If you want to learn how to download files faster and access content not available elsewhere, torrenting is a great option. However, it also comes with risks if not done properly. This comprehensive torrenting guide will teach you everything you need to know as a beginner, from the basics of how torrenting works to using torrent clients and staying safe.
What Exactly is Torrenting?
Torrenting refers to peer-to-peer file sharing through the BitTorrent protocol.
With regular downloading, your computer connects to a central server in order to download or access files on that server. All the bandwidth costs are paid by the server owner.
With torrenting, files are shared directly between users (called peers) without relying on a central location. This distributed nature of torrents spreads the bandwidth costs across many users and enables faster download speeds.
Let‘s briefly go over how the torrenting process works:
Someone uploads a small torrent file to a torrent indexing site. This torrent file contains metadata about the actual files being shared, including their names, sizes, hashes for each piece, and the address of a tracker.
Users find and download this torrent file using a BitTorrent client.
The client connects to the tracker specified in the torrent file, which coordinates the entire torrenting process. The tracker provides peers with the locations of other peers sharing the files (called "seeds" if they have 100% of the files).
The client downloads small pieces of the files simultaneously from multiple peers. As soon as a piece fully downloads, it becomes available for other peers to download from you, making you a part of the swarm.
Once a peer has acquired all the pieces, the full file can be reassembled. This peer then continues seeding the completed file to help other leechers.
As you can see, torrenting spreads the distribution of files across many users instead of a single server. This makes it well-suited for efficiently sharing large files and popular content without racking up huge bandwidth bills.
A Brief History of Torrenting
Peer-to-peer file sharing technology has evolved quite a bit since the early days of the internet:
In the 70s and 80s, files were shared via early protocols like Usenet, FTP, and image boards. Transfer speeds were very slow, limited by dial-up modems.
In the 90s, services like Napster and Kazaa popularized P2P file sharing of music and other media. These relied on central servers to coordinate file transfers.
In 2001, Bram Cohen created the BitTorrent protocol, which decentralized tracking using torrent files and allowed users to share files directly.
Sites like The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, and Demonoid helped index torrent files, although many faced legal issues over piracy.
Recent improvements like DHT, PEX, and magnet links have enhanced network efficiency and made takedowns more difficult.
As of 2022, torrenting remains popular with an estimated million+ daily active users, although actual usage is hard to quantify.
Despite brandishing by the entertainment industry, torrenting endures as a robust way to transfer large files thanks to its distributed nature. Next, let‘s bust some myths about what torrenting is used for.
Myths About Torrenting
There are many legitimate uses of BitTorrent technology beyond just piracy. Here are some common myths about torrenting:
Myth: Torrenting is illegal
Truth: The BitTorrent protocol itself is entirely legal. Torrenting copyrighted material without permission is illegal, but torrents can be used to share all kinds of free, public domain, or properly licensed content.
Myth: Torrenting is only used for downloading movies/music
Truth: From Linux distro downloads to video games to ebooks, torrents enable efficient distribution of large files of any kind, not just media. Even Facebook uses BitTorrent internally.
Myth: You can get in trouble for using any torrent site
Truth: Public torrent sites may host illegal content, but are not illegal themselves. Private trackers like PassThePopcorn avoid copyright issues by carefully monitoring uploads.
Myth: All torrent files contain viruses
Truth: Downloads from untrusted sources always carry a malware risk. But torrent files themselves don‘t contain viruses, and trusted uploaders help minimize risks compared to direct downloads.
Myth: Torrenting makes your internet super slow
Truth: Leeching torrents without uploading back can congest your connection. Proper bandwidth throttling and download limits prevent torrenting from slowing down your internet.
Myth: Torrenting is completely anonymous
Truth: Your IP address can be monitored when connected to swarms unless using a VPN. All traffic should be encrypted to ensure full privacy.
Let‘s move on to explore the various legal uses for torrenting technology.
Legal Uses of Torrenting
Here are some examples of legal, ethical ways to use BitTorrent sharing:
Open source software distributions – Linux distros like Ubuntu actively encourage sharing ISOs.
Free multimedia content – Independent creators often freely distribute music and movies via torrents.
Public domain media – Old movies, books, and media can be legally shared after copyright expires.
Archiving online content – The Internet Archive is actively archiving millions of websites using torrents.
