Last century file sharing was a fringe hobby, only for geeks who were lucky enough to own a computer that could dial into the World Wide Web. How different is that today, where file sharing has become daily routine for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In just a few years swapping files has become mainstream. I’m sure most of you have used/downloaded Torrents at some point. While it is easy to download a torrent(Thanks to the many YouTube tutorial videos), did you ever wonder how the whole concept of file sharing works?
Let me break it down for you in a non-exhaustive way..
Let us take Bit torrent for example. Bit torrent is an internet protocol which supports peer- to- peer (P2P) file sharing to distribute large amounts of data around the world. It was developed by Bran Cowen, a computer science student from the University of Buffalo. Essentially, Bit torrent takes the stress of transferring large data files from one massive server to every user over an extremely robust network connection and splits it up to multiple normal PCs and multiple smaller network connections.
But how does it work?
It’s not as simple as it sounds. The first time a file is shared there’s a single seed (user) who is uploading a file to the first downloader. So a torrent will always be relatively slow when it has just been created. However, once that upload/download process completes the user or users who downloaded the file (peers) from the original seed also turn into seeds. And the more popular the file is, the more seeds are created and the faster the speed will be for newcomers. That is the beauty of P2P file sharing.
It allows the cost and burden of uploading data to be evenly distributed amongst hundreds or even thousands of individuals.
A great example of torrents technology used in the real world is “the world of tanks”, a free to play online game.
When the users opt to use a torrent for the update, the gaming.net and its players are happy because they save money on bandwidth and they can spend more on improving the game and adding new content and ISPs are happy because the load caused by uploading a patch for thousands of users at once is split across many regions reducing the chance of network congestion.
Then why aren’t direct downloads made obsolete by P2P?
There are some good reasons for that. First, because they are slower for small files and less convenient for inexperienced users. A torrents download takes a while to ramp up to full speed and requires a third party manager software application (like UTorrent) in order to function.
Second is that with an entirely community driven P2P, the file creator doesn’t have the direct control over the network.
Third, download speeds depend on the number of other peers who are already downloading, the number of seeds uploading and the aggregated upload of all the seeds. So, if a torrent doesn’t have any seeds at all you could wait for days or weeks for it to complete.
So, from where does it get its bad name?
Torrents get their bad name from the companies and users who use them unethically by sharing copyrighted material like movies and music for personal gain. So, that’s it. There’s nothing particularly bad about P2P file sharing services. It’s a great technology that continues to mature and develop.
That’s it. Now you know almost everything about P2P file sharing (so much so that you can totally brag about it.)