Understanding P2P File Sharing

P2P File Sharing Software Reached Its Peak in the Early 2000s

Two businessmen, of Asian and Caucasian descent, shake hand over their deal.
joakimbkk/Getty Images

The term P2P refers to peer-to-peer networking. A peer-to-peer network allows computer hardware and software to communicate without the need for a server. Peer-to-peer file sharing refers to the distribution of digital media over a P2P network, in which the files are located on individuals' computer and shared with other members of the network, rather than on a centralized server. P2P software was the piracy method of choice in the early 2000s until a Supreme Court decision in 2005 led to the closure of many sites for illegally sharing copyrighted material, mostly music.​

Rise and Fall of P2P File Sharing

P2P file sharing is a technology used by file sharing software clients such as BitTorrent and Ares Galaxy. P2P technology helped the P2P clients upload and download files over the P2P network services. Much of the popular file-sharing software programs for P2P file sharing are no longer available. These include:

  • Kazaa and Kazaa Lite were part of a popular line of file sharing programs that dominated in the early 2000s.
  • Limewire was cross-platform file sharing software that was legally blocked from the operation because people used it to illegally share music. 
  • WInMx was the No. 1 source for online music in 2005. It survived various attacks and one closure only to see user base shrink over time. This Windows-only software is mostly defunct.
  • eDonkey/Overnet was closed down in 2005, although some users still access it through eMule.
  • Morpheus P2P software is no longer supported, but it is available as a free download online for use with Gnutella and BitTorrent clients. 
  • BearShare morphed into iMesh for a while following the 2005 Supreme Court decision. It was re-released as BearShare again, but it is no longer available for download.

Risks of Using P2P File Sharing

  • Identify theft. Vast amounts of personal information were shared and stolen through P2P networks including names, birthdates and Social Security numbers. 
  • The illegality of sharing copyrighted material. File sharing is not illegal, but sharing copyrighted material is illegal.
  • P2P file sharing offers no expectation of data privacy.
  • Exposure to trojans and viruses embedded in shared files is high.

P2P Networking vs. P2P File Sharing

P2P networks are much more than P2P file sharing software. P2P networks are especially popular in homes where an expensive, dedicated server computer is neither necessary nor practical. P2P technology can also be found in other places. Microsoft Windows XP starting with Service Pack 1, for example, contains a component called "Windows Peer-to-Peer Networking."