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Discussions are shown as trees in the newsreader. Here is a newsgroup in the Mozilla Thunderbird program .

The Usenet (/ juːznɛt /, originally. Unix Use r Net work - English for, Unix user network ') is a global electronic network that its own independent service of the Internet in addition to the World Wide Web is. It originated long before the World Wide Web.

It provides professional discussion forums of all kinds in pure text form, the newsgroups , in which basically anyone can participate. The participant usually uses a newsreader for this . It represents a significant body of knowledge going back to the early 1980s. There is also the parallel structure of the binary Usenet , which can also distribute binary files as attachments.


How Usenet works is often compared to bulletin boards : someone writes a message ( posting ) and posts it to the bulletin board, where it is visible and accessible to anyone interested. However, this comparison only reflects a partial aspect of Usenet, as communication via notice boards usually only goes in one direction: a message there is usually not answered by someone, who in turn sends a (reply) message to the black board Board staples. Further communication takes place in a different way (e.g. by telephone). With Usenet, however, answering a message with another message within the same medium is the usual way.

A more fitting comparison, from which the Usenet language originates, is the newspaper industry :

  • Someone writes an article (a news or an article ) for the newspaper ( newsgroup ) .
  • A reader refers to this article and writes a letter to the editor (a follow-up ) that he sends to the newspaper.
  • When it is published, this letter to the editor becomes an article that other readers can refer to, thus creating communication in both directions.

Usenet differs, however, in that it does not have an editorial team that pre-selects the articles or letters to the editor to be published. Exceptions are the relatively few moderated newsgroups, the moderators of which, however, are generally democratically elected and bound by majority decisions.

The advantages of Usenet are the speed and the large number of participants. Huge discussion trees (so-called threads ) can arise on controversial topics within a few hours . Due to its multiple redundant distribution over thousands of news servers in many different countries, Usenet is also comparatively insensitive to censorship .


Access to Usenet and newsgroups is via a program installed on the computer, a so-called newsreader . Restricted access is also possible via e-mail ( Mail-To-News-Gateway ) or via a corresponding website ( Web-To-News-Gateway ) .

In the case of a news reader, the address of the news server to be used must usually be communicated first. The program can then list all the newsgroups available there. The user selects the ones they want to read and the newsreader downloads the posts from those newsgroups for viewing. The user selects a specific newsgroup and can view a list of the upcoming postings, usually sorted either chronologically or according to topics ( threads ) . He selects the postings he is interested in, reads them and can answer them in order to create a new post. Of course there is also the possibility of creating a post on a completely new topic.


The particular type of communication between several people via text messages leads to specific problems. The netiquette is a collection of recommendations for dealing with each other that have developed over the years and that many participants consider useful. However, individual points of the netiquette, in particular the recommendation to reveal the real name, are quite controversial.

In contrast to chat , you cannot expect an answer after a few seconds on Usenet, because the message must first be passed on from server to server. In addition, many participants read the posts offline, that is, they download the new posts in the groups they have subscribed to once or several times a day on the local hard drive, then write their answers offline and send them back to their server in bulk. This is one of the reasons why most participants react irritably to excessive repetition of the same content. Sending an article in several groups (cross- posting ) should also be used sparingly. Multipostings (the same article under different message IDs sent several times) and repeated advertising ( spam ) are undesirable .

What should be posted in the group is set out in most newsgroups in the respective charter . It is also strongly recommended to read the FAQ of a newsgroup, in which frequently asked questions are answered. Anyone who asks a frequently asked question again often has to expect a rude tone in the answers. It is also advisable to read through a number of existing articles before writing something yourself. You get a feeling for the group's climate.

The netiquette differs in part from hierarchy to hierarchy. For example, in some hierarchies the use of pseudonyms is not welcome, in other hierarchies it is seen by a number of users as a violation of netiquette, in yet other hierarchies it is generally accepted. What is acceptable and what is not is sometimes the subject of heated debate.

