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Firefox Gets BitTorrent

BitTorrent is one of the most popular mechanisms for peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. For the most part BitTorrent client applications have been standalone tools, but now, thanks to open source startup AllPeers, Firefox users can take advantage of BitTorrent inside of their browsers.

"With AllPeers you just click on a link for a torrent and it's just like downloading a normal file; you can download it right in the browser," Matthew Gertner, Allpeer CTO, told InternetNews.com. "With a feature called Social BitTorrent, which is totally unique to AllPeers, when I start to download files from a Torrent, I can use the same drag and share feature to share with others. It's the path of least resistance for sharing files."

AllPeers has been providing P2P file sharing for over two years already, though until now the company was limited to its own private network for peers. With the BitTorrent capability, the technology has now expanded the number of files available to its users.

The BitTorrent capabilities are not, however, as full or complete as many standalone BitTorrent clients. AllPeers does not allow its users to create their own torrent trackers, instead making them rely on existing torrent tracker files.

Instead of one file download, the BitTorrent protocol separates the file into multiple chunks, which are then shared and downloaded via multiple sources. The system is also set up so that while users are downloading a file, they are sharing it at the same time by uploading chunks they've already downloaded to others in the torrent swarm. In order to share the files through a torrent, a "tracker" file is needed.

The reason AllPeers doesn't allow for the torrent tracker creation, Gertner said, has to do with both legal and technical reasons. Essentially AllPeers is afraid of the potential legal risk it might be exposed to if one of its users created a torrent tracker for a file they were not legally allowed to share.

It's the same reason AllPeers doesn't include a torrent search capability.

"We didn't want that [search], either, because they might not be authorized and we didn't want to be a source for that," Gertner said.

That being the case, AllPeers users do have their own friend networks that Gertner expects will also become discovery networks for torrents. It is the social aspect that Gertner expects will set AllPeers apart from its peers.

Among those peers is the Opera browser which has integrated BitTorrent capability for two years. Gertner noted that, while the AllPeers client is free like Opera is, it's open source, which Opera is not.

He added that when they began development of AllPeers, they had no contact with Mozilla whatsoever. That's turned into a partnership of sorts, that has AllPeers distributing a customized version of Firefox that includes the AllPeers extension that users can load themselves.

"We're doing some new things that have a potentially positive effect on Firefox's market share," Gertner said. "As AllPeers grows its user base, people will want their friends to use Firefox so they can connect."

Though AllPeers is all about Mozilla, it does recognize the fact there are other browsers out there, namely Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

"We still see a lot of potential to grow in the Firefox community," Gertner said. "But I'm sure one day we'll have an IE version." Gertner said he even knows how he would build one.

An AllPeers for IE extension would be based on Mozilla's XULrunner, which is a standalone version of the Mozilla Framework, which could then interface with IE.

Though AllPeers is open source it isn't run as a non-profit. The goal is to make money eventually. "Right now we're venture financed," Gertner said. "The goal is to build the business model after we build our user base. We're not immediately trying to monetize."