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Peer-to-Peer : Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies Hardcover – March 15, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0596001100 ISBN-10: 059600110X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Peer-to-Peer is a book about an emerging idea. That idea is that the traditional model of participating in the Internet, in which a small computer operated by an everyday user (a "client") asks for and receives information from a big computer administered by a corporation or other large entity (a "server"), is beginning to give some ground to a new (new to the fringes of the Internet, anyway) model called peer-to-peer networking. In peer-to-peer networking, all participants in a network are approximately equal. Furthermore, the participants are usually ordinary computers run by everyday people. The ICQ chat service and the Napster music-sharing community are examples of what this book is about.

The chief advantage of peer-to-peer networks is that large numbers of people share the burden of providing computing resources (processor time and disk space), administration effort, creativity, and--in more than a few cases--legal liability. Furthermore, it's relatively easy to be anonymous in such an environment, and it's harder for opponents of your peer-to-peer service to bring it down. The primary disadvantage of peer-to-peer systems, as anyone will attest who's had an MP3 download prematurely terminated when a dialup user went offline will attest, is the tendency of computers at the edge of the network to fade in and out of availability. Accountability for the actions of network participants is a potential problem, too.

This is a book about the idea of equipping ordinary Internet users' computers with mechanisms that enable them to connect, more or less automatically and without human attention, to other everyday Internet users' machines. By forming networks of computers at the so-called "edge" of the Internet, it's possible to offer valuable services without the burden of building and administering large, centralized computer systems of the sort that host traditional Web sites. Napster is the most successful example to date, though nerds will note that it's not a completely peer-to-peer system because users register their file libraries with a central server when they log on to the service.

Don't approach this book expecting to learn how to build the next Napster system. It's not a how-to book. It's not even much of a why-to book. Rather, it's a book that aims to get its readers thinking about what happens when information systems shift away from the client-server model and toward the peer-to-peer model (that's one of the book's points, by the way, that this is not a one-or-the-other architectural decision).

Mostly, Peer-to-Peer makes its point by letting experts in peer-to-peer take turns in the spotlight. Any other approach would be kind of ironic, wouldn't it? In any case, David Anderson explains how SETI@home puts space buffs' idle computing cycles to use in analyzing radio noise from outer space. Gene Kan explains how Gnutella (a truly serverless environment) works. The architects of Publius explain how distributed computing is especially resistant to censorship and denial-of-service attacks. Other contributors discuss peer-to-peer chat software, anonymous remailing services, and other applications of peer-to-peer design.

There's no one from Napster represented as an author in this collection of essays, but Clay Shirky presents an essay called "Listening to Napster." In that essay, Shirky gives an opinion on why Napster has succeeded: It focused on providing something consumers wanted, and bypassed Internet conventions (like the Domain Naming System) because they weren't the best way to provide the service. This is not an earth-shattering revelation, but it's true, and it's something developers of any new service (Internet-based or otherwise) need to keep in mind.

Some of the technical proposals presented here will get readers thinking. An example: Require that senders of e-mail solve a moderately complex math problem before recipients' mailboxes will accept their mail. The problem would be no big deal for a mailer to solve if he or she were sending messages one at a time, but the processor load would really add up for spammers who blast tens of thousands of unwanted emails onto the Internet in a single session. Another idea: mechanizing the concept of reputation so people know whose thoughts and whose creative works (like software) are worth using or believing.

More business-oriented readers might want to read more about the more subtle ways of incorporating peer-to-peer components into business models. Lots of traditional Web services--Amazon.com is an example--are supplementing their client-server activities with others that have peer-to-peer characteristics. Amazon.com, for example, lets operators of small Web sites promote goods and rely on the centralized resources for billing and fulfillment. There's no distributed software (other than a few links), but the company takes advantage of creativity and marketing efforts outside of its official core. Coverage of that sort of "soft" distributed computing might be a good supplement for the second edition of this book.

Peer-to-Peer is a thought-provoking book that will help its readers understand an exciting, still-emerging application architecture for the Internet. --David Wall

Topics covered: Peer-to-peer applications that run at the edges of the Internet, usually on home computers run by ordinary people. Much of this book comprises case studies on SETI@home, Gnutella, Freenet, Jabber, and other peer-to-peer services. Later chapters address technical issues, such as accountability, security, efficient use of limited bandwidth, and data cataloging.


