P2P Networks (TCD 4BA2 Project 2002/03)


1. Historical Development

2. Music and P2P

3. Copyright and P2P

4. Napster

5. GNUtella

6. YouServ

7. Freenet



imageHistory of Freenet

imageFreenet Architecture

imagePerformance Analysis

imageBuisness Implications

imageFreenet In Evaluation: Public Perspective


8. P2P Search Engines

9. P2P Routing

10. P2P Security

Readers Guide




Ronan Watson watsonr@tcd.ie
Ben Chillingsworth chillinb@tcd.ie
Simon Tarbett tarbetts@tcd.ie
Gemma Rafferty raffergg@tcd.ie
Gareth Carter carterg@tcd.ie



Why Freenet?

The explosion of the Internet into the consumer space brought with it changes that have made it difficult to do peer-to-peer networking. Firewalls make it hard to contact hosts; dynamic IP and NAT make it nearly impossible. Asymmetric bandwidth is holding users back from efficiently serving files on their systems.

The millions of users connecting to the Internet started using their ever more powerful home computers for more than just browsing the web and trading emails. Instead, machines in the home and on the desktop are connecting directly, forming groups and collaborating to become user-created search engines, virtual computers, and filesystems.

Over time the Internet has become increasing client/server, with millions of consumer clients communicating with a relatively privileged set of servers. Current peer-to-peer applications are returning to the original notion of using the Internet as a medium of communication for machines that share resources with each other as equals.

Usenet could be considered to help define Freenet. It implements a decentralized model of control and copies files between computers, just like Freenet. It was originally based on Unix-to-Unix-copy protocol. Usenet.

What is Freenet?

Freenet is a completely distributed decentralized peer-to-peer system. It has no notion of global coordination at all. Communication is handled entirely by peers operating at a global level. 

The system operates as a location-independent distributed file system across many individual computers that allows files to be inserted, stored, and requested anonymously.

A node is simply a computer that is running the Freenet software, and all nodes are treated as equals by the network. Each node maintains its own local datastore which it makes available to the network for reading and writing, as well as dynamic routing table containing addresses of other nodes and the keys that they are thought to hold. This removes any single point of failure or control. By following the Freenet protocol, many such nodes spontaneously organise them-selves into an efficient network.

The system is designed to respond adaptively to usage patterns, transparently moving, replicating, and deleting files as necessary to provide efficient service without resorting to broadcast searches or centralised location indexes.

It is intended that most users of the system will run nodes, to
- provide security guarantees against inadvertently using a hostile node
- increase the storage capacity available to the network as a whole.

The system can be regarded as a cooperative distributed filesystem incorporating location independence and transparent lazy replication.

Freenet enables users to share unused disk space, just like systems like distributed.net enable ordinary users to share unused CPU cycles.

The system operates at the application layer and assumes the existence of a secure transport layer, although it is transport-independent. It does not seek to provide anonymity for general network usage, only for Freenet file transactions.

Main Design Goals

1. Anonymity for both producers and consumers of information
2. Free Speech. It provides resistance to attempts by third parties to deny access to information-prevent censorship of documents
3. Efficient dynamic storage and routing of information
4. Decentralization of all network functions-remove any single point of failure or control
5. Anonymity


History of Freenet

In the beginning,

Freenet is the brainchild of Navan-born Ian Clarke. After attending Dundalk Grammar school where he won the national young scientist competition two years in a row, Ian then left Ireland, in 1995, in favour of an artificial intelligence and computer science degree from university of Edinburgh, he certainly has not looked back!

In July 1999 Ian wrote a paper titled “A Distributed Decentralized Information Storage and Retrieval System". This paper was the basis for “freenet”. When questioned however Ian has referred to an earlier paper in 1997 called “Distributed Address Lookup System”, in which it is clear that the ideas were already forming. In keeping with his philosophy of freedom of information, and with the intention of turning his plans into reality Ian recruited the help of the internet community. This is when things stared to get busy. Work moved on fast and the first edition, version 0.1, was released in March of the following year, since then work has been on going with new editions frequently released.

