peer-to-peer networking

a.k.a. distributed networking, commonly refers to BitTorrent and Kazaa, file-sharing services on the Internet

A network in which the server is "nondedicated" (meaning it is also used as a workstation). In this kind of network, every computer acts on its own (storing files and accessing peripherals) and can "see" every other computer on the network (if it has the proper access privileges). Each workstation has equivalent capabilities and responsibilities.

Peer-to-peer networks were once thought best for smaller networks (those with fewer than a dozen computers), but since most PCs can be set up to share files, a large number of users can easily access each other's hard drive via the Internet (as evidenced by music-swapping services). In most large networks, though, that ability begins to break down because common resources cannot be shared efficiently. That's why client/server architectures have some computers that are dedicated to serving the others.

Peer-to-peer networks are generally simpler, but they usually do not offer comparable performance under heavy loads. Gnutella represents "distributed peer-to-peer" whereas Napster represents "centralized peer-to-peer". There is a widespread belief that the more people who connect to a network, the more valuable that connection becomes.

Historical perspective: Napster, created by Shawn Fanning in 1999 (when he was nineteen years old), was an application that gave individuals access to one another's MP3 files on each other's hard drives, creating a peer-to-peer network system via the Internet. It operated on most operating systems (including Windows 95, 98, 2000, and NT systems) and several other versions evolved, including Macster, the Macintosh-compatible software version; Gnapster, the open source version; and Aimster, which allowed users to share files via AOL's Instant Messaging program, AIM. Because Napster searched individual hard drives, the number and variety of MP3 files always varied as not all Napster users were online at the same time (therefore, what you found one day may not be there the next).

Eventually Napster, Inc., came under fire from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which considered Napster as copyright-infringement software. But because the MP3 files didn't reside on Napster's servers-and since Napster didn't charge a fee for the service, critics felt the RIAA had a weak legal leg to stand on, however they were wrong and Napster lost. A federal judge and an appeals court in San Francisco both ruled in 2002 that Napster was liable for contributory or vicarious copyright violations, because it was allowing millions of users to download music for free. Napster eventually shut down and went bankrupt, later re-emerging as a legitimate, online music service.

NetLingo Classification: Technical Terms