Chapter 14

NEWSGROUPS

14.1 Introduction

Suppose you are having a problem with your new CD ROM drive, or your new digital still camera is not working as it should or you are planning a visit to Yosemite National Park in California and locally you cannot get any help on this to your satisfaction, then what would you do?

Don't lose heart, Internet can come to your rescue. Good news is that one of Internet services termed "Newsgroups", will help solve your problems. The News is that they are now offered by "VSNL". If you are a shell account user, then you can read news groups by a procedure given later in the chapter using Pine, sec 14.5. If you are TCP/IP user then you will have to use a newreader software. It is usually part of browsers now. One of the good ones is Free Agent, which can be downloaded from http://www.forteinc.com/agent/freagent.htm.

But then what are these newsgroups? Newsgroups are Internet equivalent of a discussion group or a "bulletin board service" (BBS), e.g. we have in Bombay "LiveWire". Basically, the topics of discussion are organized in broad headings called "newsgroups". A news reading program presents those discussion in an orderly way. The first and most important thing the news reading program does is to let you subscribe to the newsgroups of your interest out of the 15,000 to 20,000 groups that exists. Here is an example of some of the news groups:

comp.bugs.misc:

comp.dcom.modems:

comp.os.ms-windows.setup:

etc.

The newsreader, in addition to just letting you see what may be of interest to you, keeps track of the items you have already read, and only displays the new items that have arrived since your last session. Once the newsreader has shown you what articles are available for any topic, by displaying the headers, you can select and read the items of interest to you. If you have forgotten where you have something, you can search for an article based on its author or subject. You can also set up the newsreader to view or discard certain items automatically, based on the author's name or the article's subject.

A large number of news readers are in existence, including: nn, rn, trn, tin, to name a few. We present some details of one of them here, "tin", as that is the reader VSNL is planning to offer. Here we will discuss mainly the Newsgroups and the their system organization, so that you will have some familiarity with it.

14.2 Newsgroups and News Group system Organization

News groups are organized hierarchically, with the broadest grouping first in the name, followed by an arbitrary number of subgroups. The name of each subgroup is separated from the main category by a ".", a notation that you may have become familiar by now:

comp.os.ms-windows.setup

This Newsgroup is a computer discussion, with general category of operating systems, and general sub category of Microsoft windows and specifically of how to setup Windows.

Now the question you might have is what newsgroups are available to you and who decides that? To fully answer this question, we need to look at how the news works. To simplify, as a user you have newsreader in your Terminal account, which when you start interrogates a news server to receive groups that you have subscribed, and also calls for the articles as required by you. The news server collects news from a number of sources: USENET, local news sources, mail reflectors and Clarinet. It holds these articles for some pre-set period (controlled by the server's administrator) and eventually discards them.

Most of the groups come as a part of USENET, a set of news groups generally considered to be of interest globally, and free. USENET is one of the most misunderstood things around. It is not a computer network. It does not require the Internet. It is not a software. It is a set of voluntary rules for passing and maintaining news groups. Also, it is set of volunteers who use and respect those rules. USENET is made of seven well managed newsgroups. The rules for how to use, create and delete groups have been around since before the Internet. At that time news was passed via regular dial-up connections (at some places it sill does). These seven major categories are:

comp Computer Science and related topics. This category includes computer science, software sources, information on hardware and software systems, and topics of general interest.
news Groups concerned with the news network and news software. This includes groups like news.newusers. questions (questions from new users) and news.announe.newusers (important information for new users). It is a must for new user.
rec Group discussing recreational activities, hobbies, and the arts.
sci Group discussing scientific research applications (other than computer related science). This includes many of the established sciences, technologies and some of the social sciences.
soc Group that address social issues where "social" can mean socially relevant or socializing or anything else also. Groups of national origin fall into this category e.g. soc.culture.indian etc.
talk The talk groups are a forum for debate on controversial topics. The discussions tend to be long and never get resolved. This is where you go to argue about anything.
misc Anything that does not fit any of the above categories, or that fit into more than one goes under this heading. For example misc.jobs (group about jobs) is this grouping.

News servers can also get news groups by creating them locally. Any server administrator can create whatever group he likes. In fact it will be a very good idea to have a news group which discusses the problems users face at VSNL e.g. named as vsnl.gripe.news. In naming it they just have to be sure that it does not conflict with established news groups.

