What is Decentralized File Sharing and How Does It Work?

Beginner’s Guide / 06.09.2020

If you are new to blockchain technology, you may have heard the term “decentralized file sharing” thrown around. It may seem like a familiar concept, and it should be if you downloaded a torrent file in the past 20 years.

Blockchain is a revolutionary invention that does not only provide groundbreaking innovations but also upgrades to previous technologies. As it is the case with most software and computing protocols, blockchain takes file sharing as we have known it over the years, and takes it to the next level by making it decentralized.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at what decentralized file sharing is and how it works!

Decentralized File Sharing Explained

In the last two decades, the internet has functioned on the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, which enables users to share hypermedia documents. It also supports communication between web browsers and web servers to transmit high volumes of data and files.

All this information is stored on centralized servers, and its existence is dependent on the servers’ well-functioning.

For example, every time you access a website, you obtain information that the site stores on a centralized server. The HTTP application protocol enables this data transmission and communication between you and the server. If the server stops functioning, you cannot access the content on that website anymore.

Although it overhauled the internet when it first came out in 1996, HTTP is steadily becoming obsolete in the present-day blockchain era. The protocol’s dependence on centralized servers enables data providers to censor information and block data transfer.

Decentralized file sharing substitutes the single-server format by storing data on multiple servers (nodes) connected to a network. In this case, all of the servers contain the same information. If one of them goes down, the data remains accessible, and the network continues to support file sharing and transmission.

You may recognize this system if you have ever used a torrenting platform. There, several computers provide access to large audio or video files among others. Unfortunately, behind those computers (nodes) are people who voluntarily share the data, and if one day they decide to quit, the torrent file that they were sharing becomes inaccessible.

Blockchain technology takes decentralized file sharing to the next level by incentivizing the nodes, or rather said, the people that constitute the network. On solid, decentralized platforms, multiple servers can provide access to the network’s services and data in exchange for digital rewards like cryptocurrency tokens.

How Does Decentralized File Sharing Work?

The way we use the internet now depends largely on centralized servers. The process of obtaining information from the web is quite simple:

You, as an internet client, open a browser and type in a request, which can be anything from an URL to a query on a search engine.

Your query travels via the HTTP protocol to the location where the relevant information is stored, which is a centralized server

Using the HTTP protocol, the server sends you the data or the files that you have requested via the HTTP protocol as well

This type of communication is straightforward, but it comes with several disadvantages. For one, you rely on the functioning of that centralized server to access the information you need. Secondly, depending on the server’s performance and the bandwidth, obtaining your request may be slow or ineffective.

Decentralized file sharing swaps this model for an improved one, also known as peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing.

In this scenario, the files or data that you request are stored and distributed among multiple servers (nodes) of a network. Each file is identifiable by a unique cryptographic hash, which is tracked across the entire platform. When you make a request, the system quickly encounters the nodes that withhold the most relevant unique hashes to your query, and provide you instant access to them.

The Advantages of Decentralized File Sharing

With decentralized file sharing, everyone has something to gain from the developers to the content creators and from the service providers to the regular internet users.

Here are some of the benefits of decentralized file sharing:

  • The information stored on multiple decentralized servers is permanently available
  • The bandwidth never gets clogged allowing a sheer number of users and channels to access the same data concomitantly
  • The data stored on a decentralized network is encrypted, and therefore highly resistant to censorship and oppression
  • Decentralized file sharing is one of the fundamental features of the next step in the evolution of the internet, Web 3.0.

Examples of Decentralized File Sharing Protocols

As of now, two decentralized file sharing services are well up-and-running:

BitTorrent powered by TRON

BitTorrent is one of the most popular P2P file sharing applications. Since its release in 2001, it has helped millions of people from all over the world share files and data.

In 2018, TRON acquired BitTorrent and used it to launch the BitTorrent File System (BTFS), which is developed on top of the TRON network. Its users can now go from voluntary participants to incentivized nodes, and receive rewards in TRON tokens for their contributions.

The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS)

This peer-to-peer file sharing protocol is the product of Protocol Labs, and it launched in 2015. The system aims to provide a cost-effective decentralized file storage solution to decentralized applications on the blockchain.

IPFS users should also be rewarded in the future when Filecoin, Protocol Labs’ blockchain layer will launch.

Is Decentralized File Sharing the Future of Data Storing and Sharing?

To answer this question, you only need to look at a case of data censorship in recent history.

Between 2017 and early 2020, Wikipedia was banned in Turkey. The current Turkish administration is well-known for its overly controlling nature, and it banned one of the largest collections of free information on the internet by deeming it a national security threat.

However, a group of white-hat hackers uploaded a version of Turkish Wikipedia and posted it using IPFS as a way of navigating around the ban. Eventually, in December 2019, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the ban violated freedom of expression, and restored access to Wikipedia for the Turkish people.

This case is just a preview of how our rights to access information freely can disappear in the blink of an eye once an authoritarian government decides that it “benefits the nation.” This kind of censorship power, which is still available through centralized file sharing protocols, should not be reserved for a single person or an oligarchic group. Fortunately, blockchain decentralized file sharing is a viable solution to the problem.

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A creative writer in the field of content writing for the past 7 years. Iulian is passionate about his work and his interest in areas such as technology, travel, sports, literature and gastronomy have aided him to the research quality in articles that reflect these themes. Recently, he discovered the Bitcoin and the blockchain technology and he’s a big fan now.