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File Sharing Network

A file sharing network allows multiple users to remotely share data of all types.

A file sharing network does not require that participants be acquainted. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
A file sharing network does not require that participants be acquainted.

File Sharing Network

A file sharing network is intended to allow a safe method of allowing its users to exchange electronic data, such as audio, data and video files. The most common example of this is a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, which uses the connectivity of its users to transfer files rather than a centralized resource. According to FileSharingPro.net, P2P networks are also being used to transmit real time data like telephony traffic in addition to other types of files.

How a File Sharing Network Works

A pure P2P network does not have true clients or servers but does use computers in the network (nodes) to serve as clients and servers equally. A P2P network differs from the traditional client-server model that uses a central server to transfer files. Instead, the clients and server use distinct programs so that the clients initiate the upload and download requests and the server fills these requests.

A P2P network can allow authorized users to upload new files and access designated files that are already on the network. It can also provide storage to allow users to back up password protected files from a hard drive. P2P networks are generally designed to thwart attempts to alter files on the network or attack the network itself. Each file sharing service provides its own network management functions that allow the user to focus on sharing and receiving files. P2P networking software is usually a small program that is easy to download and install.

Types of File Sharing Networks

P2P networks were first used in 1999 and now comprise the majority of Internet traffic, according to Shazzle. Napster was the first attempt at a P2P and possibly the most famous. It was actually a hybrid between a client-server network and a true P2P. The files were stored on individual nodes, but the indexes were kept on a central server. Napster was developed primarily to allow users to locate and trade music files with each other instead of relying on a central server.

The first true P2P networks appeared after 2001, with Gnutella being the most well-known example. These networks require users to install an application in order to share the files on their computers directly with other users. There is no central database of the available files and each node must search the other nodes for the desired file. Anonymous Peer-to-Peer Open Source File Sharing (ANts) is the third generation of P2P networks and provides greater privacy protection than previous networks. ANts only route a user's file sharing requests to other nodes that the user has identified as a friend. While this approach is more secure, it is not as popular as other types of P2P networks since it requires more bandwidth and is more difficult to use properly. The fourth generation of P2P networks uses a server to locate the clients currently online that have part of the requested file. Bit Torrent is the best example of this type of P2P network.

Safety Issues with File Sharing Networks

P2P networks provide an opportunity for hackers to easily distribute malicious programs to a large number of computers very quickly. There are some basic rules that users can follow to reduce the number of these programs that they download. Users should also keep a firewall and anti-virus software running while sharing files on a network, and a router may also be added as another security measure. Many file-sharing programs attempt to infect a user's computer with a virus when the program is installed.

Users should be careful about which networks they choose to join as there is a wide range in the level of security they provide. BitTorrent is currently the most popular P2P network, but is not as user-friendly as others. Shareaza is another popular file sharing network.

The correct filters should be used when searching for files since a file extension that does not match its expressed purpose is cause for great suspicion. For example, a file that is supposed to be a movie may have an .exe extension. While this file may be a self-extracting movie, it can also be a virus. The file size can also provide a clue as to the true purpose of a program and a file that is much smaller than it should be may actually be a virus. A utility program may only be a few hundred kilobytes in size; but a file that is supposed to be a movie, music or software should be much larger, usually tens of megabytes.

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