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How to Use Usenet (Best Guide 2017)

The Complete Set of Steps for How to Use Usenet. 

how to use usenet image

Learn how to use Usenet step-by-step. 

In this detailed Usenet Guide, you’ll find all the steps you need on how to use Usenet and enjoy its newsgroups. You can read from the start or advanced users may want to use the index below to jump further down the tutorial. If you are totally new to Usenet, you may want to first check out our Introduction to Usenet.

Top Tip – One of the most important things is to choose the best Usenet provider. It's hard to go wrong with Newshosting.

To help break it down for you, here's an index to our guide on how to use Usenet:

  • Step 1: Find the best Usenet provider for your needs
    • Summary: The “Big 5” Leading Usenet providers
  • Step 2: Sign up with your chosen Usenet provider
  • Step 3: Decide on a newsreader app to use
  • Step 4: Download a full newsgroup listing
  • Step 5: Subscribe to newsgroups of interest to you
  • Step 6: Sample the posts and files available in newsgroups
    • Optional Step: Use a Privacy Cleaning App after enjoying your Usenet downloads
  • Step 7: Check out NZB Indexes too
  • Step 8: Solve any “incomplete” or missing items with a block account
  • Step 9: Embrace full Usenet automation

Step 1: Find the Best Usenet Provider for your Needs

There is no shortage of options for Usenet newsgroup providers (there are over 100 UNPs to choose from!). That's good news for potential customers like you as the fierce competition means that many good value options are available.

If price is your main concern, don’t worry as Usenet access is available for as little as a few dollars per month or pennies per Gigabyte. Similarly, pricing has converged and is similar for most providers and plans. Therefore, what distinguishes the best Usenet provider for you will likely be speed and customer service.

If money is no object, you can go for VIP treatment and choose a provider with the largest retention periods, unlimited data download plans and robust customer service. Customer service is important when, as is inevitable, you run into snags. You want answers and you want them quick. Plus, you want them from human beings not generic FAQs that tell you j@cksh!t.

In-between there are plenty of balance packages that can cater to every need. Our favorites are as follows, but you should do your own homework. When trying to find the best Usenet provider, consult the list of factors on that page and consider searching available newsgroups to see which providers have the most uncensored Usenet newsgroups you are interested in. Most carry the full range of binaries newsgroups.

The “Big Five” Leading Usenet Providers

These are the largest and most well-established of the Usenet providers on the market today.

  • Newshosting is arguably the best overall choice for a Usenet provider with its excellent value for money at a good price point, reliable service, fast speeds, a free newsgroup browser and a large number of newsgroups (100,000). Offering classic NNTP access or a web-based newsreader option. It offers the most generous free trial account of 30 GB / 14 days
  • Giganews is the most expensive and slickest of Usenet providers with good customer service, a free bundled newsgroup browser (called Mimo) and the largest number of newsgroups (110,000). It also offers a free trial of 10 GB
  • EasyNews is considered the best web-based Usenet provider and so it is ideal for beginners. A web-based interface with thumbnail viewing is also great for those interested mostly in images and video binaries. EasyNews has a large user base and probably the best customer service
  • Astraweb is the cheapest of the “big five” Usenet providers. It appeals to the most price-conscious but do expect some incomplete download items and bare-bones customer service
  • UsenetServer is an excellent choice like Newshosting with even faster speeds and longer retention periods, but with fewer newsgroups (80,000). It is great for advanced users and those thinking about embracing full Usenet automation (see Step 9 below)

RANK

PROVIDER

FEATURES

MORE

#1

"Best"

• 100,000+ newsgroups

• highest retention   • no logs

• generous free trial

• includes free, fast newsreader

• exclusive discount!

Read Review »

#2

"Easiest"

easynews usenet image

• easiest Usenet (ideal for newbies)

• no logs   • free trial

• exclusive discount!

Read Review »

#3

"Cadillac"

• 110,000+ newsgroups

• includes free, fast newsreader

• best customer service

Read Review »

Please note that all of the above newsgroup providers are based in the USA. If you're looking for a Usenet provider based outside of the US check out Eweka, the best reasonably-priced European Usenet provider. European-based Usenet customers should read Best European Usenet.

