For beginners, torrenting can seem like quite a hard thing to get into but with just a few key things to take into account, torrenting is simple.
This guide will give you all the information needed in order to get started with torrents, how to stay safe when torrenting, the legality of it all, and much more.
How exactly does torrenting work?
Torrenting uses a Peer-to-Peer (often written down as P2P) method of communicating.
This means that when downloading or uploading a torrent you are doing that from other computers with that data, these computers are your peers. As you can see the use of peer in this context isn’t too dissimilar to the conventional sense of the word.
The P2P protocol is the opposite to what you would use to access a conventional website. Websites are hosted from a single location and don’t require others in order to access them.
What’s great about P2P is that there isn’t a single point of failure, but that requires that there is someone out there that is uploading the data you want.
The protocol that you use for torrenting is called BitTorrent. Each torrent file holds the information needed in order to download files or folders from other peers on the network.
A group of people uploading and downloading torrents is called a swarm, in this swarm you have seeders and leechers.
Seeders are people that are uploading the data they have already downloaded. Leechers are people that are currently downloading and uploading from seeders.
There is a kind of central point for many torrents out there and that is called a tracker.
What a tracker does is help organise how the swarm uploads and downloads to torrent clients. This used to be the only way torrents would work but with the introduction of DHT (distributed hash table) torrents are now freely downloaded with no need for a tracker to oversee the whole process.
DHT allows clients to act as nodes, searching through nodes in order to find the data that the torrent needs. This process uses a magnet link rather than a downloaded torrent file. A magnet link is essentially a URL that you just input into your torrent client. This means that now downloading and storage of torrent files needs to be done.
In order to first download a torrent, you need a torrent client. A torrent client is what communicates with different peers so that needed files are downloaded. Peers will be using a torrent client just as you would be yourself, in many torrent clients you can even see the IP addresses and locations of your peers.
Is torrenting legal?
This is an often-asked question by many that are new to torrenting. Torrenting is mainly known for its use for piracy, this makes it understandable to think that torrenting itself is illegal but that isn’t the case.
Torrenting is completely legal, it is what you are downloading by torrenting that determines whether it is illegal. For example, downloading the latest Ubuntu Linux distro via torrent is completely legal but downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster through a torrent is not.
In a number of countries, downloading copyrighted material isn’t illegal, but in the vast majority it is, so make sure you are up to date with your country’s copyright laws.
You may notice that in your country access to the biggest torrent websites such as The Pirate Bay has been blocked by your ISP due to a court order.
These blocks can easily be bypassed with the use of proxies but it is worth noting that many of these proxies introduce intrusive adverts that can easily infect your PC if you aren’t careful, so make sure to look for ones that don’t add a bunch of virus riddled adverts.
Is torrenting safe?
This is a tricky one, in general torrenting is safe. If you want to download something like a Linux distro then you don’t have to worry about viruses or anything, that is if you get your torrent from the correct place (the official website is always the best place to get the torrent files needed).
If you are downloading something like a movie or software then it gets a little dicier. When doing this your best friend is the comments section on the torrent website you are using. Read and see what people have to say about it, often times plenty of people are giving their experiences with the torrent at hand so you can make your own informed decision.
Similarly, many torrent websites have some sort of torrent uploader verification method. This means that the person uploading the torrent can be trusted and isn’t some sort of wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A combination of these two methods are the best chance you have at keeping your torrenting safe.
In a similar tack, as people can see your IP address when torrenting, many choose to use a VPN when torrenting and this is a good idea for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it hides your IP address from others in the swarm. Secondly, it means that your ISP doesn’t have a clue what you are downloading, this is vital if you live in a country where downloading copyrighted material is illegal. This means if a copyright holder was wanting to stamp down on downloading of their material, they wouldn’t have a clue that you had downloaded it.
A possible downside to using a VPN when torrenting is that you may see your download and upload speeds adversely affected. This is due to your distance from the VPN server and the encryption overhead, though this varies depending on which protocol you use.
It is important to note when choosing a VPN provider for torrenting that many only allow P2P communications on certain servers, normally in countries that aren’t that hard about torrenting, places such as The Netherlands or Germany. It may also be the case that the VPN provider doesn’t allow torrenting at all.
Do I need to forward any ports?
Most of the time you do not, if your router supports uPNP (Universal Plug ‘n’ Play), your torrent client should automatically have a port assigned to it, though this isn’t the most optimized way of doing it, as changing ports can mean your client won’t have full access to inbound and outbound if there is a change.
To have a reliable full connection, your best bet is to forward any port and specify that port in your torrent client’s settings page.
Can I use a free VPN to download torrents?
Many free VPN services won’t even allow you to download torrents, this is due to a number of legal complications.
If you find one that does, you will find that your internet speed will take a huge nose dive, it may be okay for smaller files but for larger files you will want to find yourself a paid alternative.
Not only that many free VPN services cannot be trusted, there have been many stories lately of various popular VPN services doing dodgy things. One was even selling users spare bandwidth, this is the kind of thing you have to deal with when you use a free VPN service.
What does a healthy torrent look like?
It is important to look for healthy torrents so that you don’t waste your time with a torrent that just won’t download. Most torrent websites show how many seeders and leechers there are.
