Understanding Newsgroups

Understanding Newsgroups

Newsgroups originated in Usenet-a store-and-forward messaging network for exchanging email and news items. Usenet works like a telegraph in that news and mail are relayed from one system to another. In Usenet, the systems are not on any network; they simply dial up and use the UNIX-to-UNIX Copy Protocol (UUCP) to transfer text messages.

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If you have signed up with an ISP, it should provide you with access to a news server. Such Internet news servers communicate by using NNTP. Then, you can use an NNTP-capable newsreader, such as slrn, to access the news server and read selected newsgroups. You can also read news by using the news reader that comes with Mozilla (included with Red Hat Linux). This is the easiest way to access news on your Linux Internet host.

The following discussion about reading newsgroups assumes that you have obtained access to a news server from your ISP.

Reading News from Your ISP

To read news from your ISP, you need a newsreader-a program that enables you to select a newsgroup and view the items in that newsgroup. You also need to understand the newsgroup hierarchy and naming convention, which is described in the 'Understanding the Newsgroup Hierarchy' section of this chapter. First, you should try reading news from a news server.

Reading Newsgroups with Mozilla Mail

You can browse newsgroups and post articles from Mozilla Mail, one of the components of Mozilla-the Web browser that comes with Red Hat Linux on this book's companion CD-ROMs. You can start Mozilla by selecting Main Menu>Internet>Mozilla Web Browser

or by clicking the earth icon on the panel. When you start to read newsgroups for the first time, follow these steps to set up the news account:

  1. Select Windows>Mail & Newsgroups from the Mozilla menu. The Mozilla Mail and News (called Mozilla Mail, for short) window appears.

  2. Select Edit>Mail & Newsgroups Account Settings from the Mozilla Mail menu. A dialog box appears.

  3. Click Add Account. The Account Wizard appears.

  4. Click the Newsgroup account radio button, and click Next.

  5. Fill in your identity information-name and email address-and click Next.

  6. Enter your news server name (provided by your ISP), and click Next.

  7. Enter a descriptive name of the newsgroup account, and click Next.

  8. Click Finish to complete the newsgroup account setup.

The new newsgroup account now appears in the list of accounts on the left-hand side of the Mozilla Mail window. Click the newsgroup's account name, and the right-hand side shows the options for the newsgroup account.

Click the Subscribe to newsgroups link. Mozilla Mail starts to download the list of newsgroups from the news server.

If your ISP's news server requires a user name and password, you are prompted for that information. After that, Mozilla Mail downloads the list of newsgroups and displays them in the Subscribe dialog box. You can enter a search string in a text box to narrow down the list. When you find the newsgroups you want, click the check box to subscribe to these newsgroups, then click OK to close the dialog box.

After you subscribe to newsgroups, those newsgroups appear under the newsgroup account name in the left-hand side of the Mozilla Mail window. You can then read a newsgroup using these steps:

  1. Click a newsgroup name (for example, comp.os.linux.announce). This brings up a dialog box that asks you how many message headers you want to download.

  2. Specify the number of headers (for example, 500) you want, and then click OK to proceed. Mozilla Mail downloads the headers from the newsgroup and displays a list in the upper-right area of the window.

  3. From the list of headers, click an item to read that article.

To select other subscribed newsgroups, click on the newsgroup's name in the left-hand side of the window.

Understanding the Newsgroup Hierarchy

News items are organized in a hierarchy of newsgroups for ease of maintenance as well as ease of use. A typical newsgroup name looks like the following:


This name says that comp.os.linux.announce is a newsgroup for announcements (announce) about the Linux operating system (os.linux) and that these subjects fall under the broad category of computers (comp).

As you can see, the format of a newsgroup name is a sequence of words separated by periods. These words denote the hierarchy of the newsgroup.

Table 16-1 lists some of the major newsgroup categories.

