Do you remember back in high school when your teachers used to divide you and your classmates into groups to work on projects together? Everyone is ideally equally important in the group and each member is expected to contribute to the final output.
That is how peer-to-peer (P2P) works. It refers to a group of computers that are interconnected to each other to share the same workload, rights, and duties without a central server to manage them.
Much like your high school group, the main purpose of a P2P network is to share its resources and let everyone involved work together to accomplish a specific task or service.
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How Does P2P Sharing Work?
In a typical network, a server to which several computers are connected to does a lot of the work to ensure system users get access to every file or program they need to perform tasks. A P2P network works a lot differently. It does not use a server, for one. Instead, all the interconnected computers act as servers for one another by sharing files and resources, making work faster.
Real-World Applications of P2P Networks
Nowadays, P2P networks extensively serve as a means to distribute information because of their efficiency and scalability. Here are some widely known applications of P2P networks:
1. Instant Messaging (IM)
Before, the use of IM required the utilization of so-called “Internet relay chat (IRC)” servers. But since these servers can only handle a limited number of online users at a time, their services are prone to delays that can have a significant impact on business- or mission-critical operations. P2P networks changed that. By sharing the required bandwidth among users, communication became more efficient and scalable, allowing for faster exchange.
2. File Sharing
The idea of sharing the load across a network gained mainstream adoption during Napster’s heyday. The platform allowed music sharing without shelling out money. While the service no longer exists due to copyright violations, the site heralded the birth of other file-sharing applications. These programs relied on the concept of giving and taking. Users who want to download a file can use others’ resources while their computers allow other users to use their system resources at the same time.
3. IP Telephony
P2P is also widely used in voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Skype is probably the best example of a service that utilizes P2P. Skype uses a FastTrack P2P network that enables users to share their bandwidth with others so they can all enjoy uninterrupted real-time chat, audio, and video communication. It allows users to call and send messages to fellow users, join audio conferences, and share files.
4. Data Storage
Most enterprises use P2P networks to store massive amounts of data for their business operations. It lets organizations store and replicate data in different locations across multiple countries fast by dividing said data into smaller packets during transmission. That way, companies are assured that their data remains safe from hacking. Since the information can come from various sources, simultaneous downloading of files won’t slow down network speed as well.
Peercasting allows users to stream content. The Peer Distributed Transfer Protocol (PDTP) uses a peer-to-peer system, which delivers content from a central server. The files then travel through peers within the network. The distribution lessens the load on a single system’s bandwidth. As such, the more connected users there are, the faster a download or upload is.
These are just some of the useful applications of P2P networks. Over time, we may see more.
Pros and Cons of P2P Sharing
Like any other technology, P2P sharing has its ups and downs. We listed some of them below.
For administrators, P2P sharing is cost-effective in that they don’t have to purchase and set up a dedicated server to enable resource sharing. It is also reliable given that even if one of the peers or connected computers fail, the network will continue to function since all of them essentially function as servers.
A P2P network is also scalable. In a typical network setup, the dedicated server could get overloaded with the addition of users, which is not the case in P2P sharing. In fact, the addition of users actually means more resources for others.
Security is probably the biggest downside to P2P sharing. Because there’s essentially no server or administrator so to speak, no one is responsible for ensuring that all connected computers are malware-free. If one of the peers is infected, that could spread to other systems. The lack of administrator could also be challenging when an issue occurs. There would be no one to contact for a fix.
Backup recovery is not possible as well since there is no centralized repository. When a file or resource disappears, it may no longer be retrievable.
Is P2P Sharing Illegal?
P2P sharing is not illegal per se. It can be considered an illicit activity, however, if the files shared on a network are copyrighted. That could be said for P2P sharing that allows users access to movies, TV series, books, and similar content. The users don’t buy or pay for the goods they download and are actually depriving the copyright holders of revenue from their intellectual property.
But P2P sharing is legal when used by companies as a means to make huge files available to all faster and without overwhelming their central servers.
P2P is a great means to share files and resources as we’ve seen but like other technologies, it has pros and cons. It can also be considered illegal so caution is necessary.