HARLEY HAHN'S USENET CENTER
(For experienced users: Quick Guide to Posting Binaries)
FILE SHARING refers to using Usenet to distribute files for free to anyone who wants them. As such, Usenet can be used to distribute any type of data that can be stored in a file: text, videos, music, photos, pictures, software, and so on.
In the following sections, I will explain the details of file sharing and how it works. However, before we start, I'd like to take a few moments to discuss the basic concepts and define some technical terms.
If you are an experienced Usenet user, what you read below will be a quick review. If you are new to Usenet and the ideas are a bit confusing, it will help you to spend some time learning about Usenet itself. The best way to do this is to read my Usenet tutorial:
For now, though, let's begin our discussion of file sharing by talking a bit about Usenet, beginning with what it is and how it came to be. What you read below will be enough to get you started. However, if you are not an experienced Usenet user, you may want to go through the tutorial when you get some time. You will find that everything becomes a lot easier when you thoroughly understand the basic principles.
USENET is a vast, global discussion and file sharing system. There are over a hundred thousand different discussion and file sharing "groups" and millions of participants all over the world.
Usenet was started in 1979 by two graduate students at Duke University, Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott. Originally, Usenet was conceived as a way to send news and announcements between two universities in North Carolina (University of North Carolina and Duke University). Within a short time, however, the software was installed in other schools, and Usenet soon developed into a system of online discussion forums. Later, Usenet also came to be used for file sharing as well.
Because of its origin, you may sometimes see Usenet itself referred to as the NEWS, even though it is not a news service. Similarly, we usually refer to the various forums as NEWSGROUPS (or, more simply, GROUPS), even though they used for discussions or file sharing.
In the olden days, there were hundreds and, later, thousands of different newsgroups. Today, there are well over 100,000 different Usenet groups, most of which are devoted to a particular discussion topic. Only a relatively small number of the newsgroups are used for file sharing. Nevertheless, as will we see, it is these very groups — the ones used for file sharing — that consume almost all of the bandwidth and storage space used by Usenet. This is because the types of files that are shared — such as videos, music, software — generally require far more storage than do the relatively short text messages posted to discussion groups.
Like other Internet services, Usenet uses a CLIENT/SERVER SYSTEM, in which you use a program called a CLIENT (that runs on your computer) to request services from a program called a SERVER (that runs on a remote computer). For example, when you use the Web, your browser acts as a Web client to communicate on your behalf with remote Web servers. To access Usenet, you use a client program called a NEWSREADER to connect to a remote NEWS SERVER. (Remember, the term "news" is an anachronism; Usenet is not a news service.)
Usenet works as follows: People send messages, called ARTICLES or POSTINGS, to the various newsgroups. When you send an article, we say that you POST it.
When you post a file to Usenet, we say that you UPLOAD the file. When you receive a file from Usenet, we say that you DOWNLOAD the file. To help you remember the terminology, just imagine that Usenet (or the Internet for that matter) is floating above you in the sky. When you post a file, it must go "up"; when you receive a file, it comes "down".
Usenet is designed so that, once an article is uploaded (posted), it is copied automatically from one news server to another, until every server has its own copy. In effect, this propagates the article around the world. The details are complicated, but you don't need to understand them unless you are running a news server. For our purposes, all you need to understand is that, at regular intervals, every news server connects to other news servers and shares whatever articles need to be shared.
To look at the discussions within a particular newsgroup, all you need to do is access the articles that have been posted to that group. To do so, you use your newsreader to connect to a news server. You then tell the newsreader which newsgroup you want to read, and it displays a summary of all the articles currently in that group. You select the ones you want to read, and your newsreader displays them for you. If you want to participate in a discussion, your newsreader will help you compose an article of your own, and then post it to the appropriate newsgroup.
For example, let's say you are interested in cats. You instruct your newsreader to show you the summaries of recent articles in one of the newsgroups devoted to cats. While you are reading a discussion about cats and mathematics, you decide to tell everyone about how you were able to teach your cat calculus. To do so, you use your newsreader to write and post an article of your own. Within a short time, the article will propagate, and people all over the world will be able to read about how smart your cat is.
Most articles consist of text, but some have an ATTACHMENT: a file embedded within the article. An attachment can hold any type of data, which means that Usenet can be used to share any type of file. Most commonly, attachments are used to share photos, music, films, TV shows, and software. For example, you might post a photo of your cat solving a differential equation to a newsgroup devoted to sharing cat photos.
For reliability, news servers are configured to limit the maximum size of the articles (postings) they will accept. For efficiency, the maximum size of at article is not all that big. This means that, before a large file can be shared, it must be broken into parts — often tens or even hundreds of parts — each of which must be posted as a separate article. At the other end, all the different parts must be downloaded separately and then reassembled into the original file.
As you might imagine, the details are complex. In fact, they are horribly complex, especially when all you want to do is, say, share a music file you have created, or download a copy of a video or a photo. However, as we will discuss presently, the software does most of the work so once you know what to do, file sharing is actually pretty easy.
In the past, news servers were maintained by ISPs (Internet Service Providers), universities, or even companies, as a free service to their users. Today, most ISPs and organizations have stopped providing this service. Instead, if you want to use Usenet, you will have to pay a commercial Usenet company. Such companies are called USENET SERVICE PROVIDERS or USENET PROVIDERS (or, more simply, PROVIDERS). The monthly fee for Usenet service is typically in the range of $5 to $40, depending on which service plan you select.
You might think that free would be better. Actually, this is not the case, especially if you want to use Usenet for file sharing. The services offered by commercial Usenet providers are significantly faster and better in every way than the services that used to be available for free. Indeed, if you are into file sharing, $5 to $40 a month is a bargain. Indeed, many people gladly pay such a fee to access the huge, otherwise free, global Usenet system.
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