Project Maelstrom: a peer-to-peer browser for the Web

For the first time ever, publishers have a brand new way of distributing content, one that doesn’t rely on a web server. BitTorrent, the company that still maintains the protocol of the same name, recently announced the release of the beta version of its peer-to-peer browser. Project Maelstrom’s alpha was first announced back in late 2014.

The differentiating factor behind Maelstrom is that it uses the very same, distributed protocols of its torrent clients. The result is a unique new browser that can take content from other people’s browsers instead of a standard web server.

One benefit of a configuration like this that immediately springs to mind is the continuity of a website. If—for whatever reason—a site is interrupted because its servers have been compromised, it would still remain live due to other users’ browsers.

Maelstrom is based on Google Chrome’s open source version. This means the new browser can access your basic HTTP sites just fine, at the same time its BitTorrent P2P protocol is running.

In the months between the alpha release and Maelstrom’s beta debut, BitTorrent has also continued to upgrade the browser’s user experience. New improvements include:

  • better stability;
  • auto update support;
  • user DHT visualizations when torrents are loading;
  • developer publishing tools (for creating and seeding torrent files that have static sites).

This is all well and good, but what’s in it for web developers? Hype surrounding a new announcement like this is only worthwhile if designers can immediately sink their creative teeth into such a release.

For starters, this is a Windows-only release, so Mac users are out of luck…at least for the time being. BitTorrent is currently working on a Mac release as we speak. There’s also no Linux version.

Early reports of users’ experiences with Maelstrom have been mixed. Some Windows users running 8.1 have had good success with the download, but other users running the earlier Windows 7 have sometimes run into freezing issues and have had to try reinstalling it a few times before they were successful. The users who’ve been able to successfully install and run the new browser have indicated how noticeably faster than Chrome it is.

Because Maelstrom is still so new, there’s no word on when it’ll become a supported browser for Google Analytics. So even if some developers are attracted to the concept of using a browser that promotes a neutral and “content-friendly” environment, they may be disappointed to find out that it doesn’t yet support basic design and tracking tools.

Still, there’s good news for developers not afraid to play around and experiment with this early release right now. According to BitTorrent, its publishing developer tool should make it a cinch to build and create for Maelstrom right out of the gate and from the command line.

Some of the developer tools are quite handy and should be widely welcomed. For instance, the generator tool allows developers to optimize site files as a torrent for the actual browser. Developers can then seed their torrent directly from a specific client—like BitTorrent—as browser users can get to the content through a magnet link.

In the last few months, the marketplace for new browsers has been getting increasingly crowded, thereby giving developers a slew of different offerings from which to choose. Currently, the big four browsers in most people’s minds have to be Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer (even as it dies out with no further support from Microsoft). Competition has emerged from Opera, which isn’t exactly new, but also from Vivendi, released just earlier this year.

When you now add BitTorrent’s Maelstrom into the mix, there seem to be more browsers than ever competing for developers’ attention, which could be a good thing. You’d think that more browsers in the marketplace would only motivate its makers to create better browsers for developers and users alike, but we’ll have to see.

BitTorrent is calling Maelstrom a part of its stated goal to keep the Internet open and truly neutral. The new browser seems to be a committed step in that direction, yet we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach to determine if that really happens.

With some 10,000 developers and another 3500 publishers getting involved in Maelstrom since its announcement late last year, according to figures provided by BitTorrent, there is clearly good interest in the company’s new project. Whether developers and broader users in general also sign up for Maelstrom in droves is anyone’s guess at this point.

Marc’s a copywriter who covers design news for Web Designer Depot. Find out more about him at More articles by Marc Schenker
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