A server administrator makes bilateral agreements with other administrators to transfer certain news groups, usually over the Internet, between themselves. These are also known as newsfeeds. Not all the servers will give all the groups that an administrator may be interested in. A server administrator may obtain newsfeeds from different servers. This has led to circulating some useful groups of local nature to be distributed almost as widely as the USENET groups.

This has brought about "Alternative News Group Hierarchies". As they look like USENET groups, nowadays the term USENET is expanded to include these too. The most common alternative news groups are:

alt Groups that discuss alternative ways of looking at things. There are really very bizarre news groups here. They lack seriousness in general. However, some groups like alt.gopher was created for discussion regarding the gopher issues. This was created as the people did not want to go through the bureaucracy of creating an "official" news group.

bionet Group of interest to biologists.
bit The most popular Bitnet listserv discussion groups.
biz Discussions related to business. This news group allows you postings advertisements or other marketing materials.
de Technical, recreational, and social discussions in German.
fj Technical, recreational, and social discussions in Japanese.
ieee Discussion related to IEEE (Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers).
gnu Discussion about the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and its "GNU" project. This includes announcements of new FSF software, new developments in old software, bug reports and related discussions.
k12 A group dedicated to teachers and students, kindergarten through high school.
u3b Issues related to the AT&T #B computer series
vmsnet Discussions about Digital Equipment's VAX/VMS operating system and Decnet.

Several of the groups are gatewayed e.g. the binet and gnu groups. This is another way of creating a news group. The output of a mail reflector (a special address so any mail sent to it will be automatically sent to all the addresses on the mailing list) or list server can be converted into a news group. This allows users who would rather use the organizational facilities of the news, to take part in the mail reflector type discussion without subscribing to a mailing list themselves. A few computers subscribe to the mailing list, reformat the mail so it's appropriate for the news system, then distribute it to everyone who wants them.

Several commercial information services are distributed via network news. One of them is "Clarinet". This is mostly United Press International and various syndicated columns indexed for the news system. For a server to offer this, it must make arrangements with Clarinet, which places limitations as to where a server can distribute the news feed. These news groups are usually prefixed by "clari".

A server usually carry about 1500 newsgroups. This amounts to about 10 Megabytes of information everyday. This may not sound too much, but imagine this information flying around from host to host may be 4-5 million computers. It makes for lot of Internet traffic.

Hosting a nntp server may take couple of gigabytes of disk space. The server administrator must be very good at deciding what to keep and how much to keep and how long, or he will run out of disk space very fast.

Newsgroups are an important resource, as you have the entire world community attempting to comment on an issue. Specifically, if you have any problems somewhere, there may be an expert who may have an answer, which otherwise will remain unsolved unless you solve it yourself.

14.3 Using the TIN Newsreader

There is a good possibility that the newsreader "tin", will be offered with newsgroups at VSNL very shortly.

The following description will help you to get started with "tin" as it takes you step by step through some of the common tasks you may want to perform. At the end of this description there is list of commands which can be executed with tin. They will come handy for you when you become an expert at tin.

When you first load tin by selecting an option on the main menu or typing "tin" at the UNIX command prompt, the program looks to see which newsgroups you have subscribed to and what articles you have already read. Then it presents you with a list of all the newsgroups to which you have subscribed to. From this list you can choose which subscribed newsgroup you may want to read.

The Fig. 14-1 shows you partial list of subscribed newsgroups:

Fig. 14-1 Opening screen of TIN newsreader showing partial listing of subscribed newsgroups

1 211 su.news Talk about the Stanford Usenet
2 1880 comp.dcom.modems Data communications hardware an
3 111 comp.os.msdos.apps Discussion of applications that
4 1032 comp.os.msdos.misc Miscellaneous topics about MS-D
5 4 comp.security.announce Announcements from the CERT abo
6 356 comp.security.misc Security issues of computers an
7 7172 comp.sys.ibm.pc.misc Discussion about IBM personal c
8 442 comp.unix.osf.osf1 The Open Software Foundation's
9 4671 soc.culture.indian.gujarati Gujarati cultural group.
10 19 comp.bugs.misc General UNIX bug reports and fi
11 3071 soc.culture.indian Group for discussion about Indian culture
12 9682 soc.culture.indian.telugu The culture of the Telugu people
13 16953 soc.culture.tamil Tamil language, history and culture
14 1044 misc.news.southasia News from Bangladesh, India, News
15 6 alt.internet.talk.haven
16 36 comp.os.ms-windows.nt.announce Windows NT announcements.

