What is P2P file sharing and how it works?

Julie Cole
Julie Cole | Contributing Writer
Last updated: April 8, 2021
what is P2P file sharing and how it works
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The internet has become more than just a means of communication over the years. It’s where a growing number of people transact their business: buying, selling, banking, researching, and of course file downloading and sharing. An innovation of peer-to-peer sharing has revolutionized how files are distributed over the internet. Now it’s an ordinary habit for many internet users, allowing them to download content consistently, fast and more reliably. And yet, many of us still can’t tell what is P2P exactly.

What is P2P

Peer-to-peer or P2P means that several computers are networked to use a distributed architecture and share workloads. This network is called a peer-to-peer network. In this type of system, every computer can communicate with all the other computers on the network, but in general, each one stores its own files and runs its own applications.

The devices that are part of a peer-to-peer network are referred to as peers. Every peer in the network is equal to the other peers. There are no advantaged peers, and there is no central administrator computer in the network. Peers act as both servers and clients at the same time.

Additionally, every resource available in a peer-to-peer network is shared among the peers. The shared resources in a peer to peer network can be things such as network bandwidth, disk storage space or processor usage. However, the most common use for peer-to-peer networks is for sharing files on the internet – interconnected devices can send data and receive files simultaneously.

How peer to peer file sharing works?

Suppose you want to download a file. You open your web browser and visit the website from which you want to download the file. In this case, the site works as a server, and your computer acts as a client which receives the data. You can compare it to a one-way road, where the file that you download is transferred from point A (the website) to point B (your computer).

If you download the same file through a peer-to-peer network, the download is performed differently. You need a peer-to-peer software, for example, a Gnutella program that will be installed on your computer. It creates a virtual network of peer-to-peer application users. Then, when you download a file, it is received in parts and bits that come from various computers (that already have that file) in the network. At the same time, the data is also sent from your computer to the ones who ask for it. This situation is similar to a two-way road; the file is like multiple small bits of data that come to your computer but also leave when requested. In fact, the file transfer load is distributed between the peer computers.

Why do we need peer-to-peer networks?

We need peer-to-peer networks to link computers without the obligation of configuring a server. Having to create a server for everything is very expensive and difficult to manage, and people use cheaper alternatives. Here are some benefits of using peer to peer networks:

  • Low infrastructure and bandwidth costs

Downloading content involves lots of servers and many of them are only used at peak hours. Peer-to-peer networks do not require a server. Also by offloading bandwidth to a P2P network, you can save money because users share their bandwidth within it.

  • Scalability

Every new user brings fresh resources to the network. Therefore, it can scale organically with the user growth.

  • No centralized networks

One simple problem can take down the whole centralized network. But with peer-to-peer networks, they are naturally self-repairing and self-tuning. Since every peer is easily replaceable in its task and can be taken over by other peers if it fails. So, even if you shut down one of the peers, the others continue to work and communicate. You have to close down all the peers for the network to stop working.

  • Privacy

The files transferred between users are encrypted. There is no administrator to intercept files requested or no tracking can be done. Moreover, the identity of the person who requests for a specific file can be hidden from the destination if it is forwarded to several in-between peers. Therefore, P2P almost acts like a VPN or a VPN tunnel.

Peer-to-peer security concerns

Unlike client-server networks, peer-to-peer networks are vulnerable to security attacks. This is because each computer participates as a server and as a client. There is no centralized server available to manage and control the access to data. Therefore, your computer can be accessed anytime, and hackers can easily launch attacks. Also, corrupted data can be shared on these networks by modifying files that are already on it to introduce malicious codes or viruses. Most P2P network systems may allow access to data on a computer and even compromise the entire network. To ensure that you download books, music, movies, games and other essential files without compromising your security ensure that:

  • backup is performed on each device separately;
  • users use separate passwords on each device in the network;
  • network security is applied to each computer separately.

Peer-to-peer software has changed the internet and our lives forever. You do not have to save files in a disk and carry it. You can easily share large files through P2P. For instance, some online gaming sites use peer-to-peer for downloading games between users. It is estimated that P2P contributes 40 to 70 percent of all internet traffic, so there is no reason why we should not embrace the technology.

Hopefully, we’ve managed to answer the main question: What is P2P file sharing and how it works. Please leave your comment below if you have any more questions or remarks.

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  1. Ananya

    Thanks bro for explaining me a lot. This is very helpful

  2. denimjeans

    Is a shared Google Drive or Dropbox considered a p2p sharing? How can a small company add an extra security layer to it?

  3. mattcarver

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ve been looking for a way to explan how this works for a school project, and this was a really good explanation. I’ll be looking at the rest of the articles on your site for my project, too – really good job! I think I understand how downloading stuff works now lol. I never realized I was getting pieces of other people’s stuff.

  4. Semira

    I read on some website that P2P is a controversial technology because it is widely used for piracy. Does this means it can allow access to your files without your consent or what do you have to say about this?

  5. Angel

    Hi! Is this how Torrent works? Sorry if it’s a silly question, I’m new to all this stuff. But I’m trying to learn, and your articles are really helpful. Thank you guys 🙂

    1. Julie

      This is pretty much it, but we’ve gone into depth about how exactly torrenting works here: https://vpnpro.com/torrenting/what-is-bit-torrenting/

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