The Usenet Article Format and Protocols

Usenet interprets management as damage and routes around it.

Peter da Silva


The current standard for the format of Usenet (Netnews) articles is RFC 5536, published in November of 2009. The standard for the architecture and protocols of Netnews, including how articles are modified and checked when traveling from system to system, is RFC 5537, published at the same time. I was the document editor for RFC 5537. Both of these documents are built on RFC 5322, the current standard for mail messages. Netnews articles are compliant mail messages with some additional fields and a few additional restrictions.

These RFCs obsolete the previous standard for the format of Usenet articles, RFC 1036, and the draft document known as “Son-of-1036” which was published as RFC 1849. All software should now follow the newer standards, but RFC 1036 and RFC 1849 may be of interest in understanding the behavior of older standards.

See my Netnews standards index for a hopefully-complete list of Netnews-related standards. For more information, see the USEFOR pages, which is the best collection of links related to Usenet standards that I know of.

Header Registry

Usenet (Netnews) articles use the same basic header format as e-mail messages and HTTP headers and share the same IANA registry for header field names. Most of the references here for Netnews header field names are to the current USEFOR drafts.

Protocol Draft

One Netnews-related draft may still be worked on for publication:

Four Netnews-related drafts were never published as RFCs but may be of interest:

If you’re curious about the history of these documents, or want to see the other drafts that have gone into the working group discussions, you can review my draft archive. I may have missed a few, but most of them should be here. Also see the IETF Internet-Draft search for USEFOR working group drafts.

Other Documents

Netnews Moderator’s Handbook
This is a set of best-practice guidelines for Netnews moderators written back in 1994. This was intended to be published as an RFC, but was never completed. Some of the advice is out of date, but much of this information is still relevant.
PGP Moose
The PGP Moose protocol specifies a mechanism for signing articles including certain key headers so that the resulting signature can be used to check several key header fields and the newsgroups to which the article was posted. This protocol is used primarily to validate approvals to moderated groups.This document is the original README by Greg Rose that accompanied the reference implementation of PGP Moose. The canonical version is on Greg Rose’s web site.

Signing Control Messages (pgpverify)
The pgpverify protocol is another protocol for signing a Usenet article that includes a different set of metadata and header fields than the PGP Moose protocol. It’s used primarily (and very widely) to authenticate control messages.This document is the FORMAT document for the pgpcontrol software. The canonical version is in the pgpcontrol distribution site.