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Newsgroup Tutorial (Updated 3/10/2005)

1) Brief History:
Newsgroups were around before the internet as we know it even began. In the early stages of the internet, special interest groups shared information by using a system similar to a bulletin board. This system took advantage of the internet in a way an old BBS couldn't. Each location in the system had a machine (news server) that stored all the messages of the newsgroups that were desired by it's users. These servers connected to each other frequently and synchronized their messages with each other. Using this method, every message would eventually get distributed to every server that carried that newsgroup.

Not too long afterwards, some users wanted the ability to share files with each other. However, the current system was not designed to transfer binary files - it could only transfer ascii text files. However, early internet pioneers came up with a way to take a binary file and convert it (encode it) so that it reads as an ascii text message. This message could then be distributed through the newsgroup and then whoever wants to retrieve the file could download that message and convert it back (decode it) into the original binary file. Thus began file-sharing in the Newsgroups.

Understanding, navigating and downloading files from the newsgroups requires a little more effort than just connecting to Morpheus, searching for something, and clicking on the result. A typical download from the newsgroups requires more steps than other methods because a large file is always split into many pieces as shown below:

So why are files split up in the first place? Well, many news servers will not accept messages that are longer than 10,000 lines, many even less than that. A 670 MB file would take around 15 Million lines if it were encoded into one message. No news server will accept a message with that much data. The main reason for the first split into RAR files is because sometimes messages don't always get to every server for some reason or another. A large file is also split up to minimize the time and bandwidth needed to recover from a missing/bad message. So in our example above, if a message doesn't make it for the file cdimage.r06, it would only be necessary to find and download that one file instead of the whole thing if it were all one file. PAR files have now emerged making the argument for splitting into rar files even stronger. Smaller files, such as MP3's, are usually not split the first time, so downloading them is simple.

To make matters more confusing, while browsing newsgroups it can be hard to distinguish which messages are the files you need from all of the other messages that are not files but actual text messages.

2) News Servers:
So how do I get onto Newsgroups and start downloading files? Well first you must have access to a News Server. A news server is a computer that stores all of the messages for the newsgroups that it carries. It also communicates with other news servers to transfer new messages. These news servers have an enormous storage capacity. However, eventually the news server must delete messages to make room for new messages. The amount of time that a message is on server before it is deleted is called Retention Time.

On each news server the administrator will determine the retention for each newsgroup usually by allotting it a certain amount of hard drive space. So alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.classical (a relatively busy newsgroup receiving 100's of songs a day) will have a longer retention than alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.complete_cd (an extremely busy newsgroup receiving 1000's of songs a day). An easy way to tell what the retention is for a newsgroup is to look through the list and see when the oldest messages are from. If all the messages are from the last three days, then the retention is about 3 days!

Choosing a News Server

There are two ways you can get access to a news server:
A) Use the news server maintained by your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
B) Pay for news server access through a Commercial Usenet Provider

A) Using your ISP's news server.
Most ISP's maintain a news server that they allow their subscribers to access. Some are very good servers carrying most newsgroups and have high completion rates. Completion is simply the percentage of messages that make it to the server (low completion means a server is missing a lot of messages making downloading very difficult). The problem is that many ISP's neglect their news server and therefore have low completion rates. There are, however, many ISP's that have servers running that are fast and have high completion rates. The only way to know is to find out what the address of your ISP's news server is and try it out!

A news server may require you to log into it using a user name and password. Usually the news servers run by ISP's do not require you to log on using a user name and password because they assign you your IP address (your unique internet location address) and the server automatically accepts only those IPs it recognizes. However, this also means that you will not be able to access the news server from another internet connection. You would have to be using theirs.

To find out if your ISP has a news server and to find the IP address go to the customer support section of their website and search for news server. If their website doesn't help, give them a call and ask whether they have a news server and what the address is. Bargain ISP's (such as Netzero and Juno) do not maintain news servers. Even some major ISPs such as America Online (AOL) currently do not offer Newsgroup access.

B) Using a Commercial Usenet Provider.
There are many reasons for deciding to use a news server that you have to pay to access. You may have an ISP that doesn't have a news server. Your ISP may have a news server, but it isn't worth much because it's slow, or has a low completion rate, or doesn't carry the binary newsgroups. You may have a relatively decent news server and want a cheap news server that you can access that can fill in the missing files from your normal news server. Whatever your reason, these servers can be GREAT to awful. Usually in this market, as most, you get what you pay for. And most times you can get what you need at a reasonable price. When you sign up for one of these services they will tell you what the name of the server(s) is and issue you a user name and password that you must enter into the news reader.

For a complete listing of pay news servers and their pricing plans, CLICK HERE!