'Provides an interesting insight in to the world of P2P;, the projects currently tearing up the ;net and the future of the technology. Initial repetition aside, this is a well thought out and useful book which is definitely worth reading.- Linux Format, October 2001 'All in all a typical well-presented O'Reilly package - nice paper, good hardback binding and excellent content.' - Lindsay Marshall, news@UK, June 2001 'Essential reading for budding computer scientists and leaders of oppressive regimes' Computer Shopper, June 2001 'I have used this much space on this particular book because it is currently the best text I have seen that gives a wide introduction to P2P technologies and trends, and there is absolutely no question that infosec practitioners will have to understand this subject.' Information Security Bulletin, May 2001 (2 page review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (March 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 059600110X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596001100
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,228,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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All the articles are well written and of good quality.
Cees van Barneveldt
Aside from teaching, the book is useful for anyone who wants to understand computer networking.
Hans Atlanta
I expect this will be one of the really important computing books published this year.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ross.Anderson@cl.cam.ac.uk on March 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I expect this will be one of the really important computing books published this year.
Five years ago, I proposed a filestore that would be impossible to censor because it was too widely distributed across the Internet. I called this `The Eternity Service' after the `Eternity circuits' described by Arthur C. Clarke in `The City and the Stars'. I had been alarmed by the Scientologists' success at closing down the Penet remailer in Finland; this showed that electronic publishing can make it easy for rich people with ruthless lawyers to suppress publications.
Gutenberg's invention of print publishing made it impossible for princes and bishops to censor troublesome books, but might electronic publishing not make it possible once more? If there are only half a dozen servers containing a controversial document, then court orders can be purchased to close them down. Might not electronic publishing compromise the enormous gift that he gave mankind?
I could never have imagined the effect my paper would have. Rather than sedition, blasphemy or pornography, the battle is being fought over music copyright. Thanks to the Recording Industry Association of America, and its lawsuit against Napster, the Eternity Service has spawned a host of peer-to-peer systems such as Gnutella, Mojonation and Publius that have become front page news. There are also less-well-known systems, such as Red Rover, whose goal is to enable dissidents in places like China remain in contact with each other and with the rest of us. Sometimes, I have felt a bit like a skier who sets off an avalanche, and can only watch in fascination as it thunders down the valley.
So I eagerly awaited my advance copy of this book, and I have certainly not been disappointed.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Hans Atlanta on December 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I consider Peer-to-Peer to be one of the finest books on Internet issues that I have read. I highly recommend it to business and policy professionals, teachers, social scientists, and engineers.
When I first picked up the book, I had modest expectations. I have been disappointed by technical experts treating topics from the social sciences -- and this book does just that. Different chapters focus on such issues as: incentives on users to cooperate, the vulnerability of computer networks to social control, strategies for reliable communications, and censorship. Yet in this volume each topic is treated clearly, intelligently, and insightfully.
The authors not only summarize their topics well, they regularly offer sparkling insights. For example, in the chapter "The Cornucopia of the Commons," Dan Bricklin explains how certain peer-to-peer applications are enriched by consumption. The more that users consume from the electronic commons, the larger that electronic commons becomes. In the case of Napster, as users download files those files become part of the overall archive available to others. This turns the tragedy of the commons on its head: well-designed peer-to-peer applications can create explosive processes of value generation - an insight I find both provocative and profound.
The book sits squarely at that most difficult spot on the intellectual spectrum: the place where technology and policy overlap. Is this a policy book? Yes, it is. The topics above are all policy-relevant, and for a technical expert many of them would be new. Is this a technology book? Yes, it is that, too. It talks about network architecture design, technical implementations of trust and reputation, name spaces, and searching.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Cees van Barneveldt on March 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Peer-to-peer technology is a buzzword today., mainly because of all the publicity about Napster. The picture people get about this technology is not pretty; the main benefits seem to be free music and anonimity, and the core competencies seem to be superdistribution and the lack of any control.
On September 2000 O'Reilly organized a peer-to-peer summit with a number of experts (computer scientists from MIT and AT&T Labs, CTO's, architects, human rights activists). This book is basically an offspring of this summit, with contributions from many of those experts.
One of the goals of this summit was to answer the question what peer-to-peer really is, and about what technologies we should think when we hear the term. There are also a lot of lessons to be learned from well known applications as Napster, Gnutella and Freenet. One of the outcomes is peer-to-peer is much more than file sharing; we also can think of projects regarding Web Services (Bluetooth, .NET, JINI), instant messaging, Web hyperlinking and networked devices. Core benefits include "more effective use of Internet resources through edge services" and "overcoming barriers to formation of ad-hoc communities and working groups". Peer-to-peer should be positioned as a natural next step in the development of the Internet.
After setting the context the book continues with chapters about a number of systems (already developed or still on the drawing table): SETI@home , Jabber, Mixmaster Remailers, Gnutella, Freenet, Red Rover, Publius and Free Haven. The focus of these chapters is on high level requirements and design choices: what works, what does not work and why?
The last part of the book contains descriptions of core technologies and research areas.
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