Torrent is a revolutionary file sharing protocol that utilizes the (P2P) technology to share files efficiently. This technology relies on a vast community of decentralized users (Peers) for file sharing as opposed to traditional single servers based downloading.
Now I’m willing to bet you know someone who downloads torrents or has downloaded torrents in the past. In fact, torrenting is so popular that approximately over 250 million users worldwide share files through BitTorrent file sharing technology. This is an astronomical number to say the least.
On the surface torrenting might seem relatively harmless, however I can assure you there are quite a lot of intricate details that are left unaddressed. However, in this blog I’m going to address the question of what is torrenting and its risks.
What is Torrenting?
Torrent and Bittorrent are used synonymously by many but are they actually the same thing? In reality, there is a different between two but they can be used interchangeably. Torrent is a file that contains metadata about the content you are about to download. On the other hand, BitTorrent is a file transfer protocol that works to breaks down large chunks of shared file into smaller pieces.
The beauty of this protocol is that you download the original file from the source and from other users as well. This makes the overall process smooth, fast, and streamlined. For instance, if you are downloading your favorite movie through a torrent, you are not only downloading the entire file from the source but also from other torrent users as well.
How Do Torrents Perform ?
Torrents perform is in a decentralized manner. Every user downloads and uploads the torrent file, making entire process more efficient. Here is an illustration (courtesy Wikipedia) showing how torrents work:
The figure shows seven clients (users) and one seed (the large system in the bottom). The original file is initially transferred from the seed to each client only once. The file is then transferred piece by piece between different clients. Each color represents a specific piece of the file being transferred; showcasing simultaneous upload and download.
For all torrent newbie’s, there are certain terminologies that you will come across when you use torrents. To help you out, here are some of these terminologies explained:
- Peers: It is a generic term used for any client (user) that is involved in file sharing in a peer-to-peer (P2P) network.
- Swarms: A collection of peers that are sharing (downloading & uploading) the same torrent are called swarms.
- Seeders: When you are downloading and simultaneously uploading a torrent, you are a seeder.
- Leechers: When you are only downloading but have disabled uploading, then you’re a leecher. Many trackers ban users who disable uploading. From an ethical standpoint, it is a good practice to upload the same amount that you download.
- Indexers: Websites that compile torrents and provides information about torrents are called indexes. They also act as a forum where you can find, share, download, or request for torrent files.
- Trackers: They are the servers that help to direct data packets between peers and also aid in finding other peers in the network. You can imagine them as bridges between different torrent users, helping in the smooth and fast transfer of data by routing small pieces of files between each torrent downloader and uploader.
- BitTorrent Clients: Programs that enable file transfer using BitTorrent protocol are called BitTorrent clients. You can use them to manage your torrent files while the clients handle all the download and upload, connecting to peers, and providing you statistics about the torrent.
Steps to Use Torrents
Using torrents is very simple and not complicated as it may sound. To demonstrate how easy it is to use torrents, follow our steps:
Step 1: Download a Torrent Client
The first step towards using torrents is by downloading and installing a torrent client on your desired platform. There are many torrent clients that you can use. We have used uTorrent for our demonstration on Windows PC. uTorrent is also compatible on Mac and Linux operating systems and it is very easy to use; not to mention it is also free. You can also choose from other torrent clients such as qBitTorrent, Deluge or Transmission.
Step 2: Lookup & Download The Torrent File
Now that you have downloaded the torrent client, the next step is to search for the torrent and download that file. There are many torrent websites (indexers) that you can use to search for torrent files.
After you have searched and found the torrent you were looking for, download the torrent file. You can also click on the ‘magnet’ icon listed next to the download option. This way you don’t have to download the ‘.torrent’ file. Instead, you be will automatically promoted to choose a torrent client of your choice.
Step 3: Add The Torrent File To Client
Once you have selected the torrent client you want to use (uTorrent in our case), it’s time to add the torrent file to your BitTorrent client. Select the drive (or path) where you want to save the downloaded files. You can also choose the files you want to download via torrent and any other instructions you have for the BitTorrent client.
After you have selected the file you want to download and the path where you want to save the downloaded files, click ‘OK’ to add the torrent file. Once the file is added to the BitTorrent client, it will start downloading.
In uTorrent client, you can control certain features such as pausing the torrent, starting the download of the paused torrent files, adding more torrents using the ‘+’ sign, or deleting torrent files. You can also move torrents up or down the queue (using the arrows) to select their priority.
Torrent files at number 1 will have a higher priority than the torrent file at number 2. The uTorrent client also gives you additional information such as the peers you’re connected too, trackers, the download and upload speeds, and other information.
If you evaluate the torrenting process in detail, you will know how this process starts and ends. From the image given below, you can explore four major attributes and these are:
- Torrent site web server
- The Beatles
In this example, you are shown as Alice who wants to download files by the help of torrent network. It means you are working as seeder and a leecher trying to access the torrent site web server in the example. Now, you are able to obtain your required torrent file or magnet link. You just copy the link and open the torrent download through your torrent client.
Thus, the torrent client connects to the tracker servers and starts looking where it can place the file Alice wishes to download. Furthermore, the torrent tracker identifies John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the network. The torrent tracker recognizes all of them as the file Alice is trying to find.
