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peer to peer networkingYou can connect computers to each other with cables, through satellite links or even wirelessly. This will make your computers a part of a network. Regardless of how you connect your computers to each other, your resulting network will be organized in one of two broad ways. Either your computers will communicate directly with the other computers in your network, or they will use another computer as a medium to communicate with the other computers. The first type of network architecture (or network structure) is known as the peer to peer architecture, while the second type of network architecture is known as the client server architecture. Both these kinds of architecture are suitable for different scenarios, and both of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes a computer network even has a combination of peer to peer architecture and client server architecture.

In this tutorial, we’re going to talk about peer to peer networking. If you’re interested in learning more about client server networking, or other basic networking concepts, you can sign up for this course on computer networking. We cover all the basic networking concepts in an easy to understand manner there.

What is a Peer to Peer Network?

As we mentioned before, a peer to peer network is a network that lets the computers in a network communicate directly with each other, without an intermediary. Every computer in the network can share resources or information directly with the other computers in the network. Also, every computer in the network is given equal responsibility when it comes to communication. No computer is responsible for performing the majority of the communication work.  Peer to peer networking differs greatly from a normal client server network. There is no server to oversee the communication work or to provide a centralized storage. Each computer is responsible for overseeing the network.

Peer to peer networks are commonly small (LANs or CANs) scale. An example of a peer to peer network is two computers connected to each other at your house via the LAN port. A peer to peer network can be either wireless or wired. If you have a couple of computers, a printer and a broadband router, then you have both a peer to peer network as well as a client server network. The computers will communicate with each other and share the printer, without a server, making it a peer to peer network. The router lets them connect to the internet, which is a tiered architecture where many computers are connected to each other in layers, with servers acting as intermediaries (a characteristic of the client server architecture). This makes your home network a hybrid network. Learn more about setting up a home LAN network with this course.

How effective are Peer to Peer Networks?

Peer to peer networking can be more effective than client server networking because every computer on the network is given equal responsibility to communicate with each other. This lets you create applications that use the decentralized power of the peer to peer network to great effect – all your computers can work on a computing task without waiting for input from a server, speeding up processing. However, this is not always the case- it depends on the network in general. Sometimes the client server model is more effective.

You can use software applications to manage peer to peer networks and make them more efficient. To better understand how peer to peer communication happens, take this course which explains the underlying TCP and IP protocols.

Where are the Benefits of Peer to Peer Networking?

Peer to peer networking has several benefits. For one, your computers can share data with each other effortlessly. They can also share common devices, like printers and CD ROMs, or even hard drives. The data can be shared in both directions quickly, without the need for routing through another computer.

A major benefit of peer to peer network is that the lack of a centralized server reduces bottlenecks. If you take a client server model, sometimes the servers handling the communication get clogged up. They get a large number of requests from clients, more than the processor can handle. They get clogged up and the communication slows down to a crawl. Sometimes the servers crash, and the communication stops entirely. This is a common occurrence on the internet, when a website server gets more traffic than it can handle. This is not a problem with peer to peer networking, as the network members communicate directly with each other. Even at peak activity, peer to peer networks run efficiently. Bottlenecks, if they form, can be easily resolved too.

Another major benefit of peer to peer networking is the lack of centralized administration. Sometimes centralized administration is a benefit, as you can monitor which computer has access to what. For a home based peer to peer network, however, this is more of a hindrance than a help. Also, the lack of centralized administration means that the files being used by the computers are not stored in a single location. If a file is lost in case of system failure, the other systems aren’t affected in a major way. However, if the server in the client server model fails, then work often comes to a halt until the backup server switches on, if a backup server exists. Any files on the server that were being processed may be lost. If there is no backup server, then the network ceases to function entirely.

Peer to peer networks are much more cost effective than server client networks. A server is usually a specialized bit of hardware that does not come cheap. Also, a server has to be installed by professionals. It requires maintenance and regular upgrades, all of which is not easy. Peer to peer networks, on the other hand, can be installed with basic knowledge. A LAN network, for example, can be set up almost automatically in Windows or Linux.

If you’re looking to become a network engineer, or set up your own networks, this course can help you get started. If you get stuck while setting up your network, don’t worry, we’ve still got your back. Take this course to help you troubleshoot your network!

Page Last Updated: June 2014

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