In order to sustain growth as freenet a P2P network it must attract new users, which it does despite powerful arguments against it. It is necessary therefore to explore the philosophy behind its creation .

The original debate:      

 The basic point of contention with freenet is that it is designed to give complete anonymity to the authors and publishers of information on it, because of the distributed design it is impossible to trace the origin of any article to one computer and therefore to one person. Subscribers do not know who or what is using their machines. Ian happily describes this phenomenon as “machine anarchy” and human anarchist the world over has certainly been attracted to its appeal. It is easy to track the views of people through the very extensive press cover that “freenet” has received in the few short years of its existence. It is interesting to note the tone of these releases changing due to the major events that have effected the networking world and the world in general. The very early reports of freenet were very enthusiastic with hopes that Ian’s wish for a platform for freedom of speech and thought could be realized. Also realized immediately were the fears of the uses of this new network. In the same month that freenet was released, Roger Darlington, the chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation, told the New Scientist

 “There is clear potential for misuse by criminals, terrorists and pedophiles,”.

Implications of Napster:

Freenet’s publicity probably peaked around the time of Napster’s demise as it was seen by many to be the most secure alternative. At this time it was obviously subject to a lot of negative press from the music industry as they fought to defend their copyrights. It is interesting that since then however other decentralized file-swapping services such as Kazaa and Morpheus have risen and come to the forefront of the music swaping industry. It is probably not completely coincidental that this coincided with a shift of attention from Ian towards his start_up company Uprizer that was to explore the commercial implications of freenet. As the music and Internet industry took stock of the changes brought about by the Napster case the world tried to recover from the events of September 11.

After September 11:

The darker side of freenet was again approached in the media. Fears that this network could be used to release terrorist propaganda were the repeated questions in “freenet” articles and interviews. Ian defended his creation from an interesting  philosophical standpoint. He pointed out that freenet did not provide a medium for sending “secret” information. Instead it provided a medium for public information from a secret source. His point being that most terrorist activities stem from misinformation and misunderstanding of different beliefs. Freenet provides a platform for all of these beliefs to be published fairly and equally and therefore could provide much needed insight into the minds of cultures different to the western philosophy.

The Future:

When I questioned Ian recently as to how he saw the future of freenet he provided an interesting viewpoint into the minds of the creators. He described the continued development of freenet as a cycle where they start by implementing new ideas, then testing those ideas by deploying the software, and over time they fix bugs, and add minor new features until the software is reasonably stable. However they then start again from scratch with new ideas that they have thought of in the mean time. As this demonstrates the development process is not very structured and still very much in its infancy. When looking towards the future Ian points out that it is important to view freenet for what it is,

“much like the WWW, it is a platform on which people build”

 He continues

We try to anticipate how people will use Freenet, but repeatedly people have used it in ways that we didn't expect. Consequently it is important that we make as few assumptions as possible, and implement new features in as flexible a manner as possible.”

So it seems that the short history of freenet is not over yet. Having survived much criticism over its two and a half year existence new and refined editions are still being released, the most recent being Freenet,  and new uses are being discovered all the time.


Freenet Architecture


Freenet is implemented as an adaptive peer-to-peer network of nodes that query one another to store and retrieve data files, which are named by location-independent keys.

- Keyword-Signed Key (KSK) is based on a short descriptive string chosen by the user when inserting a file. This string is basically hashed to yield the KSK. To allow others to retrieve a document, publishers only have to publish this string.

- Signed-Subspace Key (SSK) is used to identify a personal subspace. A SSK is to allow a user to built a reputation by publishing documents while remaining anonymous but still identifiable.

- Content-Hash Keys (CHK) allows a node to check that the document it just received is a genuine copy and hasn’t been tampered with. They also allow an author to update a document, if this author uses a private subspace (with SSKs).

