Alcor... Introduction to Usenet News and the slrn Newsreader



The original version of this document, "Introduction to Usenet News and the trn Newsreader", is copyright 1993, 1994, 1995 by Jonathan Bell, <>; see below for further information.

Changes in this version include a complete re-write of the trn-specific information, to reflect the operation of the slrn newsreader, by Sylvain Robitaille, <>, who wishes to thank Anne Bennett for all her editorial scrutiny, and Danny Volpo and Vince Amato for the time they took to proofread drafts.

This document was localized for the Alcor computer system at Concordia University by Kevin Neden who wishes to thank Anne Bennett, Daniel-Robert Gooch, Nicholas Varacalli, and Cindy Winikoff for their work, suggestions, and assistance.

IITS Department
Concordia University
Montréal, Québec, Canada H3G 1M8

Jon Bell <>
Department of Physics and Computer Science
Presbyterian College
Clinton, South Carolina 29325, USA

January 20, 1995

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995 by Jonathan Bell. For free or non-profit use only. You may modify this document for local use and/or redistribute it, provided that you keep the original credits intact.


Many thanks to the following people for their corrections, suggestions, and other help:

Matt Ackeret <>
Jesus Aguillon <>
David Barr <>
B.G. Mahesh <>
Robert Nicholson <>
Michael O'Henley <>
Bonnie Ross <>



Part I: Introduction

The purpose of this document is to give you a quick introduction to Usenet news, and get you started on reading and posting news articles. The first part is a brief overview of Usenet news and the news-reading software. The second part is a tutorial on the basic steps involved in reading and posting news articles. You should read it in sequence, and work through the examples yourself. The third part is a collection of intermediate-level topics, in no particular order.

If you find something confusing, or would like me to add something in a future edition of this note, please let me know. Thanks!

This document assumes that you are using version of slrn. Some of the details may be slightly different for other versions. The version number is printed on the top line of the slrn screen, as well as being printed when the program starts up.

Some details depend on how your news system has been configured. You should contact your news administrator if you have questions about these. See the section Your News Administrator for more information.

Finally, the UNIX command prompt in this document is displayed as a $ character. Your command prompt may differ. If you use the Alcor menushell, you may never actually see a command prompt, but you can type in any of the commands described in this document, so long as you precede each command with a !. Commands that work in different ways under different shells are noted as such.


Overview of Usenet News

Loosely speaking, Usenet is a collection of computers which allow users to exchange public messages on many different topics. (The term "Usenet" is also used more precisely to refer to a specific subset of these messages, as described below.) These messages are similar to electronic mail, but are transmitted by special software which is separate from the electronic mail system. They are intended for public discussions rather than personal communication. If you have ever used a computer bulletin board service (BBS) or the public discussion areas of commercial online services (e.g. CompuServe's "forums"), you will find that Usenet strongly resembles both of these.

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 "neighbors" on Usenet. Periodically, your news system receives batches of articles from its Usenet neighbors; this may happen anywhere from once a day to once every few minutes. Similarly, your news system periodically sends locally-created articles to its neighbors. It may also pass its incoming batches on to some of its neighbors. Finally, your news system periodically (usually once each night) expires (removes) old articles to make room for new ones. How long articles are kept can vary from one newsgroup to another, and depends on the amount of disk space available and the perceived "value" of the newsgroup.

Usenet and the Internet are not the same thing. Usenet was originally developed on UNIX computers which set up temporary dial-up telephone connections among themselves via modems. They exchanged news articles using the UUCP (UNIX to UNIX copy) protocol which is built into the UNIX operating system. Many computers still exchange news in this fashion, but in recent years more and more computers have been using the permanent high-speed connections of the Internet, exchanging articles using NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol). Therefore, not all Usenet computers are part of the Internet, and not all Internet computers participate in Usenet.

There are several thousand commonly distributed newsgroups, on a wide variety of topics including computers, scientific fields, politics, national cultures, and hobbies. Newsgroup names generally contain two or more parts, separated by periods. As you read from left to right, the various parts of the name progressively narrow the topic of discussion. The first part of the name indicates the top-level hierarchy to which the newsgroup belongs. The standard "Big Eight" top-level hierarchies are:

for discussions of computer hardware and software (e.g. comp.sys.mac.apps, for Macintosh application software)
for discussions of literature, fine arts, and other humanities (e.g. humanities.philosophy.objectivism)
for discussions which don't fit anywhere else (e.g.
for discussions about Usenet news itself: news administration, creation of new newsgroups, news statistics, etc. (e.g. news.admin.policy)
for discussions about "recreational" topics: sports, movies, hobbies, etc. (e.g.,,
for discussions of science-related topics (e.g. sci.physics)
for social and "cultural" discussions relating to various groups of people (ethnic, national, religious, occupational, etc.) (e.g. soc.culture.german)
for high-traffic, "noisy" discussions of controversial topics (abortion, religion, guns, etc.) (e.g. talk.politics.soviet)

Strictly speaking, Usenet consists only of these "Big Eight" hierarchies. Proposals for new newsgroups in these hierarchies are discussed and voted upon according to a set of rules known as "The Guidelines." If you're interested in learning about this process, read the articles How to Create a New Usenet Newsgroup and Usenet Newsgroup Creation Companion, which are posted regularly to news.announce.newusers, news.groups, and news.answers, among other places. Then read both news.announce.newgroups and news.groups for a few weeks to get a feeling for Usenet politics.

There is a somewhat widely distributed alt hierarchy which contains newsgroups that are too "big" (e.g. contain large files of encoded computer graphics), too controversial (sex, drugs, etc.), or too "off-the-wall" for the standard Usenet hierarchies, along with many newsgroups on "mainstream" topics. Creating a new newsgroup is much easier in the alt hierarchy than in the standard hierarchies, so a new newsgroup is sometimes created there with the intention of building enough traffic to justify creating a newsgroup in one of the standard hierarchies, or if there is not enough interest in creating one there. For more information, read the article So You Want to Create an Alt Newsgroup, which is posted regularly to alt.config, alt.answers and news.answers. Then read alt.config for a while.

Finally, there are various special-purpose hierarchies which are not distributed as widely as the "Big Eight" and alt. Some of these focus on specialized fields, for example, bionet for biology, hepnet for high-energy particle physics, and vmsnet for users of computers from Digital Equipment, Inc. which run the VMS operating system. Others are intended mainly for distribution within limited geographical areas or within single institutions, for example ba for the San Francisco Bay area or de for Germany.

Concordia University has its own newsgroup hierarchy, appropriately called concordia. Some newsgroups include:

a general discussion group.
a moderated group for announcements of interest to the University community, such as upcoming events.
the best place to find information about using computer systems managed by IITS.
the approved place to put test messages. The best place to go for your first attempts at posting.

The total amount of traffic in the "Big Eight" hierarchies (Usenet proper) is hundreds of megabytes per day, and has been almost doubling each year. Many sites receive only a limited selection of newsgroups because of limitations in disk space and the capacity of their network links, or because of specific policies on what kind of newsgroups can be received.

Which newsgroups you might want to read obviously depends on your interests. You should browse through the newsgroup lists and sample various groups. I strongly recommend that you at least scan the following newsgroups:

contains important messages of interest to all Usenet users. Very few articles appear here.
normally contains a standard set of articles with general information about Usenet, and guidelines for network etiquette (netiquette). You should read through these articles at least once.
contains copies of articles which are periodically posted to various newsgroups, answering various Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). These are worth browsing through in order to get an idea of the range of topics which are discussed on Usenet.
contains questions posted by new users and (hopefully) answers from more knowledgeable users.

Complete lists of "Big Eight" newsgroups and extensive lists of alt newsgroups, with very brief descriptions, are posted every month or two in the newsgroups news.lists and news.announce.newusers.


Your News Administrator

Most Usenet sites have a news administrator who maintains the news software, monitors disk space, creates new newsgroups, etc. On small systems, this person may simply be the overall system administrator. On larger systems, the system administrator may designate someone else as news administrator. The job may be only part of the person's overall responsibilities, and it may even be strictly a spare-time job.

If you have any questions which might depend on how the news software is set up on your particular system, you should contact your news administrator. For example, if you want to read a newsgroup which is not currently available on your system, your news administrator is the only person who can either arrange to receive that newsgroup, or explain why that is not possible. Concordia's news administrator may be contacted by sending e-mail to

While the newsmaster is the person to contact for requesting the addition of newsgroups on the Concordia server, if you have more basic questions about reading news and using slrn on Alcor you can post them on the or newsgroups. You should search through the existing articles on the newsgroups when looking for answers to questions. Your question may have already been answered, or you may be able to find the answer in one of the posted FAQs.


