What is Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networking?

Peer-to-peer networks are online communities where members share, search and download files which are located on their computers.

Each member of the community has its own collection of files which it shares with others in the community. There is no central computer where files are stored.

To become a member of a community you need to install a software program (usually available as a download from the Internet) on your computer. All members of the community have the same software thus enabling the transferring of files.

Once you have installed the software, community members can start downloading files from your computer and you can start searching and downloading files from anybody else in the community.

Music, picture and movie files are commonly shared in P2P networks.

A peer-to-peer (or P2P) computer network is a network that relies on the computing power and bandwidth of the participants in the network rather than concentrating it in a relatively low number of servers. P2P networks are typically used for connecting nodes via largely ad hoc connections. Such networks are useful for many purposes. Sharing content files (see file sharing) containing audio, video, data or anything in digital format is very common, and realtime data, such as telephony traffic, is also passed using P2P technology.

A pure peer-to-peer network does not have the notion of clients or servers, but only equal peer nodes that simultaneously function as both "clients" and "servers" to the other nodes on the network. This model of network arrangement differs from the client-server model where communication is usually to and from a central server. A typical example for a non peer-to-peer file transfer is an FTP server where the client and server programs are quite distinct, and the clients initiate the download/uploads and the servers react to and satisfy these requests.

Some networks and channels, such as Napster, OpenNAP, or IRC @find, use a client-server structure for some tasks (e.g., searching) and a peer-to-peer structure for others. Networks such as Gnutella or Freenet use a peer-to-peer structure for all purposes, and are sometimes referred to as true peer-to-peer networks, although Gnutella is greatly facilitated by directory servers that inform peers of the network addresses of other peers.

Peer-to-peer architecture embodies one of the key technical concepts of the internet, described in the first internet Request for Comments, "RFC 1, Host Software" dated 7 April 1969. More recently, the concept has achieved recognition in the general public in the context of the absence of central indexing servers in architectures used for exchanging multimedia files.

The concept of peer to peer is increasingly evolving to an expanded usage as the relational dynamic active in distributed networks, i.e. not just computer to computer, but human to human. Yochai Benkler has developed the notion of commons-based peer production to denote collaborative projects such as free software. Associated with peer production are the concept of peer governance (referring to the manner in which peer production projects are managed) and peer property (referring to the new type of licenses which recognize individual authorship but not exclusive property rights, such as the GNU General Public License and the Creative Commons License