The basic model is

1. Keys are passed along from node to node through a chain of requests in which each node makes a local decision about where to send the request next, in the style of IP (Internet Protocol) routing.
2. Depending on the key requested the routes would vary. The routing algorithms adaptively adjust routes over time to provide efficient performance while using only local, rather than global knowledge. As each node only has knowledge of their immediate upstream and downstream neighbours, to maintain privacy.
3. Each request is given a hops-to-live limit, which is decremented at each node to prevent infinite chains.
4. Each request is also assigned a pseudo-unique random identifier, so that nodes can prevent loops by rejecting requests they have seen before.
5. This process continues until the request is either satisfied or has exceeded its hops-to-live limit. Then the success or failure is passed back up the chain to the sending node.


In order to make use of Freenet’s distributed resources, a user must initiate a request. Requests are messages that can be forwarded through many different nodes. Initially the user forwards the request to a node that he or she knows about and trusts. If a node doesn’t have the document that the requester is looking for, it forwards the request to another node that, according to its information, is more likely to have the document.

The reply is passed back through each node that forwarded the request, back to the original node that started the chain. Each node in the chain may cache the reply locally, so that it can reply immediately to any further requests for that particular document. This means that commonly requested documents are cached on more nodes, and thus there is no Slashdot effect whereby one node becomes overloaded.


Performance Analysis

User benchmarks include-How long will it take to retrieve this file? How much bandwidth will this query consume? These have direct impact on the usability and success of the system.

Problems which affect the Performance of the Decentralised peer-to-peer network of Freenet
1. In network communication, connection speed dominates processor and I/O speed as the bottleneck. This problem is emphasised by the highly parallel nature of Freenet.
2. As there is no central master index maintained, messages must be passed over many hops, in order to search through the system to find the data. Each hop not only adds to the total bandwidth load but also increases the time needed to perform a query. If a peer is unreachable it can take several minutes to time out the connection.
3. Peer-to-peer communities depend on the presence of a sufficient base of communal participation and cooperation in order to function successfully

Small World Effect

Two characteristics that distinguish small-world networks:
1. A small average path length, typical of random graphs
2. A large clustering coefficient that is independent of network size. The clustering coefficient captures how many of a node’s neighbours are connected to each other.

The small world effect is fundamental to Freenet’s operation. It is important because it defines the file location problem in a decentralised, self-configuring P2P network like Freenet. In Freenet queries are forwarded from one peer to the next according to local decisions about which potentials recipient might make the most progress towards the target. Freenet messages are not targeted to a specific named peer but towards any peer having a desired file in its data store.

-Despite the large network, short routes must exist.
In a simulation of a Freenet network, with 1,000 identical nodes, which were initially empty, half of all requests in the mature network succeed within 6 hops. A quarter of requests succeed within just three hops or fewer. Compared to the Internet as a small world network with a characteristic path length of 19.

Freenet has good average performance but poor worst case performance, because a few bad routing choices can throw a request completely off the track.

Aspects of robustness affect Freenet, as all peer-to-peer systems. Coping with the unreliability of peers. Since peers tend to be PC’s rather than dedicated servers, they are often turned off or disconnected from the network at random.

Looping Solution
Each request is given a pseudo random number to identify all messages generated by that request. This keeps loops from forming in the network.

The routing of requests is the key to Freenet’s scalability and efficiently. It also allows data to ‘move’. Each node tries to forward he request closer and closer to the data, the search is many times more powerful than a linear search and much more efficient than a broadcast.

Performance Issues

By signing software they make available for download, authors can provide some assurance that their code hasn’t been tampered with and facilitate the building of a reputation associated with their name key.

The lesson for peer-to-peer designers is that without accountability in a network, it is difficult to enforce rules of social responsibility. Just like Usenet and email, today’s peer-to-peer systems run the risk of being overrun by unsolicited advertisements.

Firewalls, dynamic IP, and NAT grew out of the clear need in Internet architecture to make scalable, secure systems. New peer-to-peer applications challenge this architecture, demanding that participants serve resources as well as use them.