<n>=set current to n, TAB=next unread, /=search pattern, c)atchup,
g)oto, j=line down, k=line up, h)elp, m)ove, q)uit, r=toggle all/unread,
s)ubscribe, S)ub pattern, u)nsubscribe, U)nsub pattern, y)ank in/out

 

a. Subscribing to a Newsgroup

Consider a case where you want to subscribe to a new Newsgroup, other than your initial preference shown when you start "tin". In order to see the list of all the newsgroups which you have not subscribed, you press "y" for the Yank command. This command yanks in all the newsgroups and allows you to use them as if you have subscribed to them. If you wish to now subscribe to a new Newsgroup, you just highlight the desired group and press "s". Then, when you load "tin" next time, the group will be listed when you first start.

Suppose you may want to subscribe to all the newsgroups that VSNL will offer, all you do is to yank all the newsgroups by pressing "y". Then pressing "S" for subscribe by pattern command. At the prompt, type "*".

b. Unsubscribing to a Newsgroup

At some point in time you may get tired of reading a Newsgroup and may want to unsubscribe it. You can do this simply by highlighting the Newsgroup and pressing, "u". This will remove the group from your list of subscribed and this group will not be displayed next time you start "tin".

c. Reading a Newsgroup

When the list of subscribed newsgroups appear after you start, "tin", to start reading a group, you move the highlight to that group and press, <Enter>.

Following screen shows selection by the author of the group, "comp.dcom.modems". Once the selection is made by pressing, <Enter>, you will get display of the articles currently in the Newsgroup as shown in the Fig.14-2:


Fig.14-2 Listing of articles in the Newsgroup

1 + 3 HEY MODEM MAKERS! Why not POTS bonding??? Anthony Hill
2 + Q: What is Max Modems Possible on PC/NT? Anthony Hill
3 + USR Speed Snail Anthony Hill
4 + Winmodem 33.6 upgrade---when? Anthony Hill
5 + 4 Hayes ESP cards Anthony Hill
6 + Modem speed monitor Anthony Hill
7 + Cheapo Modem. ATDT problem Anthony Hill
8 + 3 Direct connection between two internal modems Anthony Hill
9 + Carrier drops and a new USR Anthony Hill

<n>=set current to n, TAB=next unread, /=search pattern, ^K)ill/select,
a)uthor search, c)atchup, j=line down, k=line up, K=mark read, l)ist thread,
|=pipe, m)ail, o=print, q)uit, r=toggle all/unread, s)ave, t)ag, w=post

 

Once a Newsgroup is selected as done above, you will see the numbers on the left, which is number of the articles in the group. Next to some of them is "+" and a number. This number is number of articles posted on this topic. Such list of articles is known as threaded selection list. A thread is group of articles with the same subject. You can create threads by posting follow-up articles or articles with the same subject heading. You can choose which threads or articles to read. If you press "l", you will get the list of the articles in the thread. You can highlight any of the articles in the thread and press <Enter> to read it.

As you read the article you can perform number of actions. You can search for a given string in the article (similarly as in lynx); mail the article; save it in your account at VSNL; as well as other several commands you can execute.

One other interesting function of "tin", you should remember. It shows only unread articles, by default. If you want to read previously read articles, press "r" command. This toggles the screen between listing only unread articles and listing all of the articles whether read or not.

Fig.14-3 shows first page of an article on the screen.

Fig.14-3 Text of a Newsgroup article

Tue, 02 Jul 1996 21:38:53 comp.dcom.modems Thread 6 of 668

Article 115540 Re: Modem speed monitor No responses

ahill@cyberus.ca Anthony Hill at Cyberus Online Inc.

syusim@bcm.tmc.edu (Solomon Yusim) wrote:
>Barry Kolsky <kolsky@earthlink.net> wrote:

>>If you are using win95, SYSMON will do the trick quite nicely. It comes
>>with win95 already. I use it all of the time. It monitors both
>>transmit and receive speeds.
>What about the speed with which the modem connects? How can one

>measure that?

By dropping into command mode and issuing an AT command to get the
modem to tell you want speed you're connected at (e.g. ATI6 for USRs),
or you could try dropping into command mode and then returning on-line

with the ATO command. Most modems (but not all) will report your
current connect rate in the new CONNECT line when you return on-line.

