P2P Meaning: What is a Peer-To-Peer Network?

A peer-to-peer (P2P) network consists of two or more devices that share information with one another without a middle man, a.k.a a central server. 

To understand a P2P network in its simplest form, picture two computers connected by a cable. These two computers can be used for file sharing, or they can share other resources such as applications and disk space. No hierarchy exists in a peer-to-peer network; neither of these two computers is better than the other. They both act as client and server in their small P2P network. Both parties are equal.

Sounds simple, right?

With the emergence of the internet, P2P networking remained relatively low-key, while client-server networks ballooned in usership.

What is a Client-Server Network?


Networks have evolved a great deal over the last few decades. Connecting devices over the internet allows for enormous amounts of data to be shared almost instantly. While the basic idea of peer-to-peer networks remains the same, networks themselves have expanded exponentially. Instead of just two computers file sharing with each other, the internet is now a distributed network made up of billions of devices.

But the internet isn’t as decentralized as it was intended to be. Nowadays, big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have monopolized the digital world. They have central servers that we must access to use their services. They store and own any and all files we send and receive on their centralized platforms.

This is not a peer-to-peer network. This is a client-server network.

But the idea of a true peer-to-peer network isn’t dead.

What Does P2P Mean in a Centralized Internet?

Just because the largest networks that we currently use are centralized, it doesn’t mean that P2P networks are obsolete. In fact, they are more valuable than ever before. With the monumental rise of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, it’s possible to create a peer-to-peer network on a scale never seen before. It can and will be used to create decentralized cloud storage solutions.

But before we dive in too deeply, it’s important to note that P2P networks still exist and you’ve probably used them before, possibly without even realizing it. Ever heard of Napster? It was an early P2P network that used client software and a central server. This wasn’t ideal, and later, other P2P networks like BitTorrent and Kazaa removed the central server, dividing the file-sharing responsibilities between multiple nodes instead. Their models were better because they freed up bandwidth and made the whole process smoother and more decentralized.

What is a network node?

If you’re reading this and wondering “What is a node?” you’re not alone. But you’ll be happy to hear the answer is actually quite simple.

Network nodes are the physical components of a network.

A network consists of two or more devices that are able to send and receive information. The most common of these devices—or nodes—is your personal computer.

In a P2P network, each of the connected computers works as both a node and a server for the files it stores exclusively.

So, what is a server?

A server is a computer, system, or node that supplies resources, services, or programs to other nodes—referred to as clients—in a network. A single device can provide data to a client and receive data from a server at the same time, making it both a client and server simultaneously.

Sometimes, tech jargon is complicated for no reason at all.

Peer-to-peer software: is it legal?

In the modern world, most people who hear the term “P2P network” assume it must be related to illegal file-sharing or internet piracy. P2P software, like Limewire for example (before it was discontinued), is the most common source for this association.

Torrent sites such as Pirate Bay are also popular for illegal downloads; users can search for free content, regardless of copyright law. These types of services use P2P networks to facilitate the free sharing of movies, books, music and more. This means you are downloading the files directly from another person, who is seeding them.

While of course we don’t advocate breaking any laws, these sites used for sharing files have a lot of users and serve as easy examples to turn to when answering the question, “what is peer-to-peer sharing?”

It’s also worth noting that a P2P network is completely legal and legitimate. Because they are difficult to censor (by virtue of containing no middle man or central server), P2P networks can be used to conduct shady business. But that is far from their solitary function.

The same can be said for Bitcoin. In the early days, its reputation was tainted because of its association with money laundering and illegal purchases. But in 2021, more and more people are realizing that Bitcoin has a much greater purpose.

So too do P2P networks.

Here are just three of the main benefits they confer:

The 3 Main Benefits of Peer-To-Peer Networks


There is no central server, which means there is no single point of failure. If one node crashes, the rest of the nodes continue working. Such resilience is the polar opposite of a client-server network, which relies on a central server.

Simple File Sharing

In a peer-to-peer network, distance is irrelevant. Users can share files and other resources between devices quickly, efficiently, and most important of all, privately.

Flexibility and Strength

P2P networks can expand rapidly to include more people, more devices and more nodes—and the more nodes in the system, the stronger the network becomes. For every new client, the network benefits from an additional server too.

What is P2P Networking Like in 2021 And Beyond?

Now you know that a P2P network is nothing more than a series of equal nodes that connect to each other to share information, we can look at rising advancements in technology and how P2P networks will be used in the future.

For example, Elastos has its own peer-to-peer network, called Carrier. This P2P network is designed to be decentralized, fully encrypted, and to use unique identifiers called Carrier IDs instead of archaic IP addresses. Intended to be the integral communication network of Web 3, or the Smart Web, Carrier will ensure that you own your own data.

This technology, integrated with Elastos’ other platform components, realizes solutions to real-world problems, and it produces opportunities for cutting-edge dApps as well. Just imagine a true P2P messenger app, fully decentralized, with no reliance on servers whatsoever. Messages, pictures, videos and more could be instantly transmitted from one device to another, with maximum privacy and security.

End-to-end encryption is a standard with Carrier, so you’d be certain that no third-parties ever had access to your data. You’d be able to store, send and receive files securely, all from your decentralized identity (DID).

This is just a fraction of what the future holds.

This article was written by Matt Leppington