How News servers work, and how to find one

W3C libwww LMB

About news servers and NNTP

This explains what an NNTP server is, and why if you haven't got one you can't just use someone else's.

How news is distributed

Internet news, (or "Usenet news"), is distributed using a completely different protocol to either electronic mail or normal W3 "HTTP" servers. The Network News Transfer Protocol "NNTP" has the effect of broadcasting every message to (basically) every site, in contrast to email protocols which send messages to specific sites, and HTTP, which only transfers the information on demand by the reader.

An NNTP server is set up by its system manager to know about some (at least one) nearby servers. With these servers, there is an arrangement that they will pass news to each other. Sometimes this arrangement is limited to certain news groups. Articles can be passed in both directions, and the servers compare article message-id headers to see whether they have any new news for each other.

(There are other protocols for communicating between servers, over dial-up lines for example, when there is no Internet connectivity. That is why there are many people who have no access to Internet can read and post news.)

Running an NNTP server

An NNTP server manager decides which parts of the news group hierarchy he will take, and finds another server administrator who is willing to feed news to him: his "news feed". Many administrators for example exclude the "alt.*" groups. The decision to take NNTP news involves allocating a lot of disk space to keep all the articles until they expire (typically in a few weeks). Some organizations feel it is an inappropriate use of their machines to store articles on strange topics. This is why, even if you do have a news server, you may not have access to some groups.

Sometimes there are conditions attached to the news feed, which forbid for example commercial use being made of the data, or it being passed on by any other way than NNTP.

NNTP is much more efficient than HTTP for the case of articles which are going to be very widely read, because an article is only transferred once onto each site. Then, someone reads it, the WWW client only has to retrieve it from the local server, and not from the server where it started. NNTP servers will only allow local clients to access them directly, as to allow everyone in the world to access the same NNTP server would destroy this efficiency, and could lead to disastrous loads on the net and on that server. This is why you can't use just anyone's NNTP server. We get a lot of queries asking whether people can use ours. Sorry, you can't.

It may be that on your site there is already an NNTP server. Smart sites just give it an alias "news". If anyone on your site is reading Internet news then you could find how they have configured their new reader.

If you don't have an NNTP server on site, then someone is going to have to install it and arrange for a news feed from somewhere close.

When you have found one, then configure your WWW client to use it.

An alternative

If you really can't, for some reason, run an NNTP server on your site, you may find a friendly nearby site which will run an HTTP/NNTP gateway for you. This means running the cern_httpd with a small configuration file which allows anyone (or rather, anyone in your domain) to use it as a proxy for news: URLs. That is easy. Then, you configure your client to use that proxy for news. That should be easy too. The disadvantage is that you can't currently post news through the proxy.


There are some specialist news groups which are set up locally, and which it is not worth distributing via the general system. In this case, the administrators, instead of feeding the news into the NNTP network, just enable clients to connect from anywhere.

This doesn't scale very well, and in fact it would be more appropriate for them to run an HTTP server (or run an NNTP server and a server such as cern_httpd running as an HTTP/NNTP gateway). However, for these specialist groups, a URL of the form


has been defined and will be available in future releases of the W3C Sample Code Library version 3.0 or later.

Tim BL, and Henrik Frystyk,,

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