Peer-to-peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer file sharing is the distribution and sharing of digital media using peer-to-peer (P2P) networking technology. P2P file sharing allows users to access media files such as books, music, movies, and games using a P2P software program that searches for other connected computers on a P2P network to locate the desired content.[1] The nodes (peers) of such networks are end-user computers and distribution servers (not required).

Peer-to-peer file sharing technology has evolved through several design stages from the early networks like Napster, which popularized the technology, to the later models like the BitTorrent protocol. Microsoft uses it for Update distribution (Windows 10) and online playing games (e.g. the mmorpg Skyforge[2]) use it as their content distribution network for downloading large amounts of data without incurring the dramatic costs for bandwidth inherent when providing just a single source.

Several factors contributed to the widespread adoption and facilitation of peer-to-peer file sharing. These included increasing Internet bandwidth, the widespread digitization of physical media, and the increasing capabilities of residential personal computers. Users are able to transfer one or more files from one computer to another across the Internet through various file transfer systems and other file-sharing networks.[1]

History

Peer-to-peer file sharing became popular with the introduction of Napster, a file sharing application and a set of central servers that linked people who had files with those who requested files. The central index server indexed the users and their shared content. When someone searched for a file, the server searched all available copies of that file and presented them to the user. The files would be transferred directly between the two private computers. A limitation was that only music files could be shared.[3] Because this process occurred on a central server, however, Napster was held liable for copyright infringement and shut down in July 2001. It later reopened as a pay service.[4]

After Napster was shut down, the most popular peer-to-peer services were Gnutella and Kazaa. These services also allowed users to download files other than music, such as movies and games.[3]

Technology evolution

Napster and eDonkey2000, which both used a central server-based model, may be classified as the first generation of P2P systems.[5] These systems relied on the operation of the respective central servers, and thus were susceptible to centralized shutdown. The second generation of P2P file sharing encompasses networks like Kazaa, Gnutella and Gnutella2, which are able to operate without any central servers, eliminated the central vulnerability by connecting users remotely to each other.[6]

The third generation of filesharing networks are the so-called darknets, including networks like Freenet, which provide user anonymity in addition to the independence from central servers.

The BitTorrent protocol represents a special case. In principle, it is a filesharing protocol of the first generation, relying on central servers called trackers to coordinate users. However, it does not form a network in the traditional sense. Instead new, separate networks of coordinating users are created for every set of files, called a torrent. Newer extensions of the protocol removes the need of centralized trackers, allow the usage of a decentralized server-independent network for source identification purposes, referred to as the Mainline DHT. This allows BitTorrent to encompass certain aspects of a filesharing network of the second generation as well. Users create an index file containing the metadata of the files they want to share, and upload the index files to websites where they are shared with others.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is also efficient in terms of cost.[7][8] The system administration overhead is smaller because the user is the provider and usually the provider is the administrator as well. Hence each network can be monitored by the users themselves. At the same time, large servers sometimes require more storage and this increases the cost since the storage has to be rented or bought exclusively for a server. However, usually peer-to-peer file sharing does not require a dedicated server.[9]