What is the peer-to-peer model?

The peer-to-peer model is an architectural concept for providing services in a network. The peers have equal rights among each other. They can provide and use services. Typical applications are file sharing services or instant messaging. An alternative model is the client-server model, in which clients and servers are assigned specific tasks.

The peer-to-peer model, or P2P model for short, is an architectural concept and communication model for providing services in a network. The communication partners involved are called peers and have equal rights among themselves. They can both provide services and make use of them.

The P2P model is an alternative to the client-server model. In the client-server model, the clients and servers are assigned different tasks. Another alternative architecture model is the master-slave model.

The P2P model has a decentralized structure and organizes itself. However, there are different variants of the P2P model, some of which have different characteristics in terms of their decentralized nature. Typical applications of the P2P architectural concept are file-sharing services on the Internet, instant messaging, grid computing and collaboration tools.

Typical characteristics of the peer-to-peer model

  • The peer-to-peer model has some typical characteristics. These are:
  • communication partners can both offer and receive services – they have equal rights among themselves
  • peers communicate directly with each other and exchange information without an intermediate instance
  • the peer-to-peer model has a decentralized structure
  • peers are autonomous and organize themselves independently
  • Peers can have very different performance
  • the availability of individual peers cannot be guaranteed
  • The different variants of the peer-to-peer model

Depending on the application and implementation of the P2P model, different variants exist. Distinguishing features are the degree of decentralization, the structuring of the peers and different capabilities for self-organization. While in simple P2P models all peers are completely equal, in more complex models groups of peers can be formed, to which slightly different specific tasks are assigned. For example, in fully equal peer-to-peer architectures, search queries must be sent to all peers.

In structured or grouped systems, it is possible to map higher-level search functions by providing an index. Some P2P systems have central elements that perform tasks in the coordination of the peers. For example, they manage addresses or lists of services offered. In this case, we also speak of hybrid or hierarchical P2P systems. Systems with supernodes have individual, particularly high-performance peers that provide a large proportion of the resources for the overall system.

Alternative architecture models

In addition to the peer-to-peer model, there are other alternative architecture models for providing services in networks, such as the client-server model or the master-slave model. In the client-server model, tasks are clearly distributed in the network. Servers provide services, and clients use the services. This model is one of the most frequently used models on the Internet. Many services and communication protocols in TCP/IP networks, such as receiving and sending e-mails, retrieving Internet pages, transferring files, or resolving domain names, are based on the client-server model.

Another architecture model is the master-slave model. In this architecture concept, the master assumes a leading role. It grants slaves the right to access shared resources and organizes communication. Slaves are not themselves able to communicate without permission from the master.

Application areas of the peer-to-peer model

The peer-to-peer model is used in numerous applications. Popular application areas are file sharing services on the Internet. Participating peers offer files for download and can simultaneously download files from one or more peers. Other applications include:

  • Grid computing (distributed computing) as in the SETI project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).
  • Instant messaging and voice over IP
  • Collaboration tools

Advantages of the peer-to-peer model

The peer-to-peer model offers a whole range of advantages. P2P systems are very scalable and, because they are self-organizing, require little management effort. The failure of a single peer hardly affects the overall function of the system. By combining the resources of many individual peers, tasks can be completed that may require expensive high-performance computers in a client-server structure.