In traditional networks, there is a computer server which receives requests from various computers, processes those requests and sends data back to the computer. Generally, for every server, there are a lot more computers who are sending requests to the server. Thus, the server is the main device which is spending its resources. On the other hand, in a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, all the computers on the network are equally privileged and directly connected to each other over local intranet or Internet. Thus, each computer acts as a peer to all other computers on the network, hence the name peer-to-peer network. Thus, the technical knowledge and cost of maintaining a separate server is eliminated.
All of the peers send and serve requests. There is no single server through which data is sent from one computer to the other. All the computers share some resource, which might be computational capacity (i.e. processing power), storage, network bandwidth, etc. There generally exists specific software for a specific kind of a P2P network, i.e. a file sharing software over a P2P network will be able to perfrom only file sharing.
The P2P network has an added advantage that failure of one peer does not disrupt the entire network. This is a huge benefit over the client-server architecture where failure of the server will disrupt the entire network. File transfers can be started immmediately once the file is available on the P2P network with atleast one peer. Besides, availability of files with multiple peers speeds up the file download.
The concept of P2P network became popular with the release of a software called Napster in 1999 using which users could share digital music amongst each other. Presently, one of the biggest application of P2P networks is the Bittorrent protocol using which the users can share any kind of files over the Internet.
There are issues with P2P networks, some of which are as follows:
- Sharing of files over P2P networks often leads to copyright infringement and can lead to legal problems.
- Transferring data over a P2P network is unsafe and many viruses, trojans, worms and other malware is transferred over the network.
- P2P networks often share illegal and immoral material, e.g. pornography.
- If you’re downloading a file from a peer and the peer deletes it, you will not be able to download the file.
- Some of the P2P software itself can not be trusted since it may allow a hacker to access the entire network.
- Personal information of a peer (e.g. IP address, location, etc) is disclosed in a P2P network.
For Wikipedia entry on Peer-to-Peer Network, click here.
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