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How to download from Usenet

woman working on dual monitors at desk
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Usenet (opens in new tab) is an information-sharing network that’s been running for more than 40 years. The network is made up of thousands of “newsgroups,” forums based around specific themes. Originally, Usenet groups (opens in new tab) were used for two main purposes—discussing topics and sharing files—and the best Usenet providers (opens in new tab) give you access to the whole network, while Usenet newsgroup readers (opens in new tab) provide newsgroup access.

The discussion aspect of Usenet has largely been replaced by modern forum software and social media like Reddit and Facebook Groups. Today, Usenet newsgroups are mainly used to upload, download, and share files. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll explore how to download from Usenet, and find the content you need.

Step one: Understand the two things you need in order to download from Usenet  

To access Usenet and download files from newsgroups, you will need two distinct pieces of technology: a Usenet newsgroup reader and a Usenet access provider. 

A Usenet newsgroup reader is a software application that you’ll use to find and search newsgroups, locate the content you want, and download files. It’s like a newsgroup version of an email client or web browser.

Usenet files aren’t available on the web, so you will also need a Usenet access provider. This is a subscription-based service that you’ll pay for to get access to the newsgroups and content you want.

Step two: Decide on the right newsgroup reader for downloading files 

You have a few options when choosing the perfect newsgroup reader for file sharing. The features that matter for downloading files include: 

  • Newsgroup search capabilities: look for readers that make it easy to search for, sort, filter, and access specific Usenet files
  • Binary file formats: focus on readers that provide access to binary files, specifically the “NZB” format, as that will give you access to the widest range of downloadable files
  • File download management features: investigate reader options for scheduling, consolidating, pausing, and otherwise managing file downloads
  • Price: choose newsgroup readers that are free or come bundled as part of the subscription cost for a Usenet access provider

Our guide to the best Usenet newsgroup readers (opens in new tab) is a great starting point. If you’re looking for a free reader, both SABnzbd (opens in new tab) and NZBGet (opens in new tab) are open-source newsgroup raiders specially designed to download files. If you use either of these, you will need to pay for Usenet access separately. 

If you want a bundled newsgroup reader, then Newshosting (opens in new tab) and Easynews (opens in new tab) are two great options for low-cost access and a long free Usenet access trial period (opens in new tab)

Step three: Pay for a Usenet access provider to download files 

Screenshot of the Newshosting website

Newshosting is just one of the top Usenet access providers available (Image credit: Newshosting)

Now you have a newsgroup reader, it’s time to find the right access provider (opens in new tab). Each provider offers different speeds, limits, and other factors for downloading files. The areas you’ll want to investigate include: 

  • Binary file retention time: how far back in time the provider offers access to files
  • Binary file download limits: the total bandwidth you can use to download files
  • Binary file download speeds: if the provider throttles access to files
  • Simultaneous connections: the number of concurrent connections you can use to access and download files; the more connections, the faster your download speeds
  • VPN (opens in new tab) access: if the provider offers access through a virtual private network
  • Encryption: whether your Usenet access and downloads are encrypted

Our guide to the best Usenet providers (opens in new tab) covers all of these factors. Newshosting and Easynews are two excellent options, although they do have bandwidth limits on their basic plans. Several providers do offer unlimited bandwidth for file downloads, including Newsleecher (opens in new tab), Newsgroup Ninja (opens in new tab), and GigaNews (opens in new tab).  

Here’s a quick breakdown of retention, download, connections, and other factors for the basic plans with the most popular access providers:

