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Peer-To-Peer File Sharing

How Peer-To-Peer File Sharing Works

Peer-To-Peer File Sharing (also referred to as p2p ), is a method by which people share files on the internet using special software, such as Kazaa, Limewire, or other programs which log into networks such as eDonkey, BitTorrent, and Gnutella. These networks and programs work by allowing someone to download a file from more than one source, thus distributing the bandwidth. In this way, you do not tie up your own server bandwidth should too many people request your program. Once a program is "out there", "seeded" or "announced", it can then appear on the network. Note that sometimes it may not appear in the network if nobody is actually sharing that particular file. In addition, people sharing the file will not get hit with too much bandwidth which can slow their connection if more than one person is sharing the file. This is due to the p2p program downloading pieces of the file from several sources which are shareing the file simultaneously. A p2p network is a very efficient way to share files.

Most p2p networks are not one computer somewhere with a lot of files stored on it. While there are many p2p networks such as Fast Track, BitTorrent, and Gnutella, p2p is actually a connection between your computer and someone else's computer. Thus you could be connected to several other computers owned by other users to download pieces of a file. When the download is finished, all the pieces will create the actual fully complete file.

The idea of p2p is to save bandwidth for people who are distributing large program files, such as perhaps the Linux Operating System or freeware and shareware games and programs. You can tell your users they can obtain the program on a certain peer-to-peer network. If they can not find it, then they could try it again, or you could share it from your computer as well in this way. Usually most p2p programs allow you to share your programs securely and safely.

What files can I find on a P2P network?

Because p2p is a very efficient way to share files, you can find many programs, videos, music and other large files on any p2p network. However, many of these files may be illegal! Unfortunately, because of the nature of p2p networks, many use them to share copyright sonds, movies that just were released into the theatres, commercial programs that are not available free to the public (non-demo, actual full versions), and other illegal files. Also, p2p networks are also big distributors of porn. Many of these networks and even programmers who make the programs to obtain files on these networks have been sued in court (and some lost) for distributing illegal and/or copyright material. In addition, even some users have been sued for sharing such material.

So P2P networks are illegal to use, right?

No. You can still use them, as long as you are obtaining or sharing legal material through them. For example, you can download different distributions of the Linux Operating System on the BitTorrent network. You can also obtain legal shareware and freeware programs as well. However, it is up to you to determine if a program or file you are downloading is actually legal to obtain. Generally, if you know the program is shareware, freeware, or free to obtain on the internet, you can try searching a p2p network for it to download. This also will help the original program authors save bandwidth on their web site. Maybe some very old (yet still good) freeware programs may be obtainable only through a p2p network and not anywhere else on the internet.

As long as you are sure the file is legal for you to obtain through the internet, it is perfectly legal for you to download it via a p2p network.

Can I share files via P2P networks?

Yes. As long as you have the legal right to share them. This goes for any file. Generally, if you can not legally share them on your web site, you can not legally share them on any P2P network either, and shouldn't. However, if you have written a large program, using a P2P network can be the best way to distribute it. Remember, Active Web Hosting does monitor bandwidth. So if visitors to your site are downloading large files, your site could become slow or unusable. By using a P2P network to share your large file, you can free up bandwidth to your site. Merely tell your visitors which network you put the file on and how to obtain it. Some P2P networks have ways you can link to the file so that those with the access program can automatically go directly to downloading the file.

Can I share other people's files via P2P networks?

Yes. As long as you have the legal right to share them. Read the license agreement that comes with the program or files to see if they are freely shareable. If they are, then you can put it up on the network. This will help people obtain the file easier since you are sharing some of your own bandwidth in helping to distribute the pieces of the file. Note that you still will have to have the complete file intact in order to successfully share it. You will also be supporting the author of the program or file by saving them bandwidth on their web space.

Can I put up Bit Torrent or other P2P feeds on my web site?

Some people used to put up a list of currently distributed files or feeds on their web site as a public service for people to find programs and files to download. However, due to laws against distributing illegal files on the internet, many of these types of web sites have been shut down by law. It is nearly impossible at the moment to filter out illegal from legal files, and know what files are really legal and which are not. Some users may rename files to something obscure or more legit-sounding in an effort to distribute an illegal file. Because there is no way to monitor the network, you can not be sure what gets posted to your web site would be a list of legal files. However, you're still responsible for the content on your site. If you're caught with a list of illegal files for download on your site, then you could face legal issues and may have your site shut down. Therefore, it's best not to post P2P file feeds on your site. Direct links to download specific legal programs are probably the best way to list files. You would have to be sure to edit this list manually, so that illegal files do not appear automatically on your web site.

Is discussing P2P on my web site legal?

In the United States, it is OK to discuss certain technologies as long as the discussion does not in any way promote or encourage illegal activity. Writing about P2P and it's benefits is perfectly legal, as is providing links to legal downloads, networks and programs. Just be sure that you have full control over the content on your web site, and write only about the legal site of using this technology.

Where can I get started downloading files?

You need to take several steps to start downloading files:

  1. Obtain a Peer-To-Peer Program. This program will let you log into a P2P network where you can then access the files. Note that most P2P networks will also want some personally identifyable information such as a username, email address, and password in order for you to use the service. However, there are quite a few networks that are free and do not charge for service. Also be wary of programs that carry adware or spyware, which can also report back your usage and other information to another computer and serve ads based on this information. If in doubt, read about the program carefully to see if they carry adware or spyware. Some will also state that they do not.

    Note that what P2P network you log into depends on the file sharing program you install. Each program will log into only one specific network and not any others.

    Some of the more popular P2P programs can be here.

  2. Once you install a file sharing program, you will want to read the program manual, help file, or information on the web site where you got the program to be sure that you set up your firewall properly. Some P2P programs may need a special port to allow connection between your computer and the computers that are distributing the files. A firewall is a program that protects your computer from intruders. Some operating systems include a firewall and some do not. Be sure you have one in place before using any program that connects your computer to someone else's.

  3. After you run the program for the first time, you'll need to set up any log-in information. Also you'll want to determine if you'll be sharing files and find where in the program to turn it off, if you wish not to. Or, if you're sharing files, to set up what folder on your hard drive contains the files you wish to share.

  4. When you log into a P2P network, you can then search for the file you wish to download. Or if you're just sharing, you can usually minimize the program to the system tray and leave it run so that people can obtain the files or pices of the files you're sharing. It's best to have a broadband connection such as DSL or cable for this. Be sure that your ISP will allow you to use your connection as a server. Some may have specific and/or strict rules about this.

    Also be very sure that any file you are trying to download is legal for you to obtain via the internet. The same goes for any file you are sharing.

    You can also look at some web sites that have files you can download for free, and legally. In fact, LegalTorrents has information on legal BitTorrent files that people are releasing under the Creative Commons License, which is a free software license similar to the GNU Public License or GPL as it's commonly referred to. This may be a good place to get started while learning to download files.

  5. To further speed up downloads, many files may be compressed archives, requiring you to obtain a separate program to decompress them. For Windows, PowerArchiver will decompress a wide variety of the most popular archive file formats.

  6. Be sure to scan any file you download for viruses, just in case. Viruses can also thrive in P2P networks, and can be found in any file, legal or not.

In Summary: Keep It Legal

If used right, using P2P networks can save you a lot of bandwidth, help you download large files faster, and can open the door to new programs and files. However, if misused (as is unfortunately often the case), you can get into very big legal trouble if you share or sometimes even download files you do not have a legal right to own or distribute.

Using caution with Peer-To-Peer file sharing is always a good idea.


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