Usenet Newsgroups Help

There are certain denizens of Usenet that frequent the test groups to help new users out.

– Brendan Kehoe; Zen and the Art of the Internet; February 2, 1992.

General help issues are discussed in the Internet help section. The most common Usenet problems and suggested solutions are described below:

  • Invalid username or password. This error is often returned when first configuring your application. Most news servers require a user name and password to gain access. You should be able to specify the user name and password in your news reader settings, usually the same as your email and Internet access account user name and password, or provide it dynamically when you try to access the server.
  • Server connection. If you get a “can’t open server” message, the cause is most often a misspelled server name. If the name is correct, and your underlying Internet connection is working, then the server is probably down, and you can phone your service provider to ask for assistance.

    However, there is another possibility. A few news servers must be opened on a certain specific internet port, a number that computers use to separate different Internet communications channels. Most news servers use port 119, and your news reader software should try that port by default. In rare instances you may have to specify it explicitly, either in a specific setting field, or by putting a “:119” at the end of the news server name in your settings. In even rarer instances the news server may use another port number; if so, the server instructions should specify that — with so many possibilities there is no use guessing.

  • Attachments. Attachments sent over the Internet have to be translated into a binary encoding that doesn’t have any control characters (see email attachments). Email handles attachments and encoding fairly well, but the Usenet sometimes has more trouble.

    You may find that an attachment you would like to download from an “alt.binaries.” newsgroup has been split up into several messages, with, for example, the following notations in the subjects: (1/4), (2/4), (3/4), and (4/4). This splitting is done because some news servers have a maximum file size, and so they split any file greater than the maximum into several parts. You can help avoid causing this trouble for others by compressing attachments before sending.

    If you wish to download a split attachment, your news server can often do it automatically if you highlight one of the messages and select “download attachment”. Sometimes you have to manually highlight all of the message parts before selecting the download.

    While difficult, you also might be able to download each message separately, paste each of the sections into a word processing document in the correct order, delete the message headers and leave only the compressed data with no blank lines in between, save the whole message as text, and then try to decode the manually assembled file using a decompression program like WinZip or Stuffit.