Overview of the slrn Newsreader

To read news and post new articles, one uses a program called a newsreader. The newsreader program which is described in this document is called slrn. It is an easy to use newsreader written by John E. Davis of the Center for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In addition to the fundamental organization of articles by subject area into newsgroups, slrn links followup articles (replies) to their parent articles to form threads of discussion on particular topics. Actually, an article may attract several direct replies, each of which in turn receives replies; and so the resulting collection of articles is better described as a "tree" rather than a "thread." Nevertheless, "thread" is the standard term.

When you enter a newsgroup, slrn presents a menu of the discussion threads which are currently active. It allows you to easily move through the list of active threads, viewing only those articles which you want to read, and ignoring the others. It also presents articles within a thread (or tree) in an orderly sequence, so that you can follow the discussion easily. Finally, slrn keeps track of which articles you have read in each newsgroup, so that once you have read an article, or have told slrn to mark it as read, it no longer appears in the article list when you re-enter the newsgroup.

Slrn has three main levels:

  1. newsgroup selection level: This is the top level of the newsreader. Options include: List newsgroups which might be of interest, subscribe and unsubscribe newsgroups, select a newsgroup to read, etc.

  2. article/thread selection level: This level is entered by selecting a newsgroup from the newsgroup selection level. In this level, the user can tag articles for saving, mark articles as read or unread, save articles, followup or reply to article, post to the newsgroup, etc.

  3. article reading level: This level, entered by selecting an article to read from the article/thread selection level, provides the user with options to read, reply, or follow up to an article, save an article, post a new article, etc.

In each level, a help screen describing each of the available options is available by pressing the ? key.

Part II: Tutorial

Prompts and Commands

You give slrn instructions by typing commands in the various screens. There is always a menu of the most frequently needed commands for each screen presented at the bottom of the display. The menu in the newsgroup selection screen, for example, presents the following options:

[Space]:Select  p:Post  c:Catchup  L:List  A:Add  (u)s:(Un)Subscribe  ?:Help

Most commands consist of a single letter or symbol, and take effect immediately without waiting for you to press Return or Enter. A few commands, which prompt you for a sequence of letters (e.g. the name of a newsgroup), do not take effect until you press Return or Enter.

Universal Commands

Usually, the commands that you can type depend on which level of the program you are currently using. However, four commands have more or less the same effect everywhere.

Pressing the Spacebar always performs the most logical action for the current situation. That is, if you do nothing but press the Spacebar in each level, slrn eventually displays every unread article in every newsgroup to which you are subscribed.

Typing q always quits from what you are currently doing and takes you "upward" one level in the program. For example, if you type q while you are at the thread-selection level, you go back to the newsgroup-selection level. If you are at the newsgroup-selection level, typing q takes you out of slrn and back to the menu system or to the command prompt.

Typing ? always gives you a complete list of commands which you can give at the current prompt. This list can be overwhelming for novices, but after you have become somewhat familiar with slrn, the ? command is a useful reminder of what's possible.

Pressing Enter (or Return) always brings up the currently selected item, whether it be a newsgroup or an article. The currently selected item is the one pointed to by the -> selection arrow. To select a different item, the selection arrow can be moved using the cursor (arrow) keys, or using the Ctrl-n (next) and Ctrl-p (previous) key combinations.


Getting Started

Menushell users should select Internet Communications from the main menu and then Read or Post Netnews from the following submenu. If you are using a UNIX shell, at the command-prompt, type slrn. If you have never read news before, you should see something like this:

> slrn

Welcome to slrn; you appear to be a new user.
I am creating your News directory....
I am creating your postponed directory....
I am creating your scorefile....

Now I will configure your scorefile, and I need to ask you a few questions.
If you're not sure what you want, the safest answer is 'Y';
you can always change it later by editing the scorefile....

Shall I cause articles posted by you to be scored highly? [Y or N] 
Shall I enable the system-wide spam filters? [Y or N] 
Your account is now set up to run slrn. enjoy!

Starting the newsreader, one moment please...
slrn (Aug 20 1997 16:03:14)

Reading startup file /local/lib/slrn-
Connecting to host ...
Connected to host.  Posting Ok.
It appears as though you don't have a .newsrc file.
Slrn is creating one for you now...

Connecting to host ...

The screen clears, and slrn starts up in the newsgroup selection level, presenting you with a list of subscribed newsgroups. A selection arrow points to the currently selected newsgroup.

When you run slrn for the first time, it has no idea of which newsgroups you are interested in, so it presents you either with only a few newsgroups which your news administrator has deemed of interest to new users, or in some cases, with all the newsgroups which your system receives. In Usenet jargon, we say that slrn has subscribed you to these newsgroups.

If you find yourself subscribed to only a few newsgroups, you should probably read those first, for practice. At some point, you can look in news.announce.newusers or news.lists for lists of newsgroups so you can find other newsgroups that you might be interested in, then subscribe to them using the procedure described in the next section.

If you find yourself subscribed to all the newsgroups on your system, you are faced with the task of unsubscribing from the ones you don't want to read. The simplest and most tedious way of doing this is to unsubscribe from each one individually.

Typing u at the newsgroup selection prompt unsubscribes you from the current newsgroup, (the one which the selection arrow points to); slrn automatically selects the next newsgroup. When you come to a newsgroup whose name looks interesting, you can press the Spacebar or the Enter key to start reading the newsgroup as described in the section Reading a Newsgroup, or type n (next) to skip over it for now.

If you get tired of this process, you can type q to quit from slrn, and then come back to it later.

Fortunately, there's a quicker way to get rid of all those unwanted newsgroups. Type q to quit from slrn immediately, then give the following commands at the UNIX command prompt:

$ tr \: \! < .newsrc >
$ rm .newsrc
$ mv .newsrc
(Watch out! The first line uses backslashes, not ordinary slashes!)

If you are using the menu system, don't forget to start each command with a !. The $ character represents the UNIX prompt; don't type that in.

This edits your list of newsgroups (which is stored in a file named .newsrc, as described in the next section) so that all colons become exclamation points (which unsubscribes you from all newsgroups), then removes the old version and replaces it with the new one. Then re-enter slrn; it will present you with an empty newsgroups list, because you are no longer subscribed to any newsgroups. At this point you can subscribe to the newsgroups you do want to read.


Subscribing to Newsgroups

In order to subscribe to a newsgroup, you must first ask slrn to list it, using the L (List newsgroups) command at newsgroup selection level. Suppose, for example, that you want to subscribe to

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->    11  concordia.announce          Concordia University announcements. (Mo
     112 Help on IITS facili
      24  concordia.test              Testing at Concordia University.
      27  news.announce.newusers      Explanatory postings for new users. (Mo
     437  concordia.general           Discussions at and about Concordia Univ
  280104  news.newusers.questions    Q & A for new users of Usenet. (Moderate

-*-News Groups:                      -- 1/6  (All)
List Groups (e.g., comp*unix*):

The newsgroup is added to the list of newsgroups, but you are still not subscribed. To subscribe to the newsgroup, press the s key while the selection arrow is pointing to that newsgroup. The U beside the selection arrow disappears, and the newsgroup is now added to your list of subscribed newsgroups.
slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
      11  concordia.announce          Concordia University announcements. (Mo
     112 Help on IITS facili
      24  concordia.test              Testing at Concordia University.
      27  news.announce.newusers      Explanatory postings for new users. (Mo
     437  concordia.general           Discussions at and about Concordia Univ
  280104  news.newusers.questions     Q & A for new users of Usenet. (Moderat
->U 1753           Travel in Europe.

-*-News Groups:                      -- 7/7  (All)
[Space]:Select  p:Post  c:Catchup  L:List  A:Add  (u)s:(Un)Subscribe  ?:Help

Slrn keeps track of which newsgroups you have subscribed to, and which articles you have read in those newsgroups, in a file named .newsrc in your disk directory. Whenever you subscribe to a newsgroup that you have not subscribed to before, slrn adds the newsgroup to your .newsrc.

At this point you can press the Spacebar or Enter to start reading the newsgroup you have just subscribed to (see the next section), or you can enter another L command to list and subscribe to another newsgroup, etc.

If you decide you no longer wish to read a newsgroup, you can unsubscribe from it by giving the u (unsubscribe) command at the newsgroup selection screen.

