What is retention for newsgroups?

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The world wide web (WWW) system has made it easy for us to access resources on the internet. All you need to do is type in a specific domain name and you can access the website immediately. The internet is an invention that has had an undeniable impact on our lives. 

But, before the modern-day internet, there was a similar system called Usenet. It was a distributed discussion system accessible through computers, enabling people around the globe to exchange digital resources.

Usenet was invented in 1980 by two graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. It made long-distance communication possible via computers before the Internet became commonly accessible. Usenet popularized many well-known concepts like "FAQ", "spam", and "sockpuppet".

Usenet users can post messages or articles on a virtual repository known as a newsgroup. They are functionally similar to discussion forums that you can access on the internet today but are technically different. News servers are the software that manages the routing and storage of messages on a newsgroup and a newsreader is a software that enables Usenet users to read the content of newsgroups.

Before the advent of the World Wide Web system, newsgroups were one of the most popular online services. They have largely lost ground to discussion forums on the world wide web today but still remain in existence. There are over 100,000 newsgroups that you can interact with currently.

Oh and just in case you're interested, we've got a best Usenet providers guide should you want to dive in and explore.

Retention for newsgroups 

Whenever someone posts an article to a newsgroup, the news server keeps the article online for a specific period before deleting it to free up storage space for other articles. This period is known as retention, and it’s one of the most important things to look out for when selecting a news server. 

Different news servers can have different retention periods for the same newsgroup. Some may keep articles up for a few weeks while some can keep them up for many years. The longer the retention period of your news server, the wider the collection of articles you’ll have access to. 

History of newsgroup retention 

As the Usenet network grew in the early 1980s, one of the major problems news server providers faced was storage. Keeping articles online means keeping servers up and running, which incurs significant costs. You’ll have to pay for the space to keep the servers, the energy to keep them powered and cooled, and for regular maintenance if anyone breaks. 

To tackle the data storage issue, Usenet providers began limiting the amount of time to host data. Another option would have been keeping only the most read or downloaded articles up but it could complicate things further, as the most recent posts will always have the lowest downloads and views. The fairer way seemed to limit storage times, and Usenet providers went with it. 

Usenet providers also have limits on the size of articles they can accept. The larger the limit, the better, especially for people that want to use Usenet to upload or download large files.

Binary vs Text Retention

There are two main types of files; text and binary files. The former contains only textual data while the latter contains custom binary data. Examples of binary files are photos, audio, and videos. By design, binary files are much larger than text files, meaning they take up more storage space. 

Most Usenet providers offer different retention periods for binary and text files, with the latter being much longer because it’s less costly to store. Sometimes, the providers outsource the storage of binary files but store text files in their own data center because it's more cost-efficient. However, some providers offer the same retention periods for both types of files. 


Spooling is a technique that allows data to be stored indefinitely instead of in traditional retention where it's deleted after a certain amount of time. It involves sending data to an intermediate storage before it is requested. The posts are stored on intermediate servers and whenever someone accesses the article stored on one of those servers, it is retrieved and shown to them. 

Spooling has enabled Usenet providers to offer retention for thousands of days. It’s common to find providers offering over 5,000 days of retention thanks to this technique. 


Retention is one of the most important factors when choosing a Usenet provider. The longer the retention they offer, the broader the selection of content you can access on newsgroups when connecting through that provider. We’ve provided some examples of Usenet providers with long retention periods, and there are many more you can choose from.  

Stefan Ionescu

Stefan has always been a lover of tech. He graduated with an MSc in geological engineering but soon discovered he had a knack for writing instead. So he decided to combine his newfound and life-long passions to become a technology writer. As a freelance content writer, Stefan can break down complex technological topics, making them easily digestible for the lay audience.