The High Tech Society

What is a Torrent and How Does it Work?

What is a Torrent and How Does it Work?

A torrent is a strong moving stream of water, the end! That is the dictionary definition of a torrent, but anyone who spends any amount of time on the internet knows that there is another definition as well. The torrent lurks in the dark corners of the internet, always there, and more prolific now than ever before.

torrent file

What Is A Torrent?

A torrent, of the internet variety, is a file that is used by the Bittorrent file distribution system. The torrent file holds information about the location of the file that the user is trying to download, and a list of networks that hold small parts of the file. This file can then be used in tandem with a bittorrent client to download the file.

Torrent file locations are stored on torrent tracker servers. These trackers actually do nothing but keep track of where the pieces of the file are stored. When you download a file from a torrent tracker you are actually downloading the meta-data of the file and then the partitions of the file are downloaded from numerous other sources.

Why Partition a Torrent File?

Broadband has a major flaw which is upload speed. On an average broadband connection, the upload speed is nowhere near as fast as the download speed. You see, the net was never developed as the data sharing mecca it is today, the only people who needed fast upload speeds were large businesses, people who create and upload websites, and of course, people uploading large files, most of which requires a custom internet connection to offer faster upload speeds. The average broadband consumer doesn’t need fast upload speeds because the most they are going to upload is the odd picture and maybe an email attachment, never anything bigger than a couple of megabytes.

Uploading and downloading bigger files with this lack of bandwidth can quickly become a problem. By dividing the file into smaller pieces and distributing teeny weeny chunks and partitions across hundreds of different servers, the upload bandwidth becomes distributed. No single server will be responsible for the full file which allows the uploader to add content more quickly, and the downloader to download from multiple servers more quickly. The user may hit a slow patch for one partition of the file, but the chances are that some of the servers will be fast, making the average download speed much, much faster and far more reliable than downloading from a single file.

To summarise the torrent process:

  1. The file is split into a number of chunks or partitions and an additional file is created called a torrent. The torrent file contains all the meta-data about the main file including the number of partitions it has been split into, the names of the files, and sometimes a list of trackers.
  2. The whole package of files that has been created is distributed to multiple servers where they can be downloaded.
  3. Torrent trackers are informed of the locations of the files and the file will appear in their search database.
  4. Users download the torrent from multiple sources simultaneously using a bittorrent client.
  5. Once a file is downloaded, the users IP address is given as a source for that chunk and users can download from them, this is known as seeding and can be stopped in some bittorrent clients. Responsible torrenting of legal files asks that downloaders seed until the torrent is has a good download to upload ratio. Usually .750 or more.
  6. The chunks of file are pieced together by the users chosen bittorrent client and can be opened and enjoyed.

What is a Bittorent Client?

Anyone who has ever tried to download a torrent file without a bittorent client might have found that they had no way to actually open the torrent file. This is because torrent files can only be read by bittorent clients such as Vuze, uTorrent, Tixati, Turbo BT, and many, many more. Each of these bittorent clients has their own features including pros and cons and most have a free and a paid version. For the most part, torrenters can stick to the free version of the client for simple downloading and accessing torrent files.

Are Torrents Legal?

The world of the torrent is a murky legal area because of its widespread use amongst pirate music and video users. There is no doubt that the torrent has played a massive role in putting a huge dent in the pockets of the music and film industry, but does this make torrents illegal, actually it depends on what content is downloaded.

Strictly speaking, a torrent as an entity is not illegal; instead it is the use of the torrent system that makes it illegal. Illegal music, software and film downloads are made widely available to the masses by using the torrent platform but downloading non-copyrighted content is not illegal. The torrent allows anyone access to an unlimited source of stolen music and films which is where torrents have gotten the reputation of being illegal.

The legal status of the torrent will eventually be decided and it fate sealed but for now the illegal downloading continues and more and more music, film and software is split into torrent files, distributed and stolen.

If you want to download legal torrents, search for data and files that are not copyrighted. Examples include books that are more than 70 years old, most indie music that has not been copyrighted, indie films, wallpapers, hacks and modifications to popular software, free software, and literally hundreds of other items.

Click here to read about how you can download a torrent.

Author Bio:

Steven Kirby is a writer who owns and runs TabPimps, a site that offers free tablet wallpapers to anyone who wants to download them.