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Linux Network Administrator's Guide, Second Edition by Terry Dawson, Olaf Kirch

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Chapter 20. Netnews

Netnews, or Usenet news, remains one of the most important and highly valued services on computer networks today. Dismissed by some as a mire of unsolicited commercial email and pornography, Netnews still maintains several cases of the high-quality discussion groups that made it a critical resource in pre-web days. Even in these times of a billion web pages, Netnews is still a source for online help and community on many topics.

Usenet History

The idea of network news was born in 1979 when two graduate students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, thought of using UUCP to connect machines for information exchange among Unix users. They set up a small network of three machines in North Carolina.

Initially, traffic was handled by a number of shell scripts (later rewritten in C), but they were never released to the public. They were quickly replaced by “A News,” the first public release of news software.

A News was not designed to handle more than a few articles per group and day. When the volume continued to grow, it was rewritten by Mark Horton and Matt Glickman, who called it the “B” release (a.k.a. B News). The first public release of B News was version 2.1 in 1982. It was expanded continuously, with several new features added. Its current version is B News 2.11. It is slowly becoming obsolete; its last official maintainer switched to INN.

Geoff Collyer and Henry Spencer rewrote B News and released it in 1987; this is release “C,” or C News. Since its release, there have been a number of patches to C News, the most prominent being the C News Performance Release. On sites that carry a large number of groups, the overhead involved in frequently invoking relaynews, which is responsible for dispatching incoming articles to other hosts, is significant. The Performance Release adds an option to relaynews that allows it to run in daemon mode, through which the program puts itself in the background. The Performance Release is the C News version currently included in most Linux releases. We describe C News in detail in Chapter 21.

All news releases up to C were primarily targeted for UUCP networks, although they could be used in other environments, as well. Efficient news transfer over networks like TCP/IP or DECNet required a new scheme. So in 1986, the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) was introduced. It is based on network connections and specifies a number of commands to interactively transfer and retrieve articles.

There are a number of NNTP-based applications available from the Net. One of them is the nntpd package by Brian Barber and Phil Lapsley, which you can use to provide newsreading service to a number of hosts inside a local network. nntpd was designed to complement news packages, such as B News or C News, to give them NNTP features. If you want to use NNTP with the C News server, you should read Chapter 22, which explains how to configure the nntpd daemon and run it with C News.

An alternative package supporting NNTP is INN, or Internet News. It is not just a frontend, but a news system in its own right. It comprises a sophisticated news relay daemon that can maintain several concurrent NNTP links efficiently, and is therefore the news server of choice for many Internet sites. We discuss it in detail in Chapter 23.

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