Written By: Frizzle Fry

MP3s in general and the Napster service in particular have been getting a
lot of press lately. Because the official Napster client is Windows-only,
some new Linux users think that there aren't similar tools available to
them for MP3 finding and sharing. Fortunately, this is not the case. This
NHF will show you what programs are available for finding,sharing and MP3s
under Linux.

What Are MP3s?

MP3 is a file format used to store audio. Thus, every file ending with the
extension MP3 is a sound file, usually one song. What makes the MP3 format
special is that, unlike .wav files or the tracks on audio cd's, it
the sound file so that it takes up much less space than it otherwise
would. A
high quality MP3 is about one megabyte long per minute, meaning that a
gigabyte of hard drive space is enough to store more than a dozen albums.
In addition making it easy to store them, the small size of MP3s makes it
po sible to trade them over the internet, which is why the format has
really taken off.

Are They Legal?

MP3 is just a file format, so there is nothing illegal about them per se.
However, be aware that it is a violation of copyright law to download MP3s
copyrighted songs you don't own. There are a large of number of legally
released MP3s (particularly from independent bands) that you are allowed
to download. In spite of this, the vast majority of MP3s people actually
download are songs (or even whole albums) that they don't have the rights
to. The ease with which they allow people to get the music they want
without having to pay for albums is what makes MP3s so controversial.

How Do I Find MP3s?

In the bad old days, the only way to find MP3s (beyond trading them with
friends) was to search online, either using a general search engine like
AltaVista, or a specialize MP3 search engine like href="http://www.scour.net">Scour. Unfortunately, most of the links
returned were either dead, were for password-protected sites or were were
ratio sites (ones where you must upload a certain number of MP3s for every
one you download.) To make things even worse, Scour requires you to use
the "Scour Media Agent," a Windows-only program.

Then, along came Napster. Napster is a Windows program that connects to a
special Napster server. Once you connect, it tells the server what MP3s
you have on your computer. Then, it allows you to search for MP3s on the
computers of everyone else who is currently connected. When you find what
you're looking for, you download it directly from that user, so there are
never problems with dead links. And, because so many people are connected
to any given Napster server at any time, you can almost always find
whatever you're looking for, even older, obscure songs that you thought
everyone else had forgotten. It also makes pssible to find live and
acoustic recordings that would otherwise be unavailable. By making your
MP3s accessible for download, Napster also allows you to share them with
others, but you can choose not to if bandwidth is a concern for you.

Although the official Napster client is Windows-only, by studying how it
communicates, the Napster communications protocol has been
reverse-enginered, which has allowed an explosion of Napster clones for
Linux. The vast majority of them are still under development and aren't
fully usable yet. However, one is. It is called Gnapster and is available
at http://www.gotlinux.org/~jasta/gnapster.html
Gnapster was written to be used under Gnome, but don't let that discourage
you if you're running KDE. I run it under KDE and it works perfectly.

Once you install Gnapster (it's available both as RPM or as source), all you have to do is choose a
and password and specify the directory to which you want it to download
as well as the one for MP3s you want to share (for most people they are
probably the same directory, named something like ~/MP3). And that's it!
Now, you can choose Connect from the File menu and then, once your
connected, begin searching (under the Search tab).

What Are the Different Servers?

You'll notice that under the file menu, there are two different kinds of
servers: the "Official" server and OpenNap servers. You may be wondering
what the difference is. The official server is just that: it's the main
server run by Napster, Inc. The main server simply contains a list of all
of the other servers. When you connect to it, it tells your client which
server has the least number of people on it and connect you there, this
way people are distributed evenly between the different Napster servers.
Thus, the official server isn't really a Napster server, it's just a way
of distributing people to the separate Napster servers. Because of this,
if you don't find what you're looking for, it often helps to disconnect
and then "Connect to Official Server" again because it will almost
definitely send you to a different server the second time, where different
MP3s will be available.

However, OpenNap servers are different. Rather than being based on the
official Napster server software, run by Napster, Inc., they are based on
OpenNap, an open-source Linux-based Napster server clone. Also, there is
no official one that directs you to the others. So, when you choose Browse
OpenNap Servers in Gnapster, it brings up a list of available servers and
let's you choose which one you want to connect to.

When using Gnapster, you must choose whether you want to use the official
Napster server or browse the OpenNap servers. From your point of view,
there's not an enormous difference between the two, but there are a few
things to consider when choosing which one to use. Firstly, OpenNap is
still in alpha, so any OpenNap server will warn you in its Message of the
Day that it may not be stable, which may be a concern. However, I have
been using OpenNap servers for a while and have never had any sort of
problem with them whatsoever. Secondly, there may less available in an
OpenNap server than on an official server. Typically, there will be
somewhere between 400 and 700 gigs of MP3 shared on an OpenNap server at
any given time. Now, that's a lot. However, official Napster servers can
often have as much as 4 terabytes (4000 gigabytes) abailable at one
time, so you may have better luck finding a specific song on them. Still,
with 700 gigs available, you can usually find whatever you're looking for.
The final thing to keep in mind is that by using the OpenNap servers you
are encouraging and supporting the use of open source software, which may
be something that's important to you as a Linux user.

Playing MP3s

There are many, many MP3 players available for Linux. While they all have
similar features, the most fully-developed and usable is the X Multimedia
System (XMMS), available at http://www.xmms.org. It offers the
features that most players include, such as allowing you to create and
save a
"playlist" (a list of files you want it to play) and random and repeat
In addition, the interface is nearly identical to the popular Windows MP3
player WinAmp, including one of my favorite features, the ability to
the volume using the scroll wheel on your mouse (once you get used to
you can never go back). However, what really sets xmms apart is that
because it has become the standard for soundplaying under X (it supports
a large variety of file formats beyond MP3, including audio CD's), there
are dozens of plugins available for it to affect the look and feel and to
change the input and output of the program. However, you may want to
experiment with other players as well. I found, for example, that one
feature I missed in XMMS is that players designed for KDE allow you to
drag and drop songs onto your playlist, rather than adding them through a
menu, which can be convenient.