What Is a Federated Network?

April 4, 2024

A federated network refers to a group of servers or services that are independently managed but united by shared communication protocols and standards, allowing them to interoperate and share data, messages, or files. This concept is often applied in the context of social networks, email, instant messaging, and other online communication platforms.

Example of a Federated Network

A prominent example of a federated network is the Mastodon social network. Mastodon is part of the broader Fediverse, a collection of federated networks that communicate using shared protocols like ActivityPub. Here's how Mastodon exemplifies the principles of a federated network.


Mastodon consists of numerous independent servers, each operated by different organizations or individuals. These servers are known as "instances." Anyone can host a Mastodon instance, making the network highly decentralized and resistant to censorship or centralized control.


Mastodon instances communicate using the ActivityPub protocol, enabling users on different instances to follow, interact, and share content with each other seamlessly. Users on one instance can follow and interact with users on any other instance, making the network interconnected despite its decentralization.

User Autonomy

Users can choose which instance they want to join based on the community's focus, rules, and moderation policies. This allows for a personalized and tailored social media experience. Users have the option to move their accounts and follow lists to other instances, preserving their social network.

Community and Governance

Each instance can have its own unique focus, rules, and community culture, ranging from general interest to niche topics. Instances may have different governance models, from single administrators to collective decision-making processes.

Federated vs. Distributed Networks

Federated and distributed networks both decentralize services and data, but they differ in architecture, control, and interaction models.

Federated networks are characterized by a system of independent yet interconnected servers or services that communicate through common protocols, allowing users on different servers to interact seamlessly. This structure enables autonomy and governance diversity across the network, as each server can have its own rules and administration while still being part of a larger, interconnected community. Federated networks offer a middle ground between centralized control and complete decentralization. Additionally, they are resilient against censorship or server failure.

In contrast, distributed networks distribute data and processing power across multiple nodes to ensure no single point of failure and to enhance data availability and system reliability. Unlike federated networks, where independent servers maintain their own centralized control but interoperate, distributed networks typically have no central control at all, with each node operating as an equal peer in the processing and storage of data. This architecture is seen in technologies like blockchain or peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, where information and resources are shared among participants without a central authority. Distributed networks are highly resilient and resistant to censorship because data is replicated across many nodes, making it nearly impossible to shut down or control by any single entity.

Federated Network Benefits

Federated networks offer a range of benefits that stem from their decentralized and interoperable nature, including:

  • Enhanced privacy and security. By decentralizing data across multiple servers, federated networks can potentially offer better protection against mass data breaches and surveillance, as no single point accumulates all user data.
  • Resilience to censorship and failure. The distributed nature of federated networks makes them more resilient to server failures and censorship. If one server goes down or is blocked, users can still access the network through other servers.
  • User autonomy and choice. Users can choose which server they want to join based on their preferences for community rules, governance, privacy policies, and features. This autonomy empowers users to have control over their online experience.
  • Diverse communities and content. Federated networks support a wide range of communities with diverse interests and norms. This diversity enriches the user experience by providing access to varied content and perspectives.
  • Reduced monopoly power. By distributing control across various servers, federated networks challenge the monopoly power of large tech companies in the digital space, fostering competition and innovation.
  • Customization and flexibility. Server administrators can customize their servers to meet the specific needs of their communities, offering tailored features, moderation policies, and user experiences.
  • Interoperability across networks. Federated networks use common protocols that allow different networks to communicate and share data seamlessly, enabling users on different servers to interact as if they were on the same platform.
  • Enhanced collaboration. The open standards and protocols used in federated networks facilitate collaboration and integration across different platforms and services, making it easier for users to connect and work together across organizational boundaries.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.