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What is Torrenting? [Guide to Torrents]

“Torrenting” is a way to share files online based on peer-to-peer, or P2P, technology. Torrenting lets people connect to the internet and share and download files without relying on a single source for downloads. Each “peer” is basically a mini-server so your downloads are more distributed.

What is a Torrent?

A torrent is a file sent using the BitTorrent protocol. This could be any type of file, including movies, songs, games, or software. While these files are transmitted, the file is incomplete and therefore is called a “torrent”.

Torrenting vs. Direct Download

As opposed to direct downloads which download files directly from a server, torrenting lets users download from the server and from other users. This reduces the stress put on the server, as not all users have to connect to the server. Some users can just download the files from other users (or peers). One of the main differences between torrents and direct file downloads is that they usually are downloaded from multiple servers at once. This is what limits the bandwidth requirements for each individual server.

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Is Torrenting Safe?

It’s possible to torrent files safely, however there are some risks involved with downloading files from the web. While the act of torrenting itself is completely legal, many of the files that people download are copyrighted material. Downloading copyrighted files for free through torrenting services is piracy and is illegal.

Since you are downloading files from a network of computers rather than from a single source, the chances of a computer virus latching onto a file are relatively low. Other users who have downloaded a given file can leave comments if the file was incomplete or contained unwanted programs or media.

What is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol which people use to distribute data and digital files over the internet. It’s the most common protocol for transferring torrent files on the internet. For someone to send or receive files he or she will have to use a BitTorrent client. This is a computer program that implements the BitTorrent protocol. A few popular clients include Vuze, uTorrent, BitTorrent and Transmission.

“Globally, across both mobile and fixed access networks file-sharing accounts for 3% of downstream and 22% of upstream traffic. More than 97% of this upstream is BitTorrent, which makes it the dominant P2P force.”

Torrenting is Declining

With streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Spotify growing in popularity, people are relying less on torrent services for downloading music and videos. With more “legitimate” alternatives to downloading music and movies, people have moved away from torrenting.

In January 2006, P2P traffic accounted for approximately 71% of all internet traffic. As of 2015, BitTorrent traffic made up for just about three percent of internet traffic in North America. Another reason for this decline is the increased enforcement of copyrights for P2P-shared files.

The decline in popularity of BitTorrent and similar services looks drastic, but it might not be as great as it appears. VPN use is on the rise for people torrenting, which makes that traffic more difficult to track. This could be people trying to avoid anti-piracy efforts, political forces, or privacy concerns.

Torrenting Terms You Should Know

  • Peer: A peer is any user that is involved in the sharing process for files over peer-to-peer networks. As long as someone is connected and sharing files on a network, they are referred to as a peer.
  • Seeder: A seeder is a user who is simultaneously downloading and uploading a file for other users.
  • Indexer: Indexers are basically search engines for files hosted on a P2P network. Well-known indexers include Priatebay and Extratorrent.
  • Tracker: Trackers are servers that connect peers on a sharing network. They carry the packets from one peer to another and help find peers on a network for a download.
  • Swarm: Swarms refer to the group of peers that are currently downloading the same torrent file.
  • Leecher: Leechers are users who download files from a server but don’t allow uploads from their server. These users are frowned upon for not contributing to the network of filer sharers.
  • BitTorrent Client: A client is what you use to download torrents from P2P networks. This tool enables the torrenting process by managing the sources you download from and assembling the fragments you download from each source.

What Do People Use Torrents for?

The most common use of torrents is to media files, like music and videos. If people don’t want to pay for a streaming service like Spotify or Netflix, they can download a free, torrented version of a movie or song illegally. While there is a lot of illegal downloading and piracy on torrent sites, there are also some legal uses for torrenting. Some game companies, like Blizzard Entertainment, use their own BitTorrent client to download their games and updates to the games. Other companies, like Facebook and Twitter, use BitTorrent for transferring large data sets within each company. Artists who make music or films may want to distribute a piece of their work for free and one of the best ways to do this is via BitTorrent.