The success of the P2P idea has created a huge diversity of approaches, among which overlay networks, for example, Gnutella, Kazaa, Chord, Pastry, Tapestry, P-Grid, or DKS, have received specific attention from both developers and researchers. A wide variety of algorithms, data structures, and architectures have been proposed. The terminologies and abstractions used, however, have become quite inconsistent since the P2P paradigm has attracted people from many different communities, e.g., networking, databases, distributed systems, graph theory, complexity theory, biology, etc. In this paper we propose a reference model for overlay networks which is capable of modeling different approaches in this domain in a generic manner. It is intended to allow researchers and users to assess the properties of concrete systems, to establish a common vocabulary for scientific discussion, to facilitate the qualitative comparison of the systems, and to serve as the basis for defining a standardized API to make overlay networks interoperable.