The newsgroup you have unsubscribed from remains in your .newsrc, but is marked so that slrn knows to skip over it. You can subscribe to it again using the same procedure as above.

To find out which newsgroups you might want to subscribe to, see the two sections on Searching for Newsgroups, later in this document.


Reading a Newsgroup

You may enter a newsgroup by pressing the Spacebar or Enter key at the newsgroup selection screen. You are presented with a list of all of the current discussion threads:

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->  -     0 [Kostas Chatz]    mykonos holidays
 2  -     0 [Paul Casey  ]    Re: Daytrips out of London
 3  -     0 [Paul Casey  ]    Re: Campervan Rates in Europe
 4  -     0 [granny@visi.]    --travel in Ireland
 5  -     0 [Lucille     ]    | |->
 6  -     0 [bill daugher]    | |->
 7  -     0 [Mark        ]    |   |->
 8  -     0 []    |->
 9  -     0 [themoors    ]    Western Scotland
10  -     0 [Harlan Lunsf]    |->
11  -     0 [ALLAN142    ]    |->
12  -     0 [Glenn Shelle]    |->
13  -     0 [Meena Atit  ]    --Re: Paris Visite - SNCF zones in Paris/France
14  -     0 [Guy Turf    ]    |->
15  -     0 [not@btintern]    Re: Driver's License Requirements in UK
16  -     0 [Lacemaker   ]    --Airline leg room
17  -     0 [Diana Jordan]    | |->
18  -     0 [ed hooks    ]    | | |->
19  -     0 [walker@dnvn.]    | | | |->
20  -     0 [ed hooks    ]    | | |   |->
21  -     0 [ed hooks    ]    | | |   | |->
22  -     0 [ed hooks    ]    | | |   |   |->
News Group:                               -- 1/1751  (Top)
Num Killed: 0, Num High: 0, Num Low: 0

From left to right, the menu displays a selection number for each article in the list, an indicator of whether or not the article has been read, the score assigned to each article, the author's name, and the subject of the article or a graphical representation of the article's position in the discussion (thread) to which it belongs.

A single thread may contain several subjects, because the author of a followup article may give a different subject for his/her reply if the topic has drifted. If the first article in a thread has a subject which begins with Re:, all the articles in that thread are followups to an earlier article.

There are actually three different forms of the thread selection menu. You can rotate among them by typing ESC a (alternate). The medium mode, shown above, is the default on most systems, but your news administrator may have configured slrn so that it uses another mode as the default.

The short mode omits the author's name, permitting longer subject lines to be displayed. Long mode lists the subject first, then the author, but unlike medium mode which truncates the author's name, long mode displays the author's full name.

To select an article for reading, simply move the selector arrow using the arrow keys and press the Spacebar or Enter key when the arrow points to an article of interest.

As you read articles, they will be marked with a D (deleted) next to their selection number. You can unmark an article by pressing the u (undelete) key with the selection arrow pointing to the article's selection header.

The bottom line of the selection window indicates the current newsgroup, and the current article number out of the total number of articles in that newsgroup (1/1751 in the example above). If the current article number is followed by the word "All" the display lists all the articles in the current newsgroup. Otherwise, the thread selection menu extends over more than one screen. You can advance to the next screen by pressing the Next Screen key (PgDn on most keyboards), or typing Ctrl-D (down). The Prev Screen, PgUp, and Ctrl-U (up) keys will scroll the menu list back by one screenful.

For this example, I selected article 4 to begin reading that thread. I moved the selection arrow using the cursor keys, and pressed Enter:

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
 1  -     0 [Kostas Chatz]    mykonos holidays
 2  -     0 [Paul Casey  ]    Re: Daytrips out of London
 3  -     0 [Paul Casey  ]    Re: Campervan Rates in Europe
->  D     0 [granny@visi.]   lwqtravel in Ireland
News Group:                               -- 4/1762  (Top)
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 10:21:06 -0600
Subject: travel in Ireland
Organization: Deja News Posting Service

Planning a couple of weeks in Ireland in the spring.
Would appreciate suggestions as to best web site, there
are so many.  Also, general info as to car travel, money,
places to stay, out of the way sights.  Completely in the
dark, so any advice appreciated.


  132272 : travel in Ireland                                -- 1/16  (All)
[Space]:PgDn b:PgUp r:email-Reply f:Followup P:Post-new n:Next p:Prev ?:Help

For a description of the various parts of this article, see the section Anatomy of a News Article.

If there were more lines to this article, the display could be scrolled forward by pressing the Spacebar. Pressing the spacebar while viewing the bottom of a message, indicated by (BOT) on the status line, or as in the example above, the complete message, as indicated by (All) in the status line, will cause slrn to notify you that you've reached the end of the article.

At this point, pressing the Spacebar or typing n (next) displays the next unread article in the newsgroup. Pressing the Spacebar at each prompt eventually displays all the articles in the newsgroup, then advances to the next newsgroup.

To scroll backwards in an article you're reading, press the b (back) key. To jump back to the beginning of the article, press the < key.

If you find yourself in the middle of a long article that you don't really want to read, type n to skip ahead to the beginning of the next article. If you prefer to manually select another article from the header list, you can do so directly by using the cursor keys to move the selection arrow and pressing Enter when the arrow points to an article of interest. You can view the complete list again by pressing the h (hide) key to hide the current article.

If you are finished with this newsgroup for now, but think you might want to read some more of these threads later, type q to leave the newsgroup, but leave the remaining threads marked as unread so that you will see them next time you enter the newsgroup. If you do not plan to read any more of this batch of threads, type c (catch up), which marks all remaining threads as read, so they do not appear in the thread selection menu the next time you enter the newsgroup. You can mark all the articles up to a certain point as read by typing C (catch up to here) with the selection arrow pointing to the first article after those which you wish to mark.

You can type q now to quit back to the newsgroups list, or N (next newsgroup) to jump ahead to the next newsgroup.


Posting a Followup Article

The first rule for new users about posting news articles is: Don't (yet)! You should read news for a while to get a feel for what kinds of articles are considered appropriate and which practices are frowned upon. Some of the articles in news.announce.newusers contain guidelines to Usenet etiquette, or netiquette. Different newsgroups have different "personalities," so even if you are an experienced user, it's a good idea to read a newsgroup for a while before posting to it.

Suppose you finally decide that you want to participate in a discussion by following up (replying to) an existing article. To do this, you need to have entered the newsgroup, and either be looking at the article you wish to follow up, or at least have the selection arrow pointing to it.

For this example, I chose an article in the newsgroup misc.test, which is specifically intended for experimental postings (you could also use concordia.test for this purpose):

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
 1  -     0 [Rob Whelan  ]    testing new outgoing feed
 2  -     0 [Theo        ]    test news
->  D     0 [Dave McKisso]    Test Please ignore !
 4  -     0 [Jawahar Hald]    this is a test
News Group: misc.test                                       -- 38/1511  (2%)
From: as806@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Dave McKissock)
Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: My 1st test!
Date: Sat Mar 27 07:34:54 EST 1993
Organization: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio (USA)

This is my first message. WOW!
  230660 : My 1st test!                                     -- 1/8  (All)
[Space]:PgDn b:PgUp r:email-Reply f:Followup P:Post-new n:Next p:Prev ?:Help

You can press f (followup) now to post a followup article. Slrn will prompt you to confirm your action:
Are you sure you want to followup? [Y]es, No, Cancel

Press y, (if you just press Enter slrn will accept the default answer indicated in the square brackets -- in this case, 'Y'), and slrn takes you into a text editor. The default editor is pico, an easy to use editor which you may recognize from the Pine mail program. If you are already familiar with another text editor, you can change your default editor: see the section Changing Your Default Editor for instructions on how to do this.
UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.followup

Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: Re: My 1st test!
References: 01bca64a$21bc23a0$1a0394ad@mico6.cleveland.Freenet.Edu
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA

On 27 Mar 1993 07:34:54 EST, Dave McKissok  wrote:
> This is my first message. WOW!

                               [ Read 14 lines ]
^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

This is a skeleton article which has some of the header lines filled in. Note that the top line and the bottom two lines appear with reverse video text on your screen.

The cursor will most likely be placed two lines below the last header, at the start of the attribution line. You should not start your article above this line. If the cursor is positioned at the top of the screen, you can move it below the headers using the cursor (arrow) keys.

