Superpeer architectures exploit the heterogeneity of nodes in a peer-to-peer (P2P) network by assigning additional responsibilities to higher capacity nodes. In the design of a superpeer network for file sharing, several issues have to be addressed: how client peers are related to superpeers, how superpeers locate files, how the load is balanced among the superpeers, and how the system deals with node failures. In this paper, we introduce a self-organizing superpeer network architecture (SOSPNet) that solves these issues in a fully decentralized manner. SOSPNet maintains a superpeer network topology that reflects the semantic similarity of peers sharing content interests. Superpeers maintain semantic caches of pointers to files, which are requested by peers with similar interests. Client peers, on the other hand, dynamically select superpeers offering the best search performance. We show how this simple approach can be employed not only to optimize searching, but also to solve generally difficult problems encountered in P2P architectures such as load balancing and fault tolerance. We evaluate SOSPNet using a model of the semantic structure derived from eight-month traces of two large file-sharing communities. The obtained results indicate that SOSPNet achieves close-to-optimal file search performance, quickly adjusts to changes in the environment (node joins and leaves), survives even catastrophic node failures, and efficiently distributes the system load taking into account superpeer capacities. © 2010 IEEE.