P2P networks: What are they, what are their advantages and disadvantages and what types are there?

Maybe by mentioning the P2P concept to you, you’ll stay the same. It is something usual for everyone who uses this system at user level but who does not have knowledge of advanced computing and the operation of information transfer through the network.

And this is precisely what P2P or Peer to Peer is all about, because it is a network with a communication method in which all users play the same role, i.e. horizontally.

Find out what it is and how you can take advantage of this type of network to make your software and application downloads much faster and safer, here we go!

What is a Peer to Peer network and what is it for? Definition

The Peer to Peer or P2P network is a method of client to client communication that allows us to enjoy network information from an equal, who, like us, acts as both client and server. This means that it does not provide us with a superior, but someone who has similar characteristics to ours.

The aspect of information transmission works without the existence of fixed clients or servers, we are the ones who supply content to other users and receive it at the same time.

Other aspects can be defined in client-server relationships, but this one, which gives the meaning to the network, is horizontal or parallel, given, as its name indicates when translated into Spanish, between pairs, between nodes that work in the same way.

The first application of this type was Nasper, launched in 1999, and sold as software in which users establish a virtual network independent from the physical one, so that there is no administrative authority or other restriction.

Although this concept is generally referred to as content downloading programs, the truth is that, due to their characteristics, the exchange that can occur is not limited to this aspect but we have that the peer network is also used by telephone systems in the network as well as the manipulation of huge virtual information.

How does a P2P peer network work?

The contents of our computer (music, documents, videos, software…) are available to be shared and to be downloaded and executed at will by another user, just like us.

Similarly, when we search and find a content, this does not belong to a company or is on a server but the results that are reflected correspond to the content that other users have on their computers, proceeding to download them, if desired, from them.

Any computer interconnected in the same network offers and receives information in all formats at the same time. The implementation of the networks is overlapping, being built on nodes and on others. The information flow is given thanks to the bandwidth of the connected users.

What are the characteristics of Peer to Peer networks? Advantages and disadvantages

To consider a peer network as suitable, it is interesting that it has the following characteristics.

Features

  • Scalability: Its scope is global and therefore the potential user can be counted in the hundreds of millions. The greater the demand, the greater the need for nodes or points, something that is automatically solved because with our presence as a user we provide a unit for this. The addition of a new user does not mean a delay in the functionality of the services, as it happens in the server-client communications.
  • Robustness: The distribution of the networks makes them more robust, which is essential when there are failures due to data replication.
  • Decentralization: They are decentralized by definition, a characteristic intrinsic to the concept. The nodes do not have special functions and therefore are not essential. Interestingly, some of the networks we know as P2P do not have this feature.
  • Cost distribution: Resources are exchanged for resources, with the costs being divided among all the users who are part of the network.
  • Anonymity: Anonymity is desired not only by those who have a file to share but also by those who wish to download it, by the server where it is located and even by the request made to access it. However, this concept clashes with copyright, and digital rights management comes into play, a middle ground that everyone is happy with, but unfortunately does not usually work.
  • Security: Desirable but hard to get, really. What is most in demand is the identification of malicious nodes to avoid content with built-in malware, spying and other aspects that put all users at risk. For this purpose, some networks have sandboxes, multikey encryption, file comments, user reputation systems…

Advantages

  • Reduced costs: The ability to operate by sharing resources means that these networks can even be free. Another issue would be that a free service is compatible with the legality of file sharing. In any case, those that work by subscription are very economical, much more than acquiring the contents separately.
  • Great efficiency: The way to share files is simple and fast.

Disadvantages

  • Legality: Sometimes, many, copyrighted content is shared, which turns out to be, in effect, illegal. The law punishes this practice in many countries, including Spain.
  • Risk: Many of these programs that allow Peer to Peer file transfers are a gateway to malware, especially spyware. So you need to be protected, and if possible, look for a service with previews, user comments, and other methods of detecting inappropriate and risky content.

What types of P2P peer-to-peer networks are there?

The most common and interesting classification we can make is related to the degree of centralization of the networks, having that these could be centralized, mixed or pure.

Centralized

  • Its architecture is monolithic, with transactions made through a single server that serves to link all the nodes while making a distribution of the nodes that will store the contents.
  • Its administration is very dynamic, being the content permanently available.
  • Users’ privacy is limited.
  • There’s a strong lack of scalability.
  • There are single point of failure problems, related to legality and to maintenance costs and band consumption.

Mixed

  • There is a central server that acts as a hub, centralizing resources and managing them, waiting for requests.
  • There is an index system that provides an absolute address that will act as a routing terminal.
  • In addition, the inclusion of more than one server is allowed.
  • The identity of the nodes is not known, nor is their information stored, and the share between server and clients is not given.
  • These are the ones who keep the information, which will be recognized by the server.
  • Even so, with the server down, the relationship between the nodes and their communication and file transfer can be maintained.

Pure

  • It does not have central management nor does it need it.
  • They are the users, the nodes, all of them clients and servers, asking for information, receiving the requests and, in turn, storing the files.
  • It lacks a central router.

List of programs and software used to download and share P2P files

 

Below you will find the most relevant information regarding the most known and used P2P software in history, from its launch until today. Also, if you are not interested in installing programs on your computer, you can visit the best Torrent websites that are still open and have not been blocked yet…

Ares

It has its own peer network, Ares P2P Network. It was a worldwide sensation, but, above all, in the Spanish-speaking world.

Its interface was very basic and not very aesthetic in its beginnings, although it was always the winner in its time, above the rest, having a huge support for torrent files. Its negative point was the amount of malware that was introduced in files with names of interest at the time.

And although we speak in the past, the truth is that today it is still used and, in fact, its main problem has improved considerably thanks to the preview functionality that allows us to recognize whether or not what we want to download is what we are interested in. On the other hand, the amount of files that are shared is quite abundant, in a very simple way, too.

