A software project developed by Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper in 2000 that was to produce a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing network without using a central server. On March 14, 2000, the software program was available for download on the servers of Nullsoft, Frankel and Pepper’s employer—a division of America Online (AOL). After the software’s availability was announced on Slashdot, thousands of people downloaded the program that very day. Rumor had it that the source code was supposed to be released at some later point under the GNU General Public License, or GPL. However, on March 15, 2000, AOL stopped making the software program available because the company was concerned about legal ramifications. Furthermore, AOL stopped Nullsoft from allowing employees to conduct further work on the project.
Soon thereafter, however, the protocol was reverse-engineered. Open-source clones began to appear, and parallel development of different clients by various groups continues to be the mode of operation for Gnutella’s growth and development to this day. Many view the Gnutella network as a fully distributed option to partially centralized systems such as Napster (which met its demise as a free music-sharing service in 2001 because of legal ramifications). By the end of 2001, the Gnutella client LimeWire, responsible for pushing much of the protocol’s development, was released as open source, as earlier predicted, and by February 2002, a file-sharing group known as “Morpheus” dropped its P2P software and released an open-source client known as Gnucleus.
The word Gnutella does not always refer to a particular project or to a particular piece of software but rather to open-source protocol clients. Because the latter are under constant evolution, it is difficult at this stage to predict what the word Gnutella will mean in future years.
GNU_FDL. Gnutella. [Online, 2004.] GNU Free Documentation Website. http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Gnutella.