Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

January 30, 2018

Blockchain technology – the tech at the heart of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – is being praised all over the world because of its transformative capabilities. The blockchain system keeps an incorruptible record of transactions/procedures dating back to the moment it is first introduced.

Because of its advantages, blockchain tech is finding its way into a growing variety of industries including banking, healthcare, fintech, online music sales, video rendering, ridesharing, and many others.

Now, a team of developers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has released an update for a Peer to Peer (P2P) BitTorrent client that harnesses the power of blockchain tech. The BitTorrent client is called Tribler. According to its developers, even if all torrent sites get closed down it would still be able to find new content for its users.

Tribler’s latest blockchain innovation helps to improve the client’s performance when providing anonymity for its users.

Better Anonymity

The main driving force behind Tribler’s development has always been to create a decentralized BitTorrent client that preserves the anonymity of its users. Originally launched in 2006, Tribler has been working hard to create a decentralized ecosystem for torrenting. Even back in 2014, lead Tribler researcher Prof. Pouwelse made the claim that:

“Tribler makes BitTorrent anonymous and impossible to shut down.”

Tribler is unique because it doesn’t rely on central servers like sites such as The Pirate Bay. Instead, it uses a P2P system similar to Tor to allow its users to share content without divulging their IP addresses. Tribler also uses end-to-end encryption to help conceal the activities of Tribler users both seeding and sharing files.

The latest blockchain addition permits the software to reward users that share their bandwidth with other users. In turn, developers say it will permit Tribler to more effectively provide anonymity for its users.

How Tribler Works

When people search a regular BitTorrent client, the software looks for torrent files or magnet links stored on a centralized server. This allows governments to close down the servers belonging to popular BitTorrent sites – leaving users unable to find content. Tribler, on the other hand, is a Tor-like network that allows peers to communicate directly. This means that there is no central server for copyright holders or authorities to target.

Tribler users’ traffic is bounced around a network created by fellow users. Each user lends their bandwidth to others as they hop around the network – to conceal their true location. The only nodes that users do not create are entry and exit nodes: the most vulnerable points in the network. Those are handled via automated code based machines that are protected with a VPN. Pouwelse explains how those autonomous nodes work as follows:

“They utilize very primitive genetic evolution to improve survival, buy a VPN for protection, earn credits using our experimental credit mining preview release, and sell our bandwidth tokens on our integrated decentral market for cold hard Bitcoin cash to renew the cycle of life for the next month billing cycle of their VPS provider.”

Faster Speeds

Sharing bandwidth with other users to provide anonymity results in slower torrenting speeds. Pouwelse explains that the blockchain reward system will improve those download speeds, but only for users that truly deserve it:

“With the integrated blockchain release today we think we can start fixing the problem of both underseeded swarms and fast proxies. Our solution is basically very simple, only social people get decent performance on Tribler. This means in a few years we will end up with only users that act nice. Others leave.”

For Tribler users that are in it for the long term, the new blockchain will be a blessing. It will emphasize the social side of the community by giving preference to those that stick around and do the most work. Dr. Johan Pouwelse, the lead developer at Tribler, explains:

“You help other Tribler users by seeding and by enhancing their privacy. In return, you get faster downloads, as your tokens show you contribute to the community.”

Going Forward?

Some people might question the need for Delft University’s ongoing commitment to this decentralized BitTorrent project. However, the team is convinced that it is helping to build an ethical network in which people are rewarded for helping others.

Apparently, they aren’t alone. The new addition got a strong response from academics when it was presented last week at Stanford University. In addition, Pouwelse has hopes that the Internet Engineering Task Force will consider Tribler’s blockchain implementation as a possible official Internet standard.

A mobile version of Tribler also exists. It aims at helping people to share videos directly with each other without the need for sites like YouTube. In theory, Tribler means that people could avoid problems with receiving recompense for the videos they create, by allowing them to earn cryptocurrency tokens directly for their content.

For anybody who is interested in becoming part of the Tribler community, it is available for free here.

Opinions are the writer’s own. 

Title image credit: Profit_Image/Shutterstock.com

Image credits: Tribler logo and screenshot, Brt/Shutterstock.com