Usenet History: How the hardware problem was solved?

The initial plan

When Dukenet initially conceptualized Usenet, the planners had three things in mind.

  • They wanted a way by which they could send local administrative messages.
  • Their goal was to create a system that was networked. (The idea incidentally came from grad students of the University).
  • UUCP would be used to ensure communication between sites. UUCP was the only option they had with sites run on Unix. They only needed a single dial-up modem port to run UUCP.

Running UUCP

Running UUCP called for a single dial-up modem port. The issue here was about the dialing. Someone had to make the call and pay the charges. Auto-dial modems did not exist (the Hayes Smartmodem came much later. The leased Bell autodialer was too expensive. Usenet was an unstructured project. Buying a modem was itself an issue. Paying monthly lease charges would not be workable. The solution planned was to use an acoustic coupler, which could act as the interface device. The solution was what Duke could afford.

The solution developed by the grad students worked like this:

  • The phone handset had to be put into tight-fit cups. The electronic part had to be connected to the computer.
  • The computer received the bits after which the coupler would send sounds through a speaker from where it went to the microphone of the handset.
  • Similarly, the mike in the coupler listened to noises that corresponded to the bits. The mike then sent voltage signals to the computer.
  • Since sounds were used to connect to the telephonic network, there would be no objection from the telephone company. AT&T did object later, but they fell in line.

The Dialing problem

When the dialing happened manually, this solution worked well. All that had to be done was to pick the handset, make the call, and placed the handset in the coupler. An issue remained, which was how the computer would do the dialing. The connection from the coupler to the computer happened through the RS-232 standard. The modem pins were five in number. They were ground, CD (carrier detect), transmit, receive, and DTR (Data Terminal Ready).

When the modem connected with the computer, i.e.: when the serial port was opened, the DTR signal would be sent. When the modem was connected, a ‘carrier detect’ signal would be sent. When the connection at the other end dropped, the modem then dropped CD. The signal then returned to the calling program. The solution was using a DTR signal. It helped solve Duke CS’s needs.

Duke implemented this solution successfully. Prof. Steven Bellovin of Columbia University liked the idea and thus created his variant. The following is a description of Prof. Bellovin’s variant:

  • An open relay was put with the phone in series to simulate the on-hook (when the landline handset was not in use).
  • The DTR signal was used when the computer needed to use the modem.
  • The DTR line was wired so it would close the relay and out the phone line off-hook. The moment the computer opened the device, the phone would be off-hook. When the computer closed the device, the phone would again be on-hook. It was a smart solution to manage this issue.

Prof. Bellovin then created a driver program. The program controlled the DTR line. The driver program ensured the modem, as well as the dialer, were seen as two different devices by UUCP.

Now came the last and most serious problem, who would foot the bill? During those times phone calls were pretty expensive. Calling during normal working hours would be extremely expensive. Phone calls in the evening would cost lesser and night calls the lowest.

The solution worked out was that Duke would take the responsibility for the calls since they had the autodialer. Any site wanting to join the network had to get a modem with an auto-answer feature and pay Duke. It was decided that the system would make calls at night and keep it to not more than two times to keep expenses at a minimum.

This plan called for money to be exchanged. There would be a spike in the phone bills. Duke had to receive as well as process payments from other sites. Usenet happened because it had the official sanction. It also materialized because the faculty members valued innovations by graduate students.

Usenet History: The Technological Setting

Usenet history

Usenet, Netnews, was founded almost exactly forty years ago this very week. In order to better understand where it came from or why certain decisions were made the way they were, it is important to take into consideration the technological shortcomings of the time.

Early Part Of History

The mainframes were still roaming across the world in 1979, around Steven Bellovin, founder of AT&T, was in college. In reality, it was the predominant method of computation. The IBM PC will have been around 2 years old in the future. The microprocessors of those days, as they were known, had much less space for anything more or less important. As such minicomputers, which were smaller, just the size of one or possibly two refrigerators, were used for specific applications. Most definitely in research laboratories such as process control. The super mini-computers with low I/O bandwidth and good processing ability were getting cheaper.

