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UseNet News


The purpose behind these help pages is to give you a quick introduction to Usenet news, and get you started on reading and posting news articles. Certain segments have been extracted from An Introduction to Usenet News and the trn Newsreader written by Johnathan Bell Dept. of Physics and Computer Science, Presbyterian College Clinton, South Carolina, USA while sections have made reference to trn's man(ual) pages.

Overview of UseNet News

Usenet is a collection of computers which allow users to exchange public messages on many different topics. A Usenet message is called an article. Articles are grouped by topic into newsgroups. The entire collection of articles and newsgroups is called news. Each Usenet computer maintains a database of articles, which it keeps up to date by exchanging articles periodically with its "neighbours" on Usenet. Most of McMaster University's news group articles are normally kept for fourteen days.

Newsgroup names generally contain two or more parts, separated by periods. As you read from left to right, the various parts of the name should progressively narrow the topic of discussion. The first part of the name indicates the top-level hierarchy to which the newsgroup belongs. Some of the standard hierarchies are:

mcmaster is for discussions of subjects related to McMaster University.
comp for discussions of computer hardware and software.
misc for discussions which don't fit anywhere else (e.g.
news for discussions about usenet news itself.
rec for discussions about "recreational" topics: sports, movies, hobbies, etc.
sci for discussions of science-related topics (e.g. sci.physics)
soc for social and "cultural" discussions relating to various groups of people

Which newsgroups you want to read depends on your interests. You should scan the following newsgroups:

contains important messages of interest to all McMaster University users.

contains information and guidelines for Usenet, ONET and other etiquettes.

contains questions posted for users.

contains copies of articles which are periodically posted to various newsgroups, answering various "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQs).

Overview of the TRN NewsReader

To read news and post new articles, one uses a program called a newsreader. The newsreader program is called trn ("threaded read news"). It is an extension of the venerable rn ("read news"), originally written by Larry Wall of NASA. The threading extensions were added by Wayne Davison of Borland, Inc. In addition to the fundamental organization of articles by subject area into newsgroups, trn links follow up articles (replies) to their parent articles to form threads of discussion on particular topics. When you enter a newsgroup, trn presents a menu of the discussion threads which are currently active. It allows you to select only those threads which you want to read, and ignore the others. It also presents articles within a thread in an orderly sequence, so that you can follow the discussion easily. Finally, trn keeps track of which articles you have read in each newsgroup, so that once you have read an article, or have told trn to mark it as read, it disappears from the selection menus.

Trn normally operates on three levels:

  1. newsgroup selection level
  2. thread selection level
  3. article reading level

Starting up Threaded Read News (TRN)

To start up trn at the unix (usually a % or $ ) prompt enter the command:


If no newsgroups are specified, all the newsgroups which have unread news are displayed, and then you the user is asked for each one whether you want to read it. After you have answered these questions, you will be then in the Newsgroups Selection Level.

TRN NewsGroups Selection Level Commands

On the newsgroup selection level, the prompt looks like this:

******** 17 unread articles in mcmaster.test read now? [ynq]

The following commands may be given at this level

(Note: pressing the space bar will result in an abnormal exit out of the trn session):

h To get help about the available commands.
y Go into this newsgroup now.
= Start this newsgroup, but list subjects before displaying articles.
n Go to the next newsgroup with unread news.
N Go to the next newsgroup.
p Go to the previous newsgroup with unread news. If there is none, stay at the current newsgroup.
P Go to the previous newsgroup.
- Go to the previously displayed newsgroup (whether it is before or after the current one in the list).
1 Go to the first newsgroup.
^ Go to the first newsgroup with unread news.
$ Go to the end of the newsgroups list.
g newsgroup Go to newsgroup. If it isn't currently subscribed to, you will be asked if you want to subscribe.
/pattern Scan forward for a newsgroup matching pattern.
?pattern Scan backward for a newsgroup matching pattern.
u Unsubscribe from the current newsgroup.
l string List newsgroups not subscribed to which contain the string specified.
L Lists the current state of the .newsrc, along with status information.
Status Meaning
<number> Count of unread articles in newsgroup.
READ No unread articles in newsgroup.
UNSUB An unsubscribed newsgroup.
BOGUS A bogus newsgroup.
o pattern Only display those newsgroups whose name matches pattern.
a pattern Add new newsgroups matching pattern. Newsgroups which are already in your .newsrc file, whether subscribed to or not, will not be listed.
q Quit.
x Quit, restoring .newsrc to its state at startup of trn.

