Is Bit Torrent the future of the Web?

Håkon Lie of Opera Software spoke at a Silicon Valley WebBuilder event at Yahoo earlier this month talking about the future of the browser. One thing he talked about was experimental native support for video formats, bypassing the 12 year old and crumbling Netscape plug-in format. This seems like an obvious idea seeing as the amount of video we have online these days, why not roll these things into a browser and make a more seemless experience.

This got me thinking about what else could be in the future for the browser and for the Web in general, not the obvious things in the near future like HTML5 support, CSS3 or native media format support. My mind went straight to Bit Torrent.

The obvious place for Bit Torrent is for file downloads, again Opera are miles ahead of the game by baking a torrent client into Opera in 2005, but I’m thinking of something all together more radical.

A major problem with the Web as it is today is bandwidth. We’re all familiar with the Slashdot effect, as soon as something becomes popular the servers melt and server admins get very nervous. Bit Torrent on the other hand loves it when the heat is on, so surely there’s a way we can leverage that power in the Web.

Using Bit Torrent to power the Web

The obvious way to use Bit Torrent would be to fetch inline assets associated with a Web page; images, Flash movies, and other static content we’d otherwise be HTTP GETting. I’m not an expect in how the Bit Torrent protocol works, but I’d imagine that it wouldn’t be too difficult to provide all the assets for a page as a torrent file and cause each browser accessing the page (and sitting on the page after it’s loaded) to join the swarm for that torrent. This way, any assets on the page would be fetched by Bit Torrent from the swarm so as soon as our Slashdot friends arrive our bandwidth and our servers are spared the majority of the load.

Of course we’d have to implement this in a backwards compatible way, the HTML link element could provide the solution, something like this:

<html lang="en">
        <title>Page to be Slashdotted</title>
        <link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="default.css">
        <link type="application/x-bittorrent" rel="torrent" href="heavy-lifting.torrent">
        <h1>Welcome Slashdotters</h1>
        <p>Here's the big image you were after:</p>
        <img src="big-image.jpg">

Upon spotting the “torrent” link element, our Bit Torrent enabled browser would leap into action, downloading the torrent file and joining the swarm. Then for any inline resources that we need to download, we can check the swarm and grab the file from it rather than issuing a HTTP GET to the server.

Our server would obviously have to act as a Bit Torrent tracker and seeder, but this would be easy to implement as an Apache module, automatically seeding each asset of a particular mimetype.

I’m sure that either people are working on this right now, or there’s something fundamentally wrong with my idea, either way, there are still plenty of Web problems out there to be solved.