported via the Network News Transfer
Protocol (NNTP) on TCP Port 119 for standard, unprotected connections
and on TCP port 563 for SSL encrypted connections which is offered
only by a few sites.
The "Big Nine" hierarchies of
The major set of worldwide newsgroups is contained within nine
hierarchies, eight of which are operated under consensual guidelines
that govern their administration and naming. The current _Big Eight _
* _comp.*_ – computer-related discussions (_comp.software_,
* _humanities.*_ – fine arts , literature , and philosophy
* _misc.*_ – miscellaneous topics (_misc.education_,
* _news.*_ – discussions and announcements about news (meaning
Usenet, not current events) (_news.groups_, _news.admin_)
* _rec.*_ – recreation and entertainment (_rec.music_,
* _sci.*_ – science related discussions (_sci.psychology_,
* _soc.*_ – social discussions (_soc.college.org_,
* _talk.*_ – talk about various controversial topics
(_talk.religion_, _talk.politics_, _talk.origins _)
See also the
Great Renaming .
The _alt.*_ hierarchy is not subject to the procedures controlling
groups in the Big Eight, and it is as a result less organized. Groups
in the _alt.*_ hierarchy tend to be more specialized or specific—for
example, there might be a newsgroup under the Big Eight which contains
discussions about children's books, but a group in the alt hierarchy
may be dedicated to one specific author of children's books. Binaries
are posted in _alt.binaries.*_, making it the largest of all the
Many other hierarchies of newsgroups are distributed alongside these.
Regional and language-specific hierarchies such as _japan.*_,
_malta.*_ and _ne.*_ serve specific countries and regions such as
New England . Companies and projects administer
their own hierarchies to discuss their products and offer community
technical support, such as the historical _gnu.*_ hierarchy from the
Free Software Foundation .
Microsoft closed its newsserver in June
2010, providing support for its products over forums now. Some users
prefer to use the term "Usenet" to refer only to the Big Eight
hierarchies; others include alt as well. The more general term
"netnews" incorporates the entire medium, including private
organizational news systems.
Informal sub-hierarchy conventions also exist. _*.answers_ are
typically moderated cross-post groups for FAQs. An
FAQ would be posted
within one group and a cross post to the _*.answers_ group at the head
of the hierarchy seen by some as a refining of information in that
news group. Some subgroups are recursive—to the point of some
silliness in _alt.*_.
A visual example of the many complex steps required to prepare
data to be uploaded to
Usenet newsgroups. These steps must be done
again in reverse to download data from Usenet.
Usenet was originally created to distribute text content encoded in
ASCII character set. With the help of programs that encode
8-bit values into ASCII, it became practical to distribute binary
files as content. Binary posts, due to their size and often-dubious
copyright status, were in time restricted to specific newsgroups,
making it easier for administrators to allow or disallow the traffic.
The oldest widely used encoding method for binary content is uuencode
, from the
UUCP package. In the late 1980s,
Usenet articles were
often limited to 60,000 characters, and larger hard limits exist
today. Files are therefore commonly split into sections that require
reassembly by the reader.
With the header extensions and the
Base64 and Quoted-Printable MIME
encodings, there was a new generation of binary transport. In
MIME has seen increased adoption in text messages, but it is
avoided for most binary attachments. Some operating systems with
metadata attached to files use specialized encoding formats. For Mac
Binhex and special
MIME types are used.
Other lesser known encoding systems that may have been used at one
time were BTOA , XX encoding , BOO , and USR encoding .
In an attempt to reduce file transfer times, an informal file
encoding known as yEnc was introduced in 2001. It achieves about a 30%
reduction in data transferred by assuming that most 8-bit characters
can safely be transferred across the network without first encoding
into the 7-bit
The most common method of uploading large binary posts to
to convert the files into RAR archives and create
Parchive files for
them. Parity files are used to recreate missing data when not every
part of the files reaches a server.
