eDonkey/Overnet Interview

By Thomas Mennecke 12/13/02

Largely ignored by mainstream media, who seem to enjoy keeping a close eye on the struggling Gnutella network, eDonkey and Overnet have slowly built a tremendous user base. eDonkey2000, the older of the two networks, has been part of the P2P community for a bit over two years. Over that period of time, it has topped 150,000 users, with some estimates placing it above 200,000. Overnet, despite being in beta testing, has also drawn an impressive user-base. Close to 100,000 individuals traverse this network.

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Unlike the spoon-fed resources of KaZaA, eDonkey2000 and Overnet demand a bit of experience with more advanced software. Although these two networks can be challenging, the reward for one's patience is an enormous resource of ISO's, DivX movies and videos.

For this interview, we spoke with Paul Reinheimer, head of Technical Support & Community Development of MetaMachine, the creators of eDonkey2000. Our thanks goes to him for taking time out to do this interview.

Slyck.com: eMule has become an important supplement to many of those who access the eDonkey2000 network. How do you feel about supplemental software, and is there any cooperation between you and the eMule developers?

MetaMachine: Personally, i am not much of a fan of the supplemental clients out there for a couple reasons. First, protocol implementation. Most of the clients out there have released a version, or several (in some cases including the current version), that was severely detrimental to the network, usually in terms of increased serverload, or overly frequent communications with fellow clients. We managed to discover most of those issues with our client back when eDonkey was small, with few servers. However, with the large followings of most of the clients, the effects are broader and affect more users, and not just users of those particular clones.

Secondly, (though faultless, except possibly our own) they split the network community. I have always appreciated the strong community spirit seen within eDonkey, both in our forums, and in the numerous other forums out there. There has never been a shortage of people willing to help the oft troublesome donkey through its woes. Because clients like these have split the camps, the communities themselves have become split in a few cases, and no one likes to see this happen.

There has been no real communication between us and the developers of eMule, or any of the numerous eDonkey network clients out there. Though I believe back when eDonkey was still young, some serious communications did take place between the development team and other parties as to its inner workings, this teamwork lead to several of the tools out there today, many of which were open source, which is doubtlessly of use to current programmers.

Slyck.com: Many people are anxious to try Overnet, but would rather not install .NET. What can you tell us about the upcoming versions of Overnet that are independent of this framework?

MetaMachine: The command line version has always been available, which is free from the Microsoft .NET framework. We, however, are quite excited by our release which will not be using .NET. This version is already in alpha testing, with new releases to the alpha team occurring every couple of days. This new version will be every bit as effective as previous versions, but with several of the more crippling bugs (memory leaks, etc) resolved. Expect development to continue exclusively on the non .NET versions after they are released.

Slyck.com: Can we expect GUI improvements with upcoming versions of Overnet/eDonkey?

MetaMachine: The new version without the .NET framework is more than just a simple rehash of the same GUI, just with different widgets. A new programmer was brought on to work on the GUI alone, so a lot of work has been done. While several of our previous versions have included some rudimentary form of skinning or the like, these releases should be fully skinable, allowing users to customize their view as they desire. The move away from the .NET framework has also meant a drastic reduction in memory overhead while the program is running.

This new GUI is being programmed for BOTH eDonkey and Overnet, while preliminary testing will occur exclusively in Overnet and likely the first few public releases as well. It will be attached to the eDonkey core once the bugs are ironed out. This really excites us, as the GUI has been one area of common complaint for eDonkey. We hope the attractive Graphical Interface will help attract new users to both networks and allow power users to customize both tools to meet their graphical tastes.

Slyck.com: Tell us a bit about the future of eDonkey2000, as connectivity problems seem to be paramount for many in the population. What future developments can we expect and will there be any kind of interaction between Overnet and the eDonkey2000 network?

MetaMachine: Diagnosing the exact problem behind the connection issues is difficult; maintaining exact statistics on such a network is difficult at best. In the past month one of the major server-list generators suffered some problems that were not quickly resolved. As a result, many users were either unable to update their server-list, or simply updated to an out-of-date version. Using an up-to-date server-list is essential for an effective eDonkey experience. The introduction of Overnet has also seen many eDonkey users convert. This conversion may have also seen some server operators take down their servers, in favor of the Overnet Network.

In response to this issue, we have made contact with a programmer who has been making patches for the eDonkey server to improve its efficiency and speed its operation. This mutually beneficial relationship should yield us with a newer, faster server software capable of handling more concurrent users, hopefully by year end.

We still plan to keep the eDonkey and Overnet communities separate, especially when so much is still in the air for how Overnet works on the inside. We still debate the idea of creating a combined client on a semi-regular basis, but nothing is planned yet.

Slyck.com: What makes Overnet different from/similar to other decentralized networks such as WinMX, FastTrack or Gnutella?

MetaMachine: While serverless or decentralized networks are usually all thrown together in a single group (often labeled 3rd generation file sharing), we really don't feel that is a fair comparison for Overnet. The internal protocol for Overnet performs searches selectively, asking the correct peers for files based upon internal tables, vs. an essentially random protocol for other distributed file-sharing networks.

While I am in danger of gross oversimplification, I am going to try an analogy. Think of attending a crowded large party, looking for someone you have never met. You walk from person to person, asking 'Hi, are you Pat?' They say 'no', so you move on. Depending on the network, they may go ask a couple other people if they are 'Pat' for you, or possibly just tell you of a few people they know who in fact are not 'Pat'. This continues until you find 'Pat' and are satisfied.

That's what file-searching on a regular distributed network is like. Each time you talk to someone, that's overhead, basically bandwidth wasted by being on the network, and thats bandwidth not going to transferring files. In Overnet however; think of going to that same party, this time though it's better catered and hosted by those nice folks at Overnet. This time your looking for 'Jon.' You walk up to someone, again, essentially at random, asking 'Are you Jon?' They reply 'no,' then consult their little guestlist and also reply 'But I hear Jon is in the living room wearing red.' So you go there. If you are wrong again, you get even more information, to again narrow your search. So you find the right person with a lot less effort, and a lot less wasted communications.

In short, you find the right people faster, with less overhead.

*Mistakes made on purpose for the sake of brevity, and understanding: you would in fact, in most cases, not continue the search beyond asking a few people. They would ask others on your behalf and so on. You would not be looking for a single person, but every person carrying a brown briefcase (the file you are looking for), and I don't think we've ever hosted a catered party :)

Slyck.com: Does Overnet implement centralized gateways to enter the network or are the entry points decentralized like Blubster and Filetopia?

MetaMachine: No, all peers are equal, some peers are just more equal than others.

Slyck.com: What upcoming features can we expect from Overnet?

MetaMachine: At the moment, we are really concentrating on getting the protocol finished, as the network develops further. Tweaks and modifications are required to maintain the delicate balance between the need to find sources and the necessity to keep protocol overhead down. Our other key project is of course the GUI, which is probably the most highly anticipated feature since Overnet was released. Beyond those two essentials, the people working on the GUI have a bunch of fun features slated to be included once it all works properly.

You can check out eDonkey2000 here and check Overnet here.

Tom from Slyck.com is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Tom's insights on other digital music issues can be read on his site and we encourage you to check it out.

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