What Is the Primary Difference Between Peer-to-Peer & Client-Server Architectures?

Servers are often provide resources to multiple computers at once.
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The primary difference between peer-to-peer and client-server networks is that peer-to-peer networks do not have a central server to manage network resources. Instead, resources on a peer-to-peer network are distributed between the various clients that make up that network. As a result, peer-to-peer networks are easy to configure, but can be less secure than client-server networks.

1 Peer-to-Peer Operation

Peer-to-peer networks are designed to make it as easy as possible to share resources. You can create a peer-to-peer network by simply connecting a few computers together, allowing you to move files from one machine to another with a minimum of configuration time or financial cost. However, security can be difficult to manage over peer-to-peer, as there is no central server to authenticate users. Rather, each individual network host must be configured with its own set of permissions regarding which users can access which files. In addition, a peer-to-peer architecture makes data transfer inefficient for networks of more than around 10 machines.

2 Client-Server Operation

On a client-server network, resources are located on and controlled by a central computer known as a server. This architecture offers greater security than peer-to-peer, as all resources are located in the same place. By password-protecting the server, you can ensure that only authorized users can gain access to the network's files and hardware. However, client-server networks are often more expensive to set up than their peer-to-peer equivalents, as server hardware and software is more expensive than regular desktop computers.

3 When to Use Peer-to-Peer

Peer-to-peer networks are best suited to home or very small office setups. For example, you might set up a peer-to-peer network in your home as a cost-effective way to share files between your computers and other devices. The relatively unsecured nature of the peer-to-peer architecture makes such networks unsuitable for dealing with sensitive files, however, especially if it were possible to access your network's clients over the Internet.

4 When to Use Client-Server

Client-server networks work best for larger setups, such as a full-scale office or school network -- especially if the networks are likely to grow in size. You should also use a client-server architecture if your network has sensitive data to protect. For example, a school would be likely to store its pupil records in a client-server database, as this would reduce the chance of personal details falling into the wrong hands.

Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.