Binary Retention Time
This is a list of some of the biggest binary groups. With 1341+
days retention, the (binary)
Usenet storage (which binsearch.info
indexes) is more than 33 petabytes 33000 terabytes ).
Each news server generally allocates a certain amount of storage
space for post content in each newsgroup. When this storage has been
filled, each time a new post arrives, old posts are deleted to make
room for the new content. If the network bandwidth available to a
server is high but the storage allocation is small, it is possible for
a huge flood of incoming content to overflow the allocation and push
out everything that was in the group before it. If the flood is large
enough, the beginning of the flood will begin to be deleted even
before the last part of the flood has been posted.
Binary newsgroups are only able to function reliably if there is
sufficient storage allocated to a group to allow readers enough time
to download all parts of a binary posting before it is flushed out of
the group's storage allocation. This was at one time how posting of
undesired content was countered; the newsgroup would be flooded with
random garbage data posts, of sufficient quantity to push out all the
content to be suppressed. This has been compensated by service
providers allocating enough storage to retain everything posted each
day, including such spam floods, without deleting anything.
The average length of time that posts are able to stay in the group
before being deleted is commonly called the _retention time_.
Generally the larger
Usenet servers have enough capacity to archive
several years of binary content even when flooded with new data at the
maximum daily speed available. A good binaries service provider must
not only accommodate users of fast connections (3 megabit) but also
users of slow connections (256 kilobit or less) who need more time to
download content over a period of several days or weeks.
Major NSPs have a retention time of more than 4 years. This results
in more than 33 petabytes (33000 terabytes ) of storage.
In part because of such long retention times, as well as growing
Internet upload speeds,
Usenet is also used by individual users to
store backup data in a practice called _
Usenet backup_, or uBackup.
While commercial providers offer more easy to use online backup
services , storing data on
Usenet is free of charge (although access
Usenet itself may not be). The method requires the user to manually
select, prepare and upload the data . Because anyone can potentially
download the backup files, the data is typically encrypted . After the
files are uploaded, the uploader does not have any control over them;
the files are automatically copied to all
Usenet providers, so there
will be multiple copies of it spread over different geographical
locations around the world—desirable in a backup scheme.
While binary newsgroups can be used to distribute completely legal
user-created works, open-source software, and public domain material,
some binary groups are used to illegally distribute commercial
software, copyrighted media, and obscene material.
Usenet servers frequently block access to all
_alt.binaries.*_ groups to both reduce network traffic and to avoid
related legal issues. Commercial
Usenet service providers claim to
operate as a telecommunications service, and assert that they are not
responsible for the user-posted binary content transferred via their
equipment. In the United States,
Usenet providers can qualify for
protection under the
DMCA Safe Harbor regulations , provided that they
establish a mechanism to comply with and respond to takedown notices
from copyright holders.
Removal of copyrighted content from the entire
Usenet network is a
nearly impossible task, due to the rapid propagation between servers
and the retention done by each server. Petitioning a
for removal only removes it from that one server's retention cache,
but not any others. It is possible for a special _post cancellation_
message to be distributed to remove it from all servers, but many
providers ignore cancel messages by standard policy, because they can
be easily falsified and submitted by anyone. For a takedown petition
to be most effective across the whole network, it would have to be
issued to the origin server to which the content has been posted,
before it has been propagated to other servers. Removal of the content
at this early stage would prevent further propagation, but with modern
high speed links, content can be propagated as fast as it arrives,
allowing no time for content review and takedown issuance by copyright
Establishing the identity of the person posting illegal content is
equally difficult due to the trust-based design of the network. Like
SMTP email, servers generally assume the header and origin information
in a post is true and accurate. However, as in
headers are easily falsified so as to obscure the true identity and
location of the message source. In this manner,
significantly different from modern P2P services; most P2P users
distributing content are typically immediately identifiable to all
other users by their network address , but the origin information for
Usenet posting can be completely obscured and unobtainable once it
has propagated past the original server.
