Getting started with Usenets - a better way to download large files

Usenets are like BitTorrents, but for grown ups

When you're looking to download a large file on the web, say an Ubuntu distribution, a common method of doing so is via BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a P2P file sharing protocol (popularized by Napster) that allows files to be transferred in pieces, spread across many users, each contributing to the whole of the file. It's a great way to reduce the bandwidth required to serve up a file and can result in high download speeds for the receiver as well, provided there are enough people seeding.

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BitTorrent has several disadvantages however. One of particular concern is the crackdown on illegal file sharing which has resulted in some of the largest torrent directories being taken offline voluntarily which makes it harder to find the file you're looking for. Another problem is that all of the pieces of a file may not be available at the time of your request, which leaves you with a stalled download until someone begins seeding that piece. Additionally, without proper configuration, your torrent client will automatically seed files that you’re downloading, often consuming all of your available upload bandwidth, but also making you a sharing source of that file.

An alternative to BitTorrent comes in the form of a fairly old school technology, Usenets (aka NewsGroups). Usenets have existed for over 30 years and, traditionally, Usenets are used like a bulletin board system meant for public discussion. News threads are posted to to a topic and News Reader software allows you to subscribe and consume these threads. More recently, NewsGroups have been adapted to transport binary files between users, and it turns out that the technology is well suited for the task.

It takes a little bit of work (and potentially money) to get yourself set up on a binary Usenet, but once you have it configured there are several advantages over BitTorrents:

  • Files are hosted by fast, central servers. Your download speed is only limited by your bandwidth

  • Users do not share the files that they download

  • The connection is SSL encrypted and your IP address is not exposed, providing greater anonymity

  • Due to the centralized hosting of files and data retention, Leeching is encouraged

The net result of these things is that you can download files extremely quickly, securely, anonymously, and without reciprocation. The downside is that you generally need to pay for a subscription to gain access to binary files hosted by super fast servers with long data retention.

You need a few things to get up and running:

  1. A subscription to a Usenet Server

  2. A news reader application

  3. An NZB indexing site

1) Several popular options exist for Usenet servers such as Giganews, Astraweb, SuperNews, and my personal choice, NewsHosting. The prices and plans vary but expect to pay around $10 - $15/month.

2) For news reader software, NewsLeecher is very popular, and more recently NewsHosting began including free news reader software with any subscription plan.

Once you have those two things, you'll need to configure your news reader software to access the Usenet server you’ve subscribed to. It's a fairly straightforward process involving adding a new server to your news reader, the details of which are provided by your choice of Usenet server. For example, the setup instructions to configure NewsLeecher with NewsHosting can be found over at newsgroupreviews.com.

3) Now that you're set up to retrieve files from a Usenet server you just need to find them. That's where the NZB index sites come in. These sites provide searchable lists of available binaries and links to the NZB information files that allow you to download them. You may need to shell out again for access to a few of these but the cost is usually very low, for instance NZBMatrix is about $1/year. Another popular option is the creator of the NZB file format itself, NewzBin.

Now that you've got all the tools, you can begin searching or browsing for the files you'd like to download using the NZB Indexers. When you find the file you'd like, click the link for the NZB for that file and, when prompted, choose your news reader to open the file. If your news reader is connected to your Usenet server, it should begin downloading your file immediately and as fast as your internet connection can handle.

Sure it's not free but the speed and the quality are worth the cost in my opinion. If you value your own time, step up to the world of newsgroups and never look back.

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