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Introduction to Peer to Peer Networks

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Peer to peer is an approach to computer networking where all computers share equivalent responsibility for processing data. Peer-to-peer networking (also known simply as peer networking) differs from client-server networking, where certain devices have responsibility for providing or "serving" data and other devices consume or otherwise act as "clients" of those servers.

Characteristics of a Peer Network

Peer to peer networking is common on small local area networks (LANs), particularly home networks. Both wired and wireless home networks can be configured as peer to peer environments.

Computers in a peer to peer network run the same networking protocols and software. Peer networks are also often situated physically near to each other, typically in homes, small businesses or schools. Some peer networks, however, utilize the Internet and are geographically dispersed worldwide.

Home networks that utilize broadband routers are hybrid peer to peer and client-server environments. The router provides centralized Internet connection sharing, but file, printer and other resource sharing is managed directly between the local computers involved.

Peer to Peer and P2P Networks

Internet-based peer to peer networks emerged in the 1990s due to the development of P2P file sharing networks like Napster. Technically, many P2P networks (including the original Napster) are not pure peer networks but rather hybrid designs as they utilize central servers for some functions such as search.

Peer to Peer and Ad Hoc Wi-Fi Networks

Wi-Fi wireless networks support so-called ad hoc connections between devices. Ad hoc Wi-Fi networks are pure peer to peer compared to those utilizing wireless routers as an intermediate device.

Benefits of a Peer to Peer Network

You can configure computers in peer to peer workgroups to allow sharing of files, printers and other resources across all of the devices. Peer networks allow data to be shared easily in both directions, whether for downloads to your computer or uploads from your computer.

On the Internet, peer to peer networks handle a very high volume of file sharing traffic by distributing the load across many computers. Because they do not rely exclusively on central servers, P2P networks both scale better and are more resilient than client-server networks in case of failures or traffic bottlenecks.

See also - Introduction to Client-Server Networks

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