A peer to peer database uses a network of various individuals' resources in a collective fashion to spread data and information amongst each other. Participants share processing capability, bandwidth and disk storage space to increase the ability of the collective network. The most common use of peer to peer databases is to share computer files as both suppliers and consumers.
The general structure of a peer to peer database takes the form of a large or small network with each user operating as a node. Peer to peer networks feature a user platform which allows individual participants to exchange content and information through the basic Internet Protocol network. Depending on the database, users are either identifiable or anonymous.
While peer to peer databases have been used for a number of years, popularity of the systems rose during the late 1990s with the exchange of computer files associated with music and video. One of the first popular networks was Napster, a peer to peer database designed to exchange MP3 music files. Other file sharing databases such as FastTrack, Gnutella, BitTorrent™ and LimeWire™ also gained popularity in the early 21st century.
There are two basic forms of peer to peer databases: structured and unstructured. Structured databases feature fixed connections operating within the user platform. Unstructured networks feature a variety of nodes without fixed organization. This allows for increased anonymity within the user database.
Within the two frameworks, the network can take the form of a pure or centralized network. A pure peer to peer network features a fixed type of nodes that allows users to operate on an even platform. Centralized peer to peer networks feature a central server, which operates as a main index for the users. Information is collected in a central database and dispersed to users.
The main advantage of peer to peer databases is the fact that computing power is spread across a variety of resources. By decentralizing capacity, more clients can be added to the system than otherwise possible. Data transfer is not slowed down with an increased volume of users as would be the case with a centralized network.
One of the major challenges of peer to peer networking, however, is the risks associated with anonymous users. Most networks are unsecured in nature, making it possible for a variety of malicious software or individuals to have access to sensitive information. In extreme cases, the entire peer to peer database can become compromised, resulting in large swaths of data being mined.