heredago's blog

December 17, 2012

What is Usenet & How to Get Started

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — heredago @ 13:15

Usenet is a world-wide distributed discussion system.  It consists of a set of “newsgroups” with names that are classified hierarchically by subject.  ”Articles” or “messages” are “posted” to these newsgroups by people on computers with the appropriate software — these articles are then broadcast to other interconnected computer systems via a wide variety of networks.  Some newsgroups are “moderated”; in these newsgroups, the articles are first sent to a moderator for approval before appearing in the newsgroup.

Well that’s the technical definition. Let’s simplify things a little to suit your needs!

To enjoy everything the newsgroups have to offer, you need three essential things:

  • A good newsgroup server – This is where your newsreader will download the files from.
  • A good newsgroup reader – This is the program you will use to download from the newsgroups.
  • Access to an indexing site – This is where you will browse or search for things to download from the newsgroups (similar to a torrent site).

An important note at this stage is to remember that Usenet is a premium service that gives you uninterrupted download access to all available files (your only limitation is the download speed of your ISP). This is the reason why all good Usenet services are paid. However, there are a lot of good affordable options nowadays. Here are the best options that we recommend:

But wait! Before you jump the gun and buy a service, let’s setup the basics and understand your needs.

Setting up your Newsreader

One of the best free, open source and cross platform newsreaders we have come across is SABnzbd. In the developer’s own words: it’s totally free, incredibly easy to use, and works practically everywhere. Simply download and install the program on your computer and it will automatically download, unzip/rar and fix files for you.

Also, during the install process, Sabnzbd will ask you for your newsgroup server details. On this page, enter the server information provided by your news host. If you are using SSL (recommended), be sure to tick the SSL checkbox. Once you’ve entered your server details, click the “Test Server” button to determine if the connection works.

Once this is setup, it works much like any torrent program. You download the “.nzb” file from the indexing site of your choice (this is very similar to a torrent file). Once you launch this file, Sabnzbd will start your chosen download within seconds!

There are alternatives to Sabnzbd like alt.binz and Grabit but these might not be as simple and easy to use as our recommendation. Feel free to explore around though!

Which Newsgroup Server to Choose?

The news server is where all the information you want is located, and it is very important that you subscribe to one that suits your needs. Thankfully, there are many choices! But there are several things to consider before you start buying.

Binary Retention

Maintaining all of the messages on the server that contain files takes up a tremendous amount of space. This leads us to a term you should get to understand: retention. Retention refers to the amount of time a post or file remains on a news server before its deleted. A popular newsgroup with frequent posts would have a shorter retention period than a less popular newsgroup with few posts. As the cost of hardware and server capacity dwindled, most news servers now have a blanket retention policy for all the newsgroups they carry; if the retention is 800 days in one newsgroup, chances are it will be the same for the rest of the newsgroups the news server carries.

As a basic rule of thumb: the longer the retention the better!

Number of Connections

Connections are another critical feature and refer to the amount of simultaneous processes that can take place between a news server and a news reader. The more processes that can take place, at least to a point, the faster and more efficient your download will be.

Every Usenet service provider caps the number of simultaneous connections you can make at a single time through your account. This is relevant for a couple of reasons. First, most of the files you’ll download are split into parts and you may want to download those parts concurrently, as this can often be faster than downloading one file at a time. The number of connections you pay for is directly related to the number of files you can download at a given time. Also, if you want to use your account from different locations at the same time or share your account with someone else, you can split up the number of connections between locations so only one account is needed.Generally, no matter what type of account you choose, you’ll end up with a sufficient number of connections–if not more than you’ll ever need.


Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption, is another feature that has become popular.This is the same kind of protection that is used when you pay your bills or perform online banking. While this option is especially significant for uploaders, it helps protect downloaders as well – but to an extent. SSL encryption helps conceal the contents of the data stream between the news server and the end user.

In most cases SSL and other security options don’t cost extra but may be something you want to consider. If you want to take any extra measures to encrypt the data moving between your Usenet service provider and you, make sure you take a look at what each provider offers you, as various security options are available with most.

Quota – Monthly vs. Block

Finally, we have the types of accounts offered. There are generally two types of accounts you can subscribe to based on your usage.

Monthly accounts have a regular billing cycle and assign you an allowance of download every month. For example, if you sign up for a monthly 15GB plan; you have a 15GB download limit per month which is automatically renewed every month. However, nowadays many providers offer unlimited download accounts at competitive rates so it is best to keep checking back on the links we provided in this guide for the best deals with the best providers.

Block accounts have a one time fee and allow you to buy a chunk of download allowance without any expiry. So, if you purchase a 100GB block from one of the providers, you can use it at any time (months/years) until you use up the 100GB download limit. This is a great option for people who do not download a lot of material every month.

Easy Usenet Automation Software

Here is a list of software that will enhance your Usenet experience:

  • SickBeard – The ultimate PVR application that downloads and manages your TV shows. Automatically finds new and old episodes.
  • CouchPotato – Allows you to keep a “movies I want” list and will search for NZBs of these movies every X hours.


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