Storing backups – Companies can share backups of large files efficiently through private trackers.
Video game downloads – Some game studios provide their games via torrent to handle large demand.
According to a survey, as many as 72% of BitTorrent downloads may be for entirely legal content. However, when in doubt, it‘s safest to avoid torrenting any paid content where you don‘t own the copyright. For creative works, support the artists when possible by paying for their content.
Now that you know better what torrenting is used for, let‘s compare different categories of torrent sites.
Public vs Private Torrent Sites
There are two main types of websites used to share and find torrent files:
Public Torrent Sites
These allow anyone to openly search and download torrent files. Some well-known examples include:
The Pirate Bay – One of the largest and longest-running torrent indexes. Provides magnet links to download without torrent files.
RARBG – Popular for its verified torrents and wide selection of movies/TV shows.
1337x – Features a clean design and community-moderated uploads. Good for games, movies, and music.
TorrentGalaxy – Indexes millions of torrents aggregated from other sites.
Zooqle – Large torrent database with television show focus. Verified uploaders.
Public sites may be blocked in some regions and change domains frequently. While hosting copyrighted torrents, the sites themselves operate legally.
Private Torrent Sites
These require an invitation or registration in order to access torrents. Some top private trackers include:
|IPTorrents||General/0day tracker with large user base|
|PassThePopcorn||Movie/TV tracker with strict internal rules|
|Redacted||Music-focused tracker featuring album art|
|MyAnonamouse||Ebook/audiobook tracker with strong curation|
|Bibliotik||Ebook tracker for quality fiction and nonfiction|
Private sites enforce strict ratio and seeding rules to ensure files remain available. This helps reduce legal risk and provide a better user experience. Gaining access requires knowing someone willing to send you an invite.
Overall, private trackers offer a safer torrenting experience but public sites provide far more content. Let‘s look at the software needed to get started.
Torrent Client Overview
To start downloading and seeding torrents, you‘ll need a BitTorrent Client (aka torrent client). This is the software that manages your torrent downloads. Here are some of the best free torrent clients:
- Lightweight open source client
- No ads or bloatware
- Available on all platforms
- Open source with lots of plug-ins
- Encrypted peer connections
- Web UI and daemon modes available
- Fast and lean open source client
- Popular on Linux distros
- Very easy to use
- Powerful client with advanced features
- Excellent for managing large downloads
- Built-in search and RSS feed subscription
- Compact proprietary client
- Some bundled offers during install
- Stable and efficient
Avoid clients like Vuze that are ad-supported or known to bundle offers. Look for a simple, cleanly designed torrent client that is free of ads and malware.
For beginners, qBittorrent is highly recommended and easy to get started with. See our full guide on setting up qBittorrent for torrenting.
Now that you understand the basics of how torrenting works, let‘s dive into the controversial question of whether torrenting itself is illegal.
Is Torrenting Illegal? Is it Safe?
There is a lot of debate and misinformation around the legality of torrenting. Let‘s clear up the facts:
- Using BitTorrent technology itself is entirely legal. The protocol is just a tool for transferring data.
- What you download and upload may or may not be legal depending on copyright.
- Downloading copyright-protected commercial content you don‘t own is usually illegal.
- Uploading copyrighted content without the rights can also be illegal.
- Torrent sites themselves operate in a legal gray area depending on location.
- Merely accessing torrent sites is not illegal in most countries.
So torrenting itself is not inherently illegal or unsafe. Much of the risks come from what you are downloading and sharing as well as the torrent site used.
Some potential legal consequences of unsafe torrenting practices include:
- Receiving a DMCA takedown notice from your ISP
- Having your internet access slowed or suspended
- Being sued for substantial damages from copyright holders
- Possible criminal charges for repeat copyright infringement
Like any online activity, torrenting does also come with privacy and security concerns:
- Your torrent traffic can be monitored by ISPs, agencies, or even copyright trolls.
- Downloads may contain malware if not careful about what‘s shared.
- Torrenting over public WiFi poses risks of traffic snooping.
- Peers can see your IP address and files unless connections are encrypted.
Despite some risks, torrenting doesn‘t automatically mean you are doing anything illegal. Millions of people torrent safely and legally every day. Next, let‘s go over some smart precautions.
Safe Torrenting Practices
Here are some tips for torrenting safely and avoiding legal issues:
- Only download content you are legally entitled to use – avoid pirated media.
