What are newsgroups?

In general, newsgroups can be compared to discussion forums. Since its foundation at the end of the 1970s, the basic concept of the Usenet has been to enable communication between like-minded people quickly and easily. While exchanging text messages within the Usenet was previously the focus, in recent years file attachments, so-called binaries, have enjoyed increasing popularity.

Did you know? Trends, news, binaries: The Usenet starts where the Internet ends!
Did you know that there are currently over 110,000 active newsgroups on the Usenet? In total, there is in excess of 2,500 terabytes of data on the Usenet. Estimates suggest that over 5,000 gigabytes are added to this every day.


The newsgroups are the real “treasure” of the Usenet. They contain an almost unbelievable abundance of information and data. Binaries are contained in the so-called binary newsgroups. Binary files are raw files which can occur in a wide variety of different formats. Often, these files (frequently RAR files) are broken into smaller individual files, compressed and attached into the newsgroup.

Binary newsgroups and how to use them is easily explained with a short example. Imagine you are looking for freeware for the Mac or PC. The best way to do this would be to use a “newsgroup search engine”, if this is a service offered by your newsreader. There, you can select which specific content you would like to search for – files, images or articles. After that, you enter your desired search term, e.g. “Freeware”. After the search has been completed, a list of the newsgroups containing this search term will be displayed.

Newsgroups such as “a.binaries.mac”, “a.b.comp”, or “a.b.freeware” will probably be your first port of call for this specific search term. It goes without saying that it is possible to search in specific newsgroups. However, users should first understand how the title of a newsgroup is structured. New users can use a mental rule of thumb for this. The basic structure of a newsgroup’s name has the following format: hierarchy.subhierarchy.topic.

In the case of the example named above, the newsgroup would be called the following:


At this point, it is interesting to look back again into the history of Usenet. The traditional “big eight” hierarchies are comp., news., rec., sci., soc., talk., misc. and alt.. The latter is the newest addition to the “big eight”. .

In an effort to facilitate users’ participation in different newsgroups, recommendations for how to behave with other users have been moulded over the years – the so-called “netiquette”.

A side note: The Usenet search
New users may need time not only to adjust to the unusual titles of newsgroups but also to the incredible amount of information and data available – this makes it a challenge to find your way at first or pinpoint the search results you are looking for. What is the best way to understand the Usenet and find exactly what you are looking for? There are two ways of finding content on the Usenet. Just like on the Internet, Usenet users have specific search engines available to them. This allows users to search the Usenet in a similar way to the well-known Internet search engines. http://newsgroupreviews.com/usenet-search-engines.htm contains several search engines which are available for searching the Usenet. It is even easier to search the Usenet with the search feature integrated in the newsreader. This has the advantage that it doesn’t require you to download any additional software or pay any extra costs, plus it allows you to directly download the files you find. File downloads can often only be made with the help of a newsreader. In addition, you can also subscribe to newsgroups. This means that users are automatically informed about every new post made in their subscribed newsgroup. This is a huge help for users in finding the content they are looking for.

Similar to texts, all content of the Usenet can be sent as well as uploaded and downloaded. All Usenet users are asked to ensure that they only upload or download content, the rights to which they own or which is free for third-parties (“freeware”). The uploaded content is not saved indefinitely but is deleted from the servers after a specific period, the so-called retention time.