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What is Usenet? And how does it work in 2021?

You’ve certainly heard of the World Wide Web – you’re using it right now. But did you know that there’s another network that’s currently in use? It was created before the WWW, in 1979, as a way to exchange files through the UUCP protocol. Its creators called it Usenet (User’s Network), and it is now one of the oldest computer network communication systems still in use.

Anna Rasmussen

Anna Rasmussen

Jul 23, 2021 · 4 min read

What is Usenet? And how does it work in 2021?

How does Usenet work?

Usenet started off as a text-based decentralized discussion system, but over the years, it evolved to become much more than that. One of the major changes to the network was the employment of NNTP (network news transfer protocol), which was much more efficient than UUCP and is still used to this day.

While Usenet was meant for sharing messages and files between two universities, it grew rapidly and now includes thousands of newsgroups and millions of users. You can think of newsgroups as forums or subreddits – each covers a specific topic, some have moderators, and regular users can post on them.

In short – it’s not that different from the popular social networks most of us use every day. Over time, however, most of its users moved to Twitter, Reddit, and modern online forums. While some die-hard fans are still using Usenet for its original purpose, most of the userbase is there for fast, anonymous, and, unfortunately, often illegal file sharing.

How to use Usenet

1. Find a provider

If Usenet is not a part of the World Wide Web, then how do you access it? Through your ISP – Usenet uses the same infrastructure as the Web but with a different method of communication. Unlike the regular Web, you must be subscribed to a Usenet service provider in order to access it. These vary wildly, and we’ll get to them in more detail later on.

2. Get an indexer (optional)

If you’re not satisfied with the search engine your Usenet provider comes with, you can use an independent one. There are lots of them available, and some, like Binsearch, don’t even require you to register or pay anything. Think of them as Google, but for looking up .NZB files on the indexer.

3. Configure your client

Once you have a provider picked out, you then have to set up your Usenet client (also called a newsreader) to be able to read the newsgroups and download media using the .NZB files. The most popular option is SABnzbd – it’s easy to install and set up, but if you run into any trouble, they offer a detailed guide on their website to help you out.

4. Get going

Use the indexer and search for the content you want. Once you find it, download the .NZB file and upload it to your client. It will do its magic and place .rar files into the selected folder on your computer. You can then uncompress and use them.

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Usenet subscriptions – what you should look for

There are a lot of Usenet providers out there. Here are a few things to consider when choosing the right option for you:

  • Data limits. Depending on what you plan to use Usenet for, this could be a major deciding factor. Providers offer different prices for different data limits, but you have to compare them against other features as well. Unlimited data will be useless if the provider only gives you access to a handful of servers – there’ll be nothing for you to download.
  • Retention. This one is simple – the longer, the better. This is the amount of time the provider’s server will retain the binary files. You want to look for a provider that offers at least three years of retention.
  • Connections. If you want to connect several devices at the same time or download multiple files at once, you’ll need a provider that supports multiple simultaneous connections.
  • Additional features. SSL encryption is a dealbreaker – never settle for a provider that doesn’t offer any encryption. Reliable customer support is also a good thing to have – for new Usenet users especially. And if you’re not sure if you will continue using it, you should look for a free trial period or a money-back guarantee.

Is Usenet legal?

Yes, it is legal to use, but as with many things, it can be (and is) used illegally. Because of the anonymity it offers, Usenet has attracted internet pirates who share copyrighted movies, software, and other data illegally.

We do not support or endorse illegal activity, and would urge you not to engage in any forms of piracy.

Is Usenet safe?

When it comes to safety, a provider that offers SSL encryption is a good start. But Usenet logs your IP address every time you get an .NZB file or download a binary file, limiting your privacy.

The only way to avoid that is by using a VPN. It will enhance your security even further, ensure a safe connection, and hide your real IP address. A VPN will also hide the fact you’re using Usenet from anyone who might be watching.

Again, if you want to check out Usenet, we recommend that you avoid any illegal activity. You can visit Usenet to view interesting part of the internet's history — one that is best treated with a degree of caution.