Often referred to simply as peer-to-peer, or abbreviated P2P, a type of network in which each workstation has equivalent capabilities and responsibilities. This differs from client/server architectures, in which some computers are dedicated to serving the other machines in the system. Peer-to-peer networks are generally simpler, but they usually do not offer the same performance under heavy loads.
Multiple clients will interact with a central server in a typical client-server design. However, a P2P comprises a decentralized network of client and server peer-to-peer nodes that contribute, and consume network resources and share workloads. The need for a centralized server is therefore eliminated.
Types of P2P networks
- Pure P2P network: Also known as a fully peer-to-peer network. Here, there is no centralized dedicated server. All peers, therefore, perform the same function.
- Unstructured P2P network: This kind of network makes it simpler to connect a network’s many devices. However, because of the absence of structure, users may experience difficulties finding uncommon material, even if the churning rate (the number of people entering and leaving the network) is high.
- Structured P2P network: This network provides an excellent platform for searching for uncommon material. However, setting up this kind of network is not simple.
- Hybrid P2P network: These networks are usually P2P; however, network communication is approached like the client-server type with a centralized, powerful device.
How do P2P networks work?
A distributed network of users maintains a peer-to-peer system. Since each node maintains a copy of the files and acts as both a client and a server to other nodes, they require no central administrator or server. As a result, any node may download or upload files to other nodes.
P2P networks work by allowing linked devices to exchange data from their hard drives. Users may search for and download files from other devices on the network using software programs intended to facilitate data sharing. Once the file download is completed, a user may serve as a file source for other users.
Benefits of P2P networks
P2P networks offer many benefits compared to the client-server paradigm.
- Cost efficiency: There is no central server or network operating system (NOS) to maintain and pay for, making P2P economical.
- Low failure rate: There is no single point of failure unless the network is very tiny.
- Robust and agile: P2P networks are highly resistant to changes. If one peer quits, the entire network suffers little. When many peers join the network simultaneously, the network can easily manage the additional demand. Additionally, the absence of a centralized server means that P2P networks may withstand attacks quite effectively due to their decentralized structure.
- Enhanced accessibility: Because the file library is readily accessible, clients may access any file at any moment.
- Efficient and straightforward retrieval: In P2P networking, the retrieval procedure is uncomplicated. For example, when a system is abruptly short down or connection is lost during downloads, the network resumes the download from the point where it was interrupted once the connection is re-established.
Examples of peer-to-peer networks
P2P is adopted in many websites or platforms because of its efficiency, especially in file sharing. Some examples include:
- BitTorrent—a decentralized communication protocol that is used for file sharing and data dissemination on the internet.
- Skype—a VolP system created by Kazaa and used for phone calls and chat.
- Bitcoin— a cryptographic system that allows people to send money or receive money over the internet.
- I2P overlay—A network used for anonymous browsing of the internet.
- Other popular file-sharing platforms using P2P are Napster, Gnutella, Kazaa, Limeshare, and many others.
Read more on peer-to-peer networks in Webopedia’s Insights section.
Note: This definition was updated in October 2021 by Chika Uchendu.