  • Newshosting (opens in new tab): 4,946 days of binary file retention; 50GB download limit a month with a rollover from month-to-month; unlimited download speeds; 30 simultaneous connections; encryption; and VPN access for an additional fee
  • Easynews (opens in new tab): 4,946 days of binary file retention; 20GB download limit a month; unlimited download speeds; 60 simultaneous connections; encryption; and VPN access for an additional fee
  • Eweka (opens in new tab): 4,943 days of binary file retention; unlimited downloads; download speeds up to 300Mbps; 50 simultaneous connections; and encryption
  • UsenetServer (opens in new tab): 4,946 days of binary file retention; unlimited downloads; unlimited download speeds; 60 simultaneous connections; encryption; and VPN access
  • Giganews (opens in new tab): Unlimited downloads; unlimited download speeds; 100 simultaneous connections; encryption; and VPN access
  • Newsleecher (opens in new tab): 5,050 days of binary file retention; unlimited downloads; unlimited download speeds up to 500Mbps; and encryption
  • Newsgroup Ninja (opens in new tab): 4,946 days of binary file retention; unlimited downloads; unlimited download speeds; 50 simultaneous connections; and encryption

You might also have heard of Google Groups (opens in new tab), but unfortunately, this platform doesn’t provide access to binaries newsgroups.  

Step four: Understand newsgroup hierarchies to find the newsgroups and files you want 

screenshot of Usenet newsgroup reader in use

Usenet newsgroups are arranged into categories via a hierarchy of topics (Image credit: FlippyFlink/Wikipedia)

Usenet newsgroups are organized in a “hierarchical” framework—with high-level categories that become more niche as you move down the structure and into subcategories. Our guide to Usenet newsgroup (opens in new tab) hierarchies describes how the categorization works, together with the naming conventions for newsgroups. 

In particular, you’ll want to focus on newsgroups with “binaries” in the name. These groups are solely for file sharing, and are a great starting point for finding the files you need. 

Step five: Browse and search for newsgroups and files 

Now that you have a newsgroup reader, a Usenet access provider, and an understanding of newsgroup organization, it’s time to start searching for files. If you have a clear idea of the files you want, then it’s as simple as a search, sort, and filter. If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, then browsing through binaries newsgroups under certain categories and names will give you plenty of choices.

The website allows users to view how many files are uploaded to alt.binaries.* newsgroups—a popular subset of newsgroups dedicated to downloadable files. This equates to more than 40 petabytes of data, and more than 1.1 billion files over the last two years.

Step six: Download files from Usenet 

You’ve found the files you want, so now it’s just a case of downloading them. Usenet provides access to a wide range of files including images, music, movies, games, videos, and many types of multimedia and other content. Here are some areas to bear in mind when you’re downloading, installing, or accessing files.

Be careful of hacked files and malware

Usenet newsgroups do not have the security policies you expect from other download destinations like Google Play, the App Store, iTunes, Steam, and similar marketplaces. This means criminals and other malicious actors may incorporate viruses, trojans, and other malware and upload those files to Usenet newsgroups. 

Always scan and check downloaded files for malware with the best antivirus software (opens in new tab) prior to installation, to ensure they cannot damage your computer, steal your data, or otherwise compromise your security. 

Be aware of copyright and potential breaches

Some files available on Usenet may have been pirated. Always check the legitimacy of any downloaded files to ensure you won’t breach any laws, policies, copyrights, EULAs, or similar restrictions. In particular, avoid newsgroups with “warez” in the name.

How to download from Usenet: Bringing it all together 

Let’s recap how to download from Usenet: 

  1. Understand that you will need both a newsgroup reader and a Usenet access provider to get access to download files
  2. Choose a newsgroup reader, with SABnzbd, NZBGet, Newshosting, and Easynews being good choices
  3. Choose a Usenet access provider (opens in new tab); our guide provides a good starting point
  4. Review and understand newsgroup naming conventions and hierarchies, and focus on “binaries” groups
  5. Browse and search for the files you want
  6. Download files, taking note of potential malware, copyright, or other restrictions

We hope you find the perfect combination of Usenet reader and provider, so that you can download the files you need.

Further reading on Usenet

Discover the best Usenet readers (opens in new tab) and access providers (opens in new tab), learn how newsgroups are named (opens in new tab), and find out how to access Usenet for free (opens in new tab). For an in-depth look at specific Usenet providers, read our reviews of Eweka (opens in new tab), SuperNews (opens in new tab), UsenetServer (opens in new tab), and TweakNews (opens in new tab)

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.