Interoperability Through Gateways
Firewalls stand at the gateway between the internal network and the Internet outside. Firewalls are a very useful security tool, but they pose a serious obstacle to peer-to-peer communication models.

Asymmetric bandwidth
With network connections such as ADSL and cable modems, favour client over server usage. The problem today is that peer-to-peer applications are changing the assumption that end users only want to download from the Internet, never upload to it. This has resulted in the network infrastructure that is optimised for computers that are only clients, not servers. But peer-to-peer technology generally makes every host act as both as a client and a server; the asymmetric assumption is incorrect. The network architecture is going to have to change to handle this new traffic pattern.

Abusing port 80
The port that HTTP traffic uses when people browse the web. Firewalls typically filter traffic based on the direction of traffic and the destination port of the traffic. Most current peer-to-peer applications have some way to use port 80 in order to circumvent network security policies. The problem lies in that there is no good way you can identify what applications are running through it. Also even if the application has a legitimate reason to go through the firewall, there is no simple way to request permission.

Because no node can tell where a request came from beyond that node that forwarded the request to it, it is very difficult to find the person who started the request. Freenet doesn’t provide perfect anonymity because it balances paranoia against efficiency and usability. If someone wants to find out exactly what you are doing, then given the resources, they will. Freenet does, however, seek to stop mass, indiscriminate surveillance of people.

Law Issue
As Freenet can potentially contain illegal information, it provides deniability that the owner of the computer/the node, knows nothing of what is stored on his/her computer, due to the encryption that Freenet provides.


1. Freenet is solving many of the problems seen in centralised networks. Popular data, far from being less available as requests increase (Slashdot effect), becomes more available as nodes cache it. This is the correct reaction of a network storage system to popular data.
2. Freenet also removes the single point of attack for censors, the single point of technical failure, and the ability for people to gather large amounts of personal information about a reader.
3. Freenet’s niche is in the efficient and anonymous distribution of files. It is designed to find a file in the minimum number of node-to-node transactions. Additionally, it is designed to protect the privacy of the publisher of the information, and all intervening nodes though which the information passes.

1. It is designed for file distribution and not fixed storage. It is NOT intended to guarantee permanent file storage, although it is hoped that a sufficient number of nodes will join with enough storage capacity that most files will be able to remain indefinitely.
2. Freenet does not yet have a search system, because designing a search system which is sufficiently efficient and anonymous can be difficult.
3. the node operators cannot be held responsible for what is being stored on its hard drive. Freenet is constantly criticized because you have to donate your personal hard drive space to a bunch of strangers that may be very well use it to host content that you disapprove of.
4. Freenet is designed so that if the file is in the network, the path to the file is usually short. Consequently, Freenet is not optimised for long paths. Long paths can therefore be very slow.
5. Self-organising file sharing systems like Freenet are affected by the popularity of files, and hence may be susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.


Buisness Implications

Will P2P companies thrive or die?

Ian Clarke assembled Freenet. In an e-mail exchange about P2P, and how people can make money selling music on it, Clarke wrote:

"The first and simplest way is to allow people to voluntarily pay for music they like. At first this may seem like a weird idea, yet most of the USA's service industry works on the idea of tips."

So is this the only way that P2P companies will make a profit?

Brandon Wiley, of the Freenet Project, sees P2P as a pure labour of love. Freenet's goal is to make the Internet "uncensorable."

"We don't have a business model," Wiley said at the SXSW Interactive conference during a panel discussion on the future of peer to peer technology.

"We don't have funding," he added."We're just a bunch of guys trying to save the world." He also insisted that the future of P2P will have nothing to do with e-commerce.

However Freenet have now employed a full time programmer to work on developing this project, along with Ian Clarke and about 5 others from around the world.

Here is an excerpt from the Freenet Project website explaining how they have managed to raise money to pay the living costs of a programmer.

