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What is a Peer to Peer Database?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 16, 2024
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A peer to peer database uses a network of various individuals' resources in a collective fashion to spread data and information amongst each other. Participants share processing capability, bandwidth and disk storage space to increase the ability of the collective network. The most common use of peer to peer databases is to share computer files as both suppliers and consumers.

The general structure of a peer to peer database takes the form of a large or small network with each user operating as a node. Peer to peer networks feature a user platform which allows individual participants to exchange content and information through the basic Internet Protocol network. Depending on the database, users are either identifiable or anonymous.

While peer to peer databases have been used for a number of years, popularity of the systems rose during the late 1990s with the exchange of computer files associated with music and video. One of the first popular networks was Napster, a peer to peer database designed to exchange MP3 music files. Other file sharing databases such as FastTrack, Gnutella, BitTorrent™ and LimeWire™ also gained popularity in the early 21st century.

There are two basic forms of peer to peer databases: structured and unstructured. Structured databases feature fixed connections operating within the user platform. Unstructured networks feature a variety of nodes without fixed organization. This allows for increased anonymity within the user database.

Within the two frameworks, the network can take the form of a pure or centralized network. A pure peer to peer network features a fixed type of nodes that allows users to operate on an even platform. Centralized peer to peer networks feature a central server, which operates as a main index for the users. Information is collected in a central database and dispersed to users.

The main advantage of peer to peer databases is the fact that computing power is spread across a variety of resources. By decentralizing capacity, more clients can be added to the system than otherwise possible. Data transfer is not slowed down with an increased volume of users as would be the case with a centralized network.

One of the major challenges of peer to peer networking, however, is the risks associated with anonymous users. Most networks are unsecured in nature, making it possible for a variety of malicious software or individuals to have access to sensitive information. In extreme cases, the entire peer to peer database can become compromised, resulting in large swaths of data being mined.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Jan 16, 2012

It seems like there are lots of good peer to peer networks for sharing music and movies. But I have never been able to find one that is really good for sharing software. Does anyone know one that is fast and reliable?

By truman12 — On Jan 15, 2012

I think the best peer to peer program for sharing music is Soulseek. I have been using it for about 8 years now and its great.

The downloads are fast, you can find everything g you are looking for, even really obsuce stuff and there is a really cool community of users. I have met several members that I chat with regularly and they have turned me on to tons of great music.

I hear lots of people complain that all the best programs have been shut down or that they do not have the selection that they once did. But there are still a few that work great. Don't give up on file sharing just yet.

By everetra — On Jan 15, 2012

@miriam98 - I agree. There’s another point worth mentioning too as well. The unstructured network is actually better in my opinion. It’s dispersed far and wide, and this is the way that you really want to spread your risk. Of course the only problem with that model is that it doesn’t work well within an organization in my opinion, where you want centralized data storage.

By miriam98 — On Jan 14, 2012

@NathanG - I see no point in a peer to peer database within a corporate organization. Yeah, you have more storage space, but you’ve also lost control over security to some extent. What if the file you need is on Joe’s computer and his computer crashes? You’ve just lost that file.

Sure, you may have a backup of his disk, but backup duties will become a chore if you have to backup every single person’s computer on a nightly basis. Usually system administrators will focus on backing up some dedicated, shared drives – not everyone’s on the network. If you need stuff backed up, you store your files on the shared drive.

By NathanG — On Jan 13, 2012

@nony - That’s true if you’re talking about the Internet. But the peer to peer technology itself is neutral. I can see the advantage of using this system inside of a company to share company-wide resources, especially as disk drives get full and there is less and less space on a central server to store information.

Everyone can share information and you have access to a lot more resources. Of course inside an organization you basically have what the article calls a structured peer to peer program, operating within limited parameters.

This is the best peer to peer network in my opinion because it limits exposure to outside influences like viruses and stuff.

By nony — On Jan 13, 2012

Many of the peer to peer client sites are technically legal, although it’s understood that the main attraction of these sites is the ability to distribute pirated material. After all, what else would people distribute?

If they had legal software they wanted to distribute (the shareware variety for example) they would just use the shareware websites that let you download the software. The same goes for legal music files. They have their own sites where you can pay per song, legally.

So it stands to reason that while Bit Torrent, Gnutella and LimeWire are legal in principle, most of the activity would be illegal – and that’s exactly what you find.

The majority of files on these sites are either pirated or pornographic, if I may be so blunt. Personally I would recommend avoiding these sites altogether.

By julies — On Jan 12, 2012

@Mykol - There are a lot of peer to peer sharing sites available - both good and bad.

I certainly can't speak for very many of them, but personally I have never had any problems using LimeWire.

I have found this to be safe, virus free, and it has a built in Media player that is helpful. I still don't think you can be too cautious when it comes to this.

Just because I have had good results doesn't necessarily mean that is going to be the case every time.

Doing your homework and research and using only those services that have a good reputation is the best way to go.

These sites have become so popular and well used that most people don't do the traditional downloading of programs like we did years ago.

By Mykol — On Jan 11, 2012

Most of the music and video file sharing sites make me pretty nervous. I am always afraid I am going to get a virus on my computer if I use a site like this.

My friend is constantly downloading movies and songs like this, but I wonder if all of it is even legal?

If I wanted to use a feature like this, what is the best peer to peer file sharing program available? I want something that is trustworthy, safe and legal.

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