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Getting Started With Newsreaders

What are Usenet newsgroups?

They have been described in many ways but simply -- are discussion groups on the Internet organized by subject matter. politics, hobbies, sports, (and yes, even adult pornography) are some of the subjects of many newsgroups. Users in a newsgroup participate in discussions by posting messages for others to read, and responding to the messages posted by others. Currently there are over 100,000 newsgroup available and new groups are added every day.

When did Usenet begin?

Usenet began in 1979, shortly after the release of Version 7 Unix with UUCP (Unix to Unix CoPy: protocol used for the store-and-forward exchange of Usenet News and other files). Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis thought of linking computers together to exchange information with the Unix community. Steve Bellovin, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, put together the first version of the news software using shell scripts and installed it on the first two sites: "unc" and "duke." At the beginning of 1980 the network consisted of those two sites and "phs" (another machine at Duke), and was displayed at the January Usenix conference. Steve Bellovin later developed the scripts into C programs, but they were never released beyond "unc" and "duke." Steve Daniel did another implementation in C for public distribution as well. Tom Truscott made further modifications, and this became the "A" news release.

How do you get connected to newsgroups?

There are pretty much two ways to access newsgroups -- a) using a "web browser" or b) use of a "newsreader" software. As with most any software nowadays, there are free newsreaders as well as paid versions. See "Recommended Newsreader Software" for links directly to developers of news readers, short descriptions of each application, and links to webbased newsreaders.

If you're using a newsreader to access newsgroups, the newsreader makes its connection by means of the Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP). I wouldn't worry too much now about the protocol now as it's not required to start using newsgroups. If you would like to know more about NNTP see the NNTP Protocol Overview and RFC977

Once you have newsreader software installed on your computer, you'll need to configure it to connect to a Usenet server. The steps below are not specific to any one newsreader application or operating system, but should be enough to get you configured, connected, and using newsgroups:

1. Start your newsreader application you've installed
2. A "wizard" screen may appear asking you to configure a news server. If it did, you're golden! Skip to step 4
3. If no wizard screen appeared, find the "help" menubar selection on the application, or check the "support" section of the developers website.
4. The most important section to fill out is "server" (aka NNTP server, news server). If you need access to a newsgroup service, I recommend (new window will open) as they will provide you with the username(login), password and newsserver name you need to get started.
5. The "username" (aka login) and "password" boxes are usually only required if you connect to a a newsgroup server outside the network of your ISP. Also, the "from", "email", "name" may need to be completed but that information can be real or made up.
6. Now tell the newsreader to connect to the newsserver. From there it should download the current list of available newsgroups (getting an error? see next section "Having trouble getting connected to a Usenet server?")
7. Once the complete list of groups are downloaded, you should be able to do a keyword search based on the type of newsgroup you're interested in. To find a group, open it and the list of posts will download and appear onscreen.
8. Double-click on a post -- now you're reading newsgroups!

Having trouble getting connected to a Usenet server?

A few common errors can appear when trying to connect to a newsserver. See below for possible resolutions:

"480 error" - usually indicates your newsreader application is not sending the username and password when asked by the news server. Check your settings/preferences within your newsreader to ensure they are entered and/or configured to authenticate to server.

"502 authentication" - username and/or password is misspelled; ensure you hand-type in the information -- do not copy/paste as extra spaces may cause authentication errors.

"host not found" - the server you typed in is misspelled, or you copy/pasted the name -- try hand-typing in the name of the server (usually starts with "").

"could not connect to server" - something may be blocking access via port 119 (the port most newsreaders/Usenet servers are configured to use). If applicable, check your firewall/proxy software configuration and ensure port 119 is allowed. If you're at work, most likely your administrator has blocked the port.


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