So you want to get your own home theater PC together, but you’re lacking in content. Enter BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer protocol that you can use to find all sorts of media. This article is going to go over the basic terms and principles involved with BitTorrent, and give a quick guide on how to get you torrenting.
BitTorrent uses the power of it’s users to create a decentralized framework for people to share files of any size and format with each other. The decentralized is important because most other media sources involve a centralized server architecture, whereas with BitTorrent a lot of people have pieces of the file you’re trying to get.
I’ll also talk a bit about public vs. private trackers and what both mean for you.
Swarm: The group of users downloading a file.
Peer: Someone else in the swarm.
Seeding: Having a complete copy of the file but leaving the file open to download from other users.
Seeder: Someone who participates in seeding (see above).
Leecher: Someone who just downloads and doesn’t seed. Sometimes used to describe someone currently downloading a file, whether they are uploading or not.
.torrent file: A small file (almost always less than 1MB) that points your torrent client to the tracker.
Client software: A piece of software that opens .torrent files to read the tracker information and connects to the swarm to download/upload.
Tracker: The server(s) that maintain information about who has what pieces of a given file. Also used to describe the websites that host the .torrent files themselves
Public: Means that registration is either not required to download torrent files, or that everyone can register without any limits.
Private: Means that registration is both mandatory and an invite from a current user is required. Some private sites occasionally open their doors and hold “open registrations” where invites are not necessary to join up.
The process goes something like this:
- You download a .torrent file from a public or private torrent website.
- You use your torrent client software to open the .torrent file.
- Your client connects you to the tracker(or trackers, a torrent can have more than one) which then points your client software to peers in the swarm who have the chunks of the file you’re looking for. That’s the beauty of Bittorrent; that since the original media file is broken up into so many small chunks you can download those chunks from people who don’t necessarily have a complete copy. Before the file is even done you may also be uploading the chunks of the file that you’v already finished downloading.
- Once the file finishes downloading, you continue to upload it as a seeder in the swarm.
Public vs. Private
The most commonly used torrent download sites are public, meaning that everyone can access and download the .torrent files which are central to the BitTorrent process. Most have some sort of search function, possibly forums, and occasionally other features. The problem with the public sites is that since everyone can use them, the quality of the downloads isn’t always reliable and viruses do pop up in some content. There is often no way to weed out good uploaders from bad uploaders. Since public sites use public trackers, anyone can be in the swarm. Once you’re in the swarm, you can see everyone else’s IP addresses which are the unique identifiers that point back to your ISP and your computer. This is an obvious privacy issue, since if anyone can see that IP, anyone can figure out what you’re downloading. As a rather scary example, take a look at this site which keeps an eye on what you’ve downloaded from public trackers: YouHaveDownloaded.com
Private sites and the private trackers they use tend to have smaller swarms of more trusted members. Typically, private sites require members to maintain a certain ratio of amount uploaded to amount downloaded. If your ratio is above 1, it means that you’ve uploaded more total data than you’ve downloaded and that’s a sign of trustworthiness in a community that’s all about sharing. I’d rather trust my IP to a swarm of trusted users, than to a swarm of random people. That being said, private sites aren’t perfect. They often have less files than public sites, which makes sense since they have less users. Most private sites are also specific to a certain media type, whether that be video games, HD movies, anime, or television so it can be hard to use some private sites as a one-stop-shop for all of your media needs. Also the biggest drawback of private sites is that they can be hard to get in to. Most are very specific with rules on who can give out invites, and how many they get to give out. Of course, this is all worth it to protect the biggest benefit of private sites (second maybe to the gated-community security): the speed. When downloading from private trackers, you will find that your download speeds will often be double what you can find on public trackers. Private trackers also tend to get new media before it hits public sites, making them very useful for the latest video game, movie or TV releases.
How can you start with private sites? Take a look at the current list of trackers holding open registrations: http://btracs.com/
Verdict: Use private sites whenever possible.
Questions are always welcome in the comments!