InterNetNews NewsServer -- Reliable, robust news server

InterNetNews NewsServer -- Reliable, robust news server

June 25, 2002

Arguably the most popular news server on the planet, InterNetNews (INN) is software firmly entrenched in the UNIX world, with a command-line interface and enough text-based config files to make even the geekiest among us happy. If you're used to working with this type of tool, then INN is a great choice for your server installation, particularly for ISPs and larger corporations with a higher level of UNIX expertise.

Those setting up Linux and FreeBSD systems will probably want to adopt INN as their news server too: if you can set up a Linux network running the Apache Web server, you can set up INN to be your news server. (Just about every Linux distribution includes INN somewhere in the distribution. For instance, Slackware Linux gives you the option of installing INN when you install the operating system.)

INN is not especially complex software, and once you set up the INN configuration files, you can basically sit back and watch INN work its magic. This is definitely low-maintenance software.

Almost all INN functions are centered in the text-based inn.conf file, much in the same manner than Apache functions are centered in its three main configuration files. (The newest version of INN, 2.2, puts even more functions under the control of the inn.conf file.) This file can be edited and changed without rebuilding the system or bringing down the entire news server (an important consideration for ISPs that can't afford to bring down a news server).

For anyone experienced with UNIX and Linux, working with the inn.conf file or any other configuration files, this won't be a huge problem, since a good deal of the administration and configuration is performed via shell scripts and text files, and the tools included with INN eases these tasks. For instance, the GNU autoconf utility runs you through an INN configuration via an automated shell script, which means that you don't need to build an INN configuration by hand.

INN stores data in one of three ways. The newest and the fastest is CNFS, a container-file-based storage method. With CNFS, fixed-size files are allocated for article storage, and when the file is filled, the system moves to the next file for article storage. INN developers say that this is the best way to store articles, with some systems timed at 100-plus articles per second. If CNFS scares you or if you need to be compatible with older systems, you can use the standard article-management system (one article per file, all articles in a single directory) or timehash (which is mostly the same as the standard storage method, but it uses a different naming scheme for caching purposes).

INN also contains a number of customized UNIX/Linux commands, including: inndf, designed to show how much disk space is free (a necessity when you're pushing against your hard-disk limits), and cnfsstat, a program to show stats relating to CNFS buffers. In addition, there are programs for relaying news into electronic mail (news2mail) and for gatewaying electronic mail to news.

INN is also suitable for deploying on multiple machines running multiple operating systems. In the past, INN had different file locations for different operating systems, but these changes have been lessened over time, and you can change file location for INN based on your operating system when you run the autoconf utility.

ISPs will appreciate the nnrpd daemon, which improves system security and prevents spammers from flooding newsgroups with messages. For instance, the nnrpd daemon can control the rate a user posts messages, and it can also be run on read-only mode where no posting is allowed. Four headers to messages are added by nnrpd: X-Trace (which includes information for tracking system specific details on when the article was posted, and by whom), X-Complaints (which lets the sysadmin specify an e-mail address for folks who wish to provide some sort of feedback), NNTP-Posting-Host (listing the client's host) and NNTP-Posting-Date (noting when the article was posted). In the case where e-mail is used to provide articles, nnrpd can strip all To, Cc, and Bcc headers from incoming articles.

The pace of INN development can be glacial, although new beta versions are regularly (if not frequently) posted to the INN Web site. For commercial software, this development rate can be deadly, but for open-source software like INN - where reliability is first and foremost - this consistency can be reassuring. For the system administrator who wants a news server that won't be overwhelmed by a huge volume of articles, INN is a great choice. INN is one of the most popular news servers on the Internet - perhaps even the most popular - and its worth is proven every day by the large number of ISPs and corporations using it.

Pros: Solid and reliable, 7 Free, 7 Auto-configuration tools make INN configuration easier, 7 Specialized administration command for tracking system and disk usage
Cons: No Windows 98/NT versions, 7 All administration is performed with text-based configuration files

New: Bug fixes, configuration options, standardized directory locations
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in v2.3.0: Significant architectural changes; new internal overview interface; three new overview mechanisms; two new article storage mechanisms; new readers.conf file that allows more flexible specification of access restrictions; unified overview replaced with an overview API; all article storage and retrieval now done via the storage API; timecaf storage method has been added, similar to timehash but storing multiple articles in a single file; INN now supports embedded Python filters as well as Perl and TCL filters, and supports Python authentication hooks; preliminary support for news reading over SSL, using OpenSSL; inews is not installed setgid news and rnews is no longer installed setuid root by default; no longer uses subst; build and installation system has been substantially overhauled; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

New in v2.3.1: INN works properly for users other than news without being setgid, as it no longer downloads the active file, no longer tries to send postings to moderated groups to the moderator directly, and in general duplicates less of the functionality of nnrpd -- instead letting nnrpd handle it; added a manual page for ckpasswd; fixed a serious bug in the embedded Perl authentication hooks; compilation problem with embedded Perl filtering on Linux systems without libgdbm installed was fixed; bow complains loudly at configure time if the configured path for temporary files is world-writable, as this configuration can be a security hole; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

New in v2.3.2: innxmit can again handle regular filenames as input and storage API tokens (which allows it to be used to import an old traditional spool); fixed several problems with tagged-hash history files; fixed a very long-standing NNTP protocol bug in nnrpd; some serious performance problems with expiration of tradspool are now somewhat alleviated; added a sample subscriptions file as well as documentation for it and innmail; various other bug fixes and documentation updates; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 2

Version Reviewed: 2.2
Date of Review: 8/31/99

Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 5/7/01

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