Thanks to all those who donated their hard-earned money after the 0.5 release, I can now announce that Matthew Toseland, who has been working full-time on Freenet, has agreed to work for an additional two months. This was made possible because, using your donations, the Freenet Project can cover his living expenses during this time, at the cost of $2500.

Matthew has indicated that he would be interested in continuing this relationship beyond this time, but to do that we need to raise another $2500 before January 11th, 2003. This won't be easy, we only barely achieved this last time, and that was with the publicity generated by the 0.5 release. If you would like to help extend Matthews employment further, please visit our Donations page now and contribute whatever you can spare.”

There has recently been a quote of 2,500 active users of Freenet, but that cannot be exactly verified. From this amount of people they have collected $2500.  If we compare that to Napster, it had 50 million users. So maybe it is possible to make a profit from 'tips'. However this could be a problem when it comes to securing investments. I don't think venture capitalists would be too confident in making profits based on 'tips'.

Ian Clarke has opened the doors on a second business venture, this one aimed at letting him and a co-founder write whatever software they dream up and bring it quickly to market. The company's first project is a set of tools for Web developers.

"Contrary to a lot of public opinion, I think we were all pretty business-minded from the beginning," Parker, the co-founder of Napster, said talking about the young wave of programmers who launched the first round of file-swapping products. "A lot of the ideas from the peer-to-peer era are finding their way into this generation of products."

Clarke's new company is dubbed Cematics, and is primarily a springboard for a succession of ideas from himself and fellow Freenet programmer Scott Miller.

"Basically the goal is to create an organization which can rapidly bring diverse products to market," Clarke said. "Through my experience with Uprizer, I saw that you can come up with an interesting idea, solve an interesting problem, but the cycle to come up with the next interesting idea is too long."

Cematics will do consulting work to help pay the bills in its early days, Clarke said. Its first product, already available, is a tool to help Web developers automate changes across sprawling sites.

Other P2P possible business ventures

Venture capitalists are getting inundated with pitches from peer-to-peer (P2P) companies. The only problem is most of the pitches don't show a "p" to "p" -- path to profitability.
A year ago venture capitalists invested in everything Internet. Now they're moving with caution, especially with the increasing number of baby peer-to-peer (P2P) networking companies that are pitching themselves without a clear plan for turning a profit.

Entrepreneurs have been sending VCs P2P business plans since last year, but they really started flying when Napster gained notoriety. "We're in buzzword land," says James Geshwiler, a managing director of Common Angels, a Boston-based investment group made up of 50 technology executives. "Everyone's trying to do peer-to-peer now."

The staying power of P2P technology depends on whether companies develop useful, money-making applications using the technology, says Barry Parr, director of e-commerce research for IDC, a technology market researcher. Mr. Parr says he isn't sure any company has solved that issue. VCs, who have renewed their focus on profitability, say that most of the P2P plans coming across their desks don't show how they'll achieve it.

Rich Kilmer, who used to build computer security systems for the U.S. Air Force, founded one company called Roku. Roku's most compelling application might be what CEO Chuck Ennis calls "the serve-yourself model." Instead of primarily linking your computer to other computers on the edge, Roku lets you get directly into your own computer from any other computing device on the Internet, without going through anybody's server.

If you're visiting another company and really need a PowerPoint presentation that's on a hard drive back at work, and if your PC at work is turned on and connected to the Net and is loaded with Roku's software, you could log in from any other PC and get the presentation. In fact, you could remotely work on your own PC, getting to anything that's inside it - e-mail, documents, and so on.

And it all works on the same P2P principles that allow music fans to trade songs. But if that's the case, how will Roku make money?

Ennis explains that if Roku software is loaded into a cell phone, it might drive the cell phone's owner to use more minutes connecting to the Web, adding to the cellular provider's revenue. Roku could strike a deal to get a cut of that revenue. Roku will try to create similar models with big makers of devices and computers. "We're going after the Dells, the Motorolas, the H-Ps and the Sonys," Ennis says. Investors so far include PSInet, Nextel and venture firm Draper Atlantic.


