Written By: Abdullah Salim

Usenet (USEr NETwork) is a distributed Internet discussion system developed in 1979 by two Duke University graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. Usenet users post email like messages to newsgroups (similar to bulletin boards). This message is stored on a server which exchanges message information with other servers. Other users can then read posted messages through the use of news reading software. In many cases, these servers are administered by ISP's or universities.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Terminology
  3. How It Works
  4. Usenet vs. The Internet
  5. Usenet Today
  6. See Also
  7. References
  8. External Links


Usenet was one of the first forms of computer network based communication systems. It was created about a decade before the Internet became available. Upon Usenet's inception, it was known as the poor man's ARPANET. Usenet used UUCP to communicate with other computers on the network. This allowed mail service and file transfer abilities. Also, using A News Usenet could send announcements out to individuals who requested them.


  • Newsgroups - Usenet is composed of newsgroups which consist of related discussions and messages. The names for the newsgroups are organized such that subsequent words narrow the subject. For example, is a newsgroup where sci is the newsgroup and bio and evolution are the subjects. The other major groups are comp, soc, news, rec, misc, talk, biz and alt.
  • Newsreader - A software tool which will automatically keep track of the news that you are subscribed to. This is similar to a RSS feed reader.
  • Subscribing - Subscribing to a newsgroup will allow your newsreader to keep track of messages that you have read and those that are waiting to be read. It is a way saving your favourite newsgroups and saves you from looking through thousands of newsgroups that you might not be interested in.
  • Post - A message that is sent to a specific newsgroup. Anyone who is subscribed to that newsgroup will be notified regarding your message.

How It Works

A user begins by posting a new message or a response to a previous message on a newsgroup. This is stored on the server that the user is associated with. This server is called a news server. Each news server is connected to other local news servers. These servers exchange message information. This system of exchanging messages among neighboring news servers propagates until all servers associated with that newsgroup have the new posted message.

A user who opens their newsreader and is subscribed to the newsgroup that the message was posted to is notified of the new message and can view it and respond to it if they choose to. So, within a few short hours, the users message is available for millions to view.

Usenet vs. The Internet

Like email, FTP and the world wide web, Usenet is a service of the Internet. The difference however is in the way communication is done.


With email, along with FTP, the communication is direct between the two systems. A communication link is made and data is transferred between the two parties.

World Wide Web

In the world wide web, along with certain instances of FTP a group of computers, called clients, communicate with a central system, called the server (either web server or FTP server).


Usenet Today

One of the major difference between Usenet in the early days, is the fact that many news servers nowadays support binary files. This means that users can post such things like images, audio files, video files and software applications. This has resulted in major issues, especially because many of these binary files are copyrighted material. Groups like the RIAA and the MPAA have recently began taking note of this and have started taking action against news servers that actively promote piracy.

See Also


  1. - The Reference of Usenet Newsgroups
  2. Usenet Terms and Definitions
  3. Usenet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  4. History of Usenet
  5. What is Usenet?
  6. What is Usenet?
  7. Netscan: Measuring and Mapping the Social Structure of Usenet
  8. The Boston Globe - Little-used corner of Net becomes piracy battlefield

External Links

Last Updated: 6 April 2007