Also unlike modern P2P services, the identity of the downloaders is
hidden from view. On P2P services a downloader is identifiable to all
others by their network address. On Usenet, the downloader connects
directly to a server, and only the server knows the address of who is
connecting to it. Some
Usenet providers do keep usage logs, but not
all make this logged information casually available to outside parties
such as the
Recording Industry Association of America . The
existence of anonymising gateways to USENET also complicates the
tracing of a postings true origin.
Usenet Logical Map — June 1, 1981 / mods by S. McGeady
November 19, 1981 (ucbvax) +=+===================================+==+
wivax microsoft uiucdcs
genradbo (Tektronix) purdue
decvax+===+=+====+=+=+ pur-phy tekmdp
pdp phs grumpy wolfvax cincy
unc=+===+======+========+ bio (Misc) (Misc)
sii reed dukgeri duke34 utzoo
u1100s bmd70 ucf-cs ucf andiron
red pyuxh zeppo psupdp---psuvax
alice whuxlb utah-cs houxf allegra
/=+=======harpo=+==+ / hocsr
+=+=============+=/ cbosg---+ ucbopt esquire :
cbosgd : ucbcory
eagle==+=====+=====+=====+=====+ : +-uwvax--+
: mhuxa mhuxh mhuxj mhuxm mhuxv : :
+----------------------------o--+ : ucbcad ihpss
mh135a : : --o--o------ihnss----vax135----cornell
(UCB) : (Silicon Valley) ucbarpa cmevax menlo70--hao :
ucbonyx sri-unix ucsfcgl Legend:
sytek====+========+ ------- - / + = Uucp
sdcsvax=+=======+=+======+ intelqa zehntel = "Bus" o jumps
sdcarl phonlab sdcattb : Berknet @ Arpanet
Usenet Logical Map, original by
Steven McGeady . Copyright©
Henry Spencer , David Wiseman. Copied with permission
Usenet Oldnews Archive: Compilation_.
Newsgroup experiments first occurred in 1979.
Tom Truscott and Jim
Duke University came up with the idea as a replacement for a
local announcement program, and established a link with nearby
University of North Carolina using
Bourne shell scripts written by
Steve Bellovin . The public release of news was in the form of
conventional compiled software , written by Steve Daniel and Truscott.
Usenet was connected to
ARPANET through UC Berkeley which
had connections to both
Usenet and ARPANET. Mark Horton , the graduate
student who set up the connection, began "feeding mailing lists from
ARPANET into Usenet" with the "fa" ("From ARPANET" ) identifier.
Usenet gained 50 member sites in its first year, including Reed
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma , and
Bell Labs , and the number of
people using the network increased dramatically; however, it was still
a while longer before
Usenet users could contribute to ARPANET.
UUCP networks spread quickly due to the lower costs involved, and the
ability to use existing leased lines,
X.25 links or even ARPANET
connections. By 1983, thousands of people participated from more than
500 hosts, mostly universities and
Bell Labs sites but also a growing
number of Unix-related companies; the number of hosts nearly doubled
to 940 in 1984. More than 100 newsgroups existed, more than 20 devoted
Unix and other computer-related topics, and at least a third to
recreation. As the mesh of
UUCP hosts rapidly expanded, it became
desirable to distinguish the
Usenet subset from the overall network. A
vote was taken at the 1982
USENIX conference to choose a new name. The
Usenet was retained, but it was established that it only applied
to news. The name UUCPNET became the common name for the overall
In addition to UUCP, early
Usenet traffic was also exchanged with
Fidonet and other dial-up BBS networks. Widespread use of
the BBS community was facilitated by the introduction of
made possible by MS-DOS implementations of UUCP, such as UFGATE (UUCP
FidoNet Gateway), FS
UUCP and UUPC. In 1986, RFC 977 provided the
Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) specification for distribution
Usenet articles over TCP/IP as a more flexible alternative to
Internet transfers of
UUCP traffic. Since the
of the 1990s, almost all
Usenet distribution is over NNTP.
