What is a peer-to-peer network

Internet Peer-to-Peer - what is it?

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If you have to deal with computer networks every now and then, you have probably come across the term peer-to-peer. But what exactly is it? Here's everything you need to know.

What is Peer-to-Peer?

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) is decentralized communication in which each party has the same functions and can start a communication session. In contrast to the client-server model, in which the client makes a service request and the server answers the request, each node in the P2P network model can work as both a client and a server at the same time.

P2P systems can be used to provide anonymized network traffic routing, massive parallel computing environments, distributed storage, and other functions. Most P2P programs focus on media distribution. This includes, for example, video and music files. As a result, peer-to-peer is often associated with software piracy and copyright infringement.

How Peer-to-Peer Networks Work

Typically, when a user downloads a file, they open a web browser, visit the appropriate website, and download the file. In this case, the website acts as the server and the user's computer acts as the client, receiving the data. The whole thing can be compared to a one-way street in which the downloaded data is transferred from point A - the website - to point B - the user's computer.

However, if the user downloads the same file over a peer-to-peer network, the download will be handled differently. In this case, the user has to install peer-to-peer software on their computer, which makes their computer part of the peer-to-peer virtual network. If the user now downloads a file, he will receive different fragments of the file from different computers in the peer-2-peer network on which this file already exists.

At the same time he sends fragments he has to other participants in the peer-2-peer network who ask for them. This situation can be compared to a two-lane road: the file resembles numerous small pieces of data that reach the user's computer, but leave it again on request. In this way, the data transfer load is distributed to all peers that contain the requested file.

Client-server in large and small networks

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Client-server networks in companies often include numerous clients that connect to at least one central server that stores data. Clients then access these server-side resources. Client-server networks in companies are often linked via high-speed networks because, for example, the user interface is also delivered from the server to clients. Such networks are often specially secured because company-specific data are processed.

In home networks, each computer can provide individual resources for other computers in the home network, including printers and hard drives. The providing computer is the server, the accessing computer is the client. Depending on the needs of the users, for example, all computers can share hard drive content such as photos and video clips with everyone else.

Benefits of a Peer-to-Peer Network

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On the Internet, peer-to-peer networks handle a large volume of file-sharing traffic by distributing the load across many computers. Since P2P networks are not based on central servers, they can be scaled better and are more resilient than client-server networks in the event of failures or traffic bottlenecks.

In addition, P2P networks can be easily expanded. As the number of peers on the Internet increases, so does the performance of the P2P network if each additional computer has its own connection to the Internet.

P2P and client-server operation can be used on the same computer at the same time. In this way, computers can make the files that they receive via P2P available to all other computers in the home network via hard disk shares. Conversely, home network clients can upload files to the share where the P2P software can find them and then make them available to other P2P participants on the Internet. This enables data to be shared in both directions.