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About FTP files & Newsgroups

NEWSGROUPS in Netscape:

Most Netscape Navigator users have access to only one news server, which is the one entered as the default news server in the Mail and News Preferences dialog box. (Select Options|mail and news preferences, the click the Servers tab.) It is posible, however, to access to several news servers. If this is the case, Navigator allows you to open an alternate news server without having to monkey around with the Preferences settings. To to this, open the News window and select File|Open News Host from the menu. Next enter the new news server's name in the "Open News Host" dialog box that appears. You're now in business with the new news.


A thread is, of course, a series of newsgroup articles that relate to the same topic. This is a convenient way to read everything posted about a particular topic, but be aware that Netscape does not thread automatically. It does give you the ability to thread articles and set sorting criteria. To set threading and sorting select Options|Mail and News Preferences, then click the organization tab. To thread, click the Thread News Messages option. Now select a sorting option. Because you have chosen to thread the articles, it's probably better to choose Subject here. Click OK to close the box and save your settings.

Of the listing sites, the biggest are Liszt, which has a newsgroup section, and CyberFiber NewsGroups. You might also want to visit tilenet, a site that catalogues mailing lists and FTP sites.

To find a specific subject being discussed in a newsgroup, check out DejaNews or Alta Vista, which has a special newsgroup feature. Both of these sites can sift through millions of postings to locate relevant newsgroup messages.

And don't forget the Rootsweb Archiver. See details on our Rootsweb advice page.

FTP sites are like some aging highway systems. They weren't really designed to handle the amount of traffic they currently get. This often results in heavy traffic and, yes, traffic jams. Using FTP acctually differs a little from accessing Web sites in this respect. In Web browsing you essentially get on the site, get the information you need, then get off. With FTP, however, you keep logged onto the FTP server while you scour the directory or download files. Now, consider that there may be hundreds or thousands (or more) users who do the same thing at the same time, and you get an idea of how traffic jams up. This usually results in a message from the server that tells you too many users are already connected to the server you want to connect to. Other times you won't be so lucky and you simply can't connect, making it look like your browser is doing nothing at all.

There's not much you can do to rectify this other than to try, try again. If you know the site is particularly popular, you may want to try logging on when there are likely to be the fewest number of users (like 3 am local). Saving this, you may find that the FTP servr has a "mirror site", which is another FTP server that contains the same files and directory structrue as the primary site. Many large public FTP servers have mirror sites and give you a list of them when they give you the "busy message".

Once you've located and accessed and FTP site, you've really only completed half the battle. As you've probably discovered, the contents of a site are not always readily apparent. This is because FTP sites are directories of files, sort of like the directories on your computer. The FTP protocol doesn't have any provision for identifying or describing the files beyond a few details like the size, time and date. There are two ways that you can attempt to discover the file contents. First, many large and well-established FTP sites also have Web "front-ends". This means that you actually access the site through a Web document that describes the site and its contents. The Netscape site where you download products is such a site. Second, many FTP sites also include information about the available files in a text file. These informational files are usually called ReadMe, Index, or Welcome.TXT. The case may vary between upper and lower, but the names are usually one of these.

FTP is a terrific way to get files over the Internet. However, there's so much information out there that finding what you need can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. In other words, you need some good search tools. One of the oldest and best is called Archie, an Internet service that allows you to search the indexes of most files available at anonymous FTP sites. These indexes are kept on special Archie servers around the world.

Looking through FTP sites may bring you into contact with a particular document called an RFC or Request for Comment. These are documents put out on public FTP sites that allow users to read and comment on the content of the document. They usually contain very specialized, specific technical information about the Internet. RFC's aren't meant to be light reading, but they can contain interesting and valuable information. One called RFC 1325 contains all kinds of tips for new Internet users, while another called RFC 1208 contains an extensive glossary of networking terms.

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