3-View Usenet Files and Information
- Introduction to View Usenet
- WWW Newsgroup Access and Search Engines
- News Server Message Encoding
- File Breakdown Into Parts
- Threaded Versus Un-Threaded Messages
Introduction to View Usenet Top
You need a newsreader to view the files on the news server. However, some companies offer web-based access to the usenet groups so you can simply use a web browser to view the files on the news server.
You should also understand that in order to post material in a format acceptable for the Usenet, each file or part of a file is further broken up into individual encoded text messages called segments.
You should also understand that files larger than about 10 MB are broken up into smaller parts using compression software, usually WinRAR and the parts are called "RARs", before being posted to the newsgroup. Then each part or RAR, will be further broken into segments.
Also, all newsreaders will display the messages in threaded or un-threaded view. This way, you can see if a file or a part of a file is complete. In order to show this, each newsreader has a graphical representation of the file or part of a file.
Look at Figure 1 to see an overview of the file breakdown and encoding process.
To download and upload posts to newsgroups, you need a special type of software called a newsreader.
There are many good newsreader programs available. Links for these programs can be found in the sidebar to the right. Most can automatically download and decode posts directly to your harddrive. Some allow you to view images immediately by clicking on the post. There are varying kinds of filters and sorting features to help you find stuff within a newsgroup.
Some newsreaders also have built-in viewers, they will download, decode and automatically show you the jpg or gif. This is important to understand because you could get yourself in trouble. For example, you are in a xxx group and you queue up a picture that has a non-descriptive title but actually contains child porn. If you are viewing this child porn, it is already on your hard drive and you will have broken the law ie., be in possession of child porn. Can anyone say Gary Glitter or Pete Townshend? Beware!
Like most software some will fit your needs and preferences better than others. Also, if you're like me, some software will just seem more intuitive than others. It also probably won't hurt if you use the more common newsreaders you will be able to find more help, tips and assistance. Often in newsgroups you see impromtu questions and answers about how to use various newsreaders best.
- My favourite newsreader is Xnews. It is a basic, no-nonsense newsreader. It doesn't even come with an installation program which is not a big deal because you just copy the program and files into a new directory, create a shortcut and you're off and running. Xnews doesn't have an image viewer built-in like the other popular newsreaders. I don't miss this feature but you might.
- Another popular newsreader is Free Agent 1.2, freeware software (Agent 1.x is the commercial version) made by Forte.
- News Rover is another popular, full featured newsreader with a built-in MP3 search engine.
Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer/Outlook Express have newsreaders built-in which are perfectly fine for text messages but are lousy for working with files.
WWW Newsgroup Access and Search Engines Top
In order to find out what is in a particular newsgroup, it is helpful to use Google to search for available content. Actually, Google newsgroups are a great resource for learning how to do pretty anything.
Google Groups is the best Usenet search engine available. It used to be called DejaNews.
News Server Message Encoding Top
A "post" in a newsgroup can be either a text message or file.
Text messages look just like an email. You can view them and reply to them. The difference is that you post emails through email servers and news posts through a news server.
Usenet and newsgroup files, which might be things like pictures, video, music or software programs, are posted as text messages. However, the text messages are not regular text messages but are solid blocks of gobbledly gook ascii characters. The ascii characters represent the file encoded as a text message so that it can be put onto a news server because ascii text messages are the "language" of the Usenet. Encoding translates code to ascii character based messages.
By far the most common method of encoding files to the usenet groups is the UUENCODE standard. Other formats for encoding files are Base64 and BinHex encoding and there is a newer encoding process called yEnc is being used more and more often. Note that your newsreader must be able to interpret the new encoding format. So, for example, a popular newsreader called Xnews was updated to include yEnc.
An efficient and CRC protected encoding for Usenet messages. UU encoded and BASE64 encoded messages are still standard on Usenet. There are three general problems with these encodings - and the actual usage of such encodings:
- Size and Overhead
- No error-checking
- Bad multipart detection
Many newsreaders are designed only to read text messages, such as MS Outlook Express. Others, such as Xnews, actually decode the ascii text messages back into the format automatically.
Look at Figure 1 to see an overview of the encoding process.
File Breakdown Into Parts Top
The various files types will vary in size which will in turn affect how they are posted. Larger files are broken into many equal sized parts using compression software.
Generally, graphics and photographs are small enough to be encoded in one message. In effect, the file is one message.
An MP3 file will be one file but composed of many messages that will "add up" to one MP3 when decoded.
However, larger files (eg, most movies, tv programs, software programs, etc) are broken into parts using compression software prior to being posted. The most common compression programs are WinRAR, Winzip or WinAce although WinRAR is the most common.
You'll see in Step 5: Decompress 'Zip/Unzip' more about how the files are "broken" into parts and reassembled back into the original file. For now just keep this in mind when you are deciding what you want to download while viewing the contents of a usenet groups.
Here are three reasons for breaking large files into small chunks:
- Reduce Post Size - The reason for using WinRAR or other archive programs is not to compress the files although it is helpful to reduce size. The main reasons are packaging and transfer efficiency.
- Good Housekeeping - Packing a bunch of files into a WinRAR archive is good housekeeping especially for sending across the internet.
- Easier Recovery - Larger files are broken into parts because if you were to send the entire file as one part you risk losing all of it if one or more of the messages containing information are lost, damaged or otherwise missing once they are posted on the news servers (which is a common thing!). If you send a big file in many small parts, then you may lose a few of the parts but you can just resend the missing parts not the whole thing all over again. That is why you will see requests for reposts in usenet groups all the time! Also, It takes less time to repost small parts of a big multimedia file than to repost the entire file. Also, too many people are still using slow-poke dial-up 56 k modems so you also have to consider the download speed from the newsgroups. It is easier for these slow-pokes to download little chunks at a time because their connection may break halfway through or they may want to use their phone etc.
Threaded Versus Un-Threaded Messages Top
When a file is posted to the news server it is broken up further into smaller messages or segments. Most of the better newsreaders will automatically "thread" or combine the individual segments into a graphical representation of a file.
Threading and the graphical representation of file parts is a key feature of a newsreader which is almost essential if not terribly convenient. Each newsreader has a different way of threading and graphically representing the files. I personally like the way Xnews threads and graphically represents files.
If you wish, you can change the view to un-threaded so that you can see each individual segment.
You would do this to see if any encoded segment is lost or damaged so you could decide if that file is worth downloading.