Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) provides for a vastly different approach to news exchange from C News and other news servers without native NNTP support. Rather than rely on a batch technology like UUCP to transfer news articles between machines, it allows articles to be exchanged via an interactive network connection. NNTP is not a particular software package, but an Internet standard described in RFC-977. It is based on a stream-oriented connection, usually over TCP, between a client anywhere in the network and a server on a host that keeps Netnews on disk storage. The stream connection allows the client and server to interactively negotiate article transfer with nearly no turnaround delay, thus keeping the number of duplicate articles low. Together with the Internet's high-transfer rates, this adds up to a news transport that surpasses the original UUCP networks by far. While some years ago it was not uncommon for an article to take two weeks or more before it arrived in the last corner of Usenet; it is now often less than two days. On the Internet itself, it is even within the range of minutes.
Various commands allow clients to retrieve, send, and post articles. The difference between sending and posting is that the latter may involve articles with incomplete header information; it generally means that the user has just written the article. Article retrieval may be used by news transfer clients as well as newsreaders. This makes NNTP an excellent tool for providing news access to many clients on a local network without going through the contortions that are necessary when using NFS.
NNTP also provides for an active and a passive way to transfer news, colloquially called “pushing” and “pulling.” Pushing is basically the same as the ihave/sendme protocol used by C News (described in Chapter 21). The client offers an article to the server through the IHAVE msgid command, and the server returns a response code that indicates whether it already has the article or if it wants it. If the server wants the article, the client sends the article, terminated by a single dot on a separate line.
Pushing news has the single disadvantage that it places a heavy load on the server system, since the system has to search its history database for every single article.
The opposite technique is pulling news, in which the client requests a list of all (available) articles from a group that have arrived after a specified date. This query is performed by the NEWNEWS command. From the returned list of message IDs, the client selects those articles it does not yet have, using the ARTICLE command for each of them in turn.
Pulling news needs tight control by the server over which groups and distributions it allows a client to request. For example, it has to make sure that no confidential material from newsgroups local to the site is sent to unauthorized clients.
There are also a number of convenience commands for newsreaders that permit them to retrieve the article header and body separately, or even single header lines from a range of articles. This lets you keep all news on a central host, with all users on the (presumably local) network using NNTP-based client programs for reading and posting. This is an alternative to exporting the news directories via NFS, as described in Chapter 21.
An overall problem of NNTP is that it allows a knowledgeable person to insert articles into the news stream with false sender specification. This is called news faking or spoofing. An extension to NNTP allows you to require user authentication for certain commands, providing some measure of protection against people abusing your news server in this way.
There are a number of NNTP packages. One of the more widely known is the NNTP daemon, also known as the reference implementation. Originally, it was written by Stan Barber and Phil Lapsley to illustrate the details of RFC-977. As with much of the good software available today, you may find it prepackaged for your Linux distribution, or you can obtain the source and compile it yourself. If you choose to compile it yourself, you will need to be quite familiar with your distribution to ensure you configure all of the file paths correctly.
The nntpd package has a server, two clients for pulling and pushing news, and an inews replacement. They live in a B News environment, but with a little tweaking, they will be happy with C News, too. However, if you plan to use NNTP for more than offering newsreaders access to your news server, the reference implementation is not really an option. We will therefore discuss only the NNTP daemon contained in the nntpd package and leave out the client programs.
If you wish to run a large news site, you should look at the InterNet News package, or INN, that was written by Rich Salz. It provides both NNTP and UUCP-based news transport. News transport is definitely better than nntpd. We discuss INN in detail in Chapter 23.
When posting an article over NNTP, the server always adds at least one header field, NNTP-Posting-Host:. The field contains the client's hostname.
The same problem exists with the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), although most mail transport agents now provide mechanisms to prevent spoofing.