Soulseek

Focused on audio files, it is used to share musical content, mainly in .mp3, which is the most used format for tracks.

Contact between users is made through thematic rooms, so that the flow of messages and files is orderly, stable and easy to understand. In any case, we also find other compatible audio formats and, in fact, other types of files such as videos.

uTorrent

It is possibly the most widely used Peer to Peer network today. It is a self-created Bit Torrent client, very lightweight, powerful and very fast.

It also stands out the design a little more worked if we compare it with many others, even without being any wonder, and a very good classification, in the website that offers us the torrents, which allows us to find the contents in a simple and intuitive way and that has little to do with the old P2P concept.

It’s great to know that it also has a portable version and remote control of the downloads as well as other functions and extensions that make it a really complete program

BitTorrent

Another client of the homonymous network, very much used, of the classics. It is very powerful and has a remote control function to manage downloads.

eMule

Very old, the oldest, and still active. It has been precisely the fact that it is a type of open source software that makes it possible, since there is a disinterested community that is in charge of maintaining and updating it.

The revolution that it meant was given by the comparison with another P2P, eDonkey, because it gave a jump in qualities that really fascinated everyone.

It uses the eDonkey servers and Kad, a decentralized network that is interesting because it has the ability to find files that, apparently, are nowhere to be found, offering, in many cases, first-time content.

In addition, it is also very suitable for finding old content, as most users who use it are there from the beginning and the contents are often kept. Thus, not only does it stand out for its exclusive, or almost, current content, but also for its old glories. However, it is neither fast nor modern anymore.

LimeWire

It was another free Peer to Peer client designed for use on the Gnutella network. Its protocol was open and its license was GLP. Interestingly, it was also a BitTorrent client. Its replacements were WireShare and FrostWire.

Kazaa

Another file sharing application that we no longer have, due to disuse, and whose last stable version was released in 2006. It mainly worked the sharing of music in .mp3 and movies in DivX (which was so fashionable at the time), using, for this, the FastTrack protocol (from its creators).

It lived through one peak, which ended as copyright claims piled up, and another, later, which followed its re-launch, this time completely legal in all respects, as a web-based subscription service and which included contracts with big names like Universal Music, EMI and even Microsoft.

There were also versions such as Kazaa Lite K++ or Kazaa Lite Resurrection, which used their network.

iMesh

It was, in the past, a P2P app for sharing all kinds of files in as many formats as you can think of. It had its own network called IM2Net, which was centralized. It was not free and only worked on Windows.

It had a music subscription service in Canada and the United States which allowed the download of content, reaching such a level of fame that in the latter country it became the third service of its kind. You could also buy each track for a very low price. The third option, for everyone, was access to the content without rights. In addition, there was a legal service for downloading ringtones.

Morpheus (FastTrack network)

This was another P2P file sharing system for computers running Windows. At the beginning it started with Opennap as a communication protocol but soon after it became compatible with several of those used in peer to peer. Currently it has both Gnutella support and its own network, which is called Neonet.

It lives for 7 years and disappears after being denounced by important names in the music industry, along with other Stream Cast websites. However, we can still find the software, now yes, promoting a respect for the copyright of the contents that are shared.

BearShare (Gnutella network)

In this case we are talking about a program that managed to have maintenance from 2000 to 2011, when its last stable version was launched. Its forums closed in 2005 due to a court ruling and its assets were transferred, one year later, to a subsidiary of the already mentioned iMesh. The latter, based on Gnutella, allowed the downloading of files on the peer to peer network.

Before this, we were able to enjoy three versions with Gnutella. The Free version, which was free but more limited in performance and included adware. The Pro version was paid for and, as you can see, its performance improved. The Lite version was lighter and more compact.

The subsidiary that acquired the assets launched BearShare V6, which is not related to this network at all, operating alongside iMesh, as well as other products.

WinMx (OpenNap and WPNP networks)

This is a freeware-client that allows the transfer of files between computers running Windows. In 2005 it won the gold medal as the main provider of music files.

However, his fame died soon after, that same year, with the website and official servers disappearing. Even so, it can still be used as there are modifiers that work with third-party patches, unofficial ones of course.

Legal problems with copyright and the use of P2P services

If you’ve ever watched the popular shows we’ve seen before, you’ll have noticed that there’s a lot of content that should clearly not be distributed because it’s copyrighted. In other words, it is a constant crime for both the party that distributes without permission and the party that downloads it knowing its nature.

However, these are also given a legal use, which includes the exchange of public content or with various licenses that allow this transfer of information, free programs, self-created content …

Thus, the UN speaks of file sharing indicating that it is very serious that citizens are denied access to the network (whatever the reason), a totalitarian measure but which is taking place in some countries precisely because of the infringement of copyright regulations.

As for the situation in our country, there is a certain cloud that makes the downloading of content is considered legal or illegal depending on, of course, who represents you and who judges you for it.

It turns out that there is a right to private copying of content if it is not done for profit, as it is supposed to be done when downloading files in peer-to-peer networks, assuming own private consumption. This allows that a request is not necessary for the author to authorize the copy of the content.

In our country (Spain) it is allowed to use these networks, because, as we have indicated, they facilitate the access to free content to be distributed. It is up to each person to make responsible or illegal use of these, downloading and helping to distribute free or copyrighted content.

In 2008 the Spanish government indicated that linking to these networks is not a criminal activity. We do have a reform of the Penal Code in 2015 that speaks about a new crime that is committed by those who seek economic benefit, harming a third party, facilitating, without neutrality, access or easy location of content that has intellectual property if their owners do not authorize it.

This post is also available in: Português (Portuguese (Brazil))

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