Freenet In Evaluation: Public Perspective

How do people regard Freenet?

In researching how people perceive Freenet, two discussions emerge. Firstly the practical aspects of Freenet, the experiences people have had of actually using the system. The other discussions are based on the anonymity issue associated with Freenet. The idea of preserving free speech and a lack of censorship vs. the ability for it to be used illegally for child pornography etc.

It terms of the practical aspects involved in the use of Freenet the overwhelming view both from the Freenet creators themselves and users is that this is still very much a work in progress. It has a huge amount of potential, but at present is lacking the uptake needed to really get going. It’s potential is viewed in different ways.

“Freenet should survive because it could replace HTTP as a file-sharing protocol. Data is replicated throughout the network, which prevents the Slashdot effect. This will enable people to publish stuff without shelling out major bux for bandwidth.”

http://slashdot.org/ (discussion on Freenet)

However it seems a lot of users aren’t prepared to look past the everyday practicalities of using Freenet at the moment.

“I swear, I start to feel dumber each time I search for a key on Freenet, and I have to wait a half hour for the results. I can personally guarantee that Freenet will be vaporware until it becomes as fast as the www.”

http://slashdot.org/ (discussion on Freenet)

Kelly Truelove, an independent, Texas-based peer-to-peer technology consultant, sums both of these opinions up.

"Historically, it's been seen as having a lot of interesting technological ideas, but has lacked usability.”

But the majority of views and discussions on Freenet centres on the anonymity issue. As we have seen one of the main goals of the project is to allow every user to remain anonymous. The first application for Freenet given on the developers own web page is

“Uncensorable dissemination of controversial information: Freenet protects freedom of speech by enabling anonymous and uncensorable publication of material”

The developers’ view, in order to protect freedom of speech you must have anonymity. But anonymity online in the wake of September 11th has become a very controversial notion. 

Firstly with anonymity, people can publish whatever they want and essentially not get in trouble for it even if what they are publishing illegal material. This is obviously a good thing if you are living in a country that does not allow freedom of speech. Where to speak out against political leaders could lead to persecution. How ever it becomes a very bad thing when you get people in free countries using Freenet as a means to spread child pornography.

The Freenet developers assume that the ‘good’ will outweigh the ‘bad’. But not all agree with this view.

“Uh, Freenet's not about peddling your thoughts and speeches. It's about peddling kiddie porn and MP3s.” - http://slashdot.org/ (discussion on Freenet)

This leads on to the legal issue. As Freenet works by moving information around nodes, a user may end up with child pornography on their computer without their knowledge. Individual users have no power over what is transferred across their own node. All files stored by each node are encrypted. One view is, if you have no way of knowing what your computer is doing you cannot be held responsible. Freenet allows deniability. The other view is that possession and distribution are both crimes. If a case were to be tried involving child pornography would people find sympathy with the argument I didn’t know?

Even the developers themselves don’t seem to be entirely confident on the legal issue. They admit that users may be breaking the laws of their countries by using Freenet. On running Freenet for the first time you get a warning:

By accessing information on Freenet, you may accidentally or deliberately be in violation of the law in your country, state, territory, or province. You could also be in violation of the terms under which you are provided with Internet access, employment, or education. While Freenet does its utmost to protect your privacy, it cannot defend against vulnerabilities in other software on your computer, and may be vulnerable to some forms of surveillance. You accept all responsibility for any legal or other risk which arises from your use of this software. If you are concerned about Freenet's degree of security, you should familiarize yourself with its operation to better understand the level of protection it can and cannot provide. You will not see this warning again.

People’s views also differ on accountability. Allowing people to publish material anonymously, some argue people don’t have to take any responsibility for it.

“Free speech is founded not only on the protection of individual freedom, but also on accountability; you must take responsibility for what you say.”  

http://slashdot.org/ (discussion on Freenet)

People tend to regard anonymous material with an air of distrust. But if publishing an article led to political persecution there is a case for wanting to remain anonymous.

