How to Access Usenet Groups in 2020

Let’s break down what it takes to access Usenet and how you can get started quickly and easily. 

Access Usenet

So, you’ve heard a lot about Usenet – but you have no idea what it is or how to access it. Not to worry, because we’re going to break it down nice and easy for you. 

We’ll explain what Usenet is, why you should use it, and how to get started, all in a beginner-friendly way. Think of this as a sort of ‘Usenet for Dummies’ post (no offense)! 


Why Would You Want to Access Usenet?

First, a little history. What exactly is Usenet? 

You can think of Usenet as the original Internet forum. In fact, Usenet has been around since even before the World Wide Web.

It consists of a massive database of messages, with people logging in from around the world to post and read these messages, which are organized into newsgroups. You can think of newsgroups as being kind of like subforums or subreddits on your favorite message board.

In the early days, these messages were a great way to communicate, but what we’re more interested in today is their attachments. These attachments, also known as binaries, can come in the form of pictures, music, and even video.

In this respect, Usenet is quite similar to torrenting. One user uploads a binary to a Usenet server; and many other users can then download it.

However, the old file formats used by newsgroups were not conducive to sharing binaries. Hence, the NZB was born. NZB files are sort of like a torrent file, in that they point your downloader towards the files that you want to get. They make finding and sharing binary files much easier – and that’s helped Usenet to grow.

Now, we’ve talked about how Usenet and torrents are similar – but there are plenty of differences as well. And that’s what we’ll cover next.

Usenet Has Been Around for 30+ Years

Usenet was first introduced in 1980. The World Wide Web (what we now know as the ‘Internet’ we love to browse) was introduced in 1991.

Old timers might remember the first time they logged into AOL with a painfully slow dial-up connection. But Usenet was around more than a decade before even that. Pretty crazy, right?

Of course, back then Usenet was more about communication, and newsgroups were basically the Internet forums of their time. Today, it’s more about binaries and downloading files – but the point is, Usenet has been around forever.

If you are completely new to Usenet and want to learn more, read this Introduction to Usenet & newsgroups

But enough about the history, let’s get into why you would want to access Usenet.

Usenet is Uncensored, Safe and Completely Private

One of the biggest advantages Usenet offers over BitTorrent file-sharing is how much safer and more private it is.

You see, Usenet does not rely on peer-to-peer (or p2p) connections. This means that instead of sharing downloads and uploads with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who downloads torrent files from The Pirate Bay, with Usenet your files are being sent directly to you through secure connections with – in the case of the best Usenet providers – at least 256-bit SSL encryption.

This encryption not only makes your downloading safer, even your ISP won’t be able to tell what you’re downloading. If you want to know more about this, read Usenet vs torrent file-sharing.

And if you really want to maximize your Usenet safety and privacy, you can always combine it with a good VPN. ​With this extra layer of security, not only will your ISP not know what you're downloading, they won't even know you're accessing Usenet!

Usenet Downloading Can Be a Lot Like Torrent File-Sharing (and Can Even Be Fully Automated)

Accessing Usenet can seem a little confusing at first glance, but once you get the hang of it, it can be nearly as easy and convenient as torrents.

You can even automate your Usenet downloading with apps like SABnzbd, Sonarr, Radarr, Couchpotato, Sick Beard, etc. When new content you want is uploaded to a Usenet newsgroup, these apps will send it straight to your newsreader to be downloaded automatically.

​It happens so fast that the content is already downloaded to your system before it can be hampered by any takedown notices. Often you wake up (or get home from work) to find the content already downloaded and ready to go. Pretty sweet, huh?


How to Get Started and Access Usenet

Want to start accessing Usenet? Here’s what you need to do.

1. Sign-up for a Free Usenet Trial

The easiest (and cheapest) way to access Usenet and give it a try is to sign up for a free trial.

There are plenty of excellent free trials to choose from. See Best Free Usenet Trials for a complete and up-to-date list sorted by the amount of time (for example, 14 days) and the amount of free data (for example, 30 GB of downloads).

If you just want to get going quickly, we recommend the free trials by Newshosting (US) and Eweka (Europe).

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a Usenet trial:

  • Some Usenet trials come with a free newsreader. A newsreader is the software you need to access Usenet and download files. Think of a newsreader like you would µTorrent or qBittorrent software for torrents. If a newsreader is included with the free Usenet trial, this makes things a lot easier as these newsreaders are pre-configured to work with the Usenet provider and often have the right settings baked into the newsreader for flawless performance.

  • Choose a Usenet provider with news servers located close to you. If you live in the US, pick a free trial from a Usenet provider that has news servers in the US. If you live in Europe, choose one with news servers in Europe. Many Usenet providers have servers in both the US and Europe, but not all do so make sure to check.

  • Some free Usenet trials will require your payment details up-front (usually a credit card or PayPal account), while others may need nothing more than an email address. If you choose a free trial that needs payment info, just make sure you end your free trial before it expires. Otherwise, you will be subscribed automatically, and monthly charges will start to apply.

Nothing prevents you from taking more than one free trial, whether at the same time or one after another, but you’ll probably find out pretty quickly whether Usenet is for you or not.

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Value Bomb

Even if you are happy with your free trial, it can often be a good idea to cancel before the free trial expires and then sign up fresh for an annual plan. In other words, you may get a better deal subscribing as a “brand new” customer than transitioning from a free trial into a follow-on subscription.

Check Best Usenet Deals for some of the best current offers on annual plans. 

