Napster and Gnutella: Model and History of File Sharing
Napster, a centralized service, was the first major file sharing tool and popularized file sharing for the masses. By late April 2001, Napster, a MP3-only sharing system was still working in a limited form after being the company was dragged into court by the music industry. Napster was eventually successfully shut down by the continued legal attacks from the RIAA. It was openly attacked by some artists (notably Dr. Dre, Metallica) and supported by others (Limp Bizkit, Courtney Love, Dave Mathews). Napster was a localized index for MP3 files shared by the users logged into the system. It included IRC-like chat & IM features. Almost all new, major clients now follow its example in design.
Even before its legal problems, the community created an alternative: OpenNap. A reverse-engineered version of the Napster protocol, it was released as the open source server alternative for Napster users. These networks continue to exist even after Napster’s collapse and many clients using this protocol have appeared, particularly with the help of the Napigator server list – an effort to centralize all of the different servers and networks.
At this time many people were forced into a search for an alternative. People began freely downloading music from a variety of newer and improved programs and decentralized networks like Gnutella with software called Bearshare and Limewire. This service was fully open-source and allowed users to search for almost any file type; users could find more than just MP3s on these networks. It was created/supported in response to threats towards centralized bodies like Napster. The thought behind decentralization is that no one broken link can bring about the downfall of all members.
By late May, 2001, the Gnutella network was swelling to 40 000 hosts. But Gnutella had experienced growing pains since its use skyrocketed. Many people see this period of increased competition as beneficial for p2p software development, with many new beta clients and updated protocols implented. Freenet was also gaining mainstream press attention during 2001. At this time networks became more reliable and swapping movies became more common.
Napster and Gnutella continue to define file sharing today, forming the extreme at both ends. Gnutella, a free and open protocol and service, with it’s lawless structure but poor scalability. Napster with it’s high speed but inability to convince the music industry of its relevance despite millions of dollars in investment.
Most file sharing systems since have sought to ride the line between these two extremes.
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