Frequently Asked Questions

What is Freenet?

Freenet is a fully decentralized, peer-to-peer network and a drop-in replacement for the world wide web. It operates as a global shared computer, providing a platform for sophisticated decentralized software systems. Freenet allows developers to create decentralized alternatives to centralized services, including messaging, social media, email, and e-commerce. It's designed for simplicity and flexibility and can be used seamlessly through your web browser. The platform's user-friendly decentralized applications are scalable, interoperable, and secured with cryptography.

How does Freenet work?

Freenet is a global key-value store that relies on small world routing for decentralization and scalability. Keys in this key-value store are WebAssembly code which specify:

  • When is a value permitted under this key?
    • eg. verify that the value is cryptographically signed with a particular public key
  • Under what circumstances may the value be modified
    • eg. modifications must be signed
  • How can the value be efficiently synchronized between peers in the network

These webassembly keys are also known as contracts, and the values are also known as the contract's state.

Like the web, most people will interact with Freenet through their web browser. Freenet provides a local HTTP proxy that allows data such as a single-page application to be downloaded to a web browser. This application can then connect to the Freenet peer through a websocket connection and through this interact with the Freenet network, including creating, reading, and modifying contracts and their state.

For a much more detailed explanation please see our user manual.

What is the project's history?

Freenet was initially developed by Ian Clarke at the University of Edinburgh in 1999 as a decentralized system for information storage and retrieval, offering users the ability to publish or retrieve information anonymously.

In 2019, Ian began work on a successor to the original Freenet, which was internally known as "Locutus." This project, a redesign from the ground up, incorporated lessons learned from the original Freenet's development and operation, and adapted to today's challenges. In March 2023, the original version of Freenet was separated into its own project, and what was known as "Locutus" was officially branded as "Freenet."

How do the previous and current versions of Freenet differ?

The previous and current versions of Freenet have several key differences:

  • Functionality: The previous version was analogous to a decentralized hard drive, while the current version is analogous to a full decentralized computer.

  • Real-time Interaction: The current version allows users to subscribe to data and be notified immediately if it changes. This is essential for systems like instant messaging or group chat.

  • Programming Language: Unlike the previous version, which was developed in Java, the current Freenet is implemented in Rust. This allows for better efficiency and integration into a wide variety of platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, MacOS, etc).

  • Transparency: The current version is a drop-in replacement for the world wide web and is just as easy to use.

  • Anonymity: While the previous version was designed with a focus on anonymity, the current version does not offer built-in anonymity but allows for a choice of anonymizing systems to be layered on top.

Will the new Freenet be backwards compatible with the old Freenet?

No, the new Freenet is a fundamental redesign making backwards compatibility impractical.

Why was Freenet rearchitected and rebranded?

In 2019, Ian began developing a successor to the original Freenet, internally named "Locutus." This redesign was a ground-up reimagining, incorporating lessons learned from the original Freenet and addressing modern challenges. The original Freenet, although groundbreaking, was built for an earlier era.

This isn't the first time Freenet has undergone significant changes. Around 2005, we transitioned from version 0.5 to 0.7, which was a complete rewrite introducing "friend-to-friend" networking.

In March 2023, the original Freenet (developed from 2005 onwards) was spun off into an independent project called "Hyphanet" under its existing maintainers. Concurrently, "Locutus" was rebranded as "Freenet," also known as "Freenet 2023," to signal this new direction and focus. The rearchitected Freenet is faster, more flexible, and better equipped to offer a robust, decentralized alternative to the increasingly centralized web.

To ease the transition the old freenetproject.org domain was redirected to hyphanet's website, while the recently acquired freenet.org domain was used for the new architecture.

It is important to note that the maintainers of the original Freenet did not agree with the decision to rearchitect and rebrand. However, as the architect of the Freenet Project, and after over a year of debate, Ian felt this was the necessary path forward to ensure the project's continued relevance and success in a world very different than when he designed the previous architecture.

What are the key components of Freenet's architecture?

Delegates, contracts, and user interfaces (UIs) each serve distinct roles in the Freenet ecosystem. Contracts control public data, or "shared state." Delegates act as the user's agent and can store private data on the user's behalf, while UIs provide an interface between these and the user through a web browser. See the user manual for more detail.

Who is behind Freenet?

Freenet was started by Ian Clarke in 1999 and grew out of his undergraduate paper "A Distributed Decentralized Information Storage and Retrieval System."

To further the goals of the project, Ian Clarke and Steven Starr co-founded The Freenet 501c3 non-profit in 2001.

In 2024, the Freenet non-profit board of directors consists of Ian Clarke, Steven Starr, and Michael Grube, with Ian serving as President and Steven as Chief Strategy Officer. Along with Ian, the development team consists of Nacho Duart and Hector Alberto Santos Rodriguez.

What is the status of Freenet?

As of June 2024, we are very close to getting the network up; see our blog for regular status updates. In the meantime you can already experiment with building a decentralized app to test on your own computer.

Can anyone use Freenet?

While Freenet is designed to be accessible to most users, approximately 10-20% of users might experience connectivity issues due to being behind symmetric NATs or restrictive firewalls. These network configurations, often implemented by ISPs, can prevent direct peer-to-peer connections, which are essential for Freenet's decentralized network. Users behind such configurations might also face difficulties with other applications requiring low-latency connections, such as multiplayer games and VoIP services. We recommend choosing ISPs that offer less restrictive NAT configurations to ensure a better overall internet experience and seamless use of Freenet.

Can I follow Freenet on social media?

Yes, you can follow @FreenetOrg on Twitter/X or discuss r/freenet on Reddit.

How can I financially support Freenet development?

Founded in 2001, Freenet is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to the development and propagation of technologies for open and democratic information distribution over the Internet. We advocate for unrestricted exchange of intellectual, scientific, literary, social, artistic, creative, human rights, and cultural expressions, free from interference by state, private, or special interests.

Donate via PayPal or Credit Card

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Donate via Cryptocurrency

Freenet is not a cryptocurrency, but we do accept cryptocurrency donations. For large donations (over $5,000) please contact us before sending. For smaller donations, please use the following wallets:

Cryptocurrency Address
Bitcoin
Zcash
Ethereum