File-sharing showdown: Usenet vs. Bittorrent

Posted by Nick in File sharing, Tech on March 4th, 2008.

When Bittorrent inherited the earth a while ago, file sharing became more popular than ever. The other major player in file sharing land is Usenet. Usenet has been around for quite a while as a public message network, but is also very popular when it comes to file sharing. Therefore it’s time to make a comprehensive comparison between these two.

In order to compare Usenet and Bittorrent, we have to look at factors that are important to a downloader. Let’s focus on file availability, speed, searching, safety and privacy, user-friendliness and the costs.

File Availability

Usenet: Since files can only stay for a limited amount of time on a news server, the file availability is obviously limited. How long a file is available for download, depends on your news server. For example, if you’re a member of Giganews, you have 200 days to download a file, from the moment it gets posted. Cheap news servers do not have such a long retention time. Standard news servers that come with you ISP, usually have a retention time of only a couple days. That is something to keep in mind. However, the number of newsgroups is massive. Just take a look at how many newsgroups there are. And that’s obviously not all, there’s plenty more. Try searching for what you’re looking for, big chance you’re going to find what you’re looking for. If not, you can always post a request in the newsgroup of your choice. Posters are always open for requests. However, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get what you want.

Bittorrent: Theoretically a file can stay for an unlimited amount of time on Bittorrent. However, your download speed depends on the number of seeders and leechers. Therefore, Bittorrent is unsuitable for unpopular files. Chances are that you won’t be able to download it, or get stuck at some point, because there are not enough leechers. In other words, the number of files you could download, is a larger that you are able to download. Bittorrent relies on your router/modem when it comes to connecting to other people. If you do not have access to your router or modem, and your NAT is closed or moderate, you won’t be able to connect to some people, making it very hard to download the file you want. This obviously resulting in a low speed, which is really frustrating. Bittorrent is only suitable for popular files, that have a lot of seeders and leechers.


Usenet: Searching newsgroups has become a lot easier with the introduction of NZB files. To download a file, you simply have to download or make an NZB file, import it in your news reader, and you’re done. You don’t have to download thousands of headers, which you had to do in the past. Sites like NZBMatrix provide ready to use NZB files from various categories and newsgroups. If you want to exactly decide what you want to download, you could use Binsearch. Simply enter what you want, hit search, check the checkbox whatever you want and create an nzb and you’re ready to go.

Bittorrent: Searching Bittorrent has always been easy, which was the main advantage of Bittorrent in the first place. Just go to any torrent site, download the torrent, import it, and you’re good. However, finding the right torrent with a decent number of seeders and leechers isn’t always easy, since the same file can have many different torrents.


Usenet: If you have a good news server, you’re going to get the maximum speed. In that case you’re not dependent on how many people are downloading the same file. Keep in mind that in order to get maximum speed, you’re probably going to have to pay. It doesn’t have to be much, for couple bucks a month you can get decent speed and retention time, but it’s always something to take in account.

Bittorrent: Your download speed depends on different factors: number of seeders, number of leechers, your internet connection, your NAT. For example, if your NAT is closed or moderate, which means that you have to open up ports in your router, you will get low speed. In general the speed is very good when it comes to popular torrents, but it’s a whole different ball game with less popular ones.

Safety and privacy

Usenet: The newsgroups do not encourage you to upload anything. While downloading, you do not share anything, which means that you’re only downloading copyright protected material (video and audio, it’s always illegal to download software). That way you’re not braking any laws in most countries. As of today, nobody has ever been condemned for downloading warez via Usenet, which is logical if you think about it. It’s not possible to see anyone’s IP through a news reader.

Bittorrent: A lot can be said about the safety of downloading with a bittorrent client. One thing is for sure: you’re not safe! Hundreds of people have been sued by the MPAA and/or the RIAA, which is logical if you know how it works and consider how popular it is. Anyone can see anyone’s IP. Bittorrent, of the two, is the easiest target.


Usenet: Downloading with Usenet requires some knowledge and skills. A 700 mb file usually gets split up in small RAR archives, which means that you have to join them afterwards. This because Usenet was originally made for little text files, so every RAR archive has to be encoded from a TXT file to a RAR file. Another problem is that files are very often corrupt, incomplete, or do not exist on the news server at all. Downloading the set of PAR files usually resolves this problem, unless the RAR archives are too damaged. In the past, you had to manually repair and extract the RAR files. Nowadays, good news readers do all that automatically. You just import an NZB file, and in couple minutes/hours, you’ll find a ready to use file in your download folder.

Bittorrent: Bittorrent is even more user-friendly than Usenet. Simply downloading and importing a torrent file does the job fine. However, if you’re experiencing network problems, it can get a lot more complicated. You’re going to have dig into your router, open some ports, change your firewall settings, etc.


Usenet: ISP’s often offer a basic news server, with a retention time of only a couple days, basic speed, and not too many news groups. If you want to get the real deal, you’re going to have to pay. It doesn’t have to be much, for a couple dollars a month you can get access to a decent news server.

Bittorrent: Bittorrent is completely free, since you’re using each others’ bandwidth, there are no monthly fees. Everything else is free as well.

Bottom line

Usenet seems to be the winner on most fronts. Bittorrent has the advantage of having a larger catalog of files, but it’s only suitable for files with a decent number of leechers and seeders. Files stay online forever, but if there are no seeders, you’re out of luck. Usenet has an enormous number of news groups, that offer a lot of content. Usenet has also the speed advantage, while with Bittorrent you dependent on other people. With Usenet, you can download files at any time, provided that they’re not taken off the server. Usenet is just as friendly as Bittorrent nowadays. Good news readers have functions that automatize the whole download and extract/repair process, so you don’t have to do anything besides importing an NZB file. Usenet has the advantage of being completely secure. No one can see your IP, which is exactly the opposite with Bittorrent. Moreover, while downloading, you do not upload anything, which could make you a criminal.
The only question is, are you willing to pay the price for a better file sharing opportunity?

2 Responses to “File-sharing showdown: Usenet vs. Bittorrent”

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