Skip to main content

How to access Usenet for free

man working on laptop
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For the last 40 years, internet users have been researching, taking part in conversations, and sharing files on the Usenet (opens in new tab) network. Today, Usenet isn’t as popular as it once was—services like Reddit, web forums, and Facebook Groups provide more modern discussion features—but Usenet still has a part to play.  

Usenet is made up of thousands of hierarchical Usenet newsgroups, (opens in new tab) categorized into pretty much any topic you can imagine. One of the main features of Usenet is that it’s a great place to upload, download, and share files, from software and applications through to music and multimedia. 

There’s just one problem—Usenet newsgroups exist on a completely different network to the World Wide Web, so you can’t access these newsgroups and files through your regular web browser, like Chrome or Firefox. That means you often need to pay for access via the best Usenet providers (opens in new tab), which can make things difficult if you’re on a tight budget. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to get access to Usenet newsgroups, conversations, and files for a low cost, and potentially even for nothing—with a free trial. Read on, and see our step-by-step guide on how to access Usenet for free.

How to access Usenet for free: Preparation

There are two things you’ll normally need to pay for if you want to access Usenet newsgroups, conversations, and files—a Usenet newsgroup reader and a Usenet access provider.

Step one: Understand the two aspects of Usenet access that might cost you money 

A Usenet newsgroup reader (opens in new tab) is a software application that you’ll use to find and search newsgroups, take part in conversations, or upload and download files. Think of it like an email client or a web browser, but specifically designed for newsgroups.

A Usenet access provider is a service that lets you access the newsgroup network—since newsgroups aren’t available on the web. Think of this service like a subscription you need to pay to get specialist content.

Next, we’ll explore how much a Usenet newsgroup reader might cost you, and how to get one for free.

Step two: Get a free Usenet newsgroup reader 

Newsleecher Usenet newsreader

Newsleecher is just one Usenet newsgroup reader that offers a free trial (Image credit: Newsleecher)

Our guide to the best Usenet newsgroup readers (opens in new tab) covers the most popular and fully-featured software for accessing Usenet. As part of researching that guide, we discovered that reader software fell into one of three cost categories:

Downloading and installing SABnzbd or NZBGet is free, and you can use either of these applications as your newsgroup reader. There’s just one problem here—both of these programs can only be used to access files on Usenet newgroups. Neither of them allows access to conversations and threads in newsgroups. 

For those, you’ll need one of the other newsgroup reader options, or Google Groups (opens in new tab), which we’ll cover later. Now you have the software you need, let’s explore Usenet access providers.

Step three: Find a free or low-cost Usenet access provider 

Screenshot of the Newshosting website

Newshosting is one of the leading Usenet providers (Image credit: Newshosting)

We’ve solved one half of the Usenet access puzzle—the newsgroup reader. Now it’s time to look at the other side—your access provider. Unfortunately, we don’t have quite as many options for completely-free access. 

All Usenet providers, apart from Google Groups, do charge for access. But, some of them do offer free trials, so you can at least try them out for free to see if they’re worth subscribing to. Our guide to the best Usenet providers (opens in new tab) lists the most popular options: we'll dig into some of these below, and discover who provides some Usenet access for free, including some deals you can take advantage of. 

Here’s the cheapest option for each provider and the length of their free trials.

Usenet providers offering access for $70 or less a year

Usenet providers offering access for $100 or less a year 

 Usenet providers offering access for $150 or less per year 

Usenet providers offering the longest free trials 

Each of these providers offers slightly different services in terms of download speeds, concurrent connections, how long they retain files, and similar factors.

Google Groups is also a Usenet access provider, but it’s limited in what it can do, so we haven’t included it as an option here. We’ll explain why a little later.

In the meantime, take a look at each of the providers, and choose the one that best suits your needs.

Step four: Remember that some Usenet providers also offer free reader software 

In step two, we talked about newsgroup reader software, and mentioned that only a couple of them were completely free and open-source, but that they only allowed you to download files. We also mentioned that some Usenet providers also offer free software if you subscribe to their services.

Two providers that do this are Newshosting and Easynews: if you decide to try out their free trials, you can download the software without charge, then take part in conversations and download files.

Step five: Use your newsgroup reader and access provider to start browsing Usenet 

Once you have your newsgroup reader software and Usenet access, you can start using the network. Your access provider should give you all the information you need to configure and set up your Usenet client. From there, it’s just a case of learning the software and accessing newsgroups.  

Honorary mention for free, limited Usenet access: Google Groups

Google Groups logo

Google Groups offers a completely free way to access Usenet, but it's limited (Image credit: Google)

There is a completely free way to access Usenet that we mentioned earlier—Google Groups. Google acquired an archive of Usenet posts many years ago and continues to index Usenet newsgroups and conversations. Today, Google operates two versions of Google Groups: 

  • As a workplace tool allowing for business communications and message management
  • As an archive of Usenet newsgroup posts that individuals can search through and interact with

Unfortunately, there are some issues with Google Groups as a Usenet provider: 

  • Google Groups isn’t very easy to use for searching Usenet newsgroups, with searching and posting both being unintuitive and awkward
  • Google Groups does not provide access to newsgroups—known as binaries groups—that are primarily used for sharing files

If you just want to subscribe to certain newsgroups and take part in conversations, then Google Groups is an option, providing you don’t mind the UI. If you want to upload, download, and share files, Google Groups doesn’t allow for that functionality, and you’ll need to choose a different access provider. 

How to access Usenet for free: Bringing it all together 

Let’s recap how to access Usenet for free: 

  1. Get a newsgroup reader, with your free, open-source options being SABnzbd and NZBGet
  2. Get a free trial for Usenet access: we’ve linked to several free trial options in a breakdown of providers here, and in our guide to the best Usenet providers (opens in new tab); free trials range between three days and three months
  3. If you use a paid provider, even with a free trial, you have more options for the reader software you can use
  4. Decide if you’d like to pay for access when your free trial ends; the best deals mean you can get a year’s worth of access for around $70
  5. Browse, search, and use newsgroups to take part in conversations and download files

We hope you find the perfect reader software and access to meet all your Usenet needs. 


Further reading on Usenet

Discover more about the Big 8 Usenet newsgroup (opens in new tab) hierarchies and what they consist of, and find out how we rated other Usenet providers in our reviews of Eweka (opens in new tab), GigaNews (opens in new tab), UsenetServer (opens in new tab), and TweakNews (opens in new tab)

As mentioned above, we've also ranked our best Usenet newsgroup readers (opens in new tab) and our best Usenet providers (opens in new tab), and we've explained how to download from Usenet (opens in new tab) if that's what you're looking to use the platform for.

Paul is a professional writer who creates extensively researched, expert, in-depth guides across business, finance, and technology. He loves the challenge of taking complex subjects and breaking them down so they are easy to understand. He can quote 'The Princess Bride' in its entirety and believes the secret to good writing is Earl Grey tea.