USENET is a massively decentralized information distribution system. It was first developed in the early 1980s and over the years grew to become one of the largest messaging networks in the world. At its peak, USENET facilitated over 100,000 newsgroups that discuss just about anything.
Because of the decentralized nature of USENET, there are multiple ways of accessing the network. One such way is through Google Groups. While that may be appealing to some, accessing USENET through Google might not always be the best solution for everyone. This article will showcase five better alternatives for browsing USENET in Linux.
The Issue with Google Groups
Google Groups is a Web-based portal for newsgroups discussion that went live around 2001 when Google purchased Deja.com’s USENET archive. A couple of its selling points are that it is easy to access from your web browser and only requires you to have a Google account to participate.
However, there are many issues with the Google Groups interface that makes it painful to use for discussions:
- Google Groups does not thread discussions. This makes following a large USENET discussion in Google Groups hard – if not impossible.
- Google Groups formats the messages in the web page. While our post looked okay when we posted it, it may be unreadable to others who are not using Google Groups.
- Google Groups does not have filters. There is no way for us to remove spammers and malicious actors from our inbox.
- Lastly, spammers and malicious actors also use Google Groups. Because of this, Google accounts are often filtered out by the majority of USENET users. This makes participating in discussions harder for Google users.
Connecting to USENET Today
Connecting to USENET outside Google used to require a USENET account from an internet service provider (ISP). This account often came with an internet plan to subscribe to. However, most ISPs do not offer USENET services anymore.
Luckily, there are a few websites that offer free or cheap text-only USENET access.
1. Eternal September
Setting up an account is also relatively straightforward. Simply go to the website and press “User registration.” The website will ask you for some information about yourself.
When you are done filling out the information, you can use the connection information to access USENET.
Similar to Eternal September, AIOE offers free text-only USENET access. It also includes the Big 8 hierarchy as well as a good amount of regional and local groups. The main difference is that it does not require its users to register for an account to access the servers.
However, this means there are strict limitations on how often you can access AIOE’s network in one day. For example, there are limits to how long you can be reading posts online. Further, AIOE also has relatively short retention time for USENET posts.
Unlike the other two in this list, Individual.NET is a paid USENET service for text-only newsgroups. At the moment, it is providing unlimited USENET access for 10 Euros a year.
One of Individual’s main selling points is that spam is automatically filtered in the server level, so you do not have to do as much filtering as you would with Eternal September and AIOE.
Further, Individual.NET offers a significantly long retention time of 1175 days. This is useful for users who want to archive a newsgroup they are following.
Creating an account in Individual.NET is also straightforward. Just click the “Registration” link on the right sidebar. The website will then ask about your preferred payment method and the account details you want to use.
When you have finished registering, you can log in to Individual.NET and initiate a payment to activate your USENET account.
The following list contains USENET readers for Linux that are better than accessing through Google.
1. Mozilla Thunderbird
Mozilla Thunderbird is a great client for browsing USENET. The application already allows you to read your email and RSS feeds offline; however, it can also be used to connect to a USENET server to fetch news posts.
Further, Thunderbird is available on almost all Linux distributions. To install Thunderbird in Debian and Ubuntu, use
For Fedora, use
For Arch Linux, use
Once installed, the process of adding a USENET account is simple. You can do this by going to the Options menu and clicking the “Account Settings” option.
From there, you can click the “Account Actions,” then “Add Other Account.” Thunderbird will then open a new window that will ask you the type of account you want to add. Choose “Newsgroup Account.”
In the next window you will need to provide some information, such as your name and the e-mail address you want other people to use to reach you.
The next window will ask you for the address of the USENET server you want to connect to. In my case, I am connecting through Aioe.org.
Once done, you can click “Next” to finish the wizard. This will create the entry in Thunderbird’s server list as well as provide a landing page where you can manage your newsgroup subscriptions.
2. Claws Mail
Similar to Mozilla Thunderbird, Claws Mail is a graphical email client that can also read newsgroups. One advantage of Claws over Thunderbird is that it is extremely lightweight, so you can run it on any computer as long as it supports a graphical screen.
Claws Mail is also available in almost every available Linux distribution. For example, you can install Claws Mail in Debian and Ubuntu using
In Fedora, use
For Arch Linux, use
When you are finished with the installation, add your USENET server to Claws Mail. To do that, click “Configuration” in the menu bar, then “Create New Account.”
From there, click the “Protocol” drop-down list and select “News (NNTP)” to make sure the account you are setting up will connect to a USENET server.
In my case, I am connecting through Eternal September. To do that, I need to provide the server’s address.
Further, Eternal September requires an account to read and post. To use my account with Claws, I need to tick the “This server requires authentication” checkbox and provide my USENET username and password.
Once you have provided that information, you can browse for newsgroups to follow by right-clicking the “news (nntp)” folder in the Server List and selecting “Subscribe to Newsgroup.”
Unlike Thunderbird and Claws Mail, Pan is a dedicated graphical newsreader for Linux. Because of that, Pan has dedicated USENET-only features, such as post queuing, article header caching and scorefiles.
