Developments information technology during the last phase of the last century revolutionized communication and sharing of information among persons. The essence of peer to peer networking is to establish a system where two or more computers can share files and hardware such as printers and scanners without having to through a centralized system. In addition peer to peer networks also allows user to communicate with each other easily and exchange information in real time. Developments in networking has provided peer to peer networks with many alternatives and levels with which communication can be established between different computers. Computers can either be connected via a universal serial bus, a complex connection of computers in a location using wires and a set of internet protocols that allows computers within a particular location to connect. All these levels and types of connections are suitable for selected users thereby ensuring that users have diverse range of networking to choose from that fits a particular perspective and environment. Peer to peer networks primarily found use in the business world after the realization that PCs equipped with their own applications and that could exist free of the centralized mainframes such as the VS systems was a possibility. There was enthusiasm over the creation of autonomous PCs that could be placed at various locations in the office and that provided users with some aspect of privacy and autonomy. However, soon enough there emerged the realization that the PCs also had a major shortcoming when it came to communicating and sharing of files. It became tedious for people to move files from one section of the office to another by constantly using floppy drives. Therefore, it dawned on enthusiasts of PCs that the PCs had major shortcomings when it came to file sharing and communication. The essence behind peer to peer networking is to create a computer networking system that allows for file sharing and communication. Currently peer to peer networks utilize Ethernet technology. (SAFE, 2010)
Understanding Peer to Peer Network
The concept of peer to peer networking began with the invention of the Napster application that allowed users to obtain songs via their computers instead of going to shops to buy CDs. Napster also provided a platform where individuals could share music files and other files. However, due to issues related to piracy Napster soon found itself in trouble with the authorities. Users preferred the application provided by Napster because it provided anonymity of users. The operation of Napster and offers the simplest explanation of the basic components of peer to peer networking system and its operations. Basically when a user has some file that they want to share with other users over the net, the user only needs to register the file according to some provided criteria and post it over the web. After this other users who might be interested in accessing the same files will have to use a search queries that march the same criteria that was used to post the file. (Koegel, 2008, 11) The user can then download the same file. The definition of peer to peer network is a network system that allows users to communicate directly without having to pass through a centralized server first. The network system is always served by additional software that provides the interface for communication between computers the software operates in a similar fashion like the search engines such as Googles because they allow users to search for files within the network. The software allows the search to be conducted from all computers that are connected to the network. Peer to peer networking has continued to enjoy the invention of fast, efficient and safe internet protocols to allow users to share information and communicate. One unique aspect about peer to peer networking is that all computers connected enjoy the same privileges and no single computer is assigned a particular task. (Kozierok, 2005, 23)
Structure/Architecture of a Peer- to- Peer Network
Computers operating in a peer to peer network system do not require a server. In the case of peer to peer networking the networked computers serve the dual purpose of servers and clients in the same level. The computers serve as co-workers without any system of hierarchy where they share responsibilities such as printing, storage and communication. Generally, almost all network systems require some basic hardware and devices that facilitate the networking. A network device is a device that “broadcasts network, boosts signal or routes data to its destination.” Such devices include: modems, network interface cards, hubs, switches, routers, gateways, bridges and repeaters”(Jamrich, 2009, 118) The essence of the structure of peer to peer netowork is that it is decentralized and the unstructured it includes systems such as “Bearchare and Limewire” (Kozierok, 2005, 84) The advanatge of the unstructured systems is that they are simple to construct and operate. Search protocol is an important aspect of any peer to peer networking system because it governs the effeciency of the system. Search depends on the topology with which the consituent files are laid in. The Gnutella system of protocol use a very simple protocol called the “scooped flooding search mechanism.” The protocol uses the concept of spreading a search query generated at a particular point to other computers using the neighboring computer. However, the protocol only propagates the query up to a predetermined number of computers. The primary limitation of this kind of protocol is that it is expensive and can only spread the search queries within a specified area and up to a maximum number of computers. The unstructured peer to peer networks do not always have information with regard to the the contents of the files and their location. Therefore, it becomes difficult because when a search query originates from a particualr point the system does not have information on the exact location of the answer or which computer can respond effectively to the query; this tends to limit the distance that the query can travel but provides the opportunity of contacting many sources. The major shortcoming of the scooped flooding protocol lies with the topology of the peer to peer network system.