Unix operated the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-11 on a common line of microcomputers at this period. The PDP-11 used to have a 16-bit network address (although with the correct OS, you could almost duplicate it by using a 16-bit network address for directions and a different one for data). Capacity was restricted to a very few megabytes based on the configuration to 10s of kilobytes (yes, kilobytes). No particular program was allowed to access upwards of 64K at a point. The additional physical memory implied that without switching, a context transfer could always be achieved as other processes could also be memory-resident.

Early Networking Issues

Networking was not possible for many people. There was ARPANET, but to do so you wanted to be a lobbyist for defense or institution with a DARPA research grant. IBM had different modes of connectivity based on licensed synchronous communications systems. At minimum a common packet-switched infrastructure existed (and only few were connected to the network through a very limited number of old frameworks for the dial-up package mobile entry).

One other thing half-common was really the 300 bps dial-up modem. Just launched the Bell 212A full duplex, dial-up modem was uncommon. Why does this happen? It would have to be rented by the telecommunications company more or less: Ma Bell, more officially known as AT&T. Purchasing your own modems was legal, and have it hardwired to your telephone network. It was feasible to go over a rented adapter called the DAA (data access arrangements) to “secure the phone network.”

The Beginning of Usenet

However, Usenet was conceptualized in a world of regulation slightly different. Duke University served by Duke Telecom, a university body (and Durham was GTE). Whereas Chapel Telecommunications, the University owned by phones, electricity, sewer and water systems was supported by UNC Chapel Hill. Steven Bellovin was a student, and around that time the government ordered the services to dive.

Steven Bellovin along with few others, with Duke’s support, have introduced the Unix 6th issue as part-time operating system on our PDP11. Some staff were sufficiently motivated to spend enough money on purchasing a decent 8-port converter and also more RAM. This may have been our core storage, though around the time semiconductor RAM was beginning to get affordable. Shortly afterwards we had a couple of VAX-11/780, but Usenet was born on the sluggish, tiny 11/45.

The Catalyst Of Networking

The wish to update to Unix’s 7th version was the imminent catalyst for Usenet. Upon its 6th Unix version Duke used an update they received from other locations to deliver messages as they signed in to announcements. But it wasn’t always convenient to send certain messages. It needed a 5-line letter to print 300 bps — 30 characters per second. This update isn’t even slightly consistent with 7th Edition login command- a new implementation was required. And UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy), an interconnection method, was available in the 7th Version.

Usenet NBA Mock Draft: The 1st place to geek out about the next class of rookies entering the NBA

People are always fond of free stuff, especially if they are available on the Internet. However, the consequences are not positive when a platform, which was meant for communication, becomes congested by free stuff.

That is precisely what Usenet is all about. The protocols date back to around four decades and is a key hub for sharing files today. In its simplest form, Usenet can be looked upon as an online protocol aimed at conversations. However, things changed when the public realized that binary files can be passed through it.

Why was there a dramatic shift in Usenet’s digital role over time?

It was in 1979 when a couple of students from Duke University introduced the idea of “netnews.” There were several rounds of improvements before the service came to be known as Usenet. The protocol was initially referred to as “A-News” before a chain of improvements took leverage of the UUCP or Unix-to-Unix protocol.

It is a distributed technique to copy files between computing devices, which was constructed alongside the network, then known as ARPANET. The ARPANET later came to be known as what we refer to as the Internet today. The protocol became compatible with this network.

Two software developers- Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott ensured that the software could be made available to all Unix hosts. It took just a few years for the protocol to emerge as one of the preferred ways to communicate across the Internet. The network was still in its formative years then.

The creation of Usenet originated from the idea that computing devices were transitioning into sophisticated devices for holding conversations. There were so much conversation and communication going on. Usenet could be compared to today’s Reddit except that it did not have a true owner and was decentralized.

