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Newsgroups – The Basics

May 9, 2010 Leave a comment
Lots of people have asked me about newsgroups recently, “What are they?”, “What do people use them for?”, “How do they work”, “How do I set it all up?”.
So if you would like to know the answers to any of these questions, read on……
If however you just want to download files from newsgroups and you don’t really care how it works, jump to the “Quick setup” section at the bottom of this article.
Sorry this is Windows and Mac only, I may put together a Linux guide at some point soon.

 

What are they?
Usenet newsgroups are an age old way for people to exchange information related to a newsgroup topic.
Just like a forum, people post questions and other people answer them, or people post information or files they wish to share on particular topics, allowing other newsgroup users to download the information or files.
You can find a newsgroup for any topic, yes I do mean ANY topic.
The topic of a newsgroup is normally embedded in the name following a dotted format, some random examples are below to give you a rough idea:
  • misc.legal.moderated
  • news.admin.net-abuse.blocklisting
  • rec.sport.cricket
  • alt.2600
  • alt.sex.bondage
  • alt.tv.simpsons

 

What do people use them for?
Some newsgroups are totally text based and used as discussion boaards.
However as the available internet bandwidth increases, so does the size of content posted.
Over time the size of files posted on newsgroups has grown, so nowadays it’s common to see newsgroups used to share documents, movie files, games, software and music.

 

How do they work?

Above: A News Reader, connecting to a News Server over the Internet
Below: A News Readers, connecting to a News Server which is replicating with multiple News Providers

Newsgroups consist of news servers and news readers.News readers connect to news servers over the internet to interact with the news servers.
There is a limit to the size of a post on a newsgroup, so if anything is posted above the size limit it is split into multiple parts, with each part placed onto the news server as an individual post.
To download the entire original post including all associated parts, the news reader software first downloads all the parts then assembles them together to form the complete original post.
The protocol used to transfer information between the news server and news reader is NNTP, for additional security this NNTP traffic is sometimes encrypted using SSL.
Newsgroups have evolved recently, allowing very large files to be downloaded very easily, the process is as follows:
  1. Files are uploaded to a newsgroup post, the post is split into multiple parts at the news server
  2. The multiple parts are indexed into a single NZB file by an NZB indexing site
  3. The NZB file is opened by NZB reader software which downloads all the parts and assembles the part into the original posted files

 

How do I set it all up?
You will need a news provider and news software (simple news reader or NZB reader software)

 

Choosing the right news provider
Behind the scenes there are actually numerous news servers all replicating with each other rather one single source. A news provider has simply setup one or many news servers which replicate with other news servers.
The qualities to look for in a news provider are:
  • Retention (How long they keep the replicated copies for before deleting them)
  • Coverage (How many newsgroups they host)
  • Download limits (How much you are allowed to download from the news servers)
  • SSL (If you wish to make it harder for people to see what you are posting/downloading, some news providers allow SSL encryption to be used)
  • Bandwidth (Affects how fast you can post or download information)
There is some good information about news providers here: http://www.newsgroupservers.net
However if you just want to use newsgroups as discussion groups you may find that your ISP already offers a very limited free news provider service.

 

Choosing news software
If you wish to simply use newsgroups as discussion forums (Mainly text based) you just need a news reader.
A good site to find news reader software for any platform is www.newsreaders.com.

 

However if you want to download files from newsgroups you need NZB reader software and an NZB indexing site.
  • Two popular NZB readers are Newsbin Pro (www.newsbin.com) and Newsleecher (www.newsleecher.com)
  • A great All-In-One solution is SABnzbd (www.sabnzb.org), which is a web based tool which downloads, repairs + extracts nzb files. It is available for PC + Mac
For Mac NZB readers check below:

 

NZB Indexing Sites
Two great free NZB indexing sites are www.nzbs.org and www.nzbmatrix.com, however if you would prefer to pay for a better NZB site a great one is www.newzbin.com.

 

NZB problems
Downloads are often incomplete or broken due to the underlying technology behind newsgroups. Luckily there is an easy way to repair any broken downloads!
When a post is downloaded, as well as the original zip/rar files there are also some .par or .par2 files, these contain the information required to rebuild any damaged or incomplete download.
To repair a damaged or incomplete download, simply open the .par or .par2 files up in Quick Par (www.quickpar.org.uk) and it will automatically repair the downloaded post!

 

So that’s the basics of newsgroups, the section below is a very succinct step by step guide to downloading files from newsgroups.

 

Quick Setup
1. Subscribe to www.newshosting.com or www.giganews.com (Make sure you get a package with SSL if you don’t want people to see what you are downloading)
2. Download newsleecher from www.newsleecher.com (If you like it buy it, if not search google for free nzb readers)
3. Configure newsleecher to use your news provider from step 1
4. Register at www.nzbs.org
5. Search for something you want to download at www.nzbs.org then click “Download NZB”
6. Newsleecher should intercept the NZB and start to download it automatically
7. Download and install Quick Par from www.quickpar.org.uk, for Mac par file handlers see below:
8. Once your download has finished, check and repair if needed by opening the .par or .par2 files in quickpar
9. Download a trial version of winrar from http://www.rarlab.com and use this to extract the zip or rar files you downloaded
Mac users, check out the list below for handling rar archives:

 

So in summary, you search for files to download on an NZB indexing site (Steps 4+5), you download files from a News Provider (Step 1) using an NZB Reader (Steps 2+3+6) and you repair any broken files using Quick Par (Steps 7+8).