How to Download from Usenet

by Khalid Hosein on June 30, 2011

If you’re like most people, you have no idea what Usenet is. You’d probably be surprised to learn that Usenet is more than 30 Years old and more popular than ever.

On Usenet you can find everything from indie musicians who want to promote their bands to hobby photographers’ sharing some of their shots with the world. And you will even find GNU licensed software like the VLC Player or Winzip. But that’s not all. With more than 800 Terabytes (819,200 GB) you will find virtually anything you´re looking for on Usenet.

You need three things to start downloading from Usenet (server access, newsreader & search engine).


First, to get at all those files, you need access to a Usenet Server (or news server). There are basically two kinds of news servers out there.

You could hunt for a free one which are sometimes provided by your internet service provider or your university. Most of these news server are not open to the general public and are strictly moderated by an administrator. The problem with these free news servers is that they are usually very slow and rarely provide full access to the binary newsgroups (the newsgroups where files are posted).

Your second option is to pay for access from a premium Usenet provider. Most premium providers offer features the free servers just can’t match. Access to commercial grade server farms, secure encrypted connections and download speeds as fast as your ISP will allow for example.

As a general rule, if you’re only going to be using Usenet for reading and posting messages in the newsgroups, then free server access will probably work for you. If you are going to be doing a lot of downloading, a premium provider is going to give you a much better user experience.

Once you have access to a Usenet server you will need to get a special Usenet client download from the server. Because the news servers are communicating via NNTP protocol you need to use a so called newsreader. These newsreaders are able to open and download files and postings. A newsreader is nothing more than a piece of software that allows your computer to communicate with the Usenet server.

And finally, the amount of information available on Usenet is staggering. To find what you are looking for quickly, you need a way to search Usenet. Some of today’s more advanced news readers will have search capability built right in. This is an important feature since scrolling through the newsgroups manually to find what you’re looking for is a nearly impossible task.

In the end you have to decide how you want to use Usenet. It’s possible to access Usenet for free on a public server and with a free newsreader if you just want to read and post messages. The more common method is to choose one of the many Usenet providers out there if you also want to download files. These providers aren’t free but will offer you an easy-to-use newsreader, secure connections and high download speeds.

Jared Scott is the manager of public outreach for a leading Usenet provider. You can follow his updates on Twitter.