What is Peer to peer (P2P) ?

Curious about Peer to Peer (P2P) technology? Our guide explains what P2P is, how it works, and its various applications. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using P2P networks for file sharing, communication, and other purposes. Discover the impact of P2P on industries such as music and film, and the legal and ethical considerations associated with P2P usage. Gain a comprehensive understanding of Peer-to-Peer technology with our informative guide.

Sharing big data or popular files over the net is time consuming and difficult. However, there is a quick and easy way to do it: it’s Peer to peer.

What is Peer to peer

Peer to peer (often abbreviated as P2P) is a system in which each computer is both client and server. This computer network model allows each computer or entity to receive and distribute files or data. Also P2P offers the possibility for a multitude of computers to connect to each other via a network. Entities in this system are referred to “node”, “peer” or “user”. Peer to peer is therefore different from the client-server model, in which entities request services from a central server.

However, there are two types of P2P systems:

  • A partially centralized peer to peer system
  • A fully decentralized P2P system.

In the first case, a central server acts as an intermediary for part of the exchanges between entities. On the other hand, in a fully decentralized system, exchanges are made directly between the entities, without any intermediary.

Peer to peer : Operating principle

When you connect to a website, your browser automatically connects to a web server, this returns the information to your browser. Long used, this client-server computer network model has shown its limits. Why ? Because the server will no longer be able to respond to requests if several users request a popular file at the same time. Overloaded with requests, the web server will crash and no user will be able to recover the file.


The peer to peer system corrects this defect. Here, there is no decentralized administrative system. Entities or computers are all equal. They can send and receive files without requiring the services of a central web server. Each user who has one or more pieces of files is able to distribute them to other users. How does that work ?

When a user downloads a file, they have the option of distributing bits of the file to others at the same time. That is, each computer behaves like a mini server, even if it only has a small piece of the file. The server which is at the origin of the file is therefore no longer overloaded. All computers that download the file (s) share responsibility. Downloading is therefore quick and easy when there are several users who download at the same time. Because each user shares the file they received at the same time.

Peer to peer: Some uses

Peer to peer is used to:

  • Share files;
  • Download files;
  • Broadcast continuous multimedia streams (streaming),
  • Update software;
  • Broadcast transactions with cryptocurrencies (bitcoin or ethereum for example)
  • Guarantee the security of transactions (cryptocurrencies).

P2P file sharing is still very popular with users in a P2P system. A user can put a film, music, images on a download platform for use by the community. This user then becomes a server. It also has the option of downloading bits of files that other users will share.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin operate on a network called Blockchain. This network is actually based on a peer to peer system. The exchanges are made directly between users, without intermediary or central server. This is precisely what guarantees the reliability and security of transactions in a Bitcoin network.

Peer to peer : Advantages

In a P2P system, users can exchange almost all kinds of data. This technology offers several advantages, because it allows:

  • Have free access to files;
  • Quickly and simply exchange files;
  • Share large volumes of data;
  • Maintain anonymity.

Free of charge is one of the attractions of this system. The user can afford all kinds of files and data for free. He can therefore acquire videos, films, images, music and software without paying a single penny. The user has access to an almost inexhaustible source of files that they can download or share as they see fit. Not only is access easy, downloads are also fast. Each computer behaves like a small server, making it easier to distribute loads and download large files. In a peer-to-peer system, each user has the option to remain anonymous to protect their privacy. This can unfortunately lead to and facilitate illegal file downloads.

Peer to peer : Disadvantages

Although the system has several advantages, it remains dangerous in certain respects. The system is based on the trust that is placed in other users. Each entity can distribute and receive all kinds of uncontrolled files. Nothing prevents a user from sharing bits of corrupted files. Peer-to-peer software is not designed to block such files. The problem is that many of the software distributed by the P2P system on famous platforms is actually malware and spyware. They can also be loaded with adware programs.

Likewise, sites offering files to download in P2P are often overrun with advertisements… Finding an ad-free P2P site is almost as complicated as finding an ad-free streaming site…

The other major disadvantage relates to the protection of works and copyright. Technology has favored illegal file sharing.

P2P Softwares

The use of peer-to-peer is done through various kinds of applications, the best known of which (most often open source software) are:

  • BitTorrent
  • Webtorrent
  • Akamai
  • Napster


It’s one of the most used apps. How it works ? The user downloads a .torrent file. It contains an essential element: the tracker’s information with the ends of the file. The tracker is actually a server whose role is to store both user information and bits of files. When a user connects, he is put in contact with other Internet users. They are therefore responsible for sending him the ends of the file. Attention, I had the bad surprise when installing this software to realize that it installed, without my consent, several unwanted adware …


With this web application, the user can play movies and videos. Webtorrent works like BitTorrent, with a few exceptions. Webtorrent is a web browser streaming application.


It’s a content distribution network. We use the P2P protocol to upload videos. Your web browser can be both client and server via an application, Akamai NetSession Client. Apple, Facebook and other giants are using this content delivery network.


Napster is currently an online music store. The service allows you to listen to music in streaming without limits, for a paid subscription. When it started in 1999, Napster was a peer-to-peer file sharing service. Legal copyright woes in 2001 led to the withdrawal of the service and its reconversion.


What to remember? Peer to peer is a system for quickly sharing large files. The user also has the option of having access to free files. While it can encourage illegal downloads, the system and its software are not illegal.

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