Table 16-1: Major Newsgroup Categories




'Alternative' newsgroups (not subject to any rules), which run the gamut from the mundane to the bizarre


Biology newsgroups


Bitnet newsgroups


Business newsgroups


Clarinet news service (daily news)


Computer hardware and software newsgroups


Newsgroups for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers


Newsgroups devoted to elementary and secondary education


Newsgroups about Linux (includes a linux.redhat hierarchy)


Miscellaneous newsgroups


Newsgroups about Internet news administration (news.software.nntp newsgroup covers INN)


Recreational and art newsgroups


Science and engineering newsgroups


Newsgroups for discussing social issues and various cultures


Discussions of current issues (such as 'talk radio')

This short list of categories is deceptive because it does not really tell you about the wide-ranging variety of newsgroups available in each category. Because each newsgroup category contains several levels of subcategories, the overall count of newsgroups runs into several thousands. The comp category alone has more than 500 newsgroups.

Typically, you have to narrow your choice of newsgroups according to your interests. If you are interested in Linux, for example, you can pick one or more of these newsgroups:

  • comp.os.linux.admin-Information about Linux system administration

  • comp.os.linux.advocacy-Discussions about promoting Linux

  • comp.os.linux.announce-Important announcements about Linux. This newsgroup is moderated, which means that you must mail the article to the moderator, who then posts it to the newsgroup if the article is appropriate for the newsgroup.

  • comp.os.linux.answers-Questions and answers about Linux. All the Linux HOWTOs are posted in this moderated newsgroup. (See Chapter 7 for a list of Linux HOWTOs.)

  • comp.os.linux.development-Current Linux development work

  • comp.os.linux.development.apps-Linux application development

  • comp.os.linux.development.system-Linux operating-system development

  • comp.os.linux.hardware-Discussions about Linux and various types of hardware

  • comp.os.linux.help-Help with various aspects of Linux

  • comp.os.linux.misc-Miscellaneous Linux-related topics

  • comp.os.linux.networking-Networking under Linux

  • comp.os.linux.redhat-Red Hat Linux-related topics

  • comp.os.linux.setup-Linux setup and installation

  • comp.os.linux.x-Discussions about setting up and running the X Window System under Linux

  • linux.redhat-Discussions about Red Hat Linux

You have to be selective about what newsgroups you read because it's impossible to keep up with all the news, even in a specific area such as Linux. When you first install and set up Linux, you might read newsgroups such as comp.os.linux.setup, comp.os.linux .hardware, and comp.os.linux.x (especially if you are having problems with X). After you have Linux up and running, you may want to learn only about new things happening in Linux. For such information, read the comp.os.linux.announce newsgroup.

Subscribing to Newsgroups

Unlike magazines or newspapers, newsgroups do not require that you subscribe to them; you can read any newsgroup that is available on the news server. The news server administrator may decide to exclude certain newsgroups, however; in that case, you cannot read them.

The only thing to which you come close to 'subscribing' is the .newsrc file in your home directory. All newsreaders consult this file to determine which newsgroups you want to read. From inside the newsreader, you can use its menus or commands to subscribe to a newsgroup. When you subscribe to the newsgroup, the newsreader simply adds the name of that newsgroup to the .newsrc file.

Posting to Newsgroups

You can use any newsreader to post a news item (a new item or a reply to an old posting) to one or more newsgroups. Posting a news item to a newsgroup is basically similar to sending an email message. The exact command for posting a news item depends on the newsreader. For example, in the Mozilla Mail newsreader, follow these steps to post an article:

  1. Click Reply on the toolbar to post a follow-up to a news item you are reading. To post a new news article, click New Msg.

  2. A window appears where you can compose the message. You should type the names of the newsgroups, just as you would type the addresses of recipients when sending email. Then enter the subject and your message. For this test posting, type a subject line with the word ignore in it, and enter misc.test as the name of the newsgroup. Otherwise, any site that receives your article replies by mail to tell you the article has reached the site; that's in keeping with the purpose of the misc.test newsgroup.

  3. After you finish composing the message, click Send on the toolbar. Mozilla sends the message to the news server, which in turn sends it to other news servers.

  4. To verify that the test message has reached the newsgroup, click File>Subscribe; then subscribe to the misc.test newsgroup (that's where you've recently posted the new article). Look at the latest article in misc.test, which should be the article you've recently posted.

Verifying Your Newsgroup Posting

If you post an article and read the newsgroup immediately, you'll see the new article, but that does not mean the article has reached other sites on the Internet. After all, your posting shows up on your news server immediately because that's where you have posted the article. Because of the store-and-forward model of news distribution, the news article gradually propagates from your news server to others around the world.