Since the course of many Usenet discussions is similar, various regularities have been formulated as so-called Usenet laws. The best known example is Godwin's Law .

Comparison with similar means of communication

Comparison with mailing lists

A newsgroup has a similar function to a mailing list . Usually both a newsgroup and a mailing list are dedicated to a specific topic. It is not necessary for readers of a message to be online exactly when it is sent. Many participants write their messages offline and later transmit them to the server. Because the use of mailing lists and newsgroups is very similar, there are even gateways in individual cases that copy messages in a certain mailing list into a certain newsgroup (and / or vice versa).

Although the use of the mailing list and newsgroup is relatively similar, the two systems differ in technical respects. A mailing list is dependent on a certain server that manages the users and receives mails and forwards them to all subscribers. Usenet, on the other hand, is organized decentrally, with many groups available on dozens or even hundreds of servers, which makes the system insensitive to the failure of individual servers. In addition, there is usually no central user administration on Usenet, so nobody can control who has access to a particular newsgroup.

The content of mailing lists can be mirrored in the Usenet by the Internet service gmane . In this way, mailing lists can be used parallel to newsgroups with a newsreader.

Comparison with web forums

Web forums offer a very similar way of communication to Usenet. However, the programs (software) required for access differ:

In the case of a web forum, the author or administrator specifies the appearance of the messages and the functions for displaying and editing messages centrally, and they are displayed in the browser . In Usenet, however, the newsreader determines the arrangement and appearance of the individual messages (postings) . Depending on the newsreader used, there are various options for displaying and selecting messages, for example the messages on a topic can be arranged hierarchically so that the indentation immediately shows which message relates to which previous message (thread view). In addition, certain participants or discussions can be hidden.

Other differences to web forums are:

  • As a rule, only a single news server is contacted in order to collect all messages from all subscribed newsgroups or to publish messages, but since all news servers exchange messages with one another, these are stored on many systems ( redundancy ). Web forums, on the other hand, only store the messages on one or a few servers.
  • All messages are usually purely text-based; Graphics or markups are undesirable, although attachments or HTML messages are technically possible.

The relatively long existence of the Usenet also makes an important difference: Over time, its own Usenet culture has developed with a long tradition that has produced its own manners and language. The development of one's own culture in web forums can also be seen, but this is primarily geared towards young net participants who have their own language and also maintain their own manners. There is only very limited exchange between these cultures. These different cultures seem to be the cause of some conflicts between Usenet and web forum lovers.

While censorship on web forums is usually carried out by central authorities, the third-party cancels in Usenet provide the technical possibility of decentralized censorship. The responsibility that web forum users have censorship is not required of Usenet participants, however, since Usenet has the legal status of a global communication platform rather than that of a localizable web presence.


To make the Usenet clear, it is divided into individual newsgroups . These are groups in which only one specific topic is discussed. For example about hard drives, movies or politics. Newsgroups are organized in a tree-like manner by topic, which is also reflected in their names. Groups with a common name prefix belong to the same hierarchy .

For example, the German-speaking Usenet hierarchy de. * Exists . Leisure topics are located in this hierarchy under de.rec (rec as short form of recreation, English for recreation / relaxation). All groups that have games as a topic are again arranged under de.rec.spiele . The newsgroup de.rec.spiele.brett + karten , which only deals with board and card games, then exists .

Many groups have misc as the last part of their name (for English miscellaneous). These are intended as hunt groups for topics that do not have their own group within a sub-hierarchy. Thus, in de.rec.spiele.misc all games treats that are not in one of the other groups of games subhierarchy de.rec.spiele topic are.

