When you hear the term P2P (peer-to-peer), you probably associate it with file sharing technology like BitTorrent.  You may even associate it with illegal file sharing and torrent sites like The Pirate Bay.  Obviously, you are free to run P2P file sharing sites on your server if you want, but there are other, safer uses for P2P technology.

P2P essentially means that two computers are connected directly to each other and sharing information, rather than several computers connected to a single server distributing the information from a central location.  Because P2P depends on user participation, it can significantly reduce the amount of bandwidth a server consumes.

Probably the most basic usage for P2P technology on a dedicated server is for large downloads.  In this case, you would probably use one of the file-sharing protocols like BitTorrent for legal distribution of your files.  For example, if you are selling or giving away software that ranges in the hundreds of megabytes to even a gigabyte or more, your bandwidth can be drained pretty quickly.  By using BitTorrent, you can reduce data transfer consumption.

There are plenty of other uses for P2P technology.  Some of them include:

  • Video streaming.  It is possible to relay streaming video from your server through multiple servers or user computers.
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN).  Some CDNs make use of P2P technology to make content distribution faster and more localized to the user’s geographic area.
  • Local Search.  If you have a huge database, using P2P technology may help reduce the strain on your database server when multiple users are searching for identical data.

Many P2P protocols are free and open source making it easy for you to incorporate them into your server.  Ultimately, it can save you money and make your users’ experience more rewarding.