Pico uses control characters for commands, so remember to press the control key when trying to use the commands listed at the bottom of your screen. Help on the displayed commands (and more!) can been seen by pressing Ctrl-g (^G). You can easily correct mistakes on the current line by using the delete key and typing over the mistake. You may also use the arrow keys to move the cursor around the message and make changes by typing.

UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.followup        Modified

Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: Re: My 1st test!
References: 01bca64a$21bc23a0$1a0394ad@mico6.cleveland.Freenet.Edu
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA

On 27 Mar 1993 07:34:54 EST, Dave McKissok  wrote:
> This is my first message. WOW!


Jon Bell                         Presbyterian College
Dept. of Physics and Computer Science        Clinton, South Carolina USA

^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

You do not usually have to add anything to the header lines, even though most of them are blank. The essential ones have already been filled in.

The Cc: header comes in handy for sending a copy of an article to someone (such as the author of the article you're following up) via e-mail; simply move the cursor to the line following the last header, and add the text Cc: followed by an email address. Leave a space after the colon.

To leave pico, type Ctrl-x (^X). If asked whether you want to save changes, respond with y (for Yes), and be sure not to change the file name! Slrn now asks you what you want to do with the article:

Post the message? Yes, No, Edit, poStpone

Answer y and slrn submits the article to your news server, which places it in your local article database. When someone reads your article, it looks like this:
slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
 1  -     0 [Rob Whelan  ]    testing new outgoing feed
 2  -     0 [Theo        ]    test news
->  D     0 [Dave McKisso]    Test Please ignore !
 4  D     0 [Jon Bell    ]    |->
News Group: misc.test                                       -- 39/1512  (2%)
From: (Jon Bell)
Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: Re: My 1st test!
Date: Sat Mar 27 22:55:02 EST 1993
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA

On 27 Mar 1993 07:34:54 EST, Dave McKissok  wrote:
> This is my first message. WOW!


Jon Bell                         Presbyterian College
Dept. of Physics and Computer Science        Clinton, South Carolina USA
  230719 : Re: My 1st test!                                 -- 1/15  (All)
[Space]:PgDn b:PgUp r:email-Reply f:Followup P:Post-new n:Next p:Prev ?:Help

After some period of time, the news software sends the article out to the rest of Usenet.

The newsgroup misc.test is a good place to post test articles for two reasons. First, people tend to be annoyed by test articles in other groups. Second, various sites on Usenet monitor misc.test with software that automatically sends an e-mail reply to the author of each article. This allows you to verify that your article really is getting out, and what it looks like.

When I did this example, I got eight replies: six from the U.S., one from South Africa and one from Sweden. The concordia.test newsgroup is not monitored in this way, but you can still use it to see for yourself if your post worked.

By default, slrn will "quote" the article to which you are following up. This is useful for establishing the context of any comments you make. However, you should remove as much of the original article as possible, leaving only the minimum amount necessary for context.

To delete a single line, position the cursor anywhere on the line and type Ctrl-k (^K). To delete several consecutive lines at once, position the cursor on the first line you want to delete and type Ctrl-^ (^^, or perhaps Ctrl-6), then use your cursor keys to select text. Press Ctrl-k to delete the selected text.

It's customary to leave the attribution line (In article...) at the beginning of the quoted material, but delete any signature at the end, if it agrees with the attribution. For example:

UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.followup        Modified

Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: Re: a test
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA

In article <> (Barry
Schwartz) writes:
>I desire to receive some test echos.

You've got one...
Jon Bell                         Presbyterian College
Dept. of Physics and Computer Science        Clinton, South Carolina USA

^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell


Beginning a New Discussion Thread

There are two methods for posting an article which begins a new topic of discussion. Which one is easier to use depends on whether you are currently reading articles in the desired newsgroup.

The first method applies if you are at the newsgroup selection screen. Type p (post) and slrn will confirm that you want to post. You will then be asked to which newsgroup(s) you would like to send a post, with a default of the current newsgroup (the one to which the selection arrow is pointing). Press Enter if you just want to post to this newsgroup, or enter the name of the newsgroup you wish to post to.

Slrn then asks you for a subject for your post. Note that slrn will not permit you to post an article with an empty subject line. This makes it easier for people to know what your post is about, so they can choose whether or not they'd like to read it.

The second method applies if you are currently reading a newsgroup. Press (capital) P to post, and slrn will prompt you as described above for confirmation that you want to post, and for the newsgroup(s) and subject of your post.

You might want to include in your message headers, a distribution code which indicates how far you want the article to be propagated. If you leave the headers with no distribution code, your article will be sent to all of Usenet (or at least to all sites which receive the newsgroup you posted the message to). An explicit distribution code, in principle, restricts the propagation of your article.

The distribution header can be added just below the other headers in the message (remember to leave at least one blank line between the headers and the message body):

UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.article         Modified

Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: test -- please ignore
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA
Distribution: local

Test message
Jon Bell                         Presbyterian College
Dept. of Physics and Computer Science        Clinton, South Carolina USA

^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

Exactly which distributions are available to you depends on how your news system has been set up (ask your news administrator). For example, at Concordia, the following distributions are allowed:
Concordia University
same as local
Montreal area
North America

In practice, you should not expect any distributions other than local to work perfectly. They always "leak," either by accident or design. The local distribution should never leak; however, if it does, please let your news administrator know about it.


Replying by E-mail

Sometimes your reply to an article is of interest only to its author, and not to Usenet as a whole. Often, someone posts a question with the stipulation that replies be to him/her personally, and he/she will post a summary of the responses in a later article. In such cases you should send your reply directly to the author via e-mail.

You can do this within slrn by typing r (reply) instead of f. Slrn prepares the reply and allows you to edit it, just as if you were posting a followup article, but e-mails it to the author instead of posting it to Usenet.


Part III: Miscellaneous Topics

New Newsgroups

When slrn starts up, it checks for newsgroups which were created since the last time you read news. If it finds any, it automatically subscribes you and adds them to the top of the newsgroups list to call your attention to them. You can choose to unsubscribe by typing u with the selection arrow pointing to each group you wish to unsubscribe.
slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->N   55  rec.collecting.pins           All aspects of collecting and trading
  N  166              A forum for discussion of music theor
  N   37  sci.lang.translation.marketplace Professional translators' marketpl
  N   60 ??
  N   23  alt.lemmings                  Rodents with a death wish.
  N  141  alt.pets.hamsters             :vermin as pets
      11  concordia.announce            Concordia University announcements. (
     106 Help on IITS facili
      24  concordia.test                Testing at Concordia University.
      27  news.announce.newusers        Explanatory postings for new users. (
     440  concordia.general             Discussions at and about Concordia Un
   280172  news.newusers.questions      Q & A for new users of Usenet. (Moder

-*-News Groups:                      -- 1/12  (All)
[Space]:Select  p:Post  c:Catchup  L:List  A:Add  (u)s:(Un)Subscribe  ?:Help

The N in the display is to remind you that this is a new newsgroup. For each newsgroup you unsubscribe, the N gets replaced with a U, (unsubscribed).

Rearranging the Newsgroup List

Slrn presents newsgroups to you according to the order in which they appear in your .newsrc file. By default, slrn places newly-subscribed newsgroups at the top of the list. If you subscribe to several newsgroups, you may find that your newsgroups list begins to appear cluttered and disorganized. You can avoid this nuisance by by rearranging your newsgroup list in any order you wish.

To do this, go to the newsgroup selection screen and move the selection arrow to the newsgroup you wish to relocate, then type m (move). Slrn allows you to use the arrow keys to place this newsgroup anywhere you like in the list. Press Enter when you're done moving the group.

With a bit of patience, you can (if you like) put your entire newsgroup list in alphabetical order, using this method. There's an easier way to do this, though. Outside of slrn, at the command prompt, give the following commands (remember the $ represents the UNIX command prompt. Menushell users should precede each command with a !):

$ sort .newsrc > .newsrc.sorted
$ rm .newsrc
$ mv .newsrc.sorted .newsrc

This creates a sorted copy of your newsgroup list, then deletes the original and renames the sorted copy.

