IUBio Biosequences .. Software .. Molbio soft .. Network News .. FTP

USENET Software: History and Sources

Gene Spafford spaf at cs.purdue.EDU
Mon Jul 20 01:48:45 EST 1992

Archive-name: usenet-software/part1
Original from: spaf at purdue (Gene Spafford)
Last-change: 19 July 1992 by spaf at cs.purdue.edu (Gene Spafford)

Currently, Usenet readers interact with the news using a number of
software packages and programs.  This article mentions the important
ones and a little of their history, gives pointers where you can look
for more information and ends with some special notes about "foreign"
and "obsolete" software.  At the very end is a list of sites from which
current versions of the Usenet software may be obtained.

Note that the number of software packages available to run news,
especially on PCs, is increasing.  This article lists only a few of
the many news packages available, and the presence or absence of any
particular software package should not be construed as indicating
anything about its suitability usefulness.

Usenet came into being in late 1979, shortly after the release of V7
Unix with UUCP.  Two Duke University grad students in North Carolina,
Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, thought of hooking computers together to
exchange information with the Unix community.  Steve Bellovin, a grad
student at the University of North Carolina, put together the first
version of the news software using shell scripts and installed it on
the first two sites: "unc" and "duke." At the beginning of 1980 the
network consisted of those two sites and "phs" (another machine at
Duke), and was described at the January Usenix conference.  Steve
Bellovin later rewrote the scripts into C programs, but they were never
released beyond "unc" and "duke." Shortly thereafter, Steve Daniel did
another implementation in C for public distribution.  Tom Truscott made
further modifications, and this became the "A" news release.

In 1981 at U. C. Berkeley, grad student Mark Horton and high school
student Matt Glickman rewrote the news software to add functionality
and to cope with the ever increasing volume of news -- "A" News was
intended for only a few articles per group per day.  This rewrite was
the "B" News version.  The first public release was version 2.1 in
1982; the 1.* versions were all beta test.  As the net grew, the news
software was expanded and modified.  The last version maintained and
released primarily by Mark was 2.10.1.

Rick Adams, at the Center for Seismic Studies, took over coordination
of the maintenance and enhancement of the B News software with the
2.10.2 release in 1984.  By this time, the increasing volume of news
was becoming a concern, and the mechanism for moderated groups was
added to the software at 2.10.2.  Moderated groups were inspired by
ARPA mailing lists and experience with other bulletin board systems.
In late 1986, version 2.11 of B News was released, including a number
of changes to support a new naming structure for newsgroups, enhanced
batching and compression, enhanced ihave/sendme control messages, and
other features.

The current release of B News is 2.11, patchlevel 19.  Article format
is specified in RFC 1036 (see below).  B News has been declared "dead"
by a number of people, and is unlikely to be upgraded further; most
new sites are using C News (see next paragraph).

A new version of news, known as C News, was developed at the
University of Toronto by Geoff Collyer and Henry Spencer.  This
version is a rewrite of the lowest levels of news to increase article
processing speed, decrease article expiration processing and improve
the reliability of the news system through better locking, etc.  The
package was released to the net in the autumn of 1987.  For more
information, see the paper "News Need Not Be Slow," published in The
Winter 1987 Usenix Technical Conference proceedings.  The current
version of C News is labeled 27-Aug-1991.  C News can be obtained from
its official archive site, cs.toronto.edu, using FTP.

ANU-NEWS is news package written by Geoff Huston of Australia for VMS
systems.  ANU-NEWS is complete news system that allows reading,
posting, direct replies, moderated newsgroups, etc.  in a fashion
closely related to regular news.  The implementation includes the RFC
1036 news propagation algorithms and integrated use of the NNTP
protocols (see below) to support remote news servers, implemented as a
VAX/VMS Decnet object.  An RFC 977 server implemented as a Decnet
object is also included.  The ANU-NEWS interface is similar to
standard DEC screen oriented systems.  The license for the software is
free, and there are no restrictions on the re-distribution.  For more
info, contact gih900 at fac.anu.oz.au (Geoff Huston).  ANU-NEWS is
available for FTP from kuhub.cc.ukans.edu.  Contact
SLOANE at KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU for more info.

A screen-oriented NEWS client for VMS is also available via ftp from
ftpvms.ira.uka.de (contact Bernd Onasch <ONASCH at iravcl.ira.uka.de> for

A port of C News for the Commodore Amiga under AmigaDOS (NOT Unix), is
available.  The port was done by Frank J. Edwards <crash at ckctpa.uucp>,
and available from Larry Rosenman <ler at lerami.lerctr.org>.  Also,
Matt Dillon <dillon at overload.berkely.ca.us>, has greatly improved the
UUCP clone for AmigaDOS, currently V1.15D, available for ftp from
ftp.uu.net in /systems/amiga/dillon.  The package also includes a
newsreader very loosely like the real rn.  Dillon also has a "vn" port
provided by Eric Lee Green.  This software is also available on Bix,
and for ftp from ab20.larc.nasa.gov.

Several popular screen-oriented news reading interfaces have been
developed in the last few years to replace the traditional "readnews"
interface.  The first of these was "vnews" and it was written by
Kenneth Almquist.  "vnews" provides a "readnews"-like command
interface, but displays articles using direct screen positioning.  It
appears to have been inspired, to some extent, by the "notes" system
(described below).  "vnews" is currently distributed with the standard
2.11 news source.

A second, more versatile interface, "rn", was developed by Larry Wall
(the author of Perl) and released in 1984.  This interface also uses
full-screen display with direct positioning, but it includes many
other useful features and is very popular with many regular net
readers.  The interface includes reading, discarding, and/or
processing of articles based on user-definable patterns, and the
ability of the user to develop customized macros for display and
keyboard interaction.  "rn" is currently at release 4.4.  It is being
maintained by Stan Barber of the Baylor College of Medicine.  "rn" is
not provided with the standard news software release, but is very
widely available because of its popularity.  The software can be
obtained from its official archive site, lib.tmc.edu, using FTP, and
via mail from archive-server at bcm.tmc.edu

A variant of "rn" is "trn" by Wayne Davison. Trn adds the ability to
follow "threads of discussions" in newsgroups; its latest version 2.2
is based on rn 4.4. It uses a Reference-line database to allow the

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