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Usenet Tutorial

How Does Usenet Work?

Usenet has no central authority, so there is no one to manage the system and no one to make any rules (and even if there were rules, there would be no way to enforce them). Usenet functions well because it is put together in a clever way, and because there is a lot of cooperation among the people who manage the news servers.

How are Usenet articles distributed? There is no central system to broadcast each new article to all the news servers in the world. Instead, each news server connects to other news servers at regular intervals. When the servers connect, they pass articles back and forth.

Steven Daniel, Duke University graduate student, cicra 1980; Daniel and Tom Truscott (also from Duke) wrote the first widely used Usenet software ("A News").

For example, let's say you compose an article for a particular newsgroup. When the article is finished, your newsreader will send it to your news server. Some time later, from a few minutes to a few hours, your news server will connect to another news server. At that time, your server will send a copy of your article to the other server. At the same time, the other server will pass on articles to your server. Eventually, the other server will connect to a third server and send it a copy of your article. Most news servers connect to only one or two other computers. But some news servers act as switching points by connecting to many other servers. When your article hits one of these major servers, it will fan out quickly to many different locations.

In this way, new articles are passed from one server to another, until they are PROPAGATED around the world. (Each article has a unique identification number so a server doesn't get more than one copy of the same article.) The system is designed so well that — although there is no central server and no one in charge — a new article will be distributed throughout most of the Internet within a day or two (and often much faster).

As you can see, Usenet does not require central management. Instead, each news server is managed by its own organization. In this way, the administration of Usenet is distributed in the same way as the administration of the Internet itself. So, although there is somebody in charge of each particular news server, there is no one in charge of the system as a whole.

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