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A Darknet is a private virtual network where users only connect to people they trust. Typically such networks are small, often with fewer than 10 users each. In its most general meaning, a Darknet can be any type of closed, private group of people communicating, but the name is most often used specifically for file sharing networks.

The term originated from The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution, a 2002 article by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman, four employees of Microsoft. They argued that the presence of the darknet was the major hindrance to the development of workable DRM (Digital Rights Management) technologies. This term has since seen usage in major media sources, including Rolling Stone, The Economist, and Wired magazine, and it is also the title of a book by J.D. Lasica.

When used to describe a file sharing network, the term is synonymous with the perhaps more widely used "friend-to-friend" - both describing networks where users' computers share files only with trusted friends. The most widespread file sharing networks like Kazaa, are not darknets since peers will communicate with anybody else on the network. The perhaps most widely used darknet software are Nullsoft's WASTE and Freenet. The current version of Freenet, unlike typical Darknets, is capable of supporting potentially millions of users using an application of small world theory.

Early versions of Apple's iTunes allowed users to specify the IP of a remote subnet and share their music with users in that subnet in a Darknet-like fashion. Newer versions disable that functionality, but still allow users to stream music within their own subnet; hacks such as ourTunes allow users on the same iTunes network to download each others' music with no loss of quality.


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