Sunday, June 9, 2013

What is Torrents Torrent files seeds peers and BitTorrent?

Despite the fact that BitTorrent has been around for a good 6 years now, the lightning fast file sharing protocol hasn't completely taken off in the mainstream. Since we post a decent amount about BitTorrent around here, we figured it was just time we put out a beginner's guide to BitTorrent. This is the guide you can send to your friend next time he gets that glassy look in his eyes when you mention BitTorrent and how quick and easy it makes downloading albums educational, public domain videos and other large files.

Without going into too much detail, here's a crash course in the file sharing protocol that is BitTorrent

What is BitTorrent ?

BitTorrent is not a program. [1] It's a method of downloading files using a distributed peer-to-peer file sharing system. The programs that you use to download files via the BitTorrent protocol are called BitTorrent clients.

BitTorrent is not like Limewire/Kazaa/Napster/other P2P programs you've used in the past. This is often the biggest source of confusion for people new to BitTorrent. It's not difficult to use, it's just different. As soon as you forget about your old file-sharing program (and you will once you start using BT), the easier it will be to start using BitTorrent.

How does it work?

What makes the BitTorrent protocol unique is that it distributes the sharing of files across all users who have downloaded or are in the process of downloading a file. Because BitTorrent breaks up and distributes files in hundreds of small chunks, you don't even need to have downloaded the whole file before you start sharing. As soon as you have even a piece of the file, you can start sharing that piece with other users. That's what makes BitTorrent so fast; your BitTorrent client starts sharing as soon as it downloads one chunk of the file (instead of waiting until the entire download has been completed).

In order to download a file like the educational public domain video we mentioned above, you have to find and download a torrent file (which uses the .torrent file extension) and then open it with your BitTorrent client. The torrent file does not contain your files. Instead, it contains information which tells your BitTorrent client where it can find peers who are also sharing and downloading the file.

How to find and download a file with BitTorrent?

Now that you've got a better idea of the terminology and process behind BitTorrent, let's jump right into using BitTorrent.

First you need to download a BitTorrent client (the program that manages your BitTorrent downloads). I'd recommend:

uTorrent for Windows/Mac
Transmission for Mac
Vuze or KTorrent for Linux (Actually, Vuze is cross platform, meaning it will work on Windows and Mac, but on those platforms we still prefer the alternatives listed above.)

But on top of them all my personal favorite is Free download Manager.

Search for a good torrent.
There are a handful of really good web sites for downloading torrents
Just search with your subject and torrent name  in google for example if you are looking for space ship studies torrents search like "Space ship studies torrents".

Try out whichever one you like. One might fit your tastes better than another, but I've had good experiences with all of these. From this point, search the site using their search box like you're using Google—just type in the name of what you're looking for. You'll likely get several results, but you want to choose the torrent with the highest number of seeders (indicated in most BitTorrent search results under a field labeled 'S'). Seeders are people who have already downloaded and are sharing the entire file. The more seeders, the faster your download will be. Some sites also provide you with a health meter, which is generally a measure of seeders vs. active downloaders.

Download the torrent. 
Once you've found a good and healthy torrent, find the download link and download the torrent. Your browser will ask you what you want to do with the file, so be sure to tell it to open the torrent in the BitTorrent client you downloaded above.

Your BitTorrent client will open and (possibly) ask you where you want to save the file(s). Pick your save location, hit OK, and that's it; your file will begin downloading. If you're not impressed with the speed at first, be patient. It can sometimes take a minute or two before the download ramps up to full speed. If you're still not happy, try searching for another torrent with more seeders.

That's it?
Yep, that's it. That, in a nutshell, is how to download files using BitTorrent. There can be more to it, of course, if you want to dive in a bit deeper. For example, you can run through the Speed Guide in uTorrent to improve your download speeds (the guide is fairly self explanatory—just go to Options -> Speed Guide to get started), download select files from the torrent rather than every file, throttle your bandwidth, and so on, but this basic guide should get you started.

Also, to ensure you stay in good standing in the BitTorrent community (and aren't labeled a leecher), you should always try to upload as much as you download. Most BitTorrent clients keep track of your upload/download ratio, and you should generally continue sharing a file until your ratio reaches 1, after which you can feel free to remove it from your client (the file will remain on your computer—you just stop sharing it).

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