Think of Usenet as a giant, worldwide electronic bulletin board. Anyone can freely post something on this bulletin board. Everyone else can read the posted items and add their own items. These voluntary contributions and free exchange of information are the foundation of the Internet. Usenet allows people on the Internet to share their opinions and experiences, openly and freely, on a level playing field. No one has priority or seniority over anyone else. Usenet gives everyone an equal opportunity to participate in the discussions.
Communication Through Usenet Newsgroups
Usenet consists of many, ongoing discussions, dealing with a wide variety of subjects. The topics relate to both work and leisure. Usenet tries to encompass only those people interested in a particular topic by dividing the subject areas into newsgroups. Each newsgroup involves one subject or topic. Some newsgroups deal with very specific topics, for example a newsgroup for car pictures in the 1970’s, could be called ‘alt.binaries.pictures.autos-1970’.
There are other groups that are more general in nature, for example a newsgroup for Nature pictures of all sorts is alt.binaries.picture.nature. Tens of thousands of newsgroups exist today and many more are added on a daily basis. Some of them are applicable to a global audience; others are more applicable to a country, city, or organization. Most of the newsgroups are available to everyone on the Internet.
What is a Newsgroup Server
When someone posts a message in a newsgroup, it is first stored on his/her Usenet provider’s news server. That server then distributes copies of the message to its peers, that is, to other servers with which it has agreed to exchange newsgroup messages directly. Those servers then distribute copies to their peers, and so on, until all the servers which carry that newsgroup have a copy of the message.
Therefore, the better peering relations a Usenet provider has established with its peers, the more information and articles that provider’s customers will have access to. When someone reads a message in a newsgroup, he/she is reading the copy that is stored on his/her provider’s news server. This server is also commonly referred to as a “newsgroup server,” or a server that hosts specific newsgroups and the articles they contain. Newsgroup servers can host tens of thousands of different newsgroups that you can easily subscribe to (and unsubscribed when no longer interested in a particular newsgroup).
How Newsgroup Servers Work
Every Newsgroup server keeps track of its articles using an index file. When a new article comes in or is posted directly by a client, the Newsgroup server makes a note in its index file so that it can quickly locate that article again in the future. This index file tells the server exactly where to look to retrieve that specific article, next time a user requests that article.
Any article that is indexed on a Newsgroup server is available to be read by any client through the use of a Newsreader software program. Any Usenet client can start a newsgroup on a given server (e.g. news.fastusenet.org) and give it any name they wish (e.g. ‘alt.binaries.pictures.naturel’ for a group that contains nature pictures). That is how Newsgroup Servers can contain so many diverse newsgroups that address very specific interests.
Peering Relationships Between Providers
Peers in newsgroups, as with peers in general, are relationships established between two or more parties for the mutual benefit of each other. A newsgroup peer is usually between two ISP’s or news services, for the purpose of exchanging traffic directly, rather than doing so through a backbone Internet provider.
Traditionally, that traffic was exchanged at no cost, although that no longer is necessarily true. Usually, most peering relationships are set up by having the amount sent between two peers be as equal as possible. Basically this means that the amount I send you should be the amount that you send me. Peering at Fast Usenet works this way. Many of our peers run their service in a similar fashion.
The relationship a Usenet Service Provider has with its peers is vital to the survival and the success of a news service because that is where they get the information. A news service will have many peers and not rely on the feed from one peer solely.
The more peers a provider has, the better completion you can expect as there will be a greater variety and number of articles coming in to its servers. The feed from just one news service will only be from what that peer has and if they don’t carry all of the groups that you do, then there will be missing groups.
Newsgroup Article Completion
Newsgroup completion is something that is very important when choosing a newsgroup service. Some say the article completion rate is the single most important criteria for selecting a news service, 90% + completion rates are a must have feature. Completion is something that is only related to multi-part binary files. All binary files are broken down into little parts that you must download and reassemble.
If you server doesn’t have all the parts, you can’t use the file. Text messages may not be broken into re-assemble-able parts, but servers that miss binary messages miss text messages as well. It is impossible to carry on a conversation if some peoples’ responses are missing. So as you can see completion is important for text groups too. The larger Usenet companies all have direct peering relationships with each other, so files posted on any large company will have a much better chance of showing up on their direct peers. Smaller companies have their messages via several hops, thus reducing completion rates.