Anatomy of a News Article

Consider the following article:

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
 1  D     0 [David Hultgr]    Re: Creation VS Evolution
->  D     0 [Frank Effenb]    --Re: Stupid Question: Why does light diffract?
 3  -     0 [Peter Diehr ]    |->
 4  -     0 [Planckster  ]    Re: A minor note on EVOLUTION(WAS:Re: CREATIONI
News Group: sci.physics                                     -- 12/153  (Top)
From: (Frank Effenberger)
Newsgroups: sci.physics,sci.optics
Subject: Re: Stupid Question: Why does light diffract???
Date: Tue Oct 12 11:42:39 EDT 1993
Organization: Center Research Electro-Optics Lasers

In article , (Derek Abbott) wrote:
> Ripples on the surface of water diffract as they "ooze" through
> a slit. It's easy to see how this must happen when you consider the
> constraints caused by forces between water molecules.
> However, with light there is now no physical medium or internal forces (?)
It has been found that light, radio waves, and x-rays are all forms of the
same thing: Electromagnetic waves. It has also been found that electric and
magnetic fields are coupled vector fields that obey four simple partial
differential equations: the Maxwell equations. If you take the Maxwell
equations, and apply the appropriate boundary conditions on the solutions,
you will find that the answer you get explains diffraction.

As far as the question: 'Do we know why?', one needs to invoke ontological
arguments. Let's just say that Classical Electromagnetic theory has great
predictive power, and is for the most part correct. (It has already been
superceeded by a higher theory, however, this higher theory is of interest
only to theoretical physicists).

I guess the ultimate answer to "why does light diffract?' is:
 Light diffracts because it does!
Frank Effenberger - *The* Super Slacker

'The light of Wyatt's Torch was the last
light they ever saw on this earth' - A.R
   12781 : Re: Stupid Question: Why does light diffract??? -- 1/35  (Top)
[Space]:PgDn b:PgUp r:email-Reply f:Followup P:Post-new n:Next p:Prev ?:Help

The dividing line tells you which newsgroup you are reading (sci.physics) as well as how many unread articles slrn has for this newsgroup. In this example, there are 153 unread articles in the newsgroup, and of those this is the 12th.

The bottom status line displays the actual article number as the local news server knows this article. In this case, article number 12781 is being displayed.

The From: line tells you who wrote the article. Usually, but not always, it contains a valid e-mail address followed by the sender's real name or nickname in parentheses.

The Newsgroups: line lets you know if the article was posted simultaneously (crossposted) to more than one newsgroup. It lists each group the article was posted to.

Next comes the subject of the article. Re: indicates that this is a followup to somebody else's article.

The Date: line indicates when the article was posted. It may take a few days for an article to propagate across Usenet, depending on how the poster's computer is connected to its neighbors.

The Organization: line usually tells you the "real" name of the location corresponding to the author's e-mail address.

The article header is actually longer than this. Slrn normally hides many of the header lines. You can choose to view all of the header lines by typing t (toggle headers) while viewing the article. The full header display will remain on until you press t again to turn it off.

Finally we come to the article text itself. Lines which begin with > are "quoted" from the article to which this one is following up. There is usually an attribution line which indicates who wrote the quoted text.

Quote indicators ("> ") and attributions ( wrote) are inserted automatically when you follow up an article using the f command, as described earlier. If the quoted material itself quotes another article, you see lines beginning with >>. Occasionally you see four, five, or even more levels of quoting, but many people consider this to be bad form.


Creating a Signature File

At the end of an article, separated from it by two dashes, there is often a signature, which may contain the author's name, e-mail address(es), mail address, phone number, etc. Many newsreader programs, including slrn, allow you to create a "signature file" which is automatically appended to the end of each article you write.

Slrn provides a method for doing this, using a file named .signature, which you can create using any text-editing program (e.g. vi or pico). For example, using pico:

$ pico .signature

The screen clears, and you see a blank file for you to edit:
UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: .signature

 (single blank line at the top of the screen)

^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

Now type in your signature, pressing the return or enter key at the end of each line. When you are finished, press ^X (control-x) to leave pico.
UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.signature       Modified

Jon Bell                         Presbyterian College
Dept. of Physics and Computer Science        Clinton, South Carolina USA

                                [ New file ]
^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

The .signature file is appended to every article you post. You will see the signature automatically inserted into each article when the editor screen is presented to you.

In the interest of conserving network resources, you should keep your signature short. Some newsreaders and news servers limit your signature file to four lines and ignore any extra lines.


Changing Your Default Editor

Slrn uses the slrnrc file to determine which editor you wish to use. If you don't have a personal .slrnrc file, slrn uses the editor definition from the global slrn.rc file. On Alcor, the editor has been defined as pico. If you prefer to use another editor, you can create a .slrnrc file in your home directory with the definition for the editor of your choice. For example, to use vim as the editor, you might have the following in your .slrnrc file:

set editor_command "vim"

You should examine the global slrnrc file for better examples of how to set the editor command, but this one will do the trick. On Alcor, the global slrnrc file is /local/lib/slrn/slrn.rc.

Re-Reading Articles

Sometimes you may want to re-read an article or thread which you have already read, and therefore no longer shows up in the thread selection menu. To see a complete listing of articles in a newsgroup, including articles which are already marked as read, enter the newsgroup with the sequence: Esc 1 Enter

Slrn will give you the option of displaying all the articles in the group, or only a certain number of them. Articles marked as read show up in the listing with a D (deleted) to the right of the article selection number.

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->! -    10     test
 2! D    10     new slrn test
 3  D     0     another debugging test
 4  -     0     slrn test
 5  -     0     |->
 6  -     0       |->
 7  -     0         |->
 8  -     0           |->
 9  -     0             |->
10  D     0               |->

News Group: concordia.test                                  -- 1/10  (All)
[Space]:Select d:Mark-as-read u:Mark-as-Unread P:Post n:Next p:Prev ?:Help

This is just like the usual thread selector (I used short mode for this example), except that some selection numbers are followed by a D to indicate that they have been read. Select articles to read as usual, by moving the selector arrow, and pressing Return or Enter (or the Spacebar) when you are at an article you wish to read.

To switch back to the normal thread selector, type x (expunge) to remove articles you've read from the listing.

If you've previously read everything in the newsgroup, slrn doesn't normally list the newsgroup at the newsgroup selection level. You can list all the newsgroups you're subscribed to, including those with no unread articles, using the l (list) command at the newsgroup selection screen.

Entering a newsgroup with no unread articles automatically causes slrn to retrieve the listing of all articles in the group, though they'll all be marked as read. If new articles have appeared in the group since slrn last checked, those will be listed instead. You can enter the group with the Esc 1 Enter sequence as described above to get a listing which includes previously read articles.


Canceling Articles

If you change your mind about something you have written, you can "take it back" by canceling your article. You can do this only if the article has not yet expired on your news server. First, find your article in the article selection list. You might want to select the article and begin reading it, to ensure that you don't cancel the wrong article. You may have to display previously read articles if you've already read the one you want to cancel.

With the article selection arrow pointing to the article you wish to cancel, press Esc, then Ctrl-c. Slrn asks to confirm that you want to cancel the article before sending the request to the news server. This removes the article from your local article database, and sends out a special type of article called a control message which instructs all other Usenet computers to remove their copies of your article from their article databases.


Saving Articles

You can re-read articles as described previously only while they are still in your news server's article database. If you want to keep an article for permanent reference, you must save it to your disk directory. To do this, type o (out) while the article selection arrow is pointing to the article you wish to save. Slrn suggests a filename, and will append the article either to that file or to whatever you enter as the filename where you want the article saved.

By default, slrn places the article in a file named the same as the newsgroup name, but with the first letter capitalized, in a subdirectory called News, under your home directory.

Save to file (^G aborts): /home/jtbell/News/Soc.culture.nordic

The file will be in UNIX "mailbox format", which allows you to read it using an e-mail program, just like a file of saved e-mail messages.

When you are at the thread-selection level, you can save an entire discussion thread, or group of threads, to a single file. Simply tag each article in the thread, in the order you want them saved with the # key. Then press the o key, and slrn will ask if you want to save the tagged articles.

The articles you saved are marked as read, but remain in the selection list, so you can read them now if you like.

To examine the files you just saved, you must leave slrn. Remember that you will not find these files in your home directory, but rather in the subdirectory News. With the menu system, go to the File Management menu and select the Change to Another Directory option. When asked, give News as the directory name. You can then use the other menu options like Edit a File on your saved files. If you wish to return to your home directory, choose Change to Another Directory again and give .. as the directory.

If you use a standard UNIX shell, then use the following series of commands (note that the cd command won't work if executed as !cd from the menu system) to get to your saved files:

$ cd News

You can read the saved articles by using the more or page command, just as for any other text file, or you can open them with a text editor such as vi or pico. When you are done working with your saved articles in your News subdirectory, you can get back to your home directory as follows:
$ cd ..