It makes Pan a more attractive option for someone who wants to have an easy-to-use yet flexible newsreader.
Pan can be obtained from most Linux repositories. Install Pan in Debian and Ubuntu using
In Fedora, use
For Arch Linux, use
Once that is installed, adding your USENET server to Pan is extremely simple. When you start it for the first time, Pan will automatically ask you to set up an account.
From there, you only need to provide the address of the server you are connecting to and any additional account information that may be needed.
After you finish adding this information, Pan will download all of the newsgroups that the server is hosting. It may take a while if your Internet connection is particularly slow.
You can then subscribe to newsgroups by right-clicking a group and clicking “Subscribe” in the context menu.
TIN is a terminal-based USENET reader. It supports both remote (NNTP) and locally (/var/spool) sourced newsgroup access.
TIN also supports article threading, scorefiles, and the ability to use your favorite text editor to send messages. TIN is, therefore, useful for people who are more comfortable with terminal-based applications.
Further, it is also available in almost all Linux distributions. You can install TIN in Debian and Ubuntu through
In Fedora, use
TIN is a very powerful program but still easy to use. To get started, we need to create two files in our home directory:
- .newsrc file that contains the newsgroups we are following
- .newsauth file that contains the authentication details for the USENET servers that require an account.
Setting Up the .newsrc File to Connect to USENET
To start reading posts, you need to populate the .newsrc file with the newsgroups you want to follow. The general format of the .newsrc file looks something like this:
- “newsgroup” is where you will insert the particular newsgroup you want to follow. For example, comp.lang.c.
- The second argument tells TIN whether we are subscribed to that newsgroup. “:” indicates that we are subscribed, and “!” indicates that we are not.
- The last argument tells TiN which article numbers we have already read. Since we are just starting out, it is better to leave this argument blank.
Setting Up the .newsauth File to Connect to USENET
If you are using a USENET server like Eternal September, you need to provide your authentication details in the .newsauth file.
This file allows TIN to automatically log you in whenever you open the application and whenever you post. The general syntax of the file looks something like this:
- “nntpserver” indicates the specific server where the authentication details are used. For example, news.eternal-september.org.
- The second argument is where you will put your user password.
- The third argument is where you will insert your user name.
Once done, you need to also change the file permissions of this file. Because this file contains your password, you need to make sure no one else can access it. To do that, type the following:
With that done, you can now start using TiN. To connect to your USENET server, use the following command:
-Aoption forces TIN to authenticate when you first connect to the server. You only need this when you connect to a server that requires you to have an account.
-roption tells TIN that you are using a remote source.
-goption tells TIN the address of the USENET server you want to connect to.
Similar to TIN, slrn is a terminal-based newsreader and also supports article threading, scorefiles and using your favorite text editor to write your posts.
However, unlike TIN, slrn automatically generates your .newsrc file and provides you with all of the available newsgroups that the USENET server hosts. Further, slrn also has its own configuration file which allows you to further customize and configure its behavior.
Install slrn in Debian and Ubuntu using
For Fedora, use
Setting Up Your .slrnrc File to Connect to USENET
Once done, you will need to copy the .slrnrc file from slrn’s installation directory. To do that, use the following command:
The .slrnrc file is highly detailed and walks you through every aspect of configuring the program. However, for our purposes, we only need to set three things: the “hostname,” the “username” and the “real name.”
In my case, my .slrnrc file looks something like this:
NNTPSERVER Variable and Connecting to USENET
At this point, you need to set the NNTPSERVER environment variable for your shell to allow slrn to determine which server to connect to.
The commands do slightly differ from shell to shell, but to change that in bash type the following:
With that done, the last thing to do generate the .newsrc file for slrn. To do that, type the following command:
This will run slrn with your preferred settings and connect to your USENET server. It will get a list of all of the available newsgroups to subscribe to and put that in a file called .jnewsrc.
You can now subscribe to your newsgroups by pressing L to search for your particular group, then pressing S to subscribe to it.
If the last two programs made you interested in learning more about the command line, check out our guide on how to send an email from the Linux terminal.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can I reconnect to Aioe.org?
This is most probably because you were banned due to exceeding the daily allotted time for accessing Aioe. You can check back in 24 hours whether you can access it again or not.
However, if you feel that the allotted time in Aioe is a bit restricting, you can also set up an account with either Eternal September or Individual.NET
2. I am using Mozilla Thunderbird with Eternal September. Why are there no available newsgroups outside eternal-september for me to connect to?
This is because you have not authenticated your account through Mozilla Thunderbird yet. To do that, go to your “Account Settings,” then to your “Server Settings.”
There will be a check box labelled: “Always request for authentication when connecting to this server” to allow you to connect to Eternal September through your account.
3. I am using slrn. How can I reconnect to my USENET server when I open the program again?
This is because the NNTPSERVER variable was not set. When we first set up slrn, we just indicated the NNTPSERVER for the current terminal that we were using. Once we load a different terminal, that variable will not be present anymore.
To make this permanent, you will need to edit your .profile file and insert the same commands that we ran:
After that, you have to log out and log back in to your user account to see the change.
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