XPAT on news.mozilla.org

[The Thunderbird 2 version of this can be found here.]

Every once in a while, someone on news.mozilla.org will enquire about receiving an error message “A News (NNTP) error occurred: xpat not supported“, when trying to search newsgroups on news.mozilla.org; so I thought I’d post my ‘stock’ answer. 🙂

News.mozilla.org is hosted by Giganews, who’s servers do not support XPAT commands.
To quote one of the Giganews support personnel:

“The XPAT command attempts to search through our entire spool of over 700 million articles, to match on a specific keyword, that is often found only in a handful of newsgroups. The command puts enough of a load on our servers, that several people using this at one time can affect the performance that all of our customers receive.”

Disabling XPAT support is not an uncommon thing. When using the “Search Messages” function in Mozilla Thunderbird [Edit–>Find–>Search Messages], the XPAT command is used to search that news server. The workaround for this is to make Thunderbird search messages locally. There are a couple of ways to do that:

1. Use the search bar [View–>Toolbars–>Search Bar].

2. Before opening the search window, you can switch to offline mode [File–>Offline–>Work Offline]. There’s also an offline toggle icon in the bottom left of the Thunderbird window.

Additionally, all mozilla.* newsgroups are archived on Google Groups, which is searchable using Google Groups.

5 Responses

  1. »Q« August 14, 2006 / 3:13 am

    The Giganews support person is not quite correct. Before an XPAT command must come a GROUP command, and only articles in the specified group should be searched, not the full spool of over 700 million posts. If enabling XPAT on the software Giganews uses would result in the entire spool being searched, something is wrong.

    But the overall point that a few users using XPAT can put a significant strain on the server, affecting performance for all users, is certainly legit.

  2. Lauw August 17, 2006 / 3:39 am

    I don’t understand it, but half a year ago I could download binaries from mozilla, it was the best newsserver online ever, but I can’t download from it anymore… but ik don’t know why! maybe you can explain te me why?


  3. J.B. Nicholson-Owens August 21, 2006 / 2:00 pm

    Giganews could have one server generate an index for XPAT to fgrep or search through (with some faster indexed search). Then Giganews could offer XPAT but tell users that articles will take up to an hour (for instance) before they show up in the XPAT search results. I believe the indexer used in Beagle would be of assistance here; it’s free software (in the best sense: free to run, inspect, share, and modify).

    This would let them define how often the XPAT data is created and contain how much CPU time and storage is used.

    Also, Thunderbird should be extended to do online the brute-force searching it will do offline.

  4. J.B. Nicholson-Owens August 21, 2006 / 2:03 pm

    By the way, your blog preview is broken. It doesn’t show paragraph breaks so it doesn’t accurately preview the post as it will appear when the post is submitted. Also, the preview inserts an apostrophe before the apostrophe in the word “doesn’t” (probably any other apostrophe use as well).

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