Have you ever downloaded a song, TV show or movie from a website? Maybe you have Spotify or exchange files with coworkers for research projects. This type of exchange is known as peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing.
P2P sharing allows users to transfer data from other users’ computers to their own and vice-versa. This data can be anything, from a music file to a document or image. Most internet connections utilize a web server to allow people to transfer files or send emails, but with a P2P network there is no centralized server; instead, users’ computers connect directly with each other.
How it all began
You might remember Napster, the original music sharing program. Napster was also the platform that brought peer-to-peer file sharing into the spotlight. In the year we all liked to party (1999), Napster became wildly popular for sharing music files. Here’s how it worked: Napster set up a central server that linked people searching for specific files with the people who had them. But just a few short years later, in 2000, they got slapped with a lawsuit because of a pesky thing called copyright law. It turned out that musicians – and the music industry as a whole – didn’t like their hard work being distributed for free, and Napster shut down in 2001.
Today’s P2P file sharing networks still rely on the process Napster created – but they’ve also branched out from music file sharing to allow users to distribute other types of files like movies and games. Some of the more popular P2P networks include uTorrent and BitTorrent. In fact, BitTorrent is currently the primary method for P2P sharing, both legal and illegal. According to Chron, torrent traffic accounts for 20-40% of all internet use.
P2P for business
P2P often gets a bad rep due to the prevalence of illegal file sharing and its economic impact. But there legal applications for a P2P network, too. By offering downloads as torrents rather than as a direct download, can reduce operational costs by using less bandwidth. Also, when data is shared as torrents, users can continue sharing data even if the server is down.
Disadvantages of P2P networks
● Risk of viruses: Some users mask audio files with viruses that infect your network once downloaded.
● Spyware and malware: Depending on what file sharing service you use, you could be at risk of unknowingly downloading harmful software that causes pop-ups and slows down your computer.
At the end of the day, peer-to-peer sharing isn’t illegal and many networks are used for legitimate means, especially in the business world. It is only when copyrighted material is being shared that P2P becomes subject to legal issues.