How does downloading work for laypeople

BitTorrent For Beginners: Getting Started Torrenting

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Have you heard of BitTorrent but not sure how to use it, or are you wondering if you should use it at all? Here is a beginner's quick guide on how it works and how to get started downloading torrent files.

What is Bit torrent?

BitTorrent is an Internet peer-to-peer file sharing protocol that works in a kind of decentralized way. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that when you download parts of your files from the person who originally shared the file, you also get parts from other downloaders to maximize data exchange.

Bit torrent is one of the most commonly used protocols for transferring very large files because it doesn't overload the web servers that provide downloads. Since all users are sending and receiving at the same time, this is much more efficient than downloading from a single server.

This is how BitTorrent works

To better understand how it all works, take a look at this diagram from Wikipedia detailing the process:

“In this animation, the colored bars under all of the 7 clients in the upper area represent the file, with each color representing an individual part of the file. After the initial pieces have been handed over from the seed (large system below), the pieces are handed over individually from customer to customer. The original seeder only needs to send a copy of the file for all clients to receive a copy. To stop the animation, click Stop or press the ESC key. "


An "indexer" is a site that compiles a list of torrents and descriptions, and is a place where users form a community (with rules!) Around Bit torrent content. If you want to share, download, or request files, the indexer community is the place for you. These usually take the form of a forum and / or an IRC channel.


A "tracker" is a server that helps manage peers, initiated downloads and manage statistics. Since most indexers have their own private tracker, most of them just refer to them as trackers. In this article, we'll use this more general definition to avoid confusion with what you might find on the internet.

Trackers forward small pieces of data or packages, downloaders and support in establishing a connection with colleagues: If you download several files, you also upload them to other people who have different parts of the file. Since all users share data with each other while downloading, this can happen quickly.

Seeders and leeches

Once you complete the download, you become a "seeder" and you continue to upload to other peers. If you turn off uploading and only download, you will be referred to as a "leecher". Ethical concerns aside, this can cause the tracker to get banned. As such, it is generally best to wager at least as much as you download.

Image by nrkbeta

Public vs Private Trackers

Another aspect of trackers is whether they are public or private - the "private" trackers are membership based so only registered users can download, upload, and / or access benefits such as additional downloads. No registration is normally required for "public" trackers. In this case, registration is free and always open. Generally, the best experience comes from a private tracker with a strong community. So look around and you won't find one that suits your taste.

BitTorrent clients

The other side of the BitTorrent equation can be found on your local computer: a client. The client's job is to manage your torrents, connect with other peers, manage statistics for your purpose and of course download and upload them. While the tracker gives instructions on what to do and how to connect, it is the client who actually does the heavy lifting. For this reason, it is important that you choose a trustworthy customer as well as a customer who performs well.

There is no shortage of free features for BitTorrent clients, but we strongly recommend uTorrent (for Windows) and Transmission (for Mac OS and Linux). uTorrent is the powerhouse of an app and one of the lightest to run on Windows. Transmission is installed by default on Ubuntu and many other Linux distributions, and the Mac version runs very well and supports Growl. They're both inexperienced and resource efficient, but don't miss out on some of the more useful options for advanced users.

Note: uTorrent enables an toolbar by default during installation and offers to browse by default. This can be switched off without any problems, but has to be mentioned.

Bit torrent legality

BitTorrent itself is a protocol, so it falls to individual trackers what is legal and what is not. When a copyright infringement occurs, it is primarily the tracker, and then its users, that is responsible. You should probably avoid blindly downloading copyrighted works on public trackers as your IP address can be easily tracked.

There are many legal uses for BitTorrent, for example, most community-controlled Linux distributions offer torrents for their ISOs. Phish fans often record live shows (provided they adhere to Phish's music trading guidelines) and share them online, as do many artists themselves.

There are many legal trackers as well as torrent aggregators that compile links to legal downloads hosted on other trackers. Here are some examples:

  • Jamendo is a free music tracker that distributes Creative Commons licensed albums. Artists can contribute their own album if it is licensed in the same way.
  • Linux Tracker provides downloads for popular and unobtrusive Linux distributions and is an excellent alternative to downloading ISO files.
  • Clear Bits offers Open Licensed Digital Media downloads for free content providers. And as always, Google can be a powerful ally when it comes to finding legal flows.

We here at How-To Geek do not condone piracy and urge you to download it responsibly.

Download torrents

Things are shared by "torrents", small files with text that guides the tracker. To download files, jump over to your tracker's website and download the torrent file, which is usually less than 30KB in size. Then open this torrent in your selected BitTorrent and you have started downloading! The process is so simple, although there is a lot you can do to get the most out of your connection by messing around with your client.

Step by step

First and foremost, download and install your chosen BitTorrent client. In this case, I am using uTorrent as the selected client on Windows. If you work on Mac or Linux, it is not too difficult to use Transmission.

Next we need a torrent file. I have a stream of Countdown's album "Break Rise Blowing" from Jamendo.

Once you have your torrent file in an easily accessible (or well organized) location, all you have to do is double-click the torrent file to load it into your client.

You will see uTorrent and a dialog box with options for that download.

Here you can choose where you want the stream to go to the download, whether or not you want to add it to the top of your torrent queue, and you can even unmark individual files for download. Once you've decided what you want, you can go ahead and click OK.

You can see your queue in the main uTorrent window. From here you can manage your torrents:

  • The Break The button interrupts the download, but keeps the connections open.
  • The Stop The button stops the download and closes the connections.
  • The play The button starts the download as soon as it is paused or stopped.
  • The red X The button will prompt you to delete the torrent (and files, if applicable).
  • The Up arrow increases the priority of your torrent among all currently active torrents.
  • The Arrow down decreases its priority in the queue.

Getting started is so easy. The world of BitTorrent is huge, but hopefully this introduction gives you the incentive to take the plunge. Have fun with the torrent!