Hierarchies usually have one thing in common that applies to all contained groups (exceptions are, for example, old or free ). For de , the language to be used is German. There are also hierarchies

  • for certain countries, regions or cities ( e.g. ch for Switzerland, nrw for North Rhine-Westphalia or muc for Munich)
  • on a topic such as science ( sci )
  • for a company, organization or project ( microsoft , gnu , eclipse )
  • to certain universities and research institutions

Some hierarchies can be found on many servers around the world, others are restricted to a specific news server. One also speaks of public and private hierarchies, whereby everyone can often participate in private hierarchies, only the dissemination of the articles on other servers is restricted or completely undesirable. The reasons for the restriction include: a. avoiding spam or wishing not to be included in archives like Google Groups .

The groups of the sub-hierarchy [de] .newusers are recommended for beginners ( newbies ) , in which current FAQs are regularly posted and experienced users answer questions.

There are now various providers through which commercial access to Usenet can be acquired. The respective providers and their resellers offer access to different backbones. The backbones are the specific servers on which the Usenet files are stored. The files are mirrored between the individual backbones, but the maximum storage time in which files are kept differs depending on the provider.

A current overview of the Usenet landscape.


Major Seven / Big Eight

Usenet was launched by Tom Truscott , Steve Bellovin and Jim Ellis in the United States in 1979 as a connection between two Unix computers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University . The idea behind it was to create a free alternative to the Arpanet , the forerunner of today's Internet . The data exchange took place via conventional telephone lines with the Unix protocol UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy).

Other computers were soon integrated into the network, but because of the UUCP protocol used, the network was limited to UNIX computers. UUCP offered the possibility of exchanging personal messages ( e-mail ) on the one hand, and participating in public forums on the other.

In order to have a better overview of the available newsgroups, these have been divided hierarchically into seven main topics, the Major Seven or Big Seven . Together with the eighth hierarchy created in 1995, these are known as Big Eight or Big-8 :

comp Topics related to the computer (computer)
sci Science and technology (science)
soc Society (social)
talk General topics
rec All topics related to leisure and recreation, partly also art and culture (recreational)
news Usenet itself is a topic of conversation
misc Everything that is not in one of the newsgroups mentioned above ( miscellaneous , 'miscellaneous')
humanities Humanities, cultural (since 1995)

Due to the technical structure of Usenet, these remained the only hierarchies for a long time. By then the network had grown to a few thousand computers, but most of the data traffic ran through a few central computers, whose administrators, the so-called backbone cabal , had a great deal of power in setting up new groups.

Expansion of the 1980s

This changed in 1986 with the publication of the NNTP (Network News Transport Protocol). NNTP was developed for operation via TCP / IP lines. This enabled data exchange to be carried out successfully over the Internet and the Usenet to be decentralized, because in principle every news server can be addressed from any location via the Internet. Even more: Each administrator can set up his own groups via his own news server and make these available to other servers. This is how further hierarchies arose.

As Usenet spread outside the United States, so too did the need for newsgroups in other languages. The German-speaking Usenet hierarchy de. * Was created in January 1992 from the merging of the German-speaking hierarchies dnet.*and sub.*. Other regions also set up their own hierarchies. But computer companies had long since discovered the possibilities of Usenet as a support and information medium and built their own news servers with their own hierarchies, some of which are managed by other servers.

Other notable hierarchies:

alt The alt. * Hierarchy is the somewhat anarchic part of Usenet.

New groups can be set up in a relatively informal manner; accordingly, there are many (but qualitatively very different) newsgroups.

alt.binaries This sub-hierarchy deserves special attention, as postings with file attachments (binary files) are also allowed in groups located here.

Due to the large volume of data and partly illegal or pornographic content, these groups are almost exclusively managed by commercial news servers.

de The German-speaking branch of Usenet
de.answers FAQs from various newsgroups are regularly posted here.
de.comp Computer related topics
de.sci Scientific and technical groups

Decline since 2001

It is unknown how many news servers and newsgroups there are worldwide. Estimates assume 50,000 to 170,000 newsgroups and around 6500 news servers. The alt hierarchy includes around 20,000 groups.

