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Alt.Binaries Decoded

May 14, 2010

Alt.Binaries is a hierarchy in Usenet newsgroups. To understand exactly what it is, you must understand how newsgroup hierarchies work. Newsgroups are organized in a hierarchal fashion, with the major hierarchies (known as the "Big 8") being:

Grouping Description
Comp.* Discussion of computer-related topics
News.* Discussion of Usenet itself
Sci.* Scientific subjects
Rec.* Recreational activities (i.e. games and hobbies)
Soc.* Social issues
Talk.* Discussion of controversial issues such as politics and religion
Humanities.* Literature, philosophy, etc.
Misc.* Anything which doesn't fit in any of the other hierarchies

Historically, the original Big 8 newsgroups were moderated and discussions regarding recipes, drugs, and sex were not allowed. This brought about the creation of the alt. (short for "alternative") Usenet hierarchy. This hierarchy is not moderated or censored. The first sub-hierarchy after alt was created was alt.gourmand.

So why alt.binaries? When Usenet was first created, the files were all text files. Most Usenet servers placed size limits on individual files, since they were text and not likely to surpass the limits. With the advent of pictures and movies and videos (binary files), file sizes increased significantly. There was also the problem of how the information in these files could be transferred electronically. Very briefly, a way was created for a newsreader to convert binary files to text (through Base64 and yEnc) to transfer them electronically and them have them converted back by a newsreader on the other end. Because of the restrictions of what could be posted under the Big 8, the alt.binaries sub-hierarchy was created to handle these new files.

Most Usenet servers still have file size limits. Therefore, most binary files are broken up into smaller files when they are converted to text. The trick is to retrieve all the pieces in order to reassemble the original binary file. Alt.binaries grew in size very quickly and many sub-sub-hierarchies have come about, such as

Basically, alt.binaries is the hierarchal location of most binary (pictures, movies, and audio) files residing on Usenet. Because a binary file is not much use without all of its pieces, competition rates have become very important when considering Usenet providers. For a list and comparison of different Usenet providers, go to our provider comparison page.