Secure communication has become the need of the hour in today’s world, especially in the wake of Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance. Not only big companies, but individuals have also started taking online privacy seriously, thanks to software tools specifically designed for this purpose that are in hot demand now.
While there are many communication and file sharing tools offering security and privacy to users on Windows, there are quite a few of them available for Linux, too. In this article we will discuss one such software – Retroshare.
What Is Retroshare
Retroshare is a file-sharing network that takes the idea of peer-to-peer (P2P) communication and extends it to something it calls a “friend-to-friend (F2F)” network. To quickly explain it, the tool only connects to trusted friends and not just anyone.
Retroshare’s documentation reads:
“The problem with existing filesharing networks is that you have no control over who you share information with. I don’t want to share with the whole wide world, but I would love to share stuff with my friends. But this is not easy to do, safely and securely, over the Internet.”
So how does Retroshare solve the problem? It basically works by establishing encrypted connections between authenticated friends. There are no central servers – data is only sent to friends and in some cases relayed by them to their friends – effectively making the tool more secure and less susceptible to snooping.
Download and Install
Users of Ubuntu Linux can download and install the software by running the following commands in the terminal:
If you’re running a different Linux flavor or a completely different OS, head to the official download page.
Once installed, you can launch the tool from Dash (if running Unity in Ubuntu) or the Application menu.
Usage and Features
When you launch Retroshare for the first time, it asks you to create a profile and associate a node with it. Basically you just need to fill in some information like your name, a password, and a node name (like homePC or laptop).
Once done, you’re asked to confirm your password once again.
And then the main window opens – it contains options to send/receive emails, add new friends, chat with friends, access shared files, and more.
Now, if you’re using Retroshare for the first time, the first step would be to add friends, something which you can do by accessing the “Add” option present at the top-right of the main window.
There are multiple ways in which you can add a friend – by manually adding their certificate, using a certificate file received from your friend, sending an invitation through email, or through recommendations. If you aren’t really sure about which option to choose, just go for the first one which is also the default.
All you have to do is to share your certificate (which you can access by hitting the “next” option present at the bottom of the “Add a new friend” window) with your friend and ask them to do the same. Click “next” and you’ll see the textbox where you need to enter your friend’s certificate.
Once done, click “next” again, and you’ll see that the tool fetches some information of the node you’ll be connecting to.
Click “next” once again and Retroshare will begin trying to connect with your friend.
If everything goes fine, you’ll be connected.
To access the list of friends, you can head to the “Network” section in the main window.
Here you’ll see all the friends you’ve added under the “Friend nodes” section. Click on any of them (in my case, I only had one contact named ‘Ansh’), and the chat window will open.
And then you can easily chat with each other.
Files that you share with your friends are listed in the “File sharing” section of the main window:
In addition to the features explained above, Retroshare also allows you to send emails, make VoIP calls, read and write forum posts offline, share links, and more. Another thing worth mentioning here is that you can also use Retroshare over Tor to hide the connection between you and your friends.
Also, you can access and tweak configuration related to individual functionalities by heading to the “Options” section in the main window.
We’ve barely scratched the surface here. As you have seen, Retroshare provides a plethora of features aimed at all your communication and file sharing needs. To know more about the tool, head to its documentation page.