TRN Thread selection Level Commands

Most people who don't have all day to read news will want to enter a newsgroup by way of the thread selector. This is accomplished by using the '+' command at the newsgroup selection level. The thread selector displays a list of article subjects and (optionally) authors grouped into threads. A thread may contain multiple subjects if the subject changes as the discussion continues. Also displayed is a count of the number of unread articles in each thread. Each thread is preceded by a letter or number that can be typed to select it. Selected threads are flagged with a '+'.

The following commands are available in the thread selector:

h To get help about the available commands.
SP Perform the default command.
CR Read the current thread (if none are selected) or all the selected threads.
TAB Begin reading the selected threads. If none are selected, read everything.
k Mark the current thread as killed.
m, \ Unmark the current thread.
< Go to previous page.
> Go to next page.
p, [ Move up to the previous thread.
n, ] Move down to the next thread.
^ Go to first page.
$ Go to last page.
J Mark all selected articles as read.
/pattern Scan all articles for a subject containing pattern and select its thread.
N Go to the next newsgroup with unread news.
P Go to the previous newsgroup with unread news.
U Switch between selecting read/unread articles.
q Quit this group.

TRN Article Selection Level Commands

On the article selection level, trn displays unread articles in thread sequence, reading each article and its replies before going on to another topic. On the article selection level you are not asked whether you want to read an article before the article is displayed; rather, trn simply displays the first page of the article and asks if you want to continue. The normal article selection prompt comes at the END of the article . The prompt at the end of an article looks like this:

End of article 248 (of 257) what next? [npq]

The following are the options at this point:

h To get help about the available commands.
n Scan forward for next unread article.
N Go to the next article.
p Scan backward for previous unread article, if none, then stay at the current article.
P Go to the previous article.
- Go to the previously displayed article.
<,> Browse the previous/next selected thread.
[,] Proceed to the left/right in the article tree.
{,} Go to the root/leaf of the article tree.
t Display the entire article tree and all its associated subjects.
^L Refresh the screen.
b Back up one page.
^ Go to the first unread article.
$ Go to the last article
num Go to the numbered article.
j Junk the current article| mark it as read.
m Mark the current article as still unread.
/pattern Scan forward for article containing pattern in the subject.
/pattern/h Scan forward for article containing pattern in the header.
/pattern/a Scan forward for article containing pattern anywhere in article.
/pattern/r Scan read articles also.
/pattern/c Make search case sensitive. Ordinarily upper and lower case are considered the same.
?pattern Scan backward for article containing pattern in the subject.
, Mark the current article and all its replies as read.
J Junk all the articles in the thread, even if it contains multiple subjects.
k Mark as read all articles with the same subject as the current article.
K Same as the k command, plus, add a line to the local KILL file for this newsgroup to kill this subject every time the newsgroup is started up.
T Kill the current thread, and also add a line to the local KILL file for this newsgroup to kill new articles attached to this thread every time the newsgroup is started up.
^K Edit the local KILL file for this newsgroup.
r Reply through net mail.
R Reply, including the current article in the header file generated.
f Submit a follow up article.
F Submit a follow up article, and include the old article, with lines prefixed by a ">".
U Mark some or all articles as unread.
u Unsubscribe from this newsgroup.
s filename Save to a filename.
w filename The same as "s destination", but saves without the header.
+ Start the thread selector.
= List subjects of unread articles.
q Quit this newsgroup and go back to the newsgroup selection level.

TRN Pager Level Commands

At the pager level (within an article), the prompt looks like this:

MORE (17%) and a number of commands may be given:

h To get help about the available commands.
SP Display next page.
d Display half a page more.
CR Display one more line.
q Go to the end of the current article .
j Junk the current article. Mark it read and go to the end of the article.
^L Refresh the screen.
X Refresh the screen.
b Back up one page.
t Display the entire article tree, including its associated subjects, and continue reading. If the group is not currently threaded, it will be turned on and processed as needed.
gpat Go to (search forward for) pattern within current article.


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