How to Use BitTorrent
|Published:||Apr 3, 2007|
By some estimates BitTorrent now accounts for 35% of all internet traffic. So, what's the big deal? BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing technology, meaning that when you download a file over BitTorrent you're not getting it from a central server, you're getting it from other people like you who have downloaded the file, or even just part of it. Shifting the burden of hosting large files to the downloaders themselves makes it easier for all kinds of people and organizations (including more than a few shady ones) to distribute software and media without incurring huge bandwidth bills.
BitTorrent may be the best thing since email, but unfortunately downloading a file with BitTorrent isn't quite as straightforward as downloading one from an ordinary server. To begin with, most web browsers can't download files over BitTorrent--they can only hand the task off to another program called a BitTorrent client. When you find someone offering a file over BitTorrent, what they'll actually be providing is a torrent file, which will end in .torrent. The .torrent file doesn't contain the data you want, it merely tells your BitTorrent client how to find other people who have the pieces of the file(s) you're after.
Fortunately for us there are many free BitTorrent clients available, and most of them are pretty easy to use once you're accustomed to them, which brings us to...
uTorrent (properly called �Torrent) is my favorite BitTorrent client, and one of the best available for Windows. It's a free download and also happens to be extremely small (making it a quick download) and fast. It has a clean, uncluttered interface, but tosses in a few features for more advance users, too.
After you've installed uTorrent and set up some settings (which it will help you with), whenever you download a .torrent file it should automatically be opened by uTorrent. uTorrent will give you a few options, most of which you'll want to leave as they are. You may want to choose, however, where on your hard drive the file is saved. If the torrent contains more than one file, you can choose which ones you want to download--all of them will be selected by default.
Once you click OK, uTorrent will start downloading your file(s). Now all you have to do is wait, but while you do there's lots to learn if you're so inclined. The first thing you notice is that the torrent is listed in the main pane in uTorrent along with a lot of numbers. Some of the columns are pretty obvious--"Size" is the total amount of data you're going to download, "Done" is how much has finished downloading so far, "Down Speed" is the how fast you're currently downloading, and "ETA" is an estimate of how long it's going to take.
Apart from these, there are two important pairs of numbers: "Seeds" and "Peers." These numbers both represent individual people. Seeds, short for seeders, are people who already have the entire torrent, and are now uploading ("seeding") the data to people who don't. The first number is the number of seeders you're currently downloading from, and the second, in parentheses, is the total number of seeders for that torrent. Peers, sometimes called leechers, are people who don't have all of the data yet, and are currently downloading from other people. The first number is the people you are currently connected to, both downloading pieces of the torrent from and uploading them to, and the number in parentheses is (you guessed it) the total number of peers for that torrent.
These numbers are important because they determine, albeit indirectly, how fast your download is going to be. Most BitTorrent trackers--sites whiclist available torrents and host .torrenfiles--tell you how many seeders and leechers there are for a torrent before you start downloading. If there are a lot of both, your download will be faster (relative to your own bandwidth, of course). If there are many more leechers than seeders, your download will be much slower. And if there are no seeders (people who have all the data), the download may never complete, because all of the data may not be available, unless a new seeder shows up and "reseeds."
Once your download completes, you'll become a seeder yourself and continue uploading parts of the torrent to people who don't have it yet. While you could quit uTorrent or remove the torrent right away, it's polite to stay connected for awhile so that others can benefit from your bandwidth as you have from others'.
Those are the basics of downloading files via BitTorrent using uTorrent, but there are plenty of other features and options if you poke around. If you have trouble getting downloads to start, make sure that your firewall software isn't blocking them. Failing that, you can find a lot of troubleshooting info in the uTorrent FAQ.
How To Find Torrents
Now that you know how to get started with BitTorrent, you might be wondering where to find BitTorrent downloads. If you're looking for Top 40 music, recent Hollywood blockbusters, or hit TV shows, you're on your own. But if you're interested in legal torrents, here's a few tips:
Public Domain Torrents has hundreds of classic films that are now in the public domain and completely legal to download and enjoy.
The South By Southwest Festival hosts music from dozens of artists who have appeared at the festival, along with independent movie trailers.
etree.org provides hundreds of live concert recordings by popular "trade friendly" musicians.
That's just a sampling of the legal BitTorrent trackers out there. If you're looking for something specific, your best bet is to hit Google and enter the name of what you're looking for followed by "torrent."
Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.