2. Upgrade your Newsreader Software

If you like the newsreader that comes with your Usenet plan or was offered with your free Usenet trial, great! Just carry on using it to access Usenet newsgroups. 

But chances are you will eventually outgrow it. And this will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Try one (or more) of these best newsreader software apps. They are still free, but more powerful.

For one thing, switching to a more powerful newsreader will open up the world of NZB files and automated Usenet downloads (both discussed further below), which really takes your Usenet game to the next level.

  • Top Tip - If you want to use a free NZB downloader as your Usenet newsreader, the two top NZB downloaders are SABnzbd and NZBGet. They’re both good and pretty much equal, so choose whichever one suits your fancy. You can read more about them both in our best NZB downloader post.
Screenshot of SABnzbd.

3. Learn How to Search Usenet

Just as you may soon outgrow any newsreader that comes with your Usenet plan or helped you learn the Usenet ropes during a free trial period, the same will probably happen with how you search and find files on Usenet to download.

The built-in search features of bundled newsreaders are OK, but not great. You’ll want to check other ways to search for files to download from newsgroups.

Best Usenet Search explains the 3 different ways you can search for content to download from Usenet.

  • NZB is a Better Way to Search and Download from Usenet

If you read the Usenet search post recommended above, you'll have noticed something called NZB. What’s NZB all about?

Well, with traditional Usenet, you browse newsgroups to look for content you may like, usually based on nothing more than the posts' subject lines. Then, you download a bunch of posts that hopefully contain all the pieces of that content. If any pieces are missing, the download will be incomplete and the movie, TV show, video clip or whatever content you downloaded won't play.

However, the trouble is that with large content files, like movies & TV shows, those files may be contained in dozens or hundreds of posts. That makes them hard to all track down manually.

With NZB, you find and download a single NZB file for the content you want. The NZB file itself is tiny, but it points to everywhere the content can be found in Usenet posts. The NZB helps your newsreader software track down all the necessary pieces of the content, no matter how many posts they comprise or in how many different newsgroups they were posted to.

Once you start finding and downloading files using NZB, you’ll realize how much better it is than the old school method of browsing newsgroups, downloading posts and hoping you get all the pieces of a file you wanted.

Searching and downloading using NZBs make your downloads faster and more complete. Of course, it is still possible for NZBs to be missing files, but they’re still a lot easier to use – and often incomplete files will simply fail to start downloading in the first place.

Some newsreaders, like the one bundled free with Newshosting’s plans, let you search for and download NZB files. But a good NZB indexer makes it even easier.

  • Use a Usenet Indexer to Find the Best NZBs

In the past, people used newsreaders to access Usenet and find content – and while this is still an option, indexers are a much easier and more intuitive way to find content to download.

Usenet indexers are websites that maintain a Usenet index, which is to newsgroups what Pirate Bay and KickAss Torrents are to torrents. That makes a Usenet indexer a kind of “super NZB Usenet search”. They use NZB files the same way those torrent sites use torrent files.

In other words, with a good indexer, getting files on Usenet is as easy as: search, select and download.

The very best Usenet indexers will cost you a bit, but some remain free and are an easy way to dip your toe into the world of Usenet indexers.

Some of the best indexers are:

Screenshot of DogNZB website.

However, if you just want to give Usenet a try first before spending any money, there are a few indexers, like NZBFinder and DrunkenSlug (invite only) which offer limited but free plans. NZBGeek also offers a free trial to new users.

Read more about free vs paid indexers.

4. Fully Automate your Usenet Downloading

How would you like your newsreader to “know” when a TV show or movie you want becomes available and to download it right away?

That may sound like fantasy, but it’s totally possible. And apps like Radarr (for movies) and Sonarr (for TV shows) can help you do it.

These apps run in your web browser, communicate with your favorite Usenet indexer(s) and send NZB files to your newsreader the moment any content on your “watch lists” are posted to Usenet newsgroups.

It all happens so fast that you are usually able to download the content before any take-down notices can take effect and the content is removed.

We won’t lie and say “Usenet automation is easy” but once you get a few moving parts in place, it can work like a dream.

5. Get a Usenet Block Account to Increase Completed Downloads

To make sure nothing slips through the cracks when accessing Usenet and downloading, you can get something called a Usenet block account.

Two heads are better than one and it’s the same with Usenet: looking for files on two news servers is better than trying to get files from only one.

But who wants to pay for two Usenet subscriptions?! Don't worry. You don't have to.

Instead, you can buy a Usenet block account; this is a type of backup Usenet access. It works like a “pay-as-you-go” plan which only kicks in when you need it.

You pay for a set amount, or "block", of data upfront. Let's say 100GB.

​Then, anytime your main provider can't find all the parts of a file, your block account picks up the slack and fills the missing pieces. Instead of failing, the file is completed and the data is deducted from your block – but only what you used.

I​f your main provider is a good one, you'll rarely use much of the block data. But it's always there, just in case. 

​And the best Usenet block accounts never expire, so ​all of the leftover data will carry over month to month until you need it.


Final Thoughts / Wrap Up

We’ve just covered everything you need to access Usenet and then some.

Now that you know what Usenet is and the steps to get started, it’s time to jump in.

Once you get over the initial learning curve, you’ll be glad you learned about accessing Usenet and gave it a try.

Follow the steps above and you’ll be a Usenet boss in no time.

Happy downloading!

Last updated: May 10, 2020

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