Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies


The term "peer-to-peer" has come to be applied to networks that expect end users to contribute their own files, computing time, or other resources to some shared project. Even more interesting than the systems' technical underpinnings are their socially disruptive potential: in various ways they return content, choice, and control to ordinary users.While this book is mostly about the technical promise of peer-to-peer, we also talk about its exciting social promise. Communities have been forming on the Internet ...

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The term "peer-to-peer" has come to be applied to networks that expect end users to contribute their own files, computing time, or other resources to some shared project. Even more interesting than the systems' technical underpinnings are their socially disruptive potential: in various ways they return content, choice, and control to ordinary users.While this book is mostly about the technical promise of peer-to-peer, we also talk about its exciting social promise. Communities have been forming on the Internet for a long time, but they have been limited by the flat interactive qualities of email and Network newsgroups. People can exchange recommendations and ideas over these media, but have great difficulty commenting on each other's postings, structuring information, performing searches, or creating summaries. If tools provided ways to organize information intelligently, and if each person could serve up his or her own data and retrieve others' data, the possibilities for collaboration would take off. Peer-to-peer technologies along with metadata could enhance almost any group of people who share an interest—technical, cultural, political, medical, you name it.This book presents the goals that drive the developers of the best-known peer-to-peer systems, the problems they've faced, and the technical solutions they've found. Learn here the essentials of peer-to-peer from leaders of the field:

  • Nelson Minar and Marc Hedlund Popular Power, on a history of peer-to-peer
  • Clay Shirky of acceleratorgroup, on where peer-to-peer is likely to be headed
  • Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates, on redefining the public's perceptions
  • Dan Bricklin, cocreator of Visicalc, on harvesting information from end-users
  • David Anderson of SETI@home, on how SETI@Home created the world's largest computer
  • Jeremie Miller of Jabber, on the Internet as a collection of conversations
  • Gene Kan of Gnutella and, on lessons from Gnutella for peer-to-peer technologies
  • Adam Langley of Freenet, on Freenet's present and upcoming architecture
  • Alan Brown of Red Rover, on a deliberately low-tech content distribution system
  • Marc Waldman, Lorrie Cranor, and Avi Rubin of AT&T Labs, on the Publius project and trust in distributed systems
  • Roger Dingledine, Michael J. Freedman, andDavid Molnar of Free Haven, on resource allocation and accountability in distributed systems
  • Rael Dornfest of O'Reilly Network and Dan Brickley of ILRT/RDF Web, on metadata
  • Theodore Hong of Freenet, on performance
  • Richard Lethin of Reputation Technologies, on how reputation can be built online
  • Jon Udell ofBYTE and Nimisha Asthagiri andWalter Tuvell of Groove Networks, on security
  • Brandon Wiley of Freenet, on gateways between peer-to-peer systems
You'll find information on the latest and greatest systems as well as upcoming efforts in this book.

This is a compelling account of how invasive technologies will affect personal privacy in the coming years. A thought-provoking look at the serious threats to privacy today, it asks questions of how to protect basic rights in a society where private information is freely traded.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Peer-to-peer computing over the Internet. Just a fancy way of saying "steal free MP3s with Napster or Gnutella"? Think again.

Tim O'Reilly, publisher and proprietor of O'Reilly & Associates, brought together leading players throughout the nascent P2P market space last September for a wide-ranging discussion of P2P's remarkable potential. The rough consensus amongst the new P2P movers and shakers: think of P2P as "an operating system for the Internet."

Operating systems deliver services, and P2P's go far beyond file sharing. For example, P2P may enable next-generation instant messaging and presence management. It may make possible entirely new forms of collaboration, starting with ad-hoc peer-to-peer software development workgroups.

P2P can leverage distributed computation, where millions of PCs -- whose processing cycles are mostly wasted -- share tasks too large for any individual system to perform. (Proof of concept: SETI@home, wherein over 2.5 million PCs worldwide have contributed data analysis to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence).

P2P can lead to revolutionary new Web services, new ways to hyperlink, and a whole new view of the Web, where millions of people aren't just passively consuming content and services: they're providing them as well.

