Short for peer-to-peer, P2P refers to a decentralized platform that allows two end-users to communicate with each other without the need for a third party.
P2P systems offer a variety of functions including distributed storage, anonymous routing, parallel computing, and more.
These networks became popular among computer users for sharing MP3s and other media. P2P programs essentially make it possible to browse and download songs freely as well as connect with other computers. Since the main focus of most P2P applications is media sharing, it's common to associate them with copyright issues and software piracy.
The use of peer-to-peer is often discouraged by system administrators. This is because P2P programs can interrupt bandwidth, breach firewalls, and spread malware.
How Does Peer-to-Peer Communication Work?
Making use of peer-to-peer communication normally involves installing a P2P software on the computer first. This provides access to a network of P2P program users. Any songs or other media that are downloaded come from other computers on the network that already have those files. At the same time, the data travels from the user’s computer to others that request it. This also results in the transfer load of the file being divided between the peer users.
History of Peer-to-Peer Networks
The first use of peer-to-peer networks took place soon after the advent of personal computers in 1980. Developed in 1988, Internet Relay Chat was among the first P2P applications that allowed for sharing text. Then came Napster in 1999, enabling users to share music by connecting them with other individuals across the network. Gnutella became available a year later. Unlike Napster which made use of a centralized network, Gnutella’s network was decentralized. The following years saw the introduction of more P2P systems such as the Bitcoin network in early 2009.
Advantages of Peer-to-Peer Networks
- Peer-to-peer networks don’t require expensive servers in order to operate
- Users can set up a P2P program in their homes or small businesses
- Users can manage their own computer without the need for a network manager
- P2P networks don’t normally generate as much network traffic as client servers
- Configuration of P2P networks takes place via software wizards
P2P vs. Client Server
A peer-to-peer system consists of two or more computers that engage in media sharing. Each of these computers acts as both the client and the server, directly communicating with other computers within the same network. All computers in a P2P system can gain access to client devices that are connected to a specific computer in that network. This would only require a means of connection like a Wi-Fi router.
Client-server networks, on the other hand, involve multiple clients connecting to one or more central servers that hold most of the data. In this case, clients obtain the resources from the server. These types of networks are often faster thanks to the huge number of clients they often support. And instead of the individual user, it is the server that handles security.