Administering Usenet News Servers

Administering Usenet News Servers claims to cover INN, DNEWS and PGP software and the planning, building and managing of Internet and Intranet news services, and it does.
  • Authors: James E. McDermott and John E. Phillips

  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Developers Press

  • E-mail: info@awl.com

  • URL: http://www.awl.com/

  • Price: $39.95 US (includes CD-ROM)

  • ISBN: 0-201-41967-X

  • Reviewer: Liam Greenwood

The world is sorely in need of a good book on Usenet news. Unfortunately, this isn't it. Administering Usenet News Servers has a definite lack of a clear focus. If the authors had a more tightly targeted audience, I believe this could have been an excellent book. Instead, it is self-defeating by trying to be all things to all news administrators.

What Does It Include?

Let's have a look at what it does cover. Administering Usenet News Servers claims to cover INN, DNEWS and PGP software and the planning, building and managing of Internet and Intranet news services, and it does.

The book discusses INN and DNEWS and covers installing and configuring both these NNTP news servers. The differences between the two are discussed, including why you might choose one over the other. Included are good appendices with DNEWS and INN configuration details. All you need to get an INN news server up and running under Solaris is included on the CD, as well as tools such as gcc. There is a clear walk-through of an INN install, with configuration variables that may need to be changed clearly marked. The installation information includes the PGP/INN configuration needed for managing newsgroup control messages.

Administering Usenet News Servers also has a reasonable discussion on the need for an “Acceptable Use Policy” (AUP) and what such a policy should address. It also makes some good points on the differences between an Intranet AUP and an ISP (Internet Service Provider) focused AUP.

There is a section on newsreaders, which mentions the good net-keeping seal of approval, but unfortunately only summarises the main points without including a pointer to the full text on the web.

There is a section on project planning, but it keeps a reasonable balance, showing that there should be a plan and mentions the sorts of things you need to consider, but it stops short of trying to teach you to be a project manager. The book also includes good coverage of some of the business issues involved with rolling out a news service on an Intranet.

The focus of the book is its weakness. It is very fond of Solaris as the example operating system to the extent that a chapter on installing Solaris is included. The binaries on the CD-ROM are for Solaris, and the book's examples assume a Solaris file system layout. Not providing Linux and xxxBSD binaries seems an oversight, but even if the authors wished to stay in the commercial arena, they should have considered covering more than just Solaris. I am left with the feeling that the title should have included a “For Solaris” tag.

The book seems to be mainly aimed at the news service being rolled out in an Intranet situation, but then leaps off into ISP land. However, it doesn't cover news to the depth needed by an ISP. This is demonstrated by the total dismissal without any discussion of both Cnews and UUCP. Even if the authors wished to recommend NNTP as the preferred news transport, both Cnews and UUCP are still widely used and any self-respecting news administrator needs to know at least how to interact with Cnews systems and what effect UUCP has on things such as news propagation.

What about the quality? Did I find any major flaws? Well, PGP is not on the CD-ROM. The book says it is on page 121, while on page 221 it indicates you have to use FTP to get it. I also couldn't find DNEWS on the CD-ROM. The cover says that all you need to set up an INN or DNEWS service is on the CD-ROM, while the text of the book indicates you have to download a trial version of DNEWS. Furthermore, it misses some “gotchas” such as using DNEWS behind a firewall, where the DNEWS host that collects the news isn't always the one to which your clients connect. This can cause problems with the news-on-demand style of fetching news by DNEWS. (News-on-demand is the news delivery mode that DNEWS uses where no articles in a newsgroup are fetched from the upstream news providers until one of the local news clients attempts to read that group.) The CD-ROM also has some incorrect references, e.g., the book refers to the gcc-2.7.2 directory in its instructions—the actual directory provided is gcc-2.7.

Overall the book is nicely laid out and straightforward to read. My conclusion is that while it's not as comprehensive as it claims to be, it is a good overall view of what is required to create a functional news service. It will enable a UNIX-aware administrator to set up a vanilla NNTP service fairly painlessly. I think it would have worked better aimed squarely at the Intranet market, including binaries for AIX, Solaris and SunOS.

Liam Greenwood is an ex-librarian, ex-COBOL programmer, ex-Sperry system programmer and ex-UNIX Systems Engineer—now a Solutions Architect. In real life he's been running Linux since 0.99 when a friend found him the bits he needed to finish building a PC, so he could help support his Linux system. He can be reached via e-mail at liam@sasquach.gen.nz.

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