P2P (or peer-to-peer) is a wonderful technology that enables users to share and download content. The way it works is tricky to explain: in simplest terms, you are downloading the whole file from multiple people instead of from a single person or place. First, let’s discuss WHY this technology is necessary in the first place.
I’ll use the upcoming TV platform called Joost as an example. Joost is a program that lets you watch TV online, on-demand. Now, imagine if you were the owner of Joost, and you were hosting a huge amount of audio/video content. If the Joost servers were the only place hosting these files, it would be very taxing. If a lot of people were watching the same program, it would create lag and everyone watching the program would be able to tell, because of skipping/freezing audio and video. But what if there was a technology that did the OPPOSITE? What if the more people who watched a program, the more reliable it was and the faster it downloaded? That technology is P2P, and Joost uses P2P technology so many users can watch Joost content without them having to worry about bandwidth issues.
So now that you have an idea of why P2P is preferable, it’s time to learn just how and why it works. Like I said, you download from many places instead of from just one. When you are downloading something from one source, there is a certain max speed that you will hit, even though your internet connection is capable of downloading data MUCH faster. This is because the source can’t upload as fast as you can download. Most high-speed internet users are familiar with this, as their upload speed is generally half or even less than their download speeds. But, if you are downloading from multiple sources at once, you can reach an overall speed that is much faster than would be possible otherwise, and the people you are downloading from usually barely even notice. This is because you only download bits and pieces from many users- you will have the section of data from a single person in minutes or even less.
When a person has the complete file, they are considered a “seeder,” meaning they are connectable by someone downloading, or “leeching” content. More seeders mean more potential connections, which means greater potential speed. Even if something has many leechers, those leechers likely have the beginning sections of the file downloaded already, meaning the download will start out very fast anyway. I have downloaded files that have hundreds of seeders, and I have often completed 300MB+ files in 8 minutes, hitting speeds of about 700kb/s, sometimes more. Not too shabby, and definitely not possible if downloading from a single source.
P2P technology was originally created for piracy/file-sharing. Since the files are all stored on user’s computers instead of a website or program’s servers, they would not be breaking any piracy or copyright rules, and outside sources could not see what was being shared/downloaded. But, the benefits of P2P become recognizable quickly, and P2P is used to distribute all manner of content. One example is the trailer for the upcoming videogame, Grand Theft Auto 4. The creator’s website was hit so hard with traffic when the trailer released that the site actually went down. Soon after, however, a P2P file became available- everyone who had managed to get the trailer was now seeding and sharing it, and it made the trailer easily accessible to everyone who wanted it. Many companies (such as Joost, mentioned above) are starting to take advantage of P2P technology, so you can expect to see the term floating around even more than it already is.