Many years ago, the Usenet only allowed 7-bit text messages to ensure that communications was possible between any type of machine, using any kind of modem. It was not long before someone figured out how to encode 8-bit data into a 7-bit format so that binaries could be sent using Usenet with no modifications to the Newsgroup server software. The original programs for encoding and decoding articles were named uuencode and uudecode, respectively. Modern versions of Usenet are now 8-bit safe and even allow for multi-byte text in UTF-8 format, but various encoding methods for articles are still used.
In the old days, to download a Usenet binary, you had to locate all its parts on the server and download them to your computer. After all the parts were on your computer you would feed them to a decoding program, which usually gave you the binary or an archive containing your binary. If your binary was in an archive, you then used another application to extract your binary from the archive. Needless to say, this could be a long and tedious process, and often not all the parts were available on your Usenet server.
Over the years, the applications and Newsgroup servers have gotten much more sophisticated.
- Usenet server software was upgraded to be able to work with other languages than English, and in the process was made 8-bit safe so that encoding from 8-bit to 7-bit was no longer required, decreasing article sizes by about 40%
- Web sites such as Newzbin started popping up which created NZB files providing users with an exact list of all articles required to recreate a binary
- Encoding software began creating NZB and SFV files automatically and posting them with the binaries
- An application called parchive created ‘PAR’ files which could be used to repair incomplete files using complex algorithms that could not only detect errors in the parts, but could even recreate missing parts using the ‘PAR’ file and the parts that were successfully downloaded.
Most modern newsreaders have integrated newsgroup search features, and almost all of them support the NZB standard file format, both of which make finding all the parts of a Usenet binary much simpler. In addition, most newsgroup readers also directly support decoding, repairing and extracting binaries into a directory for you, so all you have to do is tell it what to download with an NZB file and where to store it. Another nice feature of some newsgroup browsers is that they can work with multiple servers, so if a part is missing from one server, they will attempt to get it from an alternate server.
Putting it all together
For most users interested in downloading from Usenet, the steps are now pretty simple.