BitTorrent Sync Used to Create Decentralized Web Browser

With blocking currently a hot topic there are many looking towards technical solutions that can offer a robust publishing environment free of censorship. To that end a U.S.-based developer has unveiled an experimental decentralized web browser that aims to thwart such attacks, and excitingly it's running BitTorrent under the hood.

censoredThe Pirate Bay is one of the most censored file-sharing websites around, with blockades in place across dozens of Internet service providers around the world.

With that in mind it will come as no surprise that one of the biggest torrent-related stories of recent times was the news that The Pirate Bay team is working on a new system, one designed to cut through Internet censorship.

While the debut of that software is a while off, others have been working on similar projects with the same goal in mind. Harvard research fellow Jack Minardi has been building a censorship-busting web browser, one that’s running BitTorrent under the hood.

Called SyncNet, Minardi’s tool is built on BitTorrent Sync, the powerful Dropbox-like software launched last year by BitTorrent Inc. While in its basic form Sync is generally used for syncing files and folders between machines, friends and co-workers, in its SyncNet application it is used to store and distribute HTML, images and other web content.

“To add your own content to SyncNet you just need to add a directory of HTML files to BitTorrent Sync,” Minardi explains.

By self-publishing websites locally, everyone with access to a machine through BitTorrent Sync/SyncNet can view it peer-to-peer without the need to access a traditional server-based website. Any changes to the website are automatically pushed to users and since BitTorrent Sync has a feature to grant users read-only access, there’s no risk of unauthorized modification of content.

bittorrent-syncThe decision to used BitTorrent Sync under the SyncNet hood is both brilliant and at the same time incredibly obvious when one considers the former’s distribution skills.

Further playing to BitTorrent Sync’s strengths, the idea is that future updates will allow SyncNet to browse regular websites and store them locally, ready to be synced between other users of SyncNet. In theory only one user in the sharing network will need access to ‘outside’ websites in order to view them and in common with regular BitTorrent, transfer speeds will increase as the sharing network grows.

While SyncNet is a very exciting proposition, it is still under development and comes with certain limitations. Firstly, it currently works only with static content.

“This means no social networks or other dynamic content,” Minardi explains. “However many sites today do not need to be dynamic and would benefit from converting to only static resources. Most blogs or news sites could be served with SyncNet with little to no modifications.”

Another difficulty arises when a website’s content changes. Currently SyncNet has to pull down fresh files for an entire site, not just for a single modified page. However, Minardi notes that selective syncing should be possible since BitTorrent Sync already has that capability.

Perhaps the largest issue to overcome is that of domain resolution, but Minardi says that will be tackled by the use of Colored Coins, a new mechanism built on top of the Bitcoin protocol.

“Colored Coins essentially allow you to color a certain coin and mark that it represents ownership of something else. In SyncNet a colored coin will represent ownership of a domain name. Anyone with access to the Bitcoin blockchain (which is public data) will be able to see who owns a domain name and what secret it resolves to,” Minardi explains.

For those who like to get their hands dirty with experimental tools the NetSync GitHub project page can be found here, with further reading here. Those looking for a more simple route will have to wait for the Chrome and Firefox plugins currently under consideration.

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