An information storage and retrieval system (ISRS) is a network with a built-in user interface that facilitates the creation, searching, and modification of stored data. An ISRS is typically a peer-to-peer ( P2P ) network operated and maintained by private individuals or independent organizations, but accessible to the general public. Some, but not all, ISRSs can be accessed from the Internet. (The largest ISRS in the world is the Internet itself.)
Characteristics of an ISRS include lack of centralization, graceful degradation in the event of hardware failure, and the ability to rapidly adapt to changing demands and resources. The lack of centralization helps to ensure that catastrophic data loss does not occur because of hardware or program failure, or because of the activities of malicious hackers. Graceful degradation is provided by redundancy of data and programming among multiple computers. The physical and electronic diversity of an ISRS, along with the existence of multiple operating platforms, enhances robustness, flexibility, and adaptability. (These characteristics can also result in a certain amount of chaos.) In addition to these features, some ISRSs offer anonymity, at least in theory, to contributors and users of the information.
A significant difference between an ISRS and a database management system ( DBMS ) is the fact that an ISRS is intended for general public use, while a DBMS is likely to be proprietary, with access privileges restricted to authorized entities. In addition, an ISRS, having no centralized management, is less well-organized than a DBMS.