Review of Administering Usenet News Servers

Administering Usenet News Servers
James E. McDermott and John E. Phillips
Addison Wesley

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

July 18, 1997

It has always seemed strange to me that with all the books available on every conceivable aspect of Internet service, Usenet News has been relatively ignored as a topic by potential authors. There are a few books on using Usenet news and the venerable Managing UUCP and Usenet, but there's nothing available on managing today's Usenet News services. This book attempts to fill that gap.

The authors start out with an overview of the Internet, which is pretty stock stuff, and the History of Usenet News, which isn't too bad, although the overview in Peter Salus' Casting the Net is better. Then they move to a chapter that covers the basics: what is news, what's a news server, what's a news feed, etc.. It's a pretty standard and straightforward introduction to the general topic of Usenet News.

The second section is titled "Planning" and goes through a large number of steps that a prospective news admin should consider before installing the software. This section is a good idea, and there are some useful ideas in there, but the author's recommendations on disk storage and bandwidth requirements for a full feed would have been woefully inadequate for Usenet news service a year before publication of the book. The requirements for sizing the hardware of the server don't take into account the relative number of concurrent reader processes or number of feeds, and some aren't up to the task of handling a full feed in any case. The data provided in Brian Wong's Configuration and Capacity Planning for Solaris Servers is much better, although still insufficient.

The authors do a fairly good job of evaluating the relative merits of INN vs. DNEWS and adequately cover security and network topology considerations. Their emphasis on PERT charts as part of the service construction process is, in my opinion, misplaced, but they do a decent job of summarizing resources available on the Internet.

The third section, called Construction, deals with the building of the news server. There are several chapters, like "Installing the Operating System" and "Configuring the Operating System" that don't belong in a book like this unless they are specifically geared toward tuning or software requirements that apply specifically to news servers. Since this book's coverage of these issues is generic, I wish there had been references to other locations rather than chapters on these topics.

Finally, the fourth section, on administration, covers policies and maintenance. One place where the book excels is in discussing the corporate policy issues of running News service. This is usually overlooked by the site service implementors, and it's good to see this topic given some serious coverage.

On the other hand, the maintenance chapter contains nothing but a more detailed description of the major control files for INN and DNEWS. I don't know as much about DNEWS, but this information is pretty well covered for INN in the Installation Guide and manual pages which come with the distribution. While the book's treatment is a little, clearer, it's not strictly necessary.

There are also four appendices, of which Appendix D, NNTP Information with its list of NNTP commands and NNTP response codes is the most interesting.

The book includes a CD which contains a recent version of INN, 1.5.1, an evaluation copy of DNEWS and some miscellaneous utilities. Frankly, for a prospective news administrator, finding these distributions on the Internet, given information on their locations in the text, is the least of their difficulties, and the book would have been better off $10 cheaper and without the CD.

Finally, there are several errors, both syntactical and typographical throughout the text that are distracting at best and misleading at worst which will grate on the nerves of an experienced News administrator. Using a capital "H" for the extension on C language header files, referring to multiple spam messages as "spams", and many other distractions shouldn't appear in a serious technical text.

On the whole, Administering Usenet News Servers does a passable, if unspectacular, job of getting someone who doesn't know anything about Usenet to the brink of setting up a News server, but there's nothing here at all for the News administrator with even a passing familiarity with the software. Recommended only if you need to set up a news server from scratch and don't know where to start.


If you need to go from scratch to having a Usenet News server running right now, this book may provide some assistance. However, if you have any Usenet administration experience at all or can wait until September for the O'Reilly book to come out, I'd pass this one up.