<n>=set current to n, TAB=next unread, /=search pattern, ^K)ill/select,
a)uthor search, B)ody search, c)atchup, f)ollowup, K=mark read,
|=pipe, m)ail, o=print, q)uit, r)eply mail, s)ave, t)ag, w=post

--More--(78%) [1314/1677]

 

d. Posting an article to a Newsgroup

With "tin" here are three basic ways of posting an article. The first one is to go to the Newsgroup selection list and highlight the Newsgroup to which you may want to post an article. At this point you press "w" to post the article.

The other two methods are about the same. These are to be used when you are reading an article and you want to reply or add to what the author of the article is saying. You do this by pressing the "F" or "f" keys. The difference is that in case of "f", the text of original article is included in your posting whereas if you press "F" only the Subject line is retained and text of original message is not included.

In all these three cases, "tin" will start up the default editor you have, which in our case will most likely be "pico", the one used in pine mailer and described in some detail in Chapter 13. Use this to compose the reply or the posting and as you exit you will be given an option to post or to quit. Unless you are unhappy with what you have written, you post it.

e. Printing an article

Whilst reading an article, if you would like a printed copy of it, just press, "o" to send the output of the article to the printer attached to your computer.

f. Saving an article to your account at VSNL

In case you may want to save an article you are reading, you press "s" and "tin" will ask you what is that you want to save. It will give you several options-- "a" to save the individual article, "t" to save all the articles in the thread, or "T" to save all the tagged articles. You will have to enter a filename you may want to save the article in.

Sometimes there are binaries e.g. pictures in the articles. In that case process option in "tin" allows you to save in certain way. In case the article just has text, your response should be "n)one". In the event if there is a picture which has been uuencoded (a utility that converts 8 bit files in UNIX to 7 bit ASCII coding; remember Internet can only send and receive 7 bit files only, so this utility is very handy) then you can use the option "u)ud" to decode the picture or the article. The saved articles are placed in subdirectory called, "News" in your home directory.

g. E-mail an article from a Newsgroup

While you are reading an article, you may run across something your friend may be interested in. Instead of saving and then giving it to him/her, you can immediately E-mail the article. To do so press, "m". Tin will give you several options-- "a" to mail the particular article; "t" to mail all the articles in the thread; "T" to mail all the tagged articles. Then enter the E-mail address of your friend and press "s" to send.

14.4 Newsreader "TIN" - commands

Above we have covered the most common tasks you may want to do to start with. Of course, "tin" has many more options and commands you can execute. Following is the list obtained when you press "h" on the "tin" screen. As you become adept at using newsgroups you will probably want to use some of the following:

^D^U Down (^U=up) a page
^F^B Down (^B=up) a page
^L Redraw page
^KZ Delete (Z=undelete) group from .newsrc
^R Reset .newsrc
<CR> Read current group
n<TAB> Goto next group with unread news and enter it
b<SPACE> Back (<SPACE>=forward) a page
cC Mark group read (C=and goto next unread group)
d Toggle display of groupname or groupname and description
g Choose a new group by name
jk Down (k=up) a line
hH Command help (H=toggle mini help menu)
I Toggle inverse video
l List & select another spooldir
m Move current group within group selection list
M Menu of configurable options
N Goto next group with unread news
qQ Quit
R Report bug/comment via mail to iain.lea@erlm.siemens.de
su Subscribe (u=unsubscribe) to current group
SU Subscribe (U=unsubscribe) to groups that match pattern
v Show version information
w Post an article to current group
W List articles posted by user
y Yank in subscribed/unsubscribed from .newsrc
Y Yank in active file to see any new news
z Mark current group as unread
/? Group forward (?=backward) search
! Shell escape

14.5 Using Pine to read and reply to Specific Newsgroups

Until the time that VSNL provides a newsreader to shell account users, you can use PINE, the e-mail software to monitor, read and respond to the specific newsgroups. Basically it involves three steps to configure PINE to accomplish this.