However, the roots of this protocol lied in UUCP, which was a peer—to—peer mechanism for sharing files when it is broken down. It also signified that it was an effective means to share files. While the protocol was designed to just share text, programmers decided to enhance the technology.

A graduate student of the University of California Berkeley, Mary Ann Horton, was engaged in designing the early protocols of UUCP. She assisted in creating a link between the broader Internet and the protocol. Horton was highly influenced by what eventually became Usenet.

Horton used her special skills to further give a shape to Usenet. She further improvised on the work done by Ellis and Truscott. It was the same time when the developer was given the responsibility for creating a piece of software called Uuencode. It would eventually emerge as the solution to the legacies of Usenet, as well as email.


The software had some functional similarities to today’ file format. It effectively functioned as a link between raw text and binary files. When one runs a Uuencode command on any binary file, the result would be some jumbled texts. A second user can use this command to convert the text file into a binary file.

The software was extremely useful because of its usage in email attachments. It also came in handy for distributing binary codes through Usenet. A web browser is adequately smart to decode the blocks of gibberish text. There are commands, which are not readable by humans to make them function in that system.

However, Uuencode came with its share of imperfections. Its text encoding was not always resourceful. The wastes were including more overhead. Also, there were more complications in the encoded text files than they were meant to be. However, there have been improvisations in that idea since then.

However, there was effectiveness in enabling the file transfer on a large scale. The software was particularly useful to distribute files via Usenet. The reason is the encoded file would be transferring between waystations.

Usenets decentralized nature- a limitation?

The decentralized design of Usenet made it tough to filter out and omit the unwanted stuff and spam. For instance, the FBI could not terminate a Usenet group even when it was unlawfully sharing episodes of a TV sitcom.

However, Internet Service Providers had the liberty to decide not carrying newsgroups. Several legitimate newsgroups that did not infringe the copyright or have explicit content were affected because of this. However, such changes did not kill Usenet though it was a big wound to its popularity.

How Usenet- A Formative Online Protocol Intended for Conversations Turned into A Major Hub for File Sharing Over Time?

The Usenet server has become a popular tool among internet users. The server has been gaining prominence over the year and its market share has been on an upward trend. The high demand for Usenet is driven mostly due to a large plethora of internet users seeking safe and secured server access. The newsgroup with an exclusive set of user makes the space ideal for those seeking a change from the ad heavy World Wide Web.

The initial popularity of Usenet was their safe and private server network. The end-to-end encrypted connection was secured compared to World Wide Web. The service was exclusive to its users, which allowed for private message groups and discussion groups. There was no ad presence in Usenet as the services were paid. So for those seeking a break from the unsecured and ad-heavy World Wide Web network, Usenet was a deserving break. We will discuss in detail why Usenet still makes sense and how its use has seen a shift over the last few years.

Why Usenet Makes Sense?

The internet space has become increasingly a high traffic source with low security. The amount of data stolen from servers world over has been on a high for a while now. These makes use of private encrypted networks a much required tool for many. The end to end encryption provided by virtual private networks help maintain anonymity in the internet space.

Another major source of annoyance with the conventional world wide web is the presence of advertisement. As a high traffic source, the need for sustenance for World Wide Web servers has increasingly become dependent upon advertisements for revenue. This has led to surge in free platforms filled with ad bombs, ad walls which can be quite annoying for many. This makes virtual private networks the right choice for many. The ad free interface, with a secured connection makes it the ideal choice for those seeking a change from the saturated World Wide Web space.

How Usenet Developed into A File Sharing Platform?

The Usenet news group was what attracted many internet users into the network initially. The opportunity to chat in a private space which is encrypted, allowed freedom to discuss various topics. However, as the servers gained in popularity and competition mounted, the services offered started to extend beyond access to news group.

Usenet service providers started providing secured connection, unlimited download options and high-speed connectivity among others.

