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What Does Gnutella Mean?

Gnutella is a decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) network that allows users to share files across the Internet without having to use a central server.


Users search for a file and using this software, they find others sharing it. They then join a peer-to-peer network of those sharing that file and download pieces of the file from another peer until the complete file has been obtained.

Gnutella is neither sold nor supported by anyone, but has public domain software descendants such as LimeWire.

Techopedia Explains Gnutella

With peer-to-peer networking, after the first person starts downloading pieces of a file, the next person who wants it can simultaneously download some pieces from the originator, and some from the peer who now has some of it. Peer-to-peer file sharing software gets different pieces from all the users who are sharing a file and then rebuilds the pieces back into the original file.

As more people join the group wanting the file, the number of places from which to obtain pieces of the file increases. This perpetuation of sharing users can result in some very fast file distribution as the pieces can be simultaneously downloaded from anyone on the network who is sharing that file. Because files are shared as they are downloaded, downloads can be very fast for popular files.

Gnutella is installed on each file sharer’s computer, so there is no central server.

Copyright infringement caused a huge number of problems for AOL, the ordinal issuer of this technology under the name Nullsoft. AOL quickly withdrew development and support for the program, but not before thousands had already shared it. Developers re-engineered the protocol and released it back into the public domain.

In 2001, LimeWire Basic became the first open-source Gnutella client. This propelled the network to success, but in 2010 the U.S. courts shut down LimeWire due to the music industry’s lobbying efforts and opposition to peer-to-peer sharing of music. The court battle between LimeWire and the Recording Industry Association of America lasted for four long years. LimeWire downloads were considered to have resulted in massive copyright infringements. In addition, LimeWire came to be avoided as a result of the number of viruses conveyed through its network as file attachments.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.