Step I

From the First menu you choose option "1" to enter "E-mail". Then from Main Menu of Pine as shown in Fig. 4-1, press "s" for setup. In the next screen press "c" for configuring the PINE. Then you will see the screen shown in Fig. 14-4

Fig 14-4 Setup Configuration for Pine to read Newsgroups

PINE 3.95 SETUP CONFIGURATION Folder: INBOX 13 Messages

personal-name = <No Value Set: using "Dr.Raj Mehta">
user-domain = <No Value Set>
smtp-server = <No Value Set>
nntp-server = news.vsnl.net.in
inbox-path = <No Value Set: using "inbox">
folder-collections = <No Value Set: using "mail/[]">
news-collections = *{news.vsnl.net.in/nntp}[]
*{news.vsnl.net.in/nntp}[]
incoming-archive-folders = <No Value Set>
pruned-folders = <No Value Set>
default-fcc = sent
default-saved-msg-folder = saved
postponed-folder = postponed
read-message-folder = <No Value Set>
signature-file = <No Value Set: using ".signature">
global-address-book = <No Value Set>
address-book = <No Value Set: using ".addressbook">
feature-list =

Set Feature Name

? Help E Exit Config P Prev - PrevPage A Add Value Y prYnt
C [Change Val] N Next Spc NextPage D Delete Val W

On this screen take the highlight to item 4 nntp-server. Then press <Enter>. At the bottom of the screen you see a place where you can now type nntp server name:

news.vsnl.net.in

Then press enter to enter it to item 4. Then press "e" to exit and say "y" to save the configuration. Then exit PINE.

Step II

From the First Menu select "10" the UNIX prompt. At UNIX prompt issue a command:

rajm> pico .newsrc

This will open a file with .newsrc name in account. In that file type the precise name of the newsgroups that you want to monitor, followed by a ":". An example of such file is given in Fig. 14-5 below.

Fig. 14-5 Example of .newsrc File to be Created to Monitor Specific Newsgroups

UW PICO(tm) 2.5 File: .newsrc

comp.dcom.modems:
comp.os.ms-windows.setup:
comp.os.msdos.apps:
comp.os.msdos.misc:
comp.security.announce:
comp.security.misc:
comp.sys.ibm.pc.misc:
comp.unix.osf.osf1:
soc.culture.indian.gujarati:
comp.bugs.misc:
soc.culture.indian:
soc.culture.indian.telugu:
misc.news.southasia:
alt.internet.talk.haven!
comp.os.ms-windows.nt.announce:

[ Read 23 lines ]

^G Get Help ^O WriteOut ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg ^K Cut Text ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit ^J Justify ^W Where is ^V Next Pg ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

After you have entered the precise names of the newsgroups followed by a ":" then you press ^x followed by "y" to save the file in your account.

You may well ask where to get precise names of the newsgroup you may want. Well use lynx as discussed in Chapter 7. In section 7.2 on the first screen of the lynx browser, the last item is
"Public news servers". Go to that and press <Enter>. Then the first news server that is mentioned there is "news.vsnl.net.in". Highlight it and press <Enter>. It will be sometime before you will get a list of newsgroups subscribed by VSNL. You note the names of the groups down and put them in the file .newsrc as you have created above.

Step III

Now you are ready to read and reply to the postings in the newsgroups that you have specified in .newsrc file. You go to item "1" from the First menu to E-mail. Then in the first menu of PINE press "L" for the folder list. Now you will the screen as below in Fig. 14-6.

Fig. 14-6 Folder List with Newsgroups Displayed

PINE 3.95 FOLDER LIST Folder: INBOX 13 Messages

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Folder-collection <mail/[]> ** Default for Saves ** (Local)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

INBOX sent saved
ab hok jl
saved-messages   ug

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

News-collection <News on news.vsnl.net.in> (Remote)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

comp.bugs.misc comp.dcom.modems
comp.os.ms-windows.nt.announce comp.os.ms-windows.setup
comp.os.msdos.apps comp.os.msdos.misc
comp.security.announce comp.security.misc
comp.sys.ibm.pc.misc comp.unix.osf.osf1

? Help M Main Menu P PrevFldr - PrevPage D Delete R Rename

O OTHER CMDS V [ViewFldr] N NextFldr Spc NextPage A Add

The bottom half of the screen News-collection. Here all the groups that you have in .newsrc file are displayed. You can highlight any one of them and pine will retrieve the postings in those news groups. You can read them and if the spirit moves you can respond to them.

 

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Chapter 13 THE UNIX PROMPT
Appendix A DNS, WWW, NNTP SERVERS AND DIALUP INFORMATION
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