The number of participants and postings has been declining since mid-2001, especially in the German-speaking part of the Usenet. The main reason given is the lack of flexibility and excessive bureaucracy in the design. An attempt to establish an alternative Usenet under the name Usenet II failed.

The declining importance of Usenet is also reflected in the fact that Microsoft no longer wants to use newsgroups for user support and has replaced its news server with web forums since autumn 2010 . The hierarchy in this regard is being temporarily and informally continued by some Usenet providers. In addition, some groups have been set up in the German-speaking Usenet in order to continue to offer room for discussion to users who are willing to move from the hierarchy that has been removed due to the shutdown.

After Duke University had ceased its service in May 2010, Deutsche Telekom switched off its news server on April 1, 2011. Numerous former users of the Telekom news server then switched to free news servers that offer access to the text-based Usenet on their own initiative.

In the meantime, hardly any of the major Internet providers in Germany still operate a news server (exceptions: NetCologne, Telefonica and M-net ); Most recently, O2 had terminated the user contract with Individual without prior notification to the affected customers at the end of 2014, and the server used for this at Individual was then dismantled.

Newsgroups with binary files (Binary Usenet)

Access to these special newsgroups from the alt.hierarchy is usually only possible via commercial news servers. Some providers also flat rates (english are flatrate ) possible. The data is downloaded exclusively from the provider's servers, so that your own Internet bandwidth can usually be fully utilized. Almost 900 different newsgroups are currently actively used in the alt.binaries hierarchy.

Within these discussion forums it is also possible to send attachments with content protected by copyright, such as films, music and software. Commercial news servers make it much easier to find files that are sent in the binary newsgroups. In this respect, a similar legal problem has arisen over the past few years as with file sharing exchanges. Commercial Usenet providers such as Firstload, GigaNews or Usenext advertise the possibility of downloading these huge databases and / or long retention times as well as additional services such as their own VPN.

The operators of Usenet providers often argue that, as pure access providers, they have no responsibility for the content and file attachments discussed in the newsgroups. After all, it is a global electronic network that has the legal status of a communication system.

The collecting society GEMA has already taken action against some Usenet access providers in the past, specifically against UseNeXT from Aviteo Ltd. from Munich. The Usenet providers in Germany are required by jurisprudence to block them if they become aware of illegal content. However, there is no comprehensive control obligation on the part of the Usenet provider, as this exceeds the reasonable effort due to the decentralized structure of the Usenet. On September 28, 2011, at the request of the Dutch anti-piracy organization BREIN, a court in Amsterdam prohibited News Service - one of the largest Usenet providers worldwide - from distributing copyrighted content, which led to the service being discontinued. The Dutch company appealed, but the provider remains offline until the final decision is made.


Most news servers delete articles after a certain age. Since older articles can still be of interest, efforts have always been made to archive them.

From 1995 to 2001 Deja News made a variety of articles available on a website. The Deja News databases were bought up by Google and offered as a further search service under the name Google Groups . Google has always expanded this archive from other sources so that articles from previous years can also be found in the Google archive. Gaps in the inventory of Google Groups arise if postings were provided with the header X-No-Archive:Yesor if they were subsequently deleted from the archive by the sender. With direct access to a news server, these contributions can still be called up if they are still available on the server.

Usenet-Replayer makes part of the binary Usenet freely accessible in a searchable archive.


News servers transport the news. The protocol originally used for transmission was UUCP , but it was later replaced by NNTP , with rare exceptions . Such connections did not necessarily run over the Internet , at least in the early days , so that at least some of the structure was exactly like that of the mailbox networks .

The distribution and access to the Usenet, on the other hand, are largely carried out via the Internet today, but since this does not necessarily have to be the case, some users still argue that the Usenet - strictly speaking - is actually not part of the Internet, or rather at least it doesn't have to be.

