What Is Peer-to-Peer?

Over the last few decades, peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing has exploded in popularity, and it is now being used by millions of people across the globe. Instead of getting your files from centralized servers, this system allows you to directly download packets of data from other users.

While there are a few risks associated with this type of system, it is now the preferred file-sharing option for many people. It is also extremely popular among those who download pirated content, as well as users who live in countries that have strict rules regarding Internet usage.

Overall, Peer-to-Peer file-sharing is nothing more than a data transfer tool, and it can be used for a wide variety of purposes. If you are no longer interested in downloading your files from central servers that are owned by unknown companies, then P2P might be an excellent option for you.

Here is a closer look at exactly how this technology works, some of its benefits, and a few steps that you can take to protect yourself while downloading files.

The Basics of Peer-to-Peer

Many people are surprised to hear that the Internet was actually founded on P2P. A man named Timothy Berners-Lee was one of the founding fathers of the world wide web, and his vision for the Internet was essentially a largescale Peer-to-Peer file-sharing network.

After a few decades of development, P2P exploded in popularity when Internet users began sharing files on platforms like Napster. While pirating is one of the major driving forces behind peer-to-peer, it isn’t the only reason why many people prefer this type of file transfer system.

When you send a file as an email attachment or text a picture to a loved one, you are basically engaging in Peer-to-Peer file-sharing. That being said, there are now huge platforms that were specifically designed for widescale P2P. One example of that would be the BitTorrent client, a software that gives users the ability to find, download, and share files with countless people from all over the world.

How Does P2P File-Sharing Work?

While the overall concept of Peer-to-Peer might seem complex, this process is fairly easy for most users. After you download BitTorrent or another torrent client, you can then search for almost any type of file imaginable. That type of search is often carried out on torrent websites, but some clients have built-in search engines.

Once the file is found, your client will connect to another user’s client and begin downloading the data. At that point, your client is considered the “leech” because you are extracting data from the other party without giving anything back. The other party is the “seed” because they are sending you the base file.

A file being shared via p2p

If more than one user has the file that you have requested, then you will automatically download it from multiple parties at once. Unfortunately, some torrents are leeched more often than they are seeded, and that can result in slow download speeds. As a general rule, your downloads are always going to be faster when there are more high-quality seeders than leechers. Your Internet speeds and the device that you are using are going to play major roles in the data transfer process as well.

This system has become very streamlined in recent years, and that is one of the reasons why it has gained popularity. Instead of creating your own custom client and searching for single users, you can simply download a popular client and begin downloading right away. You also have the option of setting your downloading and upload limits so that you share as much data as you download. That isn’t required by most BitTorrent clients, but it is typically seen as a good practice for torrenting.

Advantages of Peer-to-Peer Sharing

There are many different reasons why you might prefer P2P over the client/server model when you are downloading certain types of files. When the average user loads a page on the Internet or downloads a file, they are almost always working within the client/server framework.

As soon as they click a link, their device pings the server that contains the data that they need. The server then verifies the connection and sends the information that was requested. While that type of model works well in some situations, it can be highly inefficient. If more people log onto the server, then the speeds are naturally going to drop. With a peer-to-peer network, the speeds are only going to get faster as more users share files.

Another reason why you might want to use a peer-to-peer network is because you aren’t sure who is running each of those servers. Many servers are either owned or monitored by large organizations, and those groups can easily collect information on the users or prevent access to certain types of files. Peer-to-peer sharing isn’t completely foolproof, but the risk of being tracked or exploited is much lower.

Protecting Yourself

Unfortunately, whenever you sign up with an Internet Service Provider, you are agreeing to all of their terms. In most cases, those companies have clauses in their contracts that allow them to collect or restrict data. Even if you are torrenting on a secure client, your ISP could still block the files or even forward your information to various law enforcement agencies.

The easiest and most effective way to avoid those issues is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Many people are now using VPNs simply because they don’t want countless parties tracking their Internet usage habits or collecting private data.

A VPN is a tool that allows you to create a secure connection between your device and an outside client. That client could be a server on the other side of the world or another computer that you have access to. Once the connection has been established, your browsing habits will be hidden from monitoring agencies and ISPs. Your connection is also going to have an additional layer of protection against cybercriminals who would like to steal your data.

When you are searching for a VPN, you should always go with a company that has an excellent reputation and doesn’t share private information with any outside parties. It’s also a good idea to use a VPN that regularly purges user data or gives you the option of doing it yourself whenever you like. While most VPN providers are reputable companies, some will sell their users’ data to the highest bidders.

These are a few trustworthy VPN providers that have a friendly attitude towards torrenting:

Starting Your P2P Journey

Peer-to-Peer sharing is an amazing technology that takes power away from centralized companies and gives it back to the users. It is an ideal option for anyone who would like to bypass unknown servers as well as those who are interested in sharing restricted or pirated content. That being said, users should always use discretion when they are downloading or uploading files of any type.

P2P tends to be much safer than trusting outside servers, but no system is going to be completely safe. You should also download and use a VPN software whenever you share content or plan on connecting to private users.