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Gnutella is a file sharing protocol that defines the way distributed nodes communicate over a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. Like Napster, Gnutella is often used to share music files and has been an object of great concern within the music publishing industry.

Unlike Napster, Gnutella is not a Web site; instead, it is a decentralized network in which users can see the files of a small number of other Gnutella network members, and they in turn can see the files of other network members, in a kind of daisy-chain effect. After installing and launching Gnutella, the user's computer becomes both a client and a server in the network, which is called GnutellaNet. Gnutella allows network members to share any file type, whereas Napster is limited to MP3 music files.

 Gnutella, whose name pays homage to both the hazelnut/chocolate spread "Nutella" and the GNU project of the Free Software Foundation, was originally developed by Nullsoft (creators of MP3 and WinAMP). It was never publicly released because Nullsoft's parent corporation, America Online (AOL), declared the work an "unauthorized publication." Because the beta version was made available for preview as an open source program, however, a number of software variations and forks became available that AOL does not own.

Although Gnutella and its variants have incurred the wrath of some musicians and the music industry, the defenders of the peer-to-peer approach view it as a new movement that frees individuals to exchange information with each other directly without the supervision and restrictions of brokering Web sites or other third-parties. Sadly, the 25-year old developer of Gnutella, Gen Kan, who suffered from depression, took his own life in July, 2002. 

This was last updated in September 2005

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