Othe other hand structured peer to peer networks provide the opportunity of networking more computers as compared to the unstructured. “They support routing to endpoints or nodes that inside a network requiring only logarithmic routing state at each node” (Castro, 2005, 203) This implies that the system has a mechanism to identify which of the neighboring computers have the capacity to respoind to particualr query effectively. However, this capacity also leads to the creation of unbalanced system because some nodes will have better preference than others. Although there is nore search to establish the extent of interference caused by such an uneven system of search the general realization is that it tends to reduce the effeciency of the system in the utilization of all the nodes effectively. The essence of the structured peer to peer network systme is to establish a “…decentralized, self organizing substrate for distributed applications and support powerfull abstractions such as DHT (distributed hash tables) and group communication.” (Jamrich, 2009, 102) However, the major shortcoming of most structured protocols is that they operate undr the assumption that the network is fully connected and operating optimally and this is not always the case.
Advantages of Peer to Peer Networks
The major advanatge of a peer to peer network system is that it is easier to establish and it is also less costly as comared to other network systems that require a centralized server. The hardware for setting up such a system is also minimal and less complex. As outlined earlier, computers within a peer to peer network share responsibilities and it is therefore not necessary to a high powered server. For instance, each of the computers is responsible for the security of its own system and therefore thereis no need to establish a high powered security system. In addition, the computers share the responsibilities of storing and communication and therefore there is no need for ahuge centralized storage system. Peer to peer computer systems also presents limited administrative concerns because the administrative duties is dinstributed among the computers provided that the networked computers are not too many and since the computers are managed by individuals the workload becomes much lighter for each one of them. Peer to peer networking also does not require a network operating system for its operations. Most versions of windows and Linux provide users with the capacity to create peer to peer networks without having to install network operating systems. The fact that peer ot peer network has many areas of redundancy because most of the respoinsibilities are shared, the possibility of an error affecting the whole system or most of the computers is minimal. (Hallberg, 2009, 21)
Disadvanatges of Peer to Peer Network System
One of the disadvantages of using peer to peer netwrok system falls within the use of structured peer to peer networking. The structured peer to peer networking has a mechanism of selecting the most efficient nodes to respond to a particular query thereby creattin an uneven topology of operation. Theerefore, there will be some nodes that will be mostly used than others thereby going against the concept of shared responsibilities. The general observation is that the individual working at the most frequented nodes will have much greater responsibilities than the rest of the nodes within the mnetwork. The sharing system also puts computers at risk of infection with viruses or hacking in situations where some members do not administer their computers approptiately. The system does not offer surety of effective admninistration because the effectiveness of the system depends on other computers as well.
Social and Economical Impacts of Peer- to- Peer Networks
Peer to peer networks have made communication much easier especially for small groups of people who may want to periodically share files and communicate with one another. Due to the fact that setting up a peer to peer network is much easier has ensured that most groups have been able to take advantage of it. However, the peer to peer networks have also had negative economical effects especially in the area of music and video pirating and issues related to intellectual property rights. (Voelke, 2005, 84) Musicians lose billions of dollars every year in the US alone as a result of music pirating. The fact that tracking the source of data especially in unstructured peer to peer network is impossible has also made it impossible for authorities to deal with the perpetrators. Peer to peer networks have also promoted computer insecurity leading to the spread of destructive computer viruses and the accessing of private information by unauthorized parties. Accessing of private information has also promoted personal security and national security due to what is currently known as cyber terrorism. However, one cannot also fail to appreciate the way peer to peer networks has revolutionized communication by providing the opportunity to access and exchange information from remote areas. (Verma, 2004, 65)
Modern Day Examples of Peer to Peer Networks
Contemporary examples of peer to peer networking systems include internet sharing music networks such as Napster. This application allows for users to share, upload and download music and communicate with each other without the need for a centralized server. The network has enables individuals to share information from remote areas regardless of their location. SETI is another example of peer to peer networking system that supports the creation of operating systems. There have also been attempts to combine the characteristics of peer to peer networking and the hierarchical system as a way of ensuring security and reducing piracy. An example is the DNS system.
The basic idea behind peer to peer networking system is to provide a platform that will allow for file sharing, communication and sharing of storage facilities and other hardware such as printers. There are two types of peer to peer networking and they include the structure and unstructured. The structured is favorable when networking many computers but there is also the possibility of overburdening certain nodes. The unstructured is favorable when using few computers within a limited radius because it does not have specific mechanism of indentifying the contents or sources of data. However, the general realization is that the peer to peer system can only work effectively when used in small groups and when the networked computers are properly managed and administrated. This will ensure that security is maintained. In environments such as offices the system can work effectively. However, when used in large scale and mostly over the internet issues such as piracy, intellectual property rights violations and security may arise.