What you are looking for is a torrent that has a high number of seeders and a low amount of leechers. This means that there is plenty of bandwidth to go around all of the leechers, providing you with the best download speeds.
Most public torrent trackers have issues with what is called “hit and run”, this means that many people just download and don’t bother seeding. This is why you will often see on the most popular torrents huge amounts of leechers. Most casual users don’t bother with seeding, as they say though, sharing is caring so make sure to seed!
What are some of the best torrent websites?
There are quite a few popular ones that have come and gone in the last few years. KickassTorrents was one such torrent website that had a huge following and fell foul its owner being arrested. There is a resurrected version of the website but it is a shell of its former self.
The Pirate Bay has survived its creators being arrested and taken down multiple times and it still live to tell the tale. In terms of selection The Pirate Bay cannot be beaten. It has a ton of torrents in every category with an active community.
RARBG is another good choice, especially for new movies and TV Shows. It has a nice layout that makes it easy to keep up to date with the latest releases for the biggest and best movie and TV show releases.
What is the difference between a public and private tracker?
Public trackers, as the name may suggest, are free to anyone to use. There is no obligation to seed anything and you can download as much as you want and give back nothing (if you so choose).
This often means that older torrents can fall by the wayside, that is why it can be difficult to find older content with decent download speeds, there is no incentive to waste bandwidth on seeding a torrent that barely anyone will download.
With a private tracker, you will need to either sign up when they are open or get an invite from a current member. Getting into the best private trackers can be akin to applying for a job, they will want to know your internet speeds, your seeding history on other trackers, and other similar information.
When you use a private tracker, you will have to keep a good ratio. What a good ratio is varies from tracker to tracker, the majority operate on a 0.5 ratio, meaning you have to have at least uploaded half of what you have downloaded. If you fall below that ratio, often you will have your account and IP address banned from the tracker.
This may seem harsh but this is why private trackers have a wide selection that can almost always be downloaded as someone is always there seeding. Even if there are just a couple of seeders, your download speed should always be maxed out.
Getting an invite can be pretty tricky if you don’t have evidence of your performance on other private trackers, if you are lucky you can maybe get one that someone is giving away or maybe you know someone that is in one. Otherwise your best bet is to trawl the internet for open trackers and hope that you come across one that is active and has a wide range of content.
Some of the better private trackers often have open days where anyone can join but these are few and far between, so make sure to keep an eye on one that takes your fancy just in case this happens.
Others have interviews that test your knowledge of the trackers rules, this may seem a little over the top but private trackers take pride in their community so weeding out those that are there just to leech off the useful users is very important to the integrity of the tracker and its status amongst its peers.
Many private trackers also allow you to donate in order to gain access, the prices vary but if you are desperate to get into a particular private tracker, this may be your only hope.
What torrent client should I use?
As to which torrent client you should use, this depends on a number of factors. Things like your operating system, for example, play a huge role in the number of torrent clients you will have access to.
My personal favourite is Deluge, it has a number of great quality of life features that other clients don’t have. Things like a comprehensive auto labelling system are a godsend for being able to filter by public and private trackers. It even allows you to filter by tracker, so you can keep an eye on how your torrents are doing on any particular tracker.
It also has a fantastic web UI, so if you plan on accessing your torrent client over the internet from a central location, Deluge is the best choice. The web UI is essentially exactly the same as the native client, other clients web UIs are diluted and don’t really allow you to access all of the features like Deluge does.
Deluge is available on all major operating systems too, though there isn’t a mobile app.
Good desktop alternatives to Deluge include, Transmission, qBittorrent, Vuze, and Bittorrent.
A few torrent clients, like uTorrent and Bittorrent offer “premium” versions of their software for a yearly fee, rarely is this value for money when other purely free clients offer all they have to offer and more.
That isn’t to say that if you want to support the developer of your favourite client you shouldn’t, a donation can go a long way to improving your client of choice. I don’t feel walling off features is the way to go about it though.
On mobile, there isn’t as much choice, uTorrent and Bittorrent have the market cornered, they both offer very similar experiences, so try both and see which one suits you. Though there are mobile apps that allow you to connect to your client’s web server and let you view and add torrents to your client from your phone.
One such application is Transdrone, it works with a wide variety of clients and has a very slick interface for viewing your current downloads and uploads. Adding torrents is a little dodgy as you can’t choose the precise location of the download, so it will just go to your default download location that you set in your client’s settings. It is a handy tool to have available though.
As you can see, getting into torrenting is that much hassle. All you have to do is to memorize some technobabble and you are halfway there. Torrenting can be as in-depth as you want it to be, for many it is a simple plug in and play type process. If you know what you are doing you can really dig down and optimize your torrenting performance.
Often this isn’t needed and simply finding a torrent website that you trust and understand, a torrent client that you like to use, and a trusted VPN service to keep you safe whilst you download are all you need when downloading torrents.
I recommend the following VPN:
With time, you will start to become more confident and branch out, that is when you will really start to benefit from what torrenting has to offer.
If you found this comprehensive guide useful, please share it with your torrent rookie friends. If you have anything that you feel is worth adding, please feel free to leave a comment.