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The Technical Basics of Usenet

Usenet predates the Internet by several years, at least in terms of usage by everyday people. This system was devised as a way for universities to share news with one another and, thus, discussion groups on Usenet servers are still referred to as newsgroups.

These newsgroups contain sometimes thousands of posts by subscribers, wherein they discuss all manner of topics. The way the posts are propagated is very interesting and represents one of the most long-lived incarnations of the decentralized network design that came to define the Internet.

You access Usenet newsgroups with a special piece of software called a newsreader. The experience is somewhat like reading email and, in fact, some free email programs have news readers bundled in with them. These posts are text and you can reply to them by using the news reader.

When you post your contribution to the discussion, your news server updates the newsgroup with what you added. Your news server may be provided by your ISP or it may be provided by a third-party service online. No matter how you get to the server, your newsgroup server itself will communicate with others at regular intervals.

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Your newsgroup server will communicate with another, and the two share the information they have, including any updates to the newsgroups. Each of them will communicate with several other servers, which will communicate with several others in turn, and so forth. Each time they communicate, they pass along the updates that each of them receives from their users.

This decentralized system of networking is very robust. Because the information is copied over and over again, there™s no central server to fail and redundancy ensures that the information is available. There are some very large servers that act as hubs, but none of them are vital to keep the entire system up and running.

This model of networking is also very egalitarian. Each server can have its own policies, offer its own selection of news groups and so forth. There™s no way that anyone can take over the entire system and dictate what™s allowed and what isn™t to users.

This makes it one of the freest forms of communication around. The system can also accommodate file transfers. Any digital information that isn™t a text post on Usenet is referred to as a œbinary. The Usenet system has around 100,000 newsgroups available to subscribers.

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