Step 2: Sign up with your Chosen Usenet Provider

The sign-up process for most Usenet providers is generally the same: you pay (or start a free trial) and receive your credentials by e-mail.

This e-mail will contain the address of the provider’s Usenet server, called an NNTP newsserver address (news.example.com), and an access password. You will need to enter this address and password into your newsreader app's settings, which is usually very straight forward and under the menu item ‘Server'.

Sometimes the e-mail you receive from the Usenet provider will include additional information such as download links for any free newsreader software they offer (see Step 3 below). Some newsgroup providers may also provide you with a username, specific port numbers or details for enabling secure SSL connections.

enter NNTP news server address
enter username and password

In your Settings, always use secure connections (also called SSL) as this prevents your ISP from detecting your Usenet activities. It’s smart to enable SSL as many ISPs frown on Usenet activities and will throttle or shape (basically, slow down or impede) your Usenet downloading.

After entering the necessary information in your newsreader app, hopefully everything works smoothly right from the start. If not, common problems include making sure you have correctly entered the information they sent you by e-mail, including any case-sensitive passwords or usernames and not having any typos in the NNTP address. 🙂

Top Tip – if you really want to protect your privacy as much as possible, consider signing up with a one-time email account and paying for Usenet with Bitcoin, cash-bought gift cards or other “anonymous” payment method.

Step 3: Decide on a Newsreader App to Use

Some Usenet providers will give you access (for free) to their own newsreader app or web-based interface. Of course, that’s fine.

If you instead prefer to use a stand-alone newsreader app rather than the one offered by your Usenet provider, see our Usenet newsreader software recommendations (all free). Some are standalone apps while others, such as SABnzdb and CoachPotato, are based on a web interface and run from inside your web browser.

SABnzdb free Usenet newsreader image

SABnzdb free Usenet newsreader

Normally, you don’t have to worry about your newsreader app settings too much. Entering the NNTP address and password is usually all that is required. If you are having issues, sometimes less is more.

Overall, the most important factor for fast Usenet downloading is your choice of Usenet provider. It is always a good idea to start a free trial in order to test speeds for your particular location and setup.

That's because to test download speeds, the only real way for you to determine this is to give it a whirl by take a free trial or short test period. Relying on reviews isn't helpful and can be counterproductive because your setup, location and use varies. This means the speed you experience can vary too.

Top Tip – Regarding your newsreader app settings, the sweet spot for the number of simultaneous connections for faster Usenet downloads is usually 8 to 15. Counter-intuitively, using more connections may actually decrease your downloading speeds unless you benefit from a super-fast connection such as 100+ Mbps connection in which case you could go up to as many as 50 simultaneous connections.

Optional Step: Run your Newsreader App from an Encrypted Drive

For Usenet activities, consider installing and running your Usenet newsreader app to an encrypted drive according to our general advice. Saving your Usenet downloads to an encrypted location on your computer or devices will keep them safe from prying eyes.

One advantage of classic standalone newsreader apps (such as GrabIt among others) is that you can install and run it from an encrypted drive. You can’t easily do that with SABnzdb because it uses a web interface (you run it from inside your web browser).

Top Tip – For best results on your desktop computer, mount (decrypt) the container using the same drive letter every time. Using X: is easy to remember and thus helps ensure everything works properly from session to session.

If using this technique, remember never to leave an unencrypted volume open on your computer when unattended. This is the mistake made by Silk Road mastermind. Adversaries were able to access his unencrypted data and apps while he was sipping a latte down the street oblivious to the raid being conducted at his home. A more down to earth example is an activist posting controversial messages to Usenet newsgroups that could get them in trouble with the local authorities.

Step 4: Download a Full Newsgroup Listing

Some newsreader apps will do this automatically when you first connect to a Usenet server but if not it's usually easy to spot how to do this. Update your Usenet server’s available newsgroup listing.

full newsgroup listing image

Download a list of all newsgroups (select to enlarge image)

Your newsreader app will fetch a comprehensive list of all the newsgroups available from your Usenet provider. As that can be 110,000+ newsgroups, this can take a while, especially the first time, so be patient.