After recognizing, the torrent tracker starts working with Alice’s torrent client to download the file. Now, Alice has started downloading the file from the network. She is also sharing the file with the other users. It means any file she has downloaded partially is also accessible to others.
If she has downloaded half of the file, the other users like Paul, Ringo and George can begin leeching it from her. In addition, if the other users are looking for a file that Alice already possesses. She can start seeding the file on the network. However, the file needs to be properly placed on her system.
Why Are Torrents Better?
Downloading torrent files is slightly different from the files we are use to. You see… When you download any ordinary file from a website, your file is fetched from a single server. This technology is pretty primitive and results in slower downloads, not to mention limited availability due to geo restrictions.
Torrent files on the other hand are far ahead of the ongoing file sharing technology. When you download a torrent file, it is fetched from multiple users as opposed to servers. Each user in the file swarm uses their own bandwidth to make the file available for you to download, hence you get faster speeds.
Every user that downloads a torrent file must also upload it for other peers, therefore the more peers in a file swarm the stronger it becomes. This is the reason why BitTorrent file sharing technology is popular these days.
However, the success of this technology depends upon the community; therefore, you must contribute (seed) if you want to download files faster, because there is nothing worse than a leech in the community.
Copyright Legalities Associated With Torrenting
While Bittorrent technology is infamous for distributing copyrighted material, most of us download pirated movies and songs without even batting an eye, after all the Feds aren’t going to bust through your door for something so harmless right…?
While most of us believe this absurd notion, online piracy is no laughing matter. Whether you pirate one file or a hundred, you are still infringing copyrighted content and that in itself is illegal.
The international intellectual property alliance claims that torrenting alone racks up billions of dollars in lost economic revenue.
Whether or not those estimates are authentic can be speculated, it certainly has not stopped regulatory authorities from taking Anti-piracy measures against popular torrenting sites and their users.
While some torrenters get away with a simple DMCA notice, others might be grabbed by their necks until they see their day in court.
Now I’m not suggesting you should give up torrenting simply because there are other options. Take for example public domain torrent sites. These sites offer copyright free content and you can download them without worrying about a thing.
That said, some Public domain torrent sites might geo-blocked, therefore, make sure you only choose the best VPN services that support torrenting.
Streaming vs torrenting, Which Bears Less Repercussions?
Technically speaking neither streaming nor torrenting copyrighted content is legal. However, despite of legalities most torrenters nowadays prefer streaming content simply because of shear convenience.
Now you might be wondering which one would bear lesser repercussions in terms of legal issues, and the answer to that honestly depends on regional laws and regulations. For instance, streaming or downloading media from an illegal source in the UK is considered illegal; however, in a place like India it is perfectly acceptable.
This is why many western countries frown upon the idea of torrents and are heavily sanctioning their use as well.
However, one thing is for sure, anyone who abuses intellectual property for personal benefits is doing so illegally and can face legal consequences.
Streaming digital contents is a bit safer as compared to downloading them, simply because it gives regulatory authorities less evidence to work with.
You see, in order to download torrent files your torrent client needs your IP address, which it uses to connect you to other peers. This is concerning, since every other peer in a file swarm can see your IP.
Think of it like total strangers stalking your home address.
Having your IP publicly displayed can have serious consequences as it can lead law enforcement agencies right to you.
Now don’t get me wrong streaming content is just as risky, as the website you are streaming from can potentially log your IP without you even suspecting a thing. Besides that, annoying advertisements and malware injections are real threat too.
Is Torrenting considered outside the law?
Now that you know what is torrenting, how it works and how to use a torrent, here is a question asked by many users around the world, is using torrents against the law? The answer to this question depends from case to case. In certain countries, torrenting is completely legal while in others it’s considered illegal.
For instance, in Switzerland the use of torrents is legal as long as the material downloaded is not used to make profit. Therefore, you can download all forms of content (even copyrighted material). Similarly, in other countries such as Spain and Netherlands, torrenting is legal (to some extent). While in other regions such as Mexico, there are no laws protecting copyrights or intellectual properties; making them a safe place to for torrenting.
That said, majority of the regions frown upon the use of torrents and have deemed them as illegal. In general, torrenting is considered illegal where there are laws protecting intellectual properties and copyrights. These regions have implemented strict penalties on anyone found guilty of infringing copyrights through torrents. Users may receive warnings from ISPs, DMCA notices, fines, and even lawsuits.
How to Perform Safe Torrenting?
When you are torrenting, one of the ways you get caught is by exposing your true location (IP address) while seeding. This is because of the way torrents work – anyone can see who and from where the file is being shared. Secondly, if your ISP logs all your internet usage activities then you can also get into trouble while using torrents.
To perform torrenting safely and securely, you should hide your IP address by masking and encryption. One of the tools for performing this task is by using a VPN for torrent. A VPN makes you anonymous by spoofing your true identity (IP address) and encrypting all your web traffic through secure protocols and encryption keys.
This brings an end to our blog on torrenting. We have covered all the basis, from the fundamentals about torrents, to how they work, what terminologies you should be knowledgeable about, to how you can use torrents, and whether they are illegal or legal.
We have also highlighted how you can perform safe torrenting with the help of a VPN service. Therefore, if you are new to using torrents and don’t know where to start, then this is the perfect place to get started.
If you have any further queries regarding what is torrenting or if you are facing any difficulty in using torrents, then do let us know in the comments below.