A standard XS Usenet service package includes the following options for the paid members, such as:

  • Unlimited Speed
  • Unlimited Data Fair Use Policy
  • More Than 1000 days of retention (will discuss retention in detail later)
  • Multiple Connection
  • Full Encryption
  • Secure Socket Layer
  • Free Posting

How Data Retention Changed The Use Of Usenet?

Usenet’s servers provides something called as the Data Retention. It is the amount of days data is stored in the Usenet server. So if an Usenet server is providing 1000 days of retention, it means the files uploaded onto the Usenet Newsgroup will be available to download for the next 1000 days. This hascatapulted Usenet towards a file sharing service. Usenet’s users has used the platform to share files with each other. The files are available in the server for a long duration making them an ideal place to store your files virtually.

The various Usenet platform provides up to 1000 days and more of data retention. This would mean a file uploaded onto the newsgroups are available for a period of around 1000 days. With unlimited data fair use policy, newsgroups have seen the widespread use of the opportunity. There has been extensive file sharing among users in the Usenet network. This has completely changed the way Usenet is used by modern users. From the days of discussion groups, which was the basis of Newsgroup in its early years, the service has slowly been shifting towards a file sharing platform.

How to Get Started with XS Usenet? A Complete Usenet Tutorial.

Usenet Tutorial

With the vast popularity in Internet services, the outcome has been a wide network of often unsecured data networks. The result has been a host of private user networks that has cropped up. The Usenet is one such popular media downloading website that has been around for a while now. The Usenet community has been growing steadily over the years ever since the World Wide Web got plagued by ad bombs. Although the use set services come at a premium price, but that’s a small price to pay for ad-free use experience.

In this article, we will discuss the complete step-by-step guide to opening your own user account in and enjoy the host of media available to download at break neck speeds.

Why Usenet?

There are many reasons for getting a Usenet account such as:

  • 1. High Speed Connection- Usenet services use dedicated servers strategically located. This allows super-fast download speed compared to World Wide Web network.
  • 2. Easy Signing Up options available. There are free trial periods for new users to experience before subscribing.
  • 3. Numerous connections and unlimited bandwidth – Some of the Usenet websites provide up to 50 connection simultaneously. This ensures super-fast connection and quick downloads/uploads.
  • 4. There are no contract periods for most of the Usenet services. So you can cancel and opt out anytime you would prefer.

How to Setup Useet Account?

You need to set up a user account any of the Usenet communities like XS Usenet. There are various subscription options available to choose from. The package would differ mostly upon number of connections, the speed provided and added facilities such as adding files and SSL connections etc. First time users can also opt for a trial period to try the services before opting for a package. Trial packages are normally free and would come with a defined data limit.

Getting A News Client

The next step after setting up a Usenet account would be to get a news client. These are sort of news readers which will perform the task of sorting out news groups and also search for any new news groups. The news groups are an important part of Usenet. They allow for users to post news in different categories throughout the Usenet community. They also serve as discussion groups and share information. There are a number of news clients. Some of them are paid subscriptions and some are free.

Understand The NZB (Newsbin) Files

Most of the important Usenet group releases are done with a NZB package. The NZB files are basically packages of uploaded files in the Usenet community. They contain all the relevant information pertaining to the released/shared file. Details such as when the file was posted, the group it was posted in and the header, content details. NZB allows users to download files directly from the packages filtering out the reference details of the file. In simple terms, NZB files will locate and download your relevant files.

It is recommended to get a separate NZB service to list and manage your NZB files. There are many free and subscribed services available.

To download a NZB files, open your Usernet account, search for different newsgroup readers service from the available list and download to create a NZB file.

Some Tips For Using Usenet Servers

  • 1. It is always advised to abide by the rules and regulations of newsgroup communities. Every newsgroup could have its own code of conduct for the members. Always read through any rule or FAQ documents after joining a newsgroup.
  • 2. Paid NZB subscriptions are advised for ease of access and hassle-free download. Do plan your budget before subscribing to one.
  • 3. Every newsgroups in Usenet are diverse in nature. Always be mindful in your conduct and try not to use offensive language.

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