- Use a trustworthy VPN to encrypt traffic and hide your IP address.
- Verify torrents against comments, user reviews, and antivirus scans.
- For private sites, carefully follow ratio and contribution rules.
- Limit sharing of personal information in forums and clients.
- Enable encryption in your BitTorrent client to obscure traffic.
- Limit torrent upload and download speeds to optimize bandwidth usage.
- Only use well-known public torrent sites; avoid sketchy new domains.
- Disable seeding after downloads finish if your ISP enforces limits.
As you can see, it‘s perfectly possible to enjoy the benefits of BitTorrent sharing while torrenting responsibly within the law. Let‘s look at the top advantages of embracing this technology.
Benefits of Torrenting
What makes torrenting such a popular method of file sharing?
Faster download speeds – Using multiple connections maxes out your available bandwidth capacity.
Quick streaming – Can instantly stream video content without waiting for full downloads.
No single point of failure – If one seed disappears, the swarm keeps files alive.
Easier large file sharing – No need to pay for dedicated servers with huge bandwidth.
Resume interrupted transfers – You can pick up downloads where they left off.
Simultaneous sharing – You download pieces while sharing them with the community.
Harder to trace/take-down – No centralized site to shut down makes torrenting more resilient.
BitTorrent technology delivers reliable performance for distributing large files thanks to its decentralized architecture. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider.
Potential Drawbacks of Torrenting
Can consume a lot of bandwidth if you have a slow upload speed.
Does not efficiently handle small files compared to direct downloads.
Requires understanding technical concepts like peers, seeds, trackers etc.
Private trackers have strict rules to maintain sharing ratios.
Downloads may be flagged or throttled by your ISP if overused.
Increased legal risks around sharing copyrighted files vs. web downloads.
No customer support compared to regular file hosts.
While some drawbacks exist, the speed and reliability gains usually make torrenting worth it for large transfers and unrestricted files. Proper settings can minimize most downsides.
Improving BitTorrent Transfer Speeds
If your torrents seem slow, here are some troubleshooting tips:
Increase your internet bandwidth
Faster internet plans give torrenting more headroom. Upgrade speeds with your ISP if needed.
Select torrents with high seeds
More seeders (uploaders) provide greater swarm capacity and bandwidth potential.
Limit your upload speed
Don‘t max your upload or torrenting will choke your download speed. Leave bandwidth for your other tasks.
Encryption adds overhead. Disable it in your client if transfer speed is more important than privacy.
Enable port forwarding
Opens your firewall so peers can connect to you directly instead of relaying.
Allocate some bandwidth just to torrenting
Use traffic shaping rules on your router to ensure torrents get a reserved minimum bandwidth.
With some tweaking, you can maximize your BitTorrent transfer performance and take full advantage of the speed benefits.
Using a VPN for Torrenting
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is essential to protect your privacy and security while torrenting.
Without a VPN, your downloading activity can be traced back to your ISP and location. A VPN masks your IP address so that instead:
Agencies monitoring torrent swarms only see the VPN server IP, not your personal IP.
Your ISP cannot decipher your traffic or throttle your connection speed.
Copyright trolls are unable to identify you for sending notices or lawsuits.
Hackers cannot access the data in your download stream.
Some top VPNs for safe anonymous torrenting include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access.
See our full guide on how to choose the best VPN for torrenting.
Beginner Questions about Torrenting
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions from torrenting beginners:
Are there risks with just downloading torrents?
- Generally not, as long as you don‘t subsequently share the files. Just downloading isn‘t considered distribution.
Can you get in trouble for old torrent downloads?
- Copyright watchdogs rarely go after individuals for old infringements. But delete torrents after you watch or use them to be safe.
What are the consequences of getting caught?
- For first offenses by individuals, it‘s usually just ISP warnings or throttled speeds. Fines, lawsuits, and criminal charges are rare.
Is a seedbox worth it?
- For private sites, seedboxes help maintain ratios easily. For public torrents, local clients offer similar features for free.
Do you have to keep seeding after the download?
- It‘s good etiquette to maintain at least a 1:1 share ratio. But you can stop seeding as soon as the download finishes if needed.
I hope this torrenting guide covers everything you need as a beginner! Let me know if you have any other questions.