A torrent within the technology domain is defined as a type of small computer file with the extension .torrent and used by the P2P BitTorrent file-sharing protocol.
What is a Torrent?
A torrent file (.torrent) contains information about the files to be downloaded, such as size, name, and folder structure. Bear in mind that a torrent file does not contain the data (the content itself) but rather the metadata (or instructions) on how to obtain these files and folders. The torrent file also contains a list (IPs or URLs) of torrent tracker servers to help establish communications and keep track of peers. Trackers help participants find each other and form torrent swarms (or distribution groups).
How to use a torrent file?
The torrent file must be loaded into a BitTorrent client (such as uTorrent, BitTorrent, or Deluge). The client automatically opens and reads the instructions of the torrent file and downloads the content from the torrent swarm provided by the tracker. With the torrent file, users can download the entire content distributed across different peers or a small portion of the content if it was already downloaded on a computer.
Although BitTorrent and torrent files could be used within large private networks (i.e., WANs) to distribute, share, and transfer large files internally, this P2P file-sharing mechanism is most commonly used across the public Internet to distribute media and software.
Interesting Fact 1!
In a BitTorrent network, everyone can be an uploader and a downloader simultaneously (refer to the picture above). Torrent files, the BitTorrent protocol, and much of the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) underlying technology is designed for distributed (de-centralized) communications. In fact, torrenting was initially created to reduce the load of central servers. Designers needed to use distributed “peers” to help with the distribution burden rather than rely on a single-point-of-failure (central server).
Interesting Fact 2!
Contrary to popular belief, torrent files and BitTorrent technology are perfectly legal. But, although BitTorrent (the tool and protocol) is legal, it is most often its use (in pirate communities) that is illegal. However, many people don’t know that many popular software and platforms, such as Linux, Blizzard, Facebook, Twitter, Universities, governments, etc., use the protocol openly and legally to distribute their own (or free) content.
Torrenting is defined as the process of finding and using torrent files within the BitTorrent ecosystem to transfer, share, or distribute large amounts of data.
What is Torrenting?
To understand what torrenting is, let’s dig into technical details a bit more, shall we?
The torrenting process is as follows:
- A regular torrent user with the original full copy of the content creates a torrent file and uploads it to the torrent index site or could also share it directly with remote friends or peers. This first user that uploads content is referred to as a seeder.
- Most commonly, seeders use index sites, the common torrent sites that most people know about. These sites usually provide a search engine to help visitors search, browse, and find their desired torrent file.
- When other people look into the torrent index and find interest in a particular piece of content, they would download the torrent file and load it into their favorite BitTorrent client. These people become peers.
- The peer’s BitTorrent client connects to “the” or “one of the” trackers appointed in the torrent file. This torrent tracker server maintains a list of IP addresses of the entire torrent swarm, including seeders with the full content and peers that have a full or partial copy of the content. The tracker maintains communication with the torrent swarm and keeps updating information for every BitTorrent client.
- When a peer successfully downloads the full copy of the content and shares it, the peer becomes a seeder. If a peer downloads the full copy of the content without sharing, it is labeled as a leecher.
Interesting Fact 3!
Private trackers are closed torrenting communities. As compared to public trackers, private trackers have huge (and sometimes niche-based) media and software libraries, higher speeds, more availability, and lots of privacy/security features. But all those benefits don’t come without a price; although these communities are free (as is with the entire BitTorrent ecosystem), they do require membership, are most of the time closed, invitees only, and require a strict sharing ratio (share more than take).
Interesting Fact 4!
Seedboxes are servers (cloud-based or self-hosted) that were initially created to match the demand of the sharing ratio of these private trackers. The name “Seed+box” comes from “Seed” as in torrent seeders (see above for reference) and “Box” as in server. Seedbox servers (now most commonly offered via SaaS) are built for speed, security, user experience, and performance and are ready for 24/7 torrenting.
What is Torrenting in 2022? And What Has Evolved?
So, now that you know the torrent definition and what torrenting is, let’s dig briefly into the ways BitTorrent and torrenting technology have evolved and how it is being used today, in 2022.
Although the core torrent technology and its processes haven’t changed that much, BitTorrent did evolve. The new recent evolution of BitTorrent v2 makes torrenting faster and more reliable.
Although technology is evolving for torrents, now torrenting is perhaps not as globally popular as it was a couple of years ago. However, even though people have lost interest, many users are slowly going back to torrenting, and new ones are learning to use it; this is especially due to streaming fragmentation (when on-demand streaming providers segment content too much to the point that affects consumers). In addition, torrenting is also being used along with personal streaming media servers such as Plex and Emby, which allow users to create their own media libraries and enjoy them anywhere in the world.
Below are a couple of newer torrenting definitions and concepts:
A. What are DHT and trackerless systems in torrents?
From previous sections, you might already know that torrents still need a central tracker server (which defeats the whole decentralization purpose). However, there are tracker-less systems (or decentralized tracking) that remove the need for having a central tracker. They use their peers as trackers. BitTorrent clients implement trackerless systems through Distributed Hash Tables (DHTs). When a client loads a torrent file, the contents of the file are searched in the DHT network via info-hash-value.
B. What are magnet links?
You might already know that to download content with a torrent; you need a torrent file… but not with magnet links. Magnet links are used in P2P file-sharing to remove the need for torrent files. Magnet links are also known as Magnet URIs. Magnets are URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) schemes that define the format of magnet links. Magnet links help identify file resources by content (not location) using a cryptographic hash value. Most of today’s BitTorrent popular clients support magnet links. In the same case, most of today’s torrent index sites offer their torrents via magnet links (as well as files).
C. What is superseeding in torrenting ?
Superseeding is a Bitttorrent algorithm designed when there is only one person as seeder in the torrent swarm. The seeder’s client distributes pieces of the content across the swarm that no one else has yet. This helps the torrent swarm grow without risking a loss in files. With superseeding, the files are distributed faster and more evenly.
D. What are BitTorrent Clients?
A BitTorrent client such as uTorrent, Transmission, qBittorrent, Deluge, etc., loads the torrent file (or finds the content using magnet links) and connects to the torrent tracker to establish communications with the torrent swarm. It can also use tracker-less systems or DHT by finding information in the info-hash value. Modern BitTorrent clients like uTorrent or BitTorrent come with modern capabilities, like a built-in media player, remote torrent management, Bittorrent encryption, and more. Other clients like qBittorrent come with the same capabilities and a robust torrent search engine.