How File Sharing Works
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Joined: Jun 2010
09-10-2010, 11:31 AM

At its peak, Napster was perhaps the most popular Web site ever created. In less than a year, it went from zero to 60 million visitors per month. Then it was shut down by a court order because of copyright violations. Napster became so popular so quickly because it offered a unique product -- free music that you could obtain nearly effortlessly from a gigantic database. You no longer had to go to the music store to get music. You no longer had to pay for it. You no longer had to worry about cuing up a CD and finding a cassette to record it onto. And nearly every song in the universe was available. Given that it was distributing an illegal product, Napster's key weakness lay in its architecture -- the way that the creators designed the system. When the courts decided that Napster was promoting copyright infringement, it was very easy for a court order to shut the site down. The fact that Napster promoted copyright violations did not matter to its users. Most of them have turned to a new file sharing architecture known as Gnutella. In this article, you will learn about the differences between Gnutella and Napster that allow Gnutella to survive today despite a hostile legal environment.

Napster's Architecture

On the Web as it is normally implemented, there are Web servers that hold information and process requests for that information (see How Web Servers Work for details). Web browsers allow individual users to connect to the servers and view the information. Big sites with lots of traffic may have to buy and support hundreds of machines to support all of the requests from users. Napster pioneered the concept of peer-to-peer file sharing. With Napster, individual people stored files that they wanted to share (typically MP3 music files) on their hard disks and shared them directly with other people. Users ran a piece of Napster software that made this sharing possible. Each user machine became a mini server.

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