The data format for articles is described in RFC 5536 . Simply put, a single posting corresponds exactly to the structure of a single email . Like this one, it has various header lines that have only been extended by a few special line types for Usenet, especially the "Newsgroups:" line with the information in which newsgroup or which newsgroups this posting should appear.

Transport of text files

Usenet was developed to distribute texts in 7- bit - ASCII character set created. With the help of programs that can encode 8-bit files as ASCII strings, it also became possible to transfer binary files. Due to its size, this form of publication was restricted to certain parts of the Usenet. This made it easier for administrators to differentiate the treatment of the articles.

The oldest form of coding is UUencode from the Unix - UUCP software package. In the late 1980s, many servers had a limit of 60,000 characters. Nowadays one still exists, albeit mostly higher. For this reason, the data in a file is typically divided into different articles and must be merged by the newsreader.

With header extensions ( Base64 and Quoted-Printable , MIME ), a new generation of binary content transport emerged, which is rarely used in Usenet. Some operating systems that use auxiliary information associated with files require special formats. Classic Mac OS (before Mac OS X ), for example, used Binhex or specially adapted MIME headers.

The yEnc coding process was designed in 2001 to make better use of Usenet's capacity and to increase downloading speed . It achieves a size reduction of around 30 percent by assuming that all characters except zero, tab, LF and CR are transmitted. Critics criticize the incompatibility of yEnc with existing standards.

Transport of binary files

This sub-hierarchy (called binary news group in slang ) of the Usenet contains texts with file attachments, these are mostly audio, video or image files.

Binary formats are characterized in that the text hull (Engl. body) (Engl. By an embedded encapsulated ) format has been extended. The binary data are typically converted into transferable 7- or 8-bit ASCII format using UUencode , Base64 or MIME .

In most cases, a collection of RAR (Compression Data Format ) files is published along with PAR1 or PAR2 files. The latter are used to repair transmission errors in the RAR files.


  • Elmar K. Bins, Boris-A. Piwinger: Newsgroups: Discuss worldwide. Access to Usenet, overview of the hierarchies, effective use of the discussion forums. 1st edition. International Thomson Publishing, Albany 1997, ISBN 3-8266-0297-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Usenet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Usenet  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. How does this Usenet actually work? In: Archived from the original on May 3, 2016 ; Retrieved April 24, 2016 .
  2. a b c The text-based Usenet, the Big Eight. The Usenet Guide.
  3. Hierarchy: de.ALL (since 04/92) .
  4. Kristian Köhntopp: Features of forums .
  5. Microsoft Responds to the Evolution of Communities, announcement of May 4, 2010 ( Memento of September 18, 2012 in the Internet Archive ). Microsoft newsgroups will be switched off , Heise Newsticker (axv), May 5, 2010.
  6. What is Usenet and how do the newsgroups work? ( Memento of November 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) “Since the importance of Usenet as a communication platform has decreased significantly in recent years - v. a. in favor of forums - Telekom will switch off the news server, which was previously operated for our customers, probably on March 31, 2011. "
  7. Usenet shutdown at Deutsche Telekom . heise online, April 3, 2011, accessed on March 4, 2011: “As announced on its own FAQ pages, Deutsche Telekom switched off its own NNTP server on April 1. This is justified with the loss of importance of the Usenet news that this server distributed. After the end of the Usenet nucleus at Duke University and the incomplete storage of old Usenet messages, this step is a further indication that the early Internet is moving into digital nirvana. "
  8. Overview of the alt.binaries newsgroups. In: , August 24, 2013.
  9. a b GEMA obtains an injunction against UseNeXT. In: Heise online , January 24, 2007, accessed on: July 22, 2012.
  10. Usenet provider switches off due to court ruling - Article at , November 7, 2011, accessed on July 22, 2012
  11. ^ Ronda hoods: Culture Clash. The Google Purchase of the 1995-2001 Usenet Archive And the Online Community. telepolis, February 26, 2001.