freenet and munchkins

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From: Kragen Sitaker (
Date: Mon Apr 10 2000 - 10:16:23 PDT

I'm not sure if this has been discussed on FoRK lately or not; it's
definitely old bits in a sense, but it's still very relevant to

Ian Clarke's Freenet project <> is a
worldwide distributed gob of documents, similar to the Web in the days
before CGI, but not updatable. It includes adaptive caching to prevent
"hot spots" from forming and provides for anonymous and relatively
permanent publication of information.

This is essentially an implementation of the Eternity Service, but
without the micropayment aspect. Data is stored on nodes when other
nodes nearby ask for the data, not when the node owners are paid to
store it.

It's currently in a working-prototype phase. Unfortunately, the
prototype is in Java, which means it doesn't work very well. Also, it
has no user interface.

It has several major advantages over other systems for distributing
documents, such as HTTP:
- adaptive caching not only prevents hot-spots from forming --- it also
  conserves network bandwidth. If you run a university network, this
  will be a relief.
- it allows large document stores to be transparently distributed
  across many machines' small hard disks.
- it is automatically redundant; it is intended to survive not only
  simple machine failures, but actual hostile attacks.
- it is better suited to anonymous publication.
- it is better suited to publication of controversial information,
  because it is intended to be impossible to remove the information
  from circulation.

These last two properties may turn out to be disadvantages in some
circumstances, such as in France, or if the system is tarnished by
association with publishers of certain controversial information.

It has some disadvantages, too:
- it is not well-suited for dynamically-generated content, it appears,
  and thus for building remotely-accessible applications like Hotmail.
- it has not been tested in large deployments, and its scaling
  properties are not obvious.
- it is not well-suited for frequently-updated content, it appears.
- while it is designed to ensure that attacks from a few points cannot
  cause information to become unavailable, it does not appear to be
  designed to ensure that lack of attention does not cause information
  to become unavailable. It is theoretically possible that, on a
  Freenet, important information could be lost simply because nobody
  accesses it.

The user interface is probably the biggest unknown, though; the major
difference between a bunch of FTP sites and the Web is the user

I am reading Ian Clarke's report on Freenet now; I will post a followup
with what I learn. It may turn out that I will need to post corrections.

It seems that Freenet has been getting a great deal of press exposure
lately, despite its extreme immaturity.

<>       Kragen Sitaker     <>
The Internet stock bubble didn't burst on 1999-11-08.  Hurrah!
The power didn't go out on 2000-01-01 either.  :)

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