In terms of a terrorist use of Freenet for communication, Ian Clarke argues that it could only be used to share information with the general public, which may not be a bad thing. There is no form of secret communication on Freenet.

The goal of Freenet is to provide a forum for free distribution of information that is impossible to censor. Peoples views of this as we have seen vary considerably.  Freenet is a tool that could help people in a country without free speech spread their ideas without fear of persecution. But this same tool could be used to promote child pornography.


Freenet In Evaluation:Personal

'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.',- "1984", George Orwell

'There can be nothing more dreadful than that the actions of a man should be subject to the will of another' - Kant, taken from "History of Western Philosophy", Bertrand Russell p678

In evaluating Freenet, one must first look at the philosophy that spawns it. From an understanding of Freenet one can extrapolate purpose, and goals against which we may determine the level of success of the application. However, when dealing with a philosophy as ambivalent as Freenet has, we must also consider whether the philosophy itself is above suspicion. This section endeavours to study the Freenet philosophy outlined above, and evaluate it from personal user-based point-of-view, considering the current users and potential users of the Freenet network. Also provided, is an evaluation of the current Freenet version (Freenet v0.5, as of 20/11/02). In attempting to evaluate Freenet on both fronts, one can fairly evaluate the system.

Safeguarding the future.

Freenet takes its queue from the final sequence of Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. The film, based upon Ray Bradbury's book, is concerned with a future where books are decreed illegal and 'firemen' are in charge of the discovery and burning of any books. In order to escape the tyranny of this world, people escape to the woods where they commit a book to memory so the knowledge of the past is not lost. Using Freenet is similar to this, where the "book people" are the nodes in the network, and you can find information from asking these nodes, who in turn ask others. The question we must ask ourselves though, how likely is it that we will live in a dystopia of this sort?

There is little chance that such strict fascism could infect western culture, where people have a true sense of what rights they have and what rights they require. While it may be restrictive to only consider the west, (by which I mean the developed world) but this is where there exists the infrastructure to accommodate the Freenet. In order to operate, Freenet requires, as mandatory, wide deployment of permanent home connections to the internet, (NOTE: It can support transient nodes, however these nodes will not provide a wide enough data storage area for Freenet to operate). In underdeveloped countries, where the voice of dissent is truly necessary, to attack, or at least discuss, oppression, there probably won't exist a decent infrastructure that will accommodate a grassroots movement.

A Critique of Pure Freedom

"Repeat after me: Freedom and personal responsibility good, serfdom and tyrannical control bad."

Often, we can take our freedom for granted. We have had Freedom, or at least the presumption of it, for most of our life. We don't stop to question what it is that 'Freedom' actually is and why it is good that we have it. With respect to Freenet, we need to ask this question of 'Freedom of Speech' or more generally 'Freedom of Information'. Freenet would be quick to suggest that the only Freedom is total Freedom, that there is no such thing as 'degrees of Freedom' and perhaps they are right. However, total Freedom comes at a great cost.

For the most part, Freenet and the World Wide Web, consists of opinion. People clog up the networks with information some of which is true some of which is false. With the Web, this information can be traced to the owner and either proven to be true by the author or false when no supporting evidence appears. Freenet takes the ability to verify information away. This is the price of anonymity, the price of Freedom from personal persecution of private authors is public persecution of public figures.

Freenet wants to allow people of vastly different beliefs an ability to share open forum and discussion. This could be a useful service. Imagine if we could truly understand, or at least glimpse at, what motivated terrorists or peadophiles. We could use this to try to find common ground and hopefully a better society. Unfortunately, Freenet is not used for this purpose. There are numerous documents on Freenet that allude to child pornography and several that are run by anarchists. These documents are not open discussion rather sites created by and for the community they allude to. Rather than trying to unite people of opposing views, Freenet links together the people of their own type with each other.

