Frequently Asked Questions

    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 domain was redirected to hyphanet’s website, while the recently acquired 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 far different than when he designed the previous architecture.

    How does Freenet compare to other decentralized systems?

    1. Freenet is a Complete Solution

    Freenet functions as an end-to-end operating system for decentralized apps. Similar to how you install a web browser once and gain access to applications like Gmail, Facebook, and Reddit without installing additional software, Freenet provides seamless access to a wide range of decentralized applications directly within your browser.

    With Freenet, you can:

    • Discover apps through a decentralized search engine.
    • Obtain apps through Freenet.
    • Use apps entirely on Freenet.

    Additionally, you don’t have to use Freenet through a browser. The “Freenet core” is small (<10MB) and can be easily embedded in other software, which can then communicate with the Freenet core over an HTTP/WebSocket API.

    In contrast, most other systems function more like toolkits for building decentralized apps—akin to providing a crankshaft rather than a complete car. Developers use them to integrate peer-to-peer functionality into existing applications, often requiring extra components and setup for end-users.

    2. Unique Architectural Approach

    Freenet operates as a global key-value store where keys correspond to WebAssembly (Wasm) code, referred to as “contracts.” These contracts define the properties and behavior of the associated values (or “state”). Specifically, they govern:

    1. Validity: Is the value valid for this key? For instance, the contract might verify that the data is signed by a specific public key.
    2. Modification Rules: Under what circumstances can the value be modified? A contract might stipulate that any modification must be signed by a specific key.
    3. Efficient Synchronization: How to efficiently synchronize values between peers? Freenet ensures eventual consistency by treating values as commutative monoids, allowing updates in any order while still producing the same result.

    This unique architectural approach makes Freenet a powerful, general-purpose platform for building decentralized systems that are scalable and interoperable by default.

    3. Truly Decentralized, not Federated

    Freenet is fully decentralized, unlike federated systems where multiple entities control different servers. Moving from a centralized system to a federated one is like going from a dictatorship to feudalism—an improvement, but users still have to trust the system operators. Freenet eliminates this need for trust by distributing control, ensuring the sovereignty of each user.

    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 news page for regular status updates. In the meantime you can already experiment with building a decentralized app to test on your own computer.

    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 with

    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: