Peer-to-peer sharing was a feature of the defunct ARPANET of 1969. As technology advanced, so did the government and entertainment industry giants’ efforts to suppress file-sharing.
However, P2P has survived well into the 21st century and it seems that the best is yet to come for the P2P community. Numerous new technologies are springing up and innovations and improvements are constantly being introduced.
§Crash Course on the History of P2P
File sharing began back when the first computer networks were introduced. The ARPANET allowed users to send and receive files directly – that was back in 1969. One of the earliest transfer protocols was FTP (file transfer protocol). It was introduced in 1971.
In 1979, Usenet was born. It was primarily made for dial-up technology, but it made its way into the internet more than a decade later. Users could exchange files on bulletin boards. The video game Doom first became popular on bulletin boards in the early 1990s.
Two decades later in 1999, Napster was created, and with it, the modern era of modern P2P file sharing. Napster used a centralized indexing server, which would prove to be its downfall. Almost immediately after its introduction, Napster experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. By 2000, it had more than a million users. The next year, Metallica sued Napster and by the July of the same year, the service was shut down.
One year after Napster’s inception, Gnutella led a new wave. Unlike its predecessors, Gnutella was decentralized and allowed more people to use the platform at the same time. LimeWire is perhaps the most famous Gnutella client.
The next big step in the development of P2P file sharing happened in 2001 when Bram Cohen introduced Bittorrent. This platform is still in use today, one of the oldest and most widely used P2P protocols.
Bittorrent introduced a host of innovations. Users could search for files on online sites that contain trackers, while the file sharing happened directly between the users. This significantly improved transfer speeds. Additionally, Bittorrent clients would break a file into small fragments for multiple hosts, thus increasing the download speeds tremendously.
Bitcoin was introduced eight years after Bittorrent and it’s still in prevalent use today. Though it wasn’t designed for P2P file sharing, it brought about a new generation of P2P storage frameworks. It is based on blockchain.
Blockchain is so named for a constantly growing list of connected blocks. Each block or record contains data, a unique hash number, and the previous block’s hash. A blockchain is automatically updated every 10 minutes and uses a decentralized P2P network which anyone can join.
IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) network and protocol were introduced in 2015. IPFS is the next step in P2P file sharing that works similarly to Bittorrent and other torrent protocols. Users can download as well as host content. There is no central server and each user has a small portion of a data package.
It is also similar to Blockchain in that it uses connected blocks protected with hash numbers. Also, the data within IPFS blocks can’t be easily manipulated without changing the block’s hash. However, IPFS does support file versioning.
Ether is another popular P2P sharing platform based on blockchain technology. It is somewhat similar to Bitcoin; Ethereum is the name of the cryptocurrency used on Ether network.
Ether was launched in 2014 as an open-source platform. You can use it to anonymously make transactions and share data with other users.
Similar to some other advanced Blockchain networks, Ether uses Smart Contracts. These are protocols designed to facilitate the execution of transactions by cutting out the middle man.
§The Start of P2P
The initial vision of Tim Berners-Lee, regarded as the inventor of the World Wide Web, was for the internet to be similar to a P2P network. He envisioned the internet as a place where all users would and should be active content contributors and editors.
Its early precursor, the ARPANET, allowed two remote computers to send and receive data packets. However, it wasn’t a self-organized nor decentralized file-sharing system. Additionally, it didn’t support content and context-based routing.
Usenet addressed many of those issues, continuing and evolving the idea of a free internet.
§The Continued Appeal of P2P
Nowadays, thanks to advanced technology, P2P networks can offer much more than content and context-based file searches. Some of the top reasons for using and improving P2P platforms today include:
- Anonymity and privacy. P2P networks allow users to remain anonymous and protect their privacy on the network.
- Cooperation and resource sharing. Many are drawn to P2P networks for the cooperation and sharing of resources.
- Trust and accountability. Modern P2P networks are largely based on trust and the transactions have to be community approved.
- Decentralization and lack of censorship. Today’s P2P networks are decentralized, thus preventing almost all forms of censorship. This ensures network neutrality.
- Data integrity and encryption. Blockchain introduced hash numbers and proof-of-work. The latest innovations include encryption and smart contracts.
The BitTorrent protocol remains popular even as almost two decades have passed since its introduction. It faced many adversities throughout the years in the form of more modern and advanced P2P platforms, poor business decisions on the part of its creator and his associates, and countless legal problems, even with the US government.
What kept BitTorrent alive all this time is the fact that it’s decentralized, easy to use, and built for easy transfers of huge amounts of data. Other than that, Facebook, Blizzard, and Twitter have openly admitted to using BitTorrent. Most importantly, the values of sharing and cooperation among BitTorrent users kept the flame burning through the dark times.
§P2P Hall of Fame
Here’s a list of some of the most important people in the history of P2P sharing.
- Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
- Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, founders of Napster.
- Bram Cohen, the mastermind behind the BitTorrent protocol.
- Gottfrid Svartholm, Fredrik Neij, and Peter Sunde, creators of The Pirate Bay.
- Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Blockchain technology.
P2P is starting to gain traction in the outside world. More and more people are adopting and incorporating the rules and ideas that govern P2P file-sharing technologies into their lives. This is especially true of self-organizing communities that sprung up in recent years.
Self-organizing communities share a number of values and principles characteristic of P2P technologies. They might be appealing to a wide range of individuals and groups, most notably those interested in cooperation and resource sharing, proponents of decentralization, and the occasional anarchistic souls.