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Post by Peter Julias with LA Cloud Developers and Builders
P2P networking has generated tremendous interest worldwide among both Internet surfers and computer
networking professionals. P2P software systems like Kazaa and Napster rank amongst the most popular software
applications ever. Numerous businesses and Web sites have promoted "peer to peer" technology as the future of Internet
Although they have actually existed for many years, P2P technologies promise to radically change the future of networking.
P2P file sharing software has also created much controversy over legality and "fair use." In general, experts disagree
on various details of P2P and precisely how it will evolve in the future.
Traditional Peer to Peer Networks
The P2P acronym technically stands for
peer to peer. Webopedia defines P2P as
"A type of network in which each
workstation has equivalent capabilities and responsibilities. This differs from client/server architectures, in which some
computers are dedicated to serving the others."
This definition captures the traditional meaning of peer to peer networking.
Computers in a peer to peer network are typically situated physically near to each other and run similar networking protocols
and software. Before home networking became popular, only small businesses and schools built peer to peer networks.
Home Peer to Peer
home computer networks today are peer to peer networks. Residential users configure their computers in peer workgroups to
allow sharing of files, printers and other resources equally among all of the devices. Although one computer may act as a
file server or Fax server at any given time, other home computers often have equivalent capability to handle those responsibilities.
wired and wireless home networks qualify as peer to peer environments. Some may argue that the installation of a network router or similar centerpiece device means that network is
no longer peer to peer. From the networking point of view, this is inaccurate. A router simply joins the home network to the
Internet; it does not by itself change how resources within the network are shared.
P2P File Sharing Networks
When most people hear the term "P2P",
they think not of traditional peer networks, but rather peer to peer file sharing over the Internet. P2P file sharing systems
have become the single most popular class of Internet applications in this decade.
A P2P network implements search and data transfer protocols
above the Internet Protocol
(IP). To access a P2P network,
users simply download and install a suitable P2P client application.
Numerous P2P networks and P2P software applications exist. Some
P2P applications work only with one P2P network, while others operate cross-network. Likewise, some P2P networks support only
one application, while others support multiple applications.
A good definition of P2P software was proposed by Dave Winer of UserLand
Software many years ago when P2P was first becoming mainstream. Dave suggests that P2P software applications include these
seven key characteristics:
the user interface runs outsides of a Web browser
computers in the system can act as both
clients and servers
the software is easy to use and well-integrated
the application includes tools to support users wanting to create
content or add functionality
the application makes connections with other users
the application does something new or
the software supports "cross-network" protocols like SOAP or XML-RPC
In this modern view of peer to peer computing, P2P networks stretch across the entire Internet,
not just a home local area
network (LAN). Easy-to-use
P2P software applications allow both geeks and non-technical people to participate.
Kazaa, Napster and More P2P Software Applications
The original MP3
file sharing system, Napster became the world's most popular Internet
software application literally overnight. Napster typified the new "modern" P2P system defined above: a simple user
interface running outside of the browser supporting both file serving and downloads. Furthermore, Napster offered chat rooms
to connect its millions of users and performs a new and exciting (in the sense of "controversial") service.
The name Napster
referred both to the P2P network and the file sharing client that it supported. Besides being limited at the beginning to
a single client application, Napster employed a proprietary network protocol, but thess technical details did not materially
affect its popularity.
When the original unregulated Napster service was shut down, a number of P2P systems competed for that audience.
Most Napster uses migrated to the Kazaa and Kazaa Lite software applications and the FastTrack network. FastTrack grew to become even larger than the original Napster
has suffered from its own legal troubles, but various other systems, like eDonkey / Overnet, have continued the legacy of free P2P file sharing software.
Popular P2P Applications and Networks
No one P2P application
or network enjoys exclusive popularity on the Internet today. Popular P2P networks include:
and popular P2P
Many businesses have been inspired by the success P2P applications and are busily brainstorming potentially interesting
new P2P software. However, some in the networking community believe that the success of Napster, Kazaa and other P2P applications
have little to do with technology and more to do with piracy. It remains to be proven whether mass-market P2P systems can
translate into profitable business ventures.
The "P2P" acronym has become a household term. The term refers to a combination
of things: software applications, network technologies, and the ethics of file sharing.
In the years ahead, expect the concept
of P2P to continue evolving. The networking industry will introduce a wider range of peer to peer applications that should
compete for attention with traditional desktop and client / server systems. P2P protocol standards will be adopted to a greater
extent. Finally, the ramifications of free P2P application information sharing on copyright and intellectual property law
will slowly be settled through the process of public debate.