Doing that post on I2P inspired me – I think that I should do basic tutorials for all of the major “darknets” (and even perhaps some of the less known ones). In fact, based on some of the search terms I could see, people are wanting to know more about Freenet, so…ok then!
That being said, if you’re accustomed to using Tor or I2P, Freenet is somewhat different. Like I2P, it doesn’t have a designated browser (at least not at the present time). You can use whichever browser you’re accustomed to (Firefox, Chromium, etc.) to access it, but it has to be running first.
Unlike Tor, however, Freenet is an anonymous peer-to-peer (P2P) network, and is geared toward things like filesharing. I discussed this type of network on Deep Web Vs. Dark Web Pt. 2: Anonymous P2P Networks. More than that, Freenet allows you to anonymously publish “freesites” which are only accessible within Freenet. In my opinion, freesites are part of the dark web, although I’ve already ranted enough about that term, haven’t I?!
In addition, users subsidize the network by giving bandwidth and sharing a portion of their hard drive (which they refer to as the “data store”) for filesharing.
Freenet has several different versions: for Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux or POSIX. You can download each of these at Freenet: Download.
On Windows, the installer will automatically install Freenet and its related components for you. Afterward, your default browser will open up to Freenet’s web-based user interface. (Yes, that’s Internet Explorer – not my screenshot.)
The same goes for Mac OS’s; an installer will automatically install the components, and like on Windows, your default browser will open to Freenet’s web UI.
On Linux, of course, it’s a bit different. There are a couple of ways you can install Freenet for Linux. One way is to use the Java Web Start Installer, which requires a Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Most recently, I used the Java installers and it seemed to work fine.
If this doesn’t work, it may be that you don’t have the most recent JRE. Java version 7 or higher is required, and Freenet’s developers recommend version 8 or higher. You can download the installer with this command:
Once Freenet is installed, you still have to do some configuration. For instance, you need to designate how high you want your security level, the options being “MAXIMUM,” “HIGH,” “MEDIUM,” and “LOW.” It’s veryimportant to understand the differences between these various security levels; Freenet provides basic descriptions of each.
Do you know personally anyone who already uses Freenet? If you know at least 3 people who already use Freenet, you can enable darknet mode, so Freenet will only connect to your Friends [sic], greatly improving security. However, if you don’t know anyone already on Freenet, or if you want maximum performance, you should enable opennet mode, and Freenet will automatically connect to other Freenet nodes run by strangers (as well as your Friends [sic]).
In what they refer to as “opennet” mode, you can connect to strangers and friends. Obviously, this carries some risk, as you don’t necessarily know who a stranger is on the network or whether they might have malicious intentions. In “darknet” mode, as mentioned, you only connect to friends. In my case, I only happen to know two people on Freenet, which isn’t enough for darknet mode! (Any other users want to comment?)
One other interesting thing that I noticed was that when I set security to “HIGH” and tried to install plugins, they took much longer to complete the process. It may have been that I was connecting to fewer nodes, and thus the speed of the network was reduced.
As I’ve mentioned on a few other posts, freesites are all available from the link lists that you can access when first starting up Freenet. A couple of these include:
Some have asked me why Freenet links have such long names. Freenet uses URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) as opposed to URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). I thought that the Wikipedia article Uniform Resource Identifier explained this pretty well. The article defines it thusly:
A Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) is a string of characters that unambiguously identifies a particular resource. To guarantee uniformity, all URIs follow a predefined set of syntax rules, but also maintain extensibility through a separately defined hierarchical naming scheme (e.g. http://)
In the case of Freenet, the URIs consist of part of the public (cryptographic) key that identifies each site. The link lists above will definitely help you navigate, so that you don’t have to memorize the URIs (similar to those on Tor).
Freenet also offers a number of plugins that enable you to use different features on the network. For example, “Sone” is a plugin that provides social network functionality, with a somewhat similar user interface to Facebook.
Freenet Messaging System (FMS) is a plugin that allows you to access message boards over Freenet, which, I’m told, are very similar to Usenet (that’s going back in the day, huh?).
Frost is a plugin that gives you access to a bulletin board system (BBS) over Freenet.
There are many other plugins as well (both official and unofficial), but these are some of the more widely used ones. Anyhow, this post was just “the basics,” right?
One last plugin I should mention is the Web of Trust (WoT), which allows you to create a fake identity for Freenet. This will result in a randomly generated name for you, like “AphIonic” or “AbJettled.” (They look a bit similar to bitcoin wallet seeds, don’t they?)
WoT also helps you find trustworthy peers on the network, and cuts down on undesirable content, such as spam.
Anyhow, those are most of the basics of Freenet. If you like, readers, I can go into more detail in a later post.