Step 5: Subscribe to Newsgroups of Interest to You

Once the newsgroup list is updated you can browse and search through the list for newsgroups that interest you.

Searching is probably your best bet as it is not easy to browse through thousands of newsgroup names. But even searching newsgroup names is not always enough. It's too easy to miss a newsgroup you may be interested in. 

Top Tip – Check out an uncensored Usenet newsgroup list or search newsgroups.

Plus many newsgroups have names that do not always reflect their contents. For example, alt.binaries.boneless is one of the more popular newsgroups with media files but you would never have guessed that from its name.

For this reason you should also Google around a bit. Perform searches such as “best Usenet newsgroup for images/audio/movies/videos of [fill in your interest]

Step 6: Sample the Content Available in Newsgroups

For each newsgroup you have now subscribed to, update the group in order to see the posts available. Scroll through the list of posts once it's updated. The subject lines may already tell you a lot. You can also download a sample selection of content (files & posts) to check them out or satisfy your curiosity.

Pay attention to the size of posts too because a post can just as easily contain a small 35K image file as it can a 6 MB audio file, large 100 MB video clip or full 2 GB movie file.

Over time, sampling the contents of newsgroups you subscribe to will give you a sense of which newsgroups to keep and stay on top of versus those you can discard. Simply unsubscribe to any newsgroup(s) you don't want to follow any more.

Optional Step: Use a privacy cleaning app after enjoying your Usenet downloads

As always, consider tidying up after downloading by using a privacy cleaning app to clear any trace data history left behind on your computer or devices. For example, opening images, videos and movies in your media player leaves a history, including in your operating system’s most recently used items log.

Step 7: Check out NZB Indexes too

If the content you want seems hard to come by or you just want to expand your Usenet knowledge check some NZB search indexes.

Using NZB search engines (see our list of the best NZB search sites) you can download .NZB files which act much like .torrent files, telling your newsreader app exactly where it can download all the necessary bits and pieces from Usenet and reassemble them so you can get the finished product, whether a movie, video or collection of images or audio files.

Top Tip – all of the newsgroup providers on on our best Usenet provider list fully support NZB downloading as do our recommended newsreader apps.

More About NZB Files: NZB files are to Usenet what torrent files are to peer-to-peer p2p file-sharing. More than 10 years ago, the Usenet website Newzbin started to index Usenet downloads and created the NZB file format. Like a torrent file, a NZB file acts merely as a pointer to where certain downloads are available on Usenet. NZB files save you from a lot of manual hassle such as combining the different parts of multipart files and dealing with PAR files and other annoyances.

Some NZB sites are free and open to all, such as NZBSearch, Binsearch and NzbPlanet while others may limit the number of free searches you can perform, such as OZnzb, or operate on an invitation-only basis (for current open invitations see this subreddit). 

Do your searches and when you find content you want to check out, you can (depending on the index you use): i) download the NZB file and open it in your newsreader or ii) copy and paste the text of the NZB address into your Usenet newsreader. Either way, your newsreader app should dutifully fetch the content indexed by the NZB file.

NZB Search image

Once you get the hang of NZB files you'll be amazed how easy and fast they are for downloading your favorite content from Usenet.

Step 8: Solve any “Incomplete” or Missing Items with a Usenet Block Account

As you start to raise your game in Usenet and download more content, you may start coming across items where some of the pieces are missing. These are called “incomplete items” in Usenet-speak.

Sometimes incomplete items can be a nuisance on Usenet. Items may be incomplete for a number of reasons. For example, pieces could be missing due to technical glitches. Because Usenet has a single file size limit of about 20 MB, larger files are broken up into multiple posts, which can lead to missing pieces.

This means that large Usenet binaries, such as movies and videos, must be split up over many, sometimes dozens of, Usenet posts. If the Usenet server you are using is missing even one of those posts, the file will be incomplete. When this happens, you may not be able to properly open the file or the media may skip at the best part. 

Items may be incomplete for a number of reasons. For example, pieces could be missing due to technical glitches. Because Usenet has a single file size limit of about 20 MB, larger files are broken up into multiple posts, which can lead to missing pieces.