Reading Saved Articles with an E-Mail Program

Articles are saved in the UNIX mailbox format. You should be able to read them using your e-mail program just as if they were saved e-mail messages. For example, using mailx:

$ mailx -f News/articles
mailx version 3.03 01/18/88  Type ? for help.
"articles": 6 messages 6 new
>N  1 Lawrence D'Oliveir Sun Apr 11 22:53   27/1167  Re: More awful names for
 N  2 Eggert Thorlacius  Sun Apr 11 22:53   32/1278  Re: More awful names for
 N  3 Chuck Hoffman      Sun Apr 11 22:53   27/980   Re: More awful names for
 N  4 Landon Dyer        Sun Apr 11 22:53   40/1204  Re: More awful names for
 N  5 Matt Mora          Sun Apr 11 22:53   35/997   Re: More awful names for
 N  6 Manuel Veloso      Sun Apr 11 22:53   28/1189  Re: More awful names for

If you're using Pine as your e-mail program, you'll have to move the file into the directory where Pine looks for your mail folders. This is usually the subdirectory mail of your home directory, although your system administrator may have configured Pine differently. You can enter the following command from your home directory to move the file:
$ mv News/articles mail

Now start up pine as usual, and the file articles should appear in your list of mail folders.

If you expect to do this frequently, you can tell slrn to save articles by default into the mail subdirectory instead of into the News subdirectory. Insert this line into your .slrnrc file to do so:

set save_directory "mail"

The change will take effect the next time you start slrn. If you're using some other e-mail program besides pine, find out where it looks for saved mail and adjust the above instructions accordingly.

Posting the Same Article to Several Newsgroups (Crossposting)

Sometimes you may want to post the same article to more than one newsgroup, because the article may be of interest to more than one audience. For example, an article about Swedish-German relations would be appropriate for both soc.culture.nordic and soc.culture.german.

If you simply post copies of the article in the usual way to each newsgroup, it not only takes more of your time, it also consumes more network resources, because each copy must be transmitted and stored separately on each Usenet computer.

The crossposting mechanism allows you to post one copy of the article simultaneously to more than one newsgroup; only that one copy is transmitted, and with some operating systems, including UNIX, only one copy needs to be stored on each computer. With some newsreaders, including slrn, reading a crossposted article in one group marks it as read in the other groups; if you read more than one of the groups in question, you see the article only once.

Before you crosspost, you should think carefully about whether you really need to do it. If you do crosspost, do it to as few groups as necessary. It is considered a breach of "netiquette" to crosspost to many newsgroups, and doing so may produce angry responses via e-mail. With that in mind, crossposting is always preferable to making multiple separate identical postings.

Excessive crossposting and multi-posting violate local policy at many sites, and could result in the loss of your computer account.

To crosspost an article, start by posting as usual to one of the newsgroups in which you want the article to appear. For this example, I'll post in misc.test and crosspost to alt.test, which was created to serve the same purpose as misc.test, but for the alt hierarchy:

UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.article

Newsgroups: misc.test
Subject: Crossposting test
Distribution: local
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA
                               [ Read 11 lines ]
^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

To crosspost, use the cursor keys to move to the end of the Newsgroups: line, then type a comma and the names of the newsgroups to which you want to crosspost. Separate the newsgroup names by a comma only (no spaces):
UW PICO(tm) 2.4         File: /home/jtbell/.article         Modified

Newsgroups: misc.test,alt.test
Subject: Crossposting test
Distribution: local
Organization: Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA

^G Get Help  ^O WriteOut  ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^C Cur Pos
^X Exit      ^J Justify   ^W Where is  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell

Then move the cursor to the last line, type in the article and post it as usual.

When you follow up a crossposted article, your article is normally also crossposted to the same newsgroups that the original article appeared in. You can change this by editing the Newsgroups: line in the header to add or remove newsgroups. To add a newsgroup, proceed as above. To delete a newsgroup, just position the cursor and use the delete key to remove the newsgroup name. Don't forget to delete the extra comma, too.


Redirecting Followups

As described in the previous section, followup articles normally appear in the same newsgroups as the original article. The author of the followup article can change this by editing the Newsgroups: line in the header. The author of the original article can also change this, by editing the Followup-To: line, which is normally blank. If the Followup-To: line is not blank, all followup articles appear in the specified newsgroup. Of course, this can still be changed by the author of the followup article, again by editing the Newsgroups: header.

This is commonly done in two situations. First, the author of the article may want to attract the attention of readers of several newsgroups, but then restrict any followup discussion to one newsgroup. For example, discussions about creating new newsgroups are supposed to take place only in news.groups. Therefore, someone who wants to create a new newsgroup normally cross-posts a "Request for Discussion" (RFD) to news.announce.newgroups and to any newsgroups which might have readers who might be interested, but directs all followups to news.groups.

Second, the author may want all responses to go directly to him/her via e-mail, so that he/she can prepare a summary of them to post later. Placing the word poster in the Followup-To: line accomplishes this.

If you redirect followups, you should mention this in the body of your article, because many people don't read headers carefully, and may otherwise be puzzled when their followup articles don't appear in the newsgroup that they're reading!


Moderated Newsgroups

Some newsgroups are moderated, that is, articles posted to them must be approved by a moderator. Slrn allows you to post an article to a moderated group in exactly the same way as to an unmoderated group, except that the news server mails your article to the moderator instead of placing it directly in the newsgroup. If the moderator approves the article, it will appear in the newsgroup after a (hopefully) short delay. Otherwise, he/she will probably return the article to you with an explanation of why it was not suitable for that newsgroup.


Searching for Information (Introduction)

There is so much news that finding just what you want to read can be a real adventure. Fortunately, slrn provides search commands at each level that can help you in this process. You can search for newsgroups, for articles with certain text in the subject line, or articles written by certain people.

Once you've found what you're looking for, you can either select it for reading, or you can mark it as read without reading it.


Searching for Newsgroups within slrn

At the newsgroup selection screen, you can list all unsubscribed newsgroups whose names match a specified pattern, using the L command:

List Groups (e.g., comp*unix*): *physics*

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
      11  concordia.announce            Concordia University announcements. (
     105 Help on IITS facili
     440  concordia.general             Discussions at and about Concordia Un
      24  concordia.test                Testing at Concordia University.
      19  news.announce.newusers        Explanatory postings for new users. (
    3349  news.newusers.questions       Q & A for new users of Usenet. (Moder
->U   59               Issues of physics in medical testing/
  U  169  sci.physics.fusion            Info on fusion, esp. "cold" fusion.
  U  238  sci.physics.particle          Particle physics discussions.
  U  296  sci.physics.electromag        Electromagnetic theory and applicatio
  U   34  sci.physics.computational.fluid-dynamics Computational fluid dynami
  U   47  sci.physics.plasma            Plasma Science & Technology community

-*-News Groups:                      -- 7/12  (All)
[Space]:Select  p:Post  c:Catchup  L:List  A:Add  (u)s:(Un)Subscribe  ?:Help

This method has two drawbacks. First, it searches only the names of the newsgroups. Second, it searches only newsgroups that your news system receives, so it doesn't answer the question, "does a newsgroup exist somewhere on this topic?"

If you're lucky, you can find more extensive lists of newsgroups in the newsgroups news.lists, news.groups, and/or news.answers. Look for a two-part series of articles titled List of Active Newsgroups, and another two-part series titled Alternative Newsgroup Hierarchies. These articles contain not only newsgroup names, but also brief descriptions (a phrase for each newsgroup). You can search them using the / command while reading them, as described in the section Searching Text, below.

However, these lists are posted fairly infrequently (every two months or so), so the most recent set may have expired on your system. In that case, you'll have to leave slrn and try one of the methods described in the next section.


Searching for Newsgroups outside of slrn

If the newsgroup listings described above have expired from your news system, you can get copies of the most recent versions via e-mail from the Usenet FAQ archive at Simply send e-mail to, with a blank subject line and one or more of the following commands in the message body:

send usenet/news.lists/List_of_Active_Newsgroups,_Part_I
send usenet/news.lists/List_of_Active_Newsgroups,_Part_II
send usenet/news.lists/Alternative_Newsgroup_Hierarchies,_Part_I
send usenet/news.lists/Alternative_Newsgroup_Hierarchies,_Part_II

You should get a reply within a day or two.

