Freenet attempts to protect the anonymity of both people inserting data into the network (uploading) and those retrieving data from the network (downloading).Unlike file sharing systems, there is no need for the uploader to remain on the network after uploading a file or group of files.In essence, the purpose of Freenet is to ensure that no one is allowed to decide what is acceptable.
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The most fundamental change is support for darknet operation.
Version 0.7 offered two modes of operation: a mode in which it connects only to friends, and an opennet-mode in which it connects to any other Freenet user. When a user switches to pure darknet operation, Freenet becomes very difficult to detect from the outside.
The web interface is also used for most configuration and node management tasks.
Through the use of separate applications or plugins loaded into the node software, users can interact with the network in other ways, such as forums similar to web forums or Usenet or interfaces more similar to traditional P2P "filesharing" interfaces.
With Opennet, users connect to arbitrary other users.
With Darknet, users connect only to "friends" with whom they previously exchanged public keys, named node-references. Freenet's founders argue that true freedom of speech comes only with true anonymity and that the beneficial uses of Freenet outweigh its negative uses.
Ian Clarke's resulting unpublished report "A distributed decentralized information storage and retrieval system" (1999) provided foundation for the seminal paper written in collaboration with other researchers, "Freenet: A Distributed Anonymous Information Storage and Retrieval System" (2001).
Researchers suggested that Freenet can provide anonymity on the Internet by storing small encrypted snippets of content distributed on the computers of its users and connecting only through intermediate computers which pass on requests for content and sending them back without knowing the contents of the full file, similar to how routers on the Internet route packets without knowing anything about files—except Freenet has caching, a layer of strong encryption, and no reliance on centralized structures.
The transport layer created for the darknet mode allows communication over restricted routes as commonly found in mesh networks, as long as these connections follow a small-world structure.