"T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That Cha Do It)"

If you believe that Freenet is a very valuable and useful service, the question you do need to ask is how well does it function. It has already been suggested that Freenet has difficulty running without considerable resource support, (requiring huge decentralized data storage on permanent network connections). Due to this and the relatively slow uptake Freenet has received (as compared to Kazaa), information is not distributed fairly, meaning only several well known, popular and recently updated documents are accessible. In using Freenet, about 60% of sites that I tried from "The Freedom Engine", currently the only truly anonymous way to improve your knowledge of the content of Freenet, were inaccessible.

One of the driving factors of the World Wide Web was the instant, or near instant access to information. Traditionally, if you wished to read a document from any source, a journey to the library/bookshop would be required. The Web gave you access to this information in moments (on the basis that you could find it). As we get used to the speed of the web, and the need for it to be faster (multimedia), to take a step back and be forced to wait for text strikes me as hard to accept. The slowness of Freenet is not just the complex routing employed by Freenet, (the neighbours scheme), but also the encryption of data to provide purely anonymous security.

Further to the relative slowness in Freenet, is the lack of important, but illegal, material. Freenet suggests it will offer to its users a bank of information that has been deemed inappropriate, by the powers that be (Bilderburgers, Tobacco Companies, European Union). This information would have ramifications in decisions we make every day. Unfortunately Freenet doesn't offer any of this. I was hard pressed to find material which revolutionized my world view, or personal philosophy. Most of Freenet could be easily published on the WWW, in fact some of it is published on the WWW, with exception to the child pornography, which as stated earlier, should possibly not be allowed. This of course would take away peoples freedom to publish on Freenet, but would this necessarily be a bad thing?


Freenet is another example of the 'great' idea that the internet and the technology age promised us. Freenet is vast in scope, and tries to offer a technical solution to a problem to which there seems to be no solution. Freedom of speech is good, but perhaps there are limits to what we can consider worthwhile. It is perhaps not a good idea to allow publishers of any information to place it in the public domain without proof, yet Freenet is based on the idea that all opinions are equally valid. In an ideal world, perhaps we would all be equal in every way, but perhaps this wouldn't be as ideal as we would wish it. If someone is more informed, more understanding of some topics than someone else, this same person is less informed and less knowledgeable in other areas. People aren't equal in all respects, but cumulatively we are all equal.

As it stands Freenet, as a piece of software, is not perfect. This is evident, as we are still only on version a half. There needs to be a great deal more research into this project. Many commentators have suggested Freenet will not survive but will act as a prototype for future investigation. I think this is Freenet's greatest strength. Freenet is a revolutionary new idea. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, it will have little impact, but as the man says 'from little seeds, great oaks grow.



www.InternetWeek.com  May2 2001.

“Peer-to-Peer Goes Corporate” by David Lipschultz.

www.ZDNetNews.com. November 12 2002

“P2P pioneers take on new challenges”

www.ZDNetNews.com. October 28 2002

“Freenet re-energises file sharing” By John Borland

www.ntk.net, April 12 2002.

“Sufficiently advanced technology: the gathering”

http://dgardnier.etudier-online.com, April 25 2001.

“The Freenet Project Follow the White Rabbit..” by David Garnier



Freenet project taking donations

http://news.com.com/  October 28, 2002

Freenet keeps file-trading flame burning

http://news.com.com/          May 6, 2002

Ian Clarke's peer-to-peer debate



http://news.com “Ian Clarke’s peer-to-peer debate”, May 6, 2002

“Intel.other fund Freenet creator’s start-up”

“Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the disruptive potential of collaborative networking”

Andy Oram, O’Reilly & Associates, Inc, 2000

Lecture Notes on Computer Science. Peer-to-peer systems-Peter Druschel,  Frans Kaashoek,  Anthony Rowstrons. 

1st International Workshop, IPTPS 2002, Cambridge MA, USA, March 7-8, 2002 “Locating Data in (Small-World?)

Peer-to-Peer Scientific Collaborations”