August 12, 2008

Basic Guide to Torrents

DISCLAIMER: This is not a guide for making torrents faster, this is a guide for people who want to try downloading torrents but can't understand why. This will not contain more complicated terms such as DHT or whatsoever, and will focus on the basic operation of torrents. In short, it's a quick and dirty, newbie-friendly guide.

Are you tired of having to search songs one by one if you can download the whole album at once? How about merely downloading movie by yourself so you can save the environment albeit in a faster way (Yes, there are legal options.)? Well, you can theoretically say goodbye to them because of torrents.

What are torrents?
These are small files that when opened, will let you download even bigger files. Usually, the file ends with the extension ".torrent" and this system was created by BitTorrent Inc. for the purpose of sharing  significantly larger files over an Internet connection without having to wait very long when downloading. This means that a person can put up a 1 gigabyte high-definition movie for grabs, but the one downloading that movie could get it in just 10 minutes depending on a few conditions.

How fast are torrents?
There are several conditions that have to be met for a torrent to gain its peak speed, but it can theoretically go as fast as downloading a hundred megabytes a second. Of course, it's quite impossible for regular home users with a decent DSL connection to get that kind of speed, but if you read on, you'll understand what kind of conditions you will have to meet before you go on pressing that shiny download button.

First step
The first thing you need to do is find a nice torrent client, or application, so you can open and start downloading them. Don't fret if you don't know what to pick, because there are tons of options you can choose from, especially since this is the wild world of the Internet we're talking about!

The best, however, is uTorrent. And if you're still living in the stoneage of Windows 95, uTorrent still supports it. Mac users will have to wait for uTorrent, although they can try Transmission, although my whole Internet connection gets terribly slow when I open it. Don't fret, though, the steps below will be wholly the same for all users regardless of platform.

The search
After downloading uTorrent, you can go through its simple wizard, and you can now start looking for the stuff you want to download!

The stuff you want to download will mostly be available in websites aplenty, but you'll have to find the right one.

Most popular among downloaders is The Pirate Bay, the BitTorrent website (the most legal option, but only for the United States) and a few specialized sites like FlixFlux for movies and more.

Most of the time, there's always a search panel where you can type in your keyword, and for the most part, there will be relevant results that you can pick from.

Proceed with caution, though, and remember to always read the Comments panel. Does it have viruses? Is it fake? Well, downloaders in a website's community will answer that for you. So if a torrent file doesn't have comments yet, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Seeders and leechers
The first thing you should look for in a torrent (that is, after reading the comments panel) are the number of seeders versus leechers. The more seeders the faster the download, the more the leechers, the slower it will get.

Just think of it like this: the torrent file is a plant. The seeders are the one who help pollinate, while the leechers are the weeds who suck the life out of the plant. So if the weeds overpower the pollinators, the plant dies.

Same goes for the torrent. If there are more leechers than seeders, that torrent will be removed.

Am I a seeder, or a leecher?
If you're the one downloading the file, you're the leecher. If you have finished downloading the file and you are starting the upload process, you are then called the seeder. Torrent applications usually indicate whether you are seeding or downloading anyway.

I have dial-up, so I want to ask whether I can get fast speeds or not.
The answer is predictably no. Download speeds can still depend on your Internet connection, and if you have dial-up, your connection will mostly likely disconnect constantly. Torrent applications do have an option to pause downloads by default, but trust me, you won't like the hassle.

Wait, you can pause downloads?
Torrent applications can pause, resume and restart downloads, and not just automatically, you can also do it voluntarily. So if you think the torrents are slowing your Internet connection a little too much, you can pause them for a while and resume them anytime.

Failed DL?
This is simply the data that fail certain tests before going through. It won't affect your download as a whole, but it merely indicates that you have wasted time downloading bad data (that will be replaced by a better duplicate).

Am I set?
Yes, that's all the basic information you need to know when starting a torrent download. If you have any questions, you can consult Wikipedia or the torrent application's manual.

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