The PirateBox is a device designed to facilitate sharing. There's one catch, it isn't connected to the Internet, so you need to be close enough to connect via Wi-Fi to this portable file server. This article outlines the project and shows how to build your own.

In days of yore (the early- to mid-1990s) those of us using the "Internet", as it was, delighted in our ability to communicate with others and share things: images, MIDI files, games and so on. These days, although file sharing still exists, that feeling of community has been leeched away from the same activities, and people are somewhat skeptical of sharing files on-line anymore for fear of a lawsuit or who's watching.

Enter David Darts, the Chair of the Art Department at NYU. Darts, aware of the Dead Drops (http://deaddrops.com) movement, was looking for a way for his students to be able to share files easily in the classroom. Finding nothing on the market, he designed the first iteration of the PirateBox.

"Protecting our privacy and our anonymity is closely related to the preservation of our freedoms."—David Darts

What Does David Darts Keep on His PirateBox?

  • A collection of stories by Cory Doctorow.

  • Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book.

  • DJ Danger Mouse's The Grey Album.

  • Girl Talk's Feed the Animals.

  • A collection of songs by Jonathan Coulton.

  • Some animations by Nina Paley.

(All freely available and released under some sort of copyleft protection.)

The PirateBox is a self-contained file-sharing device that is designed to be simple to build and use. At the same time, Darts wanted something that would be private and anonymous.

The PirateBox doesn't connect to the Internet for this reason. It is simply a local file-sharing device, so the only thing you can do when connected to it is chat with other people connected to the box or share files. This creates an interesting social dynamic, because you are forced to interact (directly or indirectly) with the people connected to the PirateBox.

The PirateBox doesn't log any information. "The PirateBox has no tool to track or identify users. If ill-intentioned people—or the police—came here and seized my box, they will never know who used it", explains Darts. This means the only information stored about any users by the PirateBox is any actual files uploaded by them.

The prototype of the PirateBox was a plug computer, a wireless router and a battery fit snugly into a metal lunchbox. After releasing the design on the Internet, the current iteration of the PirateBox (and the one used by Darts himself) is built onto a Buffalo AirStation wireless router (although it's possible to install it on anything running OpenWRT), bringing the components down to only the router and a battery. One branch of the project is working on porting it to the Android OS, and another is working on building a PirateBox using only open-source components.

How to Build a PirateBox

There are several tutorials on the PirateBox Web site (http://wiki.daviddarts.com/PirateBox_DIY) on how to set up a PirateBox based on what platform you are planning on using. The simplest (and recommended) way of setting it up is on an OpenWRT router. For the purpose of this article, I assume this is the route you are taking. The site suggests using a TP-Link MR3020 or a TP-Link TL-WR703N, but it should work on any router with OpenWRT installed that also has a USB port. You also need a USB Flash drive and a USB battery (should you want to be fully mobile).

Assuming you have gone through the initial OpenWRT installation (I don't go into this process in this article), you need to make some configuration changes to allow your router Internet access initially (the PirateBox software will ensure that this is locked down later).



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Mobilya Modelleri

mobilya's picture

this kind of box. I wonder what's inside?

Fantastic concept but...

Veronica Hill's picture

What's the point of being able to share your files, if there's no1 to share them with? How many people have ever heard of Pirate Box? This is certainly my first time and I'm a huge nerd. Let's say I go fully mobile and take it to a public location, what are the odds of me finding someone who is looking for a pirate box as well? Probably slim. And if they did know about it, why wouldn't they try to bring their own? Then everyone's sharing with each other, yet nobody is connected to one another. Neat concept, but far from practical use.

Veronica @ http://www.bluepelicanloans.com/


bizworldusa's picture

One of the most fun aspects of a LAN party was exploring the shared files of all the other users on the network. There were people that would show up, solely for the file swapping. That is exactly what this project is about.PirateBox is a mobile p2p sharing and collaboration platform. Basically it is a wireless hotspot with a slick interface and a shared folder.


This will be useful for our

Cindy's picture

This will be useful for our last finals this coming Saturday. Well, that is, to set it up today so we can pass notes and the other files we have to one another via a centralized location. This way we won't have to format our own individual mess of files in a way that everyone in the group can understand.

I just got it to work in the

Cindy's picture

I just got it to work in the dorm. Instead of what we normally did before, now everyone can just grab what they want instead of interrupting studying just to ask for the USB again...walking back and forth,..getting frustrated...you know the deal. I must admit, we "kids today" are pretty spoiled in some ways with respect to how convenient some things are. I made a page (well took some notes) on how I was able to get it to work at school: (Actually my brother had to stand over my shoulder when doing it haha)

one question:

Arkanabar's picture

how do the dead-drop folks prevent their USB sticks from becoming malware vectors? For that matter, how does the Pirate Box prevent this?

is this essentially an ad

sean f's picture

is this essentially an ad hock network that you setup?

The is incredible!

plaguelock's picture

This is a totally awesome idea. I will have to make one my self now lol.

Source code

danitool's picture

Any link of the piratebox_0.3-2_all.ipk source code?


I believe it's on Source

MikeIEEE's picture

I believe it's on Source Forge somewhere but I have the documentation posted on my page: http://www.daplayersclubz.net/networksetups/linux.html