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BitTorrent's P2P Browser For Decentralized Websites Now In Beta

BitTorrent, the company behind file-sharing tools such as BitTorrent, uTorrent (acquired) and BitTorrent Sync, launched the beta version of its peer-to-peer browser, Maelstrom. Maelstrom is a browser based on Chromium that allows websites to work over the BitTorrent protocol and be hosted by peers, without any servers needed.

The alpha version of the browser was released in December 2014, and since then over 10,000 developers and 3,500 publishers have signed up to work with the platform. Although you had to receive an invitation for the alpha version, the beta version is now public which means even more people can try out the browser. Right now the browser only works on Windows, but the Mac version is "coming soon."

The reason Maelstrom is a fork of Chromium is because the browser can still deliver all the web pages on the Internet, just like all the other browsers. However, it can also access these torrent-powered websites that are hosted on people's PCs. Therefore, it's like Chrome, but with the ability to also load torrent-based websites.

The idea is that eventually, popular websites could load even faster than sites that are hosted on centralized servers. The more people "seed" a website, the higher the chance one of those seeds would be closer to you. Then the website could be delivered faster than it would be if it had to come from some other country or region where the website you're trying to access is hosted.

For sites that might not be popular enough for the P2P model to work well, it should be possible to use a mix of servers and regular peers to offer a good experience to their visitors. This way the servers ensure that there's always a strong "seed" for the website within a group of peers supporting the website, which ensures reliability. At the same time, the extra peers can still improve the speed of access for those who may be closer to another peer rather than the server.

Because the more peers share a torrent-based site, the faster that site becomes, server overload problems could be assuaged for popular web pages or sites. With the centralized server model, if too many people visit a certain site and the IT administrators weren't prepared for that kind of traffic, the server could become overwhelmed. With the torrent model, it just means that more peers join the network because once they visit a site, they have also downloaded that site and have become peers for that site.

Maelstrom and other such projects that aim to make the web P2P could lead to less censorship, weaker DDoS attacks, cheaper hosting for site owners and many other benefits. Achieving some kind of critical mass will be important for Project Maelstrom to take off, though, otherwise it could be left with only a few torrent-based sites that work on it and not enough people willing to host them.

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Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.