Pieces could also be missing due to “takedown” notices issued under the DMCA. For example, one firm alone has issued over 10 million DMCA notices.

Either way, this means that parts of an item may be available on some Usenet "backbone" servers and not on others. That doesn't necessarily mean your provider is not good as their backbone will just as surely have pieces that are missing on other backbone servers.

If incomplete Usenet binaries start to become a challenge for you, your first strategy is to try using the NZB indexes mentioned in Step 7 above. The NZB format tries to fill in these gaps by locating all the different possible locations of these sometimes elusive posts. 

If NZB indexes don’t always solve your incomplete item issues, don’t worry as solving this is relatively straightforward: sign up for a second Usenet provider that uses a different Usenet backbone in order to diversify your Usenet sources and cover all your bases.

Now we know what you're thinking, “Two Usenet providers? What am I, rich?!

That's where block accounts come in. It's like a “pay as you go” arrangement for Usenet access. So, in addition to your “go to” Usenet provider, you purchase a limited amount (a block) of Usenet gigabyte downloads from a second provider. You only use this block balance when needed. The unused balance carries forward indefinitely month-to-month until you use it up. If you do use it up, simply by another “block” of Usenet gigabyte downloads.

The absolute key is to buy a block of gigabytes from a Usenet provider that uses a different Usenet backbone than your go to (primary) Usenet provider.

Two Usenet providers? What am I, rich?!

The best, most trusted and up-to-date information about which Usenet providers on which backbones can be found in the wiki of the Usenet subreddit or by checking our our page dedicated to Usenet Block Accounts.

Your starting point for buying a block account is first to determine what backbone your current go to primary Usenet provider is on. Then, make sure the block account you purchase is from a provider using a different Usenet backbone.

You may be tentative at first and that's okay. Start with a small block account and gain some confidence. Later you can buy larger block accounts. This is smart because the price drops significantly per gigabyte the larger the block you buy.

Good newsreader apps will let you enter more than one Usenet server in its setup. This means you can enter both your primary and block account in your newsreader app’s settings. If done properly, your Usenet newsreader app will only call upon your block account provider when it encounters a missing piece while using your primary Usenet account.

Step 9: Embrace full Usenet Automation

Eventually as you get more comfortable using Usenet you might become a full-fledged Usenet convert and favor it – as many already do – over P2P torrent file-sharing. Or you may wish to use both in parallel, as we do. After all, each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Plus, everyone's situation is different.

There are tools you can use to fully automate the Usenet downloading process. They work like this:

the content you like is “released” (posted) to Usenet

you receive an automatic notification (via RSS) for this content and your newsreader app is instantly made aware that it's available

your newsreader app dutifully downloads the content and it's there waiting for you on your computer or device

CouchPotato website image

Learn more at CouchPotato's website

Apps such as SABnzbd, CouchPotato and Sick Beard let you do this, but are best left to advanced users.

These apps can receive automated RSS feeds of new content released in NZB files. These NZB files are then automatically added to your download queue and saved to your computer or device, even with standardized filenames. How nice is that?

In fact, you have to be somewhat careful with fully automated methods because you can easily download hundreds of gigabytes of content from Usenet in no time at all!

Final Advice about How to Use Usenet

Take our advice: go step-by-step. If you try jumping right to full automation at Step #9 you may end up frustrated. Start at the beginning steps of this Usenet tutorial and grow with Usenet as your knowledge does. After all, there is no hurry.

Remember, Usenet has been around since 1980 and is here to stay. So you have plenty of time to learn how to use Usenet.

RANK

PROVIDER

FEATURES

MORE

#1

"Best"

• 100,000+ newsgroups

• highest retention   • no logs

• generous free trial

• includes free, fast newsreader 

• exclusive discount!

Read Review »

#2

"Easiest"

easynews usenet image

• easiest Usenet (ideal for newbies)

• no logs   • free trial

• exclusive discount!

Read Review »

#3

"Cadillac"

• 110,000+ newsgroups

• includes free newsreader

• best customer service

Read Review »

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