3) Binary News Readers:
A news reader is a program that you install on your computer to connect to a news server. When you first use the news reader, it will connect to the news server and retrieve a list of all the newsgroups that are carried by that news server. When you want to see a list of the messages in a newsgroup, the news reader will connect to the news server and retrieve the list of messages (the headers of the messages) in that group without actually downloading the messages themselves (the body of the messages). Now you can browse through the list of messages to see what is available in that group at the time. If you decide to download something that you see listed, simply highlight it (if it has more than 1 file, highlight all of the messages of the posting) and the news reader will download the messages and decode them into binary files. To begin downloading files you must GET A NEWSREADER! Below you will find a list of some common Binary News Readers. Some of them offer free trial versions for you to try out. We are currently using News BinPro as our News Reader.

NewsBin Pro (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) - used by NFONews
Xnews (Free)
Agent Newsreader

For a listing of newsgroups that are regularly posted to this web site, CLICK HERE!

4) .nfo Files:
An .nfo (info) file is a file that is posted with most programs, games, movies, etc. and has an .nfo extension. This is a text file that you can open with notepad (or any text editor/reader) and contains vital information about the post, such as the size of archive, type of archive, number of parts, installation instructions, etc. If a post contains an .nfo file, you should download it first and read it before downloading the files. The .nfo file will give you a wealth of information about the post, it is usually created by the person who originally packaged and posted the files. Sometimes reading the NFO file before downloading can save you the mistake of downloading something you would later find out that you can't use.
While we're on the subject look out our Web Site Name: No Bin (Binary Downloads) Just NFO (Information, NFOs). Get it? :)

5) RAR File Format:
The RAR format started out as a compression utility like Winzip and became the standard on the newsgroups because of it's ability to split up the archive that it made. Like any great story, RAR's consist of 3 sections: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Version 3.0 and above format Pre-Version 3.0 format

Beginning - From WinRAR 3.0 forward the first file of the archive has an extension of .part1.rar, before version 3.0 it would be .rar. This is the file you open to extract the entire archive.

Middle - These are all the files that lie between the Beginning and the End. They should all be exactly the same size as the Beginning file.

End - This is the last file of the archive and is distinguishable by the shorter file size than the rest of the files. This is because as WinRAR adds data to the archive it chops off the file into equal pieces, the last piece will only contain whatever is left over at the end.

To Download WinRAR, CLICK HERE!

6) PAR Files:
PAR files are GODs gift to the newsgroups. They are the answer to the problem of missing and incomplete files. [PAR]ity files are used to reconstruct files that are missing or incomplete from the archive. For example, if you have downloaded an archive that was split into 47 RAR files but one of them is missing, you could simply download a PAR file for that archive. Once you have the PAR file, you can use SmartPAR to reconstruct the missing file.

You can also reconstruct ANY missing part (sample.r02 or sample.r06 or sample.r37) with ANY PAR file (sample.P01 or sample.P04 or sample.P05).

If you are missing 2 parts, get 2 PAR files and they will reconstruct both missing parts. 3 parts missing? Get 3 PAR files and you're good.

Here's the catch... There is a limit to the amount of files you can reconstruct. The limit is the amount of PAR files that were posted for the archive. Generally there are 5-10 PAR files per posting and have become a standard very quickly. So, if an archive has 5 PAR files, you will only be able to reconstruct a maximum of 5 parts.

PAR files are simple to spot. They use the following extension system:
.PAR, .P01, .P02, .P03, etc.

The .PAR file is an index file for the set and does not count towards reconstructing any files (it is usually less than 1K). The .PAR file is the one you open in SmartPAR, although if it is missing also, it is not critical and the reconstruction will still work by opening any of the actual PAR files.

So You have a couple of missing files, you have a couple of PAR files for the archive, what do you do now? Get SmartPAR! This is the program that will take the PAR files and construct new files from them.

To Download SmartPAR, CLICK HERE!

7) .sfv Files:
An SFV file is a file that can be used to check the integrity of all the files for a post. If you have an SFV file and an SFV verifying program, then you can make sure that all the files are OK. Sometimes the files become damaged during download and this is a way of identifying bad files. WinRAR has this feature built into it so this is generally not a needed file to get anymore. If you do want to use them, here is a link to an excellent SFV verifying program that is Freeware: Easy SFV Creator

8) What to do about missing parts (and there are no PAR files):
Unfortunately, not everyone is posting PAR files with their posts yet. So you have a couple of missing parts and no PAR files are to be found. Here is a list of the actions that you should take:

  • Search the newsgroup to see if it has already been reposted.
  • Read the .nfo file for the post. Many times it has information on what to do about missing files and if the poster will be doing a full repost.
  • Check each day after the post was completed and see if it has been reposted and if anyone else has requested the file be reposted.
  • Read the .nfo for information regarding how to request that a file be reposted.
  • Post a message to the group. The subject of the message should look like this:
    REQ: NicknameOfPoster please repost sample.r03
A rule to follow is only post a message when all else fails and no one else has requested the file be reposted already.

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