One outgrowth of last Fall's P2P summit is a remarkable book: Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Disruptive Potential of Collaborative Networking. In this book, P2P's leading practitioners offer in-depth, technically significant discussions of nearly all the key issues they face in transforming P2P from hope to reality. O'Reilly's worked hard to find people who have something important to say and framed the book with its own thoughtful commentary. The result is nothing less than a first sketch of the next Internet revolution as it takes shape.

Section I of this book offers much-needed perspective. Nelson Minar and Marc Hedlund point out that the Internet began as a peer-to-peer operation (all the original ARPANET hosts were equal peers), and that early applications like Usenet implemented decentralized control mechanisms that have echoes in today's newest thinking about P2P.

In a brilliant essay entitled Listening to Napster, Clay Shirky starts by precisely defining P2P as "a class of applications that takes advantage of resources -- storage, cycles, content, human presence -- available at the edge of the Internet." Shirky outlines the important technical implications that flow from this definition; then informs P2P with the common-sense lessons we've learned about the Internet and other technologies: "Users reward simplicity," "It's the applications, stupid," and "Decentralization is a tool, not a goal."

Finally, Dan Bricklin, inventor of VisiCalc -- the first spreadsheet and the classic PC killer app -- makes the case that Napster "harnesses the disruptive potential of personal selfishness." The more downloads, the more resources are available to everyone: "...increasing the value of the database, by adding more information, is a natural by-product of each person using the tool for his or her own benefit." (Bricklin has his doubters, who wonder how well P2P applications will scale when 50 people take resources for each one who provides them.)

Part II of this book focuses on several real-world P2P projects. In addition to SETI@home, you'll find coverage of Jabber, an open source, XML-based instant messaging system that lets you chat with folks on AOL IM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, and IRC, all from the same client software. There are chapters on P2P applications intended to protect individual email privacy (Mixmaster), resist censorship (Red Rover), allow for anonymous uploads and downloads (Freenet and Free Haven), and make it possible to publish anonymously, like James Madison in The Federalist Papers (Publius).

Part III focuses on the technology of P2P: the crucial role of metadata; performance optimization; building networks that don't rely on trust; making resource hogs accountable; and providing security and interoperability. There's much work to be done, but you'll be surprised how much thought and sweat have gone into these issues.

It remains to be seen whether the P2P revolution will meet its potential. But if it does, people will view this book as the manifesto that made it all come together.(Bill Camarda)

Bill Camarda is a consultant and writer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

Software projects like Napster and Freenet have challenged traditional approaches to content distribution with their use of peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies. In this book, key peer-to-peer pioneers offer insight on how the technology has evolved and where it's going. They draw on their experiences in business and technology to explore problems and solutions and contemplate the future of computer networking. Issues discussed include accountability, security, metadata, performance, and interoperability. Oram writes and edits books on programming and networking. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780596001100
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly & Associates, specializing in books on Linux and programming. Most recently, he edited Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies.

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Table of Contents


Context and Overview

Chapter 1: A Network of Peers: Peer-to-Peer Models Through the History of the Internet

Chapter 2: Listening to Napster

Chapter 3: Remaking the Peer-to-Peer Meme

Chapter 4: The Cornucopia of the Commons


Chapter 5: SETI@home

Chapter 6: Jabber: Conversational Technologies

Chapter 7: Mixmaster Remailers

Chapter 8: Gnutella

Chapter 9: Freenet

Chapter 10: Red Rover

Chapter 11: Publius

Chapter 12: Free Haven

Technical Topics

Chapter 13: Metadata

Chapter 14: Performance

Chapter 15: Trust

Chapter 16: Accountability

Chapter 17: Reputation

Chapter 18: Security

Chapter 19: Interoperability Through Gateways

Chapter 20: Afterword

Directory of Peer-to-Peer Projects


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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004

    Excellent coverage of p2p

    In 2000, O'Reilly surveyed the field of peer-to-peer computing, and published this book. It has an excellent description of the key concepts behind all the major p2p implementations then existing. Napster, of course, was the best known. But Seti@home, Gnutella, Jabber, Freenet, Free Haven and others are also explained. These are compared with each other, so that you can see the different emphases and strengths of each. Since the book's release, p2p usage has grown, and the attendant controversy about the downloading of copyrighted material, mainly music, has continued unabated. Napster in its original incarnation has gone. But other p2p networks, like Kazaa, have arisen. Another type of p2p network has also emerged - for social networks. Companies include Friendster,, Ryze and others. Of course, these aren't covered in the book, because they did not exist when it was written. But as a measure of how comprehensive the book is, one of its chapters describes the key work on social networks and encompasses this entire group of companies. The technical level is moderate throughout the book. While XML, SOAP and cryptography are described, you only need slight familiarity with these topics. The discussion involving them tends to be at a higher level of usage.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2001

