EDonkey picking up pace in Euro P2P stakes

The file-swapping market is maturing, with relative upstarts like eDonkey moving ahead of the likes of Kazaa in Europe

European peer-to-peer network users are abandoning traditionally popular applications like Kazaa in favour of new P2P software, according to latest research.

A study released on Tuesday by network equipment manufacturer Sandvine has found big differences between the North American P2P market and that of Europe. While applications based on FastTrack -- such as Kazaa and Grokster -- still rule the roost in the States, they have less sway in other countries.

In Germany, the UK and Israel, eDonkey is the rising star, which Sandvine says is evidence that the file-sharing sector is now an evolving, multi-application environment.

This recent entrant to the file-swapping scene accounts for 52 percent of all upstream P2P traffic in Germany, compared with 44 percent for FastTrack-based applications, 3.6 percent for WinMX and 0.4 percent for Gnutella. In Israel, the split is 52 percent eDonkey to 47 percent FastTrack.

UK PC users favour FastTrack (59 percent of all upstream traffic), but both WinMX and eDonkey play a major role, with 20 percent of the P2P activity each.

"The file sharing 'marketplace' is really only a few years old, but it's changing rapidly and we're now seeing measurable divergences along geographic, even national lines," said Chris Colman, Sandvine's managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"In the beginning there was only Napster. Today's file-sharing environment is much more fragmented, with a varying proportional mix of current and emerging P2P applications dominating in each region," Colman added.

Sandvine was also surprised that eDonkey's rise was mirrored by a sharp decline in the use of once-mighty Gnutella.

"If a wildly popular application like Gnutella can emerge and all but disappear in less than three years, it's certainly possible that FastTrack, too, could one day be headed for history's technology dustbin," added Colman.

EDonkey, largely the product of New York programmer Jed McCaleb, is just one of a new breed of P2P applications that have become popular as broadband-enabled computer users look to download larger files -- such as digital copies of movies -- from the Web.

It differs in two primary ways from earlier file-swapping services. The first is to do with decentralised search. When a file is shared on the network, the technology gives the file a "hash" identifier -- essentially an address based on the characteristics of the file itself. Each computer logged onto the network has a certain range of addresses assigned to it, so it can act as an index.

This allows searches to be carried out more efficiently than in earlier decentralised systems. With Gnutella, for example, a search query for "Radiohead" or "Madonna," for example, ripples out through the network, asking each node if it has or is close to those files.

With eDonkey, the "Radiohead" query would be directed quickly to the computer that is temporarily responsible for keeping track of the location of files in that category, and a response would be returned more quickly.

The second -- and main -- advance is that the system can break up each file into tiny pieces, allowing them to be distributed independently. As soon as one person starts downloading these pieces, he or she starts offering them to the network at large. That means a movie does not have to be downloaded in its entirety before it can be offered to other people, making distribution of these and other larger files much more efficient.

CNET News.com's John Borland contributed to this report