Early versions of
Usenet used Duke's
A News software, designed for
one or two articles a day. Matt Glickman and Horton at Berkeley
produced an improved version called
B News that could handle the
rising traffic (about 50 articles a day as of late 1983). With a
message format that offered compatibility with
Internet mail and
improved performance, it became the dominant server software.
C News ,
Geoff Collyer and
Henry Spencer at the University of
Toronto , was comparable to
B News in features but offered
considerably faster processing. In the early 1990s,
Rich Salz was developed to take advantage of the continuous message
flow made possible by NNTP versus the batched store-and-forward design
of UUCP. Since that time INN development has continued, and other news
server software has also been developed.
Usenet was the first
Internet community and the place for many of the
most important public developments in the pre-commercial Internet. It
was the place where
Tim Berners-Lee announced the launch of the World
Wide Web , where
Linus Torvalds announced the
Linux project, and
Marc Andreessen announced the creation of the
Mosaic browser and
the introduction of the image tag, which revolutionized the World
Wide Web by turning it into a graphical medium.
INTERNET JARGON AND HISTORY
Many jargon terms now in common use on the
Internet originated or
were popularized on Usenet. Likewise, many conflicts which later
spread to the rest of the Internet, such as the ongoing difficulties
over spamming , began on Usenet.
Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea.
Massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a
source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect
Gene Spafford , 1992
Sascha Segan of _
PC Magazine _ said in 2008 that "
Usenet has been
dying for years". Segan said that some people pointed to the Eternal
September in 1993 as the beginning of Usenet's decline. Segan believes
that when pornographers and software crackers began putting large
(non-text) files on
Usenet by the late 1990s,
Usenet disk space and
traffic increased correspondingly.
Internet service providers
questioned why they needed to host space for pornography and
unauthorized software. When the
State of New York opened an
investigation on child pornographers who used Usenet, many ISPs
Usenet access or access to the _alt.*_ hierarchy .
In response, John Biggs of
TechCrunch said "As long as there are
folks who think a command line is better than a mouse, the original
text-only social network will live on".
Usenet access in 2005. In May 2010, Duke University
, whose implementation had kicked off
Usenet more than 30 years
earlier, decommissioned its
Usenet server, citing low usage and rising
costs. After 32 years, the
Usenet news service link at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (news.unc.edu) was retired
on February 4, 2011.
USENET TRAFFIC CHANGES
Over time, the amount of
Usenet traffic has steadily increased. As of
2010 the number of all text posts made in all Big-8 newsgroups
averaged 1,800 new messages every hour, with an average of 25,000
messages per day. However, these averages are minuscule in comparison
to the traffic in the binary groups. Much of this traffic increase
reflects not an increase in discrete users or newsgroup discussions,
but instead the combination of massive automated spamming and an
increase in the use of _.binaries_ newsgroups in which large files
are often posted publicly. A small sampling of the change (measured in
feed size per day) follows:
Verizon Communications ,
Time Warner Cable and Sprint Nextel
signed an agreement with
Attorney General of New York
Andrew Cuomo to
shut down access to sources of child pornography . Time Warner Cable
stopped offering access to Usenet. Verizon reduced its access to the
"Big 8" hierarchies. Sprint stopped access to the _alt.*_ hierarchies.
AT they had more than 50% of the U.S. ISP marketshare. On June 8,
2009, ATborder:solid #aaa 1px">
Comparison of Usenet newsreaders
List of Usenet newsreaders
USENET/NEWSGROUP SERVICE PROVIDERS
EasyNews (since 1994)
Giganews (since 1994)
Astraweb (since 1997)
* Highwinds (since 2002)
Cleanfeed (Usenet spam filter)
* Godwin\'s law
* kill file
List of newsgroups
Usenet Death Penalty
* Warnock\'s dilemma
Legion of Net.Heroes
* Scientology and the
Usenet as a whole has no administrators; each server administrator is
free to do whatever pleases him or her as long as the end users and
peer servers tolerate and accept it. Nevertheless, there are a few
* Chris Lewis
* Gene (Spaf) Spafford
Mary Ann Horton
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