Peer-to-Peer Systems

Learn about a special form of distributed systems, peer-to-peer networks, in this lesson.


Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are a special form of distributed systems. Drescher (2017) describes a P2P system as a network that consists “of individual computers (also called nodes), which make their computational resources (e.g., processing power, storage capacity, data or network bandwidth) directly available to all other members of the network without having any central point of coordination or control." This means that there’s no centralized service in the network, such as a server, and there’s no internal hierarchy. The term peer-to-peer means that the computers that take part in the network are peers to each other, whereby the “nodes in the network are equal concerning their rights and roles in the systems.” (Daniel Drescher (2017)Daniel Drescher. Blockchain Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction in 25 Steps. Berkely, CA, 2017. Apress.)

Peer-to-peer system

A peer-to-peer system is a system in which a set of nodes are equally privileged, equipotent participants in collaborative goals.

The computer of any user that joins a peer-to-peer system acts as a node of the system, thus having the same functional capability and responsibility as any other participant. However, there’s a difference in nodes, although the nodes in the network are equally privileged, as “they may take different roles depending on the functionality they are supporting,” as stated by Antonopoulos (2014)Andreas M. Antonopoulos. Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies. Sebastopol, CA, 2014. O’Reilly Media.. As an example, Bitcoin contains the so-called full nodes that store the whole blockchain and maintain the integrity of the system and lightweight clients that only make use of the system for transfers of cryptocurrencies.

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