If you have access to gopher, you can search a more extensive list of newsgroups, including many local and regional hierarchies. Connect directly to, or look in your Other Gophers menu (or whatever it's called) for Presbyterian College, Clinton SC, USA. From our top-level menu, choose Internet Resources, then Lists of Usenet Newsgroups. This list is from UUNET in Falls Church, Virginia.

If you don't have access to gopher, but can use anonymous ftp, you can get a copy of the UUNET newsgroup list from their ftp archive at Look in directory networking/news/config for the file newsgroups.

Alcor users can have a look at the "Monster Newsgroups List" in /public/pub/news/monster-newsgroups-list. This list is also available on the web at


Searching for Articles on Particular Subjects

When you are in the article selector for a newsgroup, you can tell slrn to select articles which contain a specified string of characters in the Subject: header line, using the s (subject search) command:

Subject Search Forward: string

Upper case versus lower case doesn't matter in the search string. For example:
slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->  -     0     perl 4 bug? please help!
 2  -     0     |->
 3  -     0     Re: Trouble with TkPerl5 and Perl5a11d
 4  -     0     Re: Changing ARGV ?
 5  -     0     Re: Unix tower of babble tcl/awk/perl -- why not just lisp?
 6  -     0     |->
 7  -     0       |->
 8  -     0     Re: Perl5a11b, variable scopes/lifetimes
 9  -     0     Re: playing with a mail filter..
10  -     0     Variable assignment problems (w/ du)
11  -     0     Re: Bug report 11d
12  -     0     perl script executable? and calling perl from C?
13  -     0     help!!-script to read and output the input from Mosaic Forms
14  -     0     Problem installing on NeXT 2.1 and 3.2
15  -     0     Re: Logical And / Round to Whole Numbers
16  -     0     MS-DOS Perl with DBM/NDBM Built In
17  -     0     Perl version of Supersrv ?
18  -     0     Re: Talking to HP4SiMx
19  -     0     Re: Comparing two dates?
20  -     0     |->
21  -     0     |->
22  -     0     Perl5a11d Bug
News Group: comp.lang.perl.misc                             -- 1/32  (Top)
Subject Search Forward: bug

Slrn will move the selection arrow to the next article whose subject line contains the string bug in it, in this case, article number eleven. You can read the article by pressing Enter or the spacebar, or you can search again by pressing the s key again.

You can search the subject lines backwards, using the S key.


Searching for Articles by Particular People

Just as a list of articles can be searched for key words or phrases in the subject lines, it can also be searched for names and email addresses in the from lines. The procedure is the same as in the search for articles by subject, except the command is a (author search) to search forward, and A to search backward through the list.


Searching for Text

While reading an article, you can use the / command to search for specified text anywhere in that article; slrn will then scroll forward to the next line containing the string you enter to search for.


Scoring and Killing Articles Automatically (Introduction)

Slrn's threading mechanism helps you to skip discussions that you are not interested in, by grouping together articles on the same topic in the thread selection menu. In many newsgroups, you can efficiently scan the thread selection menu for the discussions you want to read, read them, and then junk everything else with the c command.

However, some newsgroups carry so much traffic that even scanning the thread selector is time-consuming. Slrn provides tools to help ease the process of selecting the articles you want to read, while ignoring the ones you don't want. You can tell slrn to mark articles for you, based on criteria you specify. Then, when you enter the newsgroup, you can easily find articles which are more likely to be interesting.

Also, slrn can kill (mark as read) articles automatically according to similar criteria, so that they need not appear at all in the thread selector. This is especially useful for dealing with people who repeatedly post offensive, boring or nonsensical articles; you can make them "disappear," as far as you are concerned, or you can have them already marked as read, but still appear in the listing, in case they are somewhat interesting.

Slrn does this by "memorizing" scoring and/or killing commands in a special file which is popularly known as a scorefile. Slrn's scorefile can be divided into sections for each newsgroup, or sections for groups of newsgroups; rules can also be applied to all newsgroups.

Whenever you enter a newsgroup, slrn checks to see if you have any scoring rules which apply to that newsgroup. If you do, slrn applies the rules stored in the scorefile before displaying the article selector.


Scoring Articles Interactively

Suppose you want slrn to mark articles in a certain thread as worth reading in future sessions. In the article selector, use the up and down arrow keys to move the cursor to the article which begins the thread, then press K (killfile). Slrn asks you some questions regarding how you'd like scoring applied:
Pick Score type: Subject, From, References, Edit, Cancel

In this case, you would select r for references, since that is how threads are constructed. Slrn then asks what score you would like to apply to articles matching the selected criteria:
Score: (default: -9999)

To mark an article as interesting, pick a score greater than zero. Scores less than zero will mark an article as already read; the lower limit of -9999 causes articles to not even show up in the article selection screen; (those articles are killed).

Slrn then asks if you want the score applied to this newsgroup only or to all newsgroups you happen to read:

Which newsgroups: This group, All groups

Finally, slrn prompts you for an expiry date for this rule, after which the rule will no longer be applied to articles which match the selection criteria:
Expires (MM/DD/YYYY or DD-MM-YYYY or leave blank):


Editing the Scorefile

The text in this section has been borrowed from slrn's own documentation, Written by John E. Davis, <>

The purpose of the scorefile is to define the set of tests that an article must go through to determine the score. The resulting scores can be included in the article list when a user enters a newsgroup, aiding the user in selecting articles to read. High scores indicate articles which the user is likely to want to read, while lower scores are applied to articles the user may want to ignore.

The format of the scorefile is really quite simple. At the heart of the scoring rules are UNIX regular expressions, which make it possible to find matches based on patterns rather than anticipating exact matches.

Consider a sample slrn score file:

Include: News/additional.scores

     Score: 9999
     % All slrn articles are good
     Subject: slrn

     Score: 9999
     % This is someone I want to hear from
     From: davis@space\.mit\.edu

     Score: -9999
     Subject: \<f?agent>\

     Score: -10
     Expires: 1/1/1996
     Subject: swap

     Score: 20
     Subject: SunOS

     Score: 50
     From: Linus

     % Kill all articles cross posted to an advocacy group
     Score: -9999
     Xref: advocacy
     ~From: Linus

     % This person I want nothing to do with unless he posts about
     % `gizmos' but only in comp.os.linux.development.*

     Score: -9999
     From: someone@who\.knows\.where
     ~Subject: gizmo
     ~Newsgroup: development

  [~misc.invest.*, misc.taxes]
     Score:: -9999
      Subject: Earn Money
      Subject: Earn \$


Lines beginning with a % character are comment lines, and are ignored, as are blank lines and leading whitespace in a line. Comments can be placed on any line in the scorefile, but must be on a line by themselves. That is, they cannot be on the same line as any of the scoring keywords.

The Include keyword tells slrn to read the indicated file and include scoring rules defined in that file with those in this file. The filename is relative to the user's home directory. Alternatively, the complete path to the file can be entered. Note that this is a feature added locally to Alcor's installation of slrn and may or may not exist on other systems.

The scorefile is divided into sections delimited by a newsgroup or newsgroups enclosed in square brackets, e.g.:

     [rec.crafts.*, rec.hobbies.*]

The newsgroup name may contain the * wildcard character.

The sections are sub-divided into scoring rules by the Score keyword, optionally followed by an Expires keyword. The Score keyword defines the score applied to articles which match the following rules.

The score can be any positive or negative integer. However there are two special values: 9999 and -9999. If the score for an individual test is one of these two values, any following tests are skipped and the article is simply given one of the two special values. If the numerical value of the score is prefixed by an equal sign, score processing for the header is stopped and the header will be given the score for that test.

Normally, the scores are applied additively. An article may match multiple rules, and recieve a score equal to the sum of the scores in each rule it matches.

If the Expires keyword appears, it must immediately follow the Score keyword. The Expires keyword may be used to indicate that the test is no longer to be applied on the date specified by the keyword. For example:

    Expires: 4/1/1996              (or: 1-4-1996)

implies that the given test is no longer valid on or after April first 1996. As the example indicates, the date must be specified using either the format MM/DD/YYYY or DD-MM-YYYY. Note: do not confuse this with the expires header keyword.

The lines which follow define the rules an article must match in order to receive the defined score. Each line begins with the name of the keyword followed immediately by a colon and a space. The rest of the line usually consists of a regular expression. The keyword may be prefixed by the ~ character to signify that the regular expression should not match the object specified by the keyword.

All keywords except for Score, Expires, and Include may be prefixed by the ~ character.