    Great Essays on An 'Up and Coming' Technology

    Of course, saying that Peer to Peer is an 'up and coming' technology is rather misleading, given that some form of peer to peer has been around since the early days of the Internet. Even so, the series of essays in this book explain various parts of peer to peer, its past, present & future, and its benefits to anyone who uses the Internet, and the issues involved with using this technology. Whether it's people looking to download MP3's off Napster, to get documents off Publius, or to download files off Gnutella, peer to peer is changing the way users think of the 'Net. Among the numerous issues discussed in these essays are the handling of metadata, perfomance and security issues (ie how to deal with slower servers or DoS attacks), and the repuation or 'credibility' of a service using peer to peer technology. It's also interesting to trace the history of peer to peer, which is done in the book's first chapter. There are also looks at the more famous examples of peer to peer, such as the afore mentioned Napster, Gnutella, Publius, and also Jabber and FreeNet. I like to think of peer to peer as a 'past and future' Internet technology, and one that cold still revolutionize the way people interact over the 'net. This book gives an excellent 'glimpse' into that world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2001

    Eloquent Arguments for Encouraging Internet Peer Connections

    The original vision of the Internet was as a tool to allow individuals to partner with others to accomplish more, both by being able to access information more easily, but also by exchanging ideas more rapidly and freely. Peer-to-peer (p2p) as described in this book is defined as any systems structure for the Internet 'outside the DNS . . . [with] significant or total autonomy from central servers.' Conceptually, 'peer-to-peer is a way to decentralizing not just features, but costs and administration as well.' Basically, personal computers have unused memories and processors that can be added together to provide giant data banks and processors beyond what exists in one location at tiny cost (less than 1 percent of the alternative) and with richer content. Systems that optimize that untapped potential will accelerate human progress enormously. Think of this as creating a global mind for a specialized purpose. P2P solutions are then, by definition, killer apps compared to most of the server-based solutions. This book challenges the tendency to turn the Internet into a slightly interactive version of television for the purpose of selling products and services offered by large companies. The essays here encourage developers to 'return content, choice, and control to ordinary users.' The book mostly avoids the question of how to solve the technical search problems of how to do that, but does consider many methods that create communities of limited-purpose interaction (like Napster, SETI@home, Jabber, and Red Rover). The book is not detailed enough to guide software developers, but is helpful for those who want to think about future developments in the Internet from a sociological or public policy perspective. Tim O'Reilly's essay about p2p as a 'meme' (a self-replicating idea, with full credit to Richard Dawkins) is the centerpiece of the book. I suspect that I would have gotten 90 percent of the benefit of reading the whole book by simply looking at that one essay. I suggest that you start with that essay, which explores making p2p the primary operating system for the Internet. The advantages are that more information will be shared, progress will be faster, and the experience will be more interesting. Dan Bricklin also focuses on the purposes of p2p. 'Is the data I want in the database?' He points out (rightly) that p2p is just the associated plumbing to get you the data you want more effectively. Clearly, the barrier is that laws about intellectual property are obsolete in a p2p environment (as Napster's original success in free copying of music demonstrated). Clearly, people need to get paid for intellectual property, so a new system needs to be developed. I suspect that like the copy machine, this technology will overrun the legal barriers in the meantime. A weakness of this book is that it does not propose solutions for this issue. As I write this, Napster is struggling to comply with various court orders that are slowing down music exchanges. Unlike many books that espouse a new way of interacting, the essays in the book are realistic about anticipating a world that will continue to have servers but will also allow p2p interactions. Even Napster provides that combination now. As a technical solution, the two are likely to be intertwined in the future. When you are done with this book, you should also think about ways that you can structure work differently. How can you recruit 'volunteers' who will find that the benefits of helping you exceed the costs for them? Such voluntary virtual organizations should become the best way for accomplishing many of our key thinking and problem-solving tasks. Move beyond the dated paradigms of b2b and b2c to create the highest potential for the future! Donald Mitchell, Co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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