Why your next website may be hosted by your peers
Serving files on the internet is centralized. If you want to make a website available on the internet, you have to use a hosting provider like WP Engine. If you want to share files with other people, you have to use a service like Droplr, CloudApp, or Dropbox, which in turn uses hosting providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) to serve files.
Alternatively, you can reliably host a website or share files from your home internet connection using a device like a Synology DiskStation or a dedicated computer. However, most people avoid doing that because of constraints on bandwidth and performance. And if the connection is interrupted or the server becomes unavailable, the website and its files will become inaccessible.
There is a way to bypass hosting services and overcome the limitations of serving files from a central location, like your home. The solution is called IPFS, a peer-to-peer (P2P) hypermedia protocol. IPFS enables anyone to serve files on the web, including a high-performing website, without cost.
IPFS is akin to Bittorrent, in that it distributes files to other computers. Where IPFS differs from Bittorrent is how it propagates and serves the files. IPFS is designed to efficiently scale and serve a collection of files together in a way that Bittorrent can’t. IPFS combines the best aspects of P2P networking and traditional web hosting into a single decentralized and open file serving solution.
I’ve been experimenting with IPFS for several months. IPFS has a desktop app that makes it incredibly easy to start using IPFS immediately. I’ve used the app on a dedicated (always on) computer to add and share files, including the website, etiquette.fyi.
More recently, I’ve been using a pinning service – an AWS-like IPFS node with support for custom gateways – called Pinata. Pinata acts as an initial seed (first upload) that pins my files (maintains permanence) and is a superior alternative to running the IPFS Desktop app on my home computer.
My next test will be a more robust website that requires high availability across all regions. If that performs well, I plan to invest time and money into a web app that fully leverages IPFS.
I think IPFS is here to stay and is the next evolution in serving files over the internet. I predict that its advantages over traditional hosting – performance, control, ease-of-use, accessibility, and lower cost – will accelerate its growth over the next several years.
You can learn more about IPFS at ipfs.io.