The remaining keywords are article headers. Articles containing the appropriate header matching the regular expression defined in the rule are scored accordingly. Although the scoring rules may be based on any header item, it is recommended that one stick with the following for efficiency:

as well as the newsgroup that the article is part of.

The Lines keyword is special. Its value is not a regular expression but rather a simple integer. It may be used to kill articles which contain too many or too few lines. For example:

    Score: -100
    Lines: 1000

assignes a score of -100 to articles that have more than 1000 lines. Similarly, the test
    Score: -100
    ~Lines: 3

assigns a score of -100 to articles that have less than or equal to 3 lines.

The first line of our sample file is:

Include: News/additional.scores

This tells slrn to read the file News/additional.scores (relative to the user's home directory) and include the scoring rules defined in that file with those in this file.

The rest of the file consists of three sections. The first section defines a set of tests applied to the newsgroups. The second section applies to the comp.os.linux newsgroups. The final section applies to all newsgroups except misc.invest.* and misc.taxes.

The first section consists of three tests:

     Score: 9999
     % All slrn articles are good
     Subject: slrn

     Score: 9999
     % This is someone I want to hear from
     From: davis@space\.mit\.edu

     Score: -9999
     Subject: \<f?agent\>

The first test applies a score of 9999 to any subject that contains the string slrn. The second test applies to the From line. It says that any article from gets a score of 9999. The third test gives a score of -9999 to any article whose subject contains the word agent. Since tests are applied in order, if an article contains both slrn and agent, it will be given a score of 9999 since 9999 is a special score value.

The second section is more complex. It applies to the comp.os.linux newsgroups and consists of 5 tests:

     Score: -10
     Expires: 1/1/1996
     Subject: swap

     Score: 20
     Subject: SunOS

     Score: 50
     From: Linus

     % Kill all articles cross posted to an advocacy group
     Score: -9999
     Xref: advocacy
     ~From: Linus

     % This person I want nothing to do with unless he posts about
     % `gizmos' but only in comp.os.linux.development.*

     Score: -9999
     From: someone@who\.knows\.where
     ~Subject: gizmo
     ~Newsgroup: development

The first three are simple: -10 points are given if the subject contains swap, 20 if it contains SunOS, and 50 if the article is from someone named Linus. This means that if Bill@Somewhere writes an article whose subject is Swap, Swap, Swap, the article is given -10 points. However, if Linus writes an article with the same title, it is given -10 + 50 = 40 points. Note that the first test expires at the beginning of 1996.

The fourth test kills all articles that were cross posted to an advocay newsgroup UNLESS they were posted by Linus. Note that if a keyword begins with the ~ character, the effect of the regular expression is reversed.

The fifth test serves to filter out posts from someone@who.knows.where unless he posts about gizmos in one of the comp.os.development newsgroups. Again note the ~ character.

The final section of the score file applies to all newsgroups except misc.invest.* and misc.taxes:

  [~misc.invest.*, misc.taxes]
     Score:: -9999
      Subject: Earn Money
      Subject: Earn \$

If the first character following the opening square bracket is ~, then the newsgroup or newsgroups contained in the brackets are NOT to be matched. That is, the ~ character is used to denote the boolean NOT operation.

In this test, articles whose subject lines contain either string Earn Money or Earn $, will be automatically killed. Note the two colons following the Score keyword. This serves as an OR operator.

When you enter a newsgroup, you see a report on the effects of the scorefile, telling you the result of the rules which were applied:

Num Killed: 6, Num High: 3, Num Low: 12


Alcor's Global Scorefile

Usenet spam is the sort of message which is excessively crossposted, or repeatedly posted to many newsgroups. These messages often take the form of commercial advertisements. Many other sorts of messages are loosely referred to as spam as well. They all have one thing in common: they bother most Usenet users.

To assist users in filtering out unwanted messages, the administrators of Concordia University's Alcor computer system have put together a "Usenet spam filter" which users can apply to their newsreading sessions.

The filter will assign low scores to known Usenet spam messages.

To use the global spam filter, use a text editor to edit your News/Score file, and add the following line:

Include: /local/lib/slrn/Score.spam

It may already exist in your scorefile, possibly commented with a % character at the beginning of the line. In this case, simply delete the %. If you have the Include: line, and it isn't commented, then you're already including the global spam filter.

Sorting the Article List

Most newsreaders sort the articles they present to you into the order they arrived at the news server or the order in which they were posted. Many perform threading and sort the threads. Slrn provides even more flexibility for sorting articles. While in the article selector screen, press ESC s, and a pop-up menu appears, presenting choices of how slrn can sort the articles:

slrn ** Press '?' for help, 'q' to quit. ** Server: newsflash.concord
->  -   21:[Clifton Roys]    |->Re: TIN: Can reply invoke pine automatically?
 2  -   18:[Urs Jan▀en  ]    Re: tin: reading saved news articles with tin
 3  -    7:[Ji+-------------------------------------------------+
 4  -    7:[Ph|                 Sorting Method                  |
 5  -   10:[To|                                                 |
 6  -   15:[Ge| 0 No sorting                                    |
 7  -   26:[J$| 1 Thread Headers                                |
 8  -   10:[Ja| 2 Sort by subject                               |
 9  -    8:[Sv| 3 Thread, then sort by subject.                 |
10  -   19:[Da| 4 Sort by scores.                               |
11  -   28:[Ri| 5 Thread, then sort by scores.                  |
12  -   17:[St| 6 Sort by score and subject                     |
13  -   10:[Ch| 7 Thread, then sort by score and subject        |
14  -   22:[Fr| 8 Sort by date (most recent first)              |
15  -   15:[Ch| 9 Thread, then sort by date (most recent first) |
16  -   27:[Ji| A Sort by date (most recent last)               |em
17  -   39:[ki| B Thread, then Sort by date (most recent last)  |
18  -   20:[Co|                                                 |
19  -   29:[ki|                  (Select One)                   |
20  -   30:[Jo+-------------------------------------------------+
21  -   14:[Conrad Sabat]    |->
22  -   58:[Jon Bell    ]    |->
News Group:                           -- 22/147  (29%)
[Space]:Select  d:Mark-as-read  u:Mark-as-Unread  P:Post  n:Next  p:Prev

By default, Alcor's installation of slrn threads the articles, then sorts the threads by date, with the most recent threads at the bottom of the list.

You can have slrn start up with a different sorting method, if you like, by adding the appropriate instruction to your .slrnrc file. As an example, here is the appropriate section from Alcor's global slrn.rc file:

% If 0, do not sort.  If 1, perform threading.  If 2, sort by subject
% If 3, thread then sort result by subject
% If 4, sort by score.  If 5, thread then sort by score.
% If 6, sort by score and subject
% If 7, thread, then sort by score and subject
% If 8, sort by date with most recent first
% If 9, thread, then sort by date with most recent first
% If 10, sort by date with most recent last
% If 11, thread then sort by date with most recent last
set sorting_method 11

If you wanted threads to be sorted based on the scores recieved by the articles in each thread, you would use 5 instead of 11.

Further Information

Slrn has many more features, and can be customized in various ways. The most complete documention of slrn is the man page, which you should be able to view online by giving the UNIX command man slrn. It's about fifty pages long, and some parts of it are easier to understand if you are somewhat familiar with the UNIX operating system.

Slrn is the supported newsreader on the Alcor system at Concordia. Basic questions can be asked on the newsgroup. The newsgroup is a good place to ask more advanced questions.


Obtaining This Document

This modified document is available from either the Concordia University Bookstores. There is an online version available at /topics/netnews/slrn/intro/index.html

(The following are instructions on how to retrieve the original version of this document, which refers to the trn newsreader.)

This document is revised periodically. You can get a copy of the latest version as follows:

  1. Via anonymous ftp from, directory pub/trn-intro.
  2. Via the Presbyterian College (Clinton, South Carolina, USA) gopher server, either directly to, port 70, or through the Other Gophers or similar menu on your local gopher server. When you reach our server, choose the Internet Resources menu.
  3. As a last resort, via e-mail from me (; please specify which version of trn you are using, which format you want (ASCII text, Microsoft RTF, PostScript, or Microsoft Word 5.1 for Macintosh (BinHexed)), and the date on your current copy of this document, if you have one already (so I can avoid sending you a duplicate if there haven't been any changes).

Copyright, © 2003, Concordia University, (IITS).
Author: Jon Bell, Presbyterian College, South Carolina
Credits: Sylvain Robitaille, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Maintained by:
Last update: 1998/06/19 -- Dana Echtner

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