Decentralized Web and P2P Networking Explained

Do you send an image to one of your friends through an online service? The image that you sent is actually uploaded to a central server of the service that you are using. Your friend basically gets a link to that file and can see it or download it from there. Is your file safe and who owns it now? This is how decentralization and p2p networking affects what you do on the web.

At this point in time, the internet is a boon for all of us. It has made everything more convenient and better: exchanging files, messaging, and even being social. It has also added a few more services that now look like they have always existed, like video calling, social networking, blogging, etc. While it does seem all good, is it, really?

Let me begin by taking an example here.

Suppose you send an image to one of your friends through an online service. What is happening here? The image that you sent is actually uploaded to a central server of the service that you are using. Your friend basically gets a link to that file and can see it or download it from there. While it looks like the image is just between you and your friend, the image is really on the server of the service provider. Now, one may wonder what the problem is in such communication? There are a few, actually. Let us see what those are and how decentralization provides a solution.

Decentralization is the process of spreading out data and services to multiple servers rather than keeping them localized at one server.

Through this, users can take back control of their own data, rather than them being in the control of large conglomerates.

Privacy and Data Mining

The first and the most severe issue with the centralized model is that the data you send isn’t really yours anymore. It is on a server that is not in your control, and this is certainly not good for privacy. It also pretty well known that some large conglomerates sell user data in various ways.

Even if you delete something from your end, you cannot make sure that it is not on the server anymore. Maybe it is just not visible to you, just like the rest of the people who use the same server and cannot see your data. Not to mention, it is also prone to threats from crackers.

Solution

For most decentralized services, the more servers, the better. This means that most services would even allow you to have a server of your own- for being used by yourself or other people. What this indicates is that you can be in total control of your personal data. Besides, most of the decentralized services are open source and use public-key cryptography so that the security is well built. This means that you can control who has access to your data in a much more transparent way.

Data and Service Loss

Another point is that if the central server goes down at a particular time, your data goes down as well. This is more relevant if you’re using a cloud service for storage.

Another difficulty could occur if you use an online service for a particularly important task in your daily life. Perhaps your business. If that service providing company goes under, you will lose access. You can probably switch to another similar service, but in any case, it will be a pain, and you will lose your data.

Solution

Decentralized services are run across multiple servers. While there may be a central figure who can control the servers, it’s hardly ever the case because managing so many servers all over the globe is not an easy task. All the servers are at different locations, and most are governed by different people. This means that no single person can actually abort the service suddenly. Even if an only person wants to continue the service, the user can.

As for the data loss, your data is spread across multiple systems in chunks, totally encrypted. No single person knows where all your information is; it is difficult for an only person to even decrypt one shred of it. Also, if one server goes down, you save most of your data, which is definitely better than losing all of it.

Another example is the infamous BitTorrent. One person uploads the file for the first time, and that file is only present on that user’s system. When you download it, it is now also present in your system. If you have ever used BitTorrent, you must have heard of the term ‘seeding’. So basically, what happens is that now, as you too have the file, the original uploader and you both can act as a server for a third person, and this keeps on growing. BitTorrent is an excellent example of how efficiently decentralization works.

Censorship and Access

As long as a central figure has complete authority over something, they can restrict any person from using their services as they desire. While this could be a good thing in some cases, in any other case, it’s not. They can practically discriminate against someone as they may wish, and there would be nothing anyone could do.

Solution

Since there is no single authority, no one can really stop anyone from using a service. If, for example, if there even is some issue on one of the servers of the service, you can always just hit up another server and register there.

Control and Source Code

It is not an unknown fact that specific organizations and companies are in control and possession of much more data and power than they should be. This can not be good for anyone. Other than that, most of these companies have their services as proprietary software. There’s not much control you really have on the software, either.

Solution

The data will not be stored at a single place, and as mentioned earlier, you can even host your own data yourself, in some instances. This means that there are fewer people with excessive power over other people. Also, most of these services are totally open-source and extremely secure (using public-key cryptography in many cases), so the insecurities really dial down.

Peer-to-Peer Networks

Peer-to-Peer or P2P networks are also an important and useful decentralized service. As mentioned earlier, when you chat with a person using online services, what happens is that you send the message to a server, and that person can read the message from the server. The fact overlooked most of the time is that there is a server involved between you and the recipient. That brings all those flaws of centralized systems into the picture.

 What peer-to-peer networking does is to eliminate the server and to connect both the users directly. In a P2P network, you are both the client and the server. This gives you back the control of your data and is also faster, considering there are lesser nodes to travel through.

Conclusion

Decentralization and P2P networking have multiple benefits that span over to various fields viz. better for budget, for privacy, for open source, and much better stability. It is driven by the people, and the community decides on every choice. Decentralized services bring the control back to the people, which is the way the internet was intended to be. I request you all to support these services and help each other make a better internet.

Pulkit Chandak
Pulkit Chandak is a Linux enthusiast and has been using and experimenting with open source software and hardware too since a long time. He is a huge admirer of open source software and wants to ventilate it to all around him. He is interested in reviewing and writing tutorials on Linux and its many distributions. He believes that freedom in software leads to freedom of the mind from the chains of limits.

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