How to Use BitTorrent

Last updated: October 20, 2021

Either because of flawed understanding or inadequate knowledge of the subject, most people associate BitTorrent exclusively with piracy. However, while BitTorrent does make piracy easy, the protocol can be used for much more than that.

BitTorrent is just a tool that some people use to pirate copyrighted material. So, if you associate torrents exclusively with illegal downloads, you have a lot of catching up to do.

Let’s peel back the layers and take a deeper look at BitTorrent, seeing what BitTorrent is and how you can use it to make file sharing easier.

What is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing mechanism in which every user who downloads a file passes a part of it to another user, contributing to the pool.

While the above definition is enough to explain BitTorrent at a high level, it doesn’t explain the inner workings of the mechanism. To explain this, let us assume that we want to share a large file with other users over the internet.

There are two ways that we can share this torrent file.

First, we can upload the file as a unit to a server and prompt others to download it from that server.

Second, we can give every user a little piece of the file and set up a mechanism by which everyone gets the part of the torrent file they don’t have from others.

The first mechanism is the conventional way of sharing a file in which there’s one centralized source. While that works fine for small files, this way of file sharing is inefficient since there’s only one source for thousands of users.

The first and most prominent problem that plagues this file-sharing method is the slow download speed. One server, usually, isn’t enough to service the needs of thousands of users.

Another problem with centralized file-sharing mechanisms is that the file can become unavailable for every user if the source isn’t available.

The second mechanism is how the BitTorrent network functions. The mechanism revolves around breaking the file into thousands of tiny pieces and distributing them among many users. This way, every user gets a piece of the file and shares that piece with others, without the inherent problems of the centralized file-sharing mechanism explained above.

In BitTorrent terminology, “Seeders” are users that share the file with others, and “Leechers” are users that only download torrents and don’t share. The file users are sharing among themselves is called a “Torrent.”

Illustration of BitTorrent’s working

BitTorrent is just a file-sharing technique and nothing more, so it’s perfectly legal to use.

However, like every piece of technology, many people use BitTorrent for illegal purposes, such as sharing copyrighted material without licensing. Piracy is illegal and, depending upon the country you live in, can cause you some severe fines or even jail time.

That said, the threat of fines and prison time hasn’t deterred everyone. There are large communities of users that regularly share copyrighted material through BitTorrent. This is why BitTorrent has become synonymous with piracy.

Even if you aren’t pirating content, some ISPs will throttle your internet speed if you use BitTorrent. VPNs can protect you from this throttling by masking your IP address.

In short, you’re free to use BitTorrent any way you want. This includes engaging in piracy. Just be prepared for the consequences if you’re going to use it for something illegal.

Why should you use BitTorrent?

The key reason to use BitTorrent instead of the single-source, centralized file sharing methods is its peer-to-peer, decentralized nature.

Firstly, the decentralization of sources allows files to stay available even if one or more sources are unavailable. So, for instance, with BitTorrent, even if one or more torrent users aren’t seeding, you won’t need to worry about the availability of files as long as there are any number of seeders available.

Secondly, using BitTorrent almost always guarantees you the best download speeds. Because of the peer-to-peer nature of the network, users share files in small parts among themselves. The protocol then decides which users to connect to, depending upon speed and availability.

In other words, you should use BitTorrent because there are multiple sources for you to download from. The speed of these downloads is always best if there are enough seeders.

Finally, contrary to what most people think, individuals and companies use BitTorrent for purposes other than piracy. For instance, Microsoft uses a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol for Windows Updates. Similarly, many developers share Linux distributions through BitTorrent.

How to download BitTorrent to your computer?

BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol, so you can’t download it straight away. To use it, you need specialized software pieces to implement and take advantage of the BitTorrent protocol. These are called BitTorrent clients.

BitTorrent clients enable users to download, and seed torrent files by connecting users to a pool called a swarm. After establishing a connection, the client finds and connects users to seeders inside the swarm to provide maximum download speed.

In short, if you want to use BitTorrent, you first need to download a BitTorrent app.

With just one Google search, you’ll find more BitTorrent clients than you can count. But, unfortunately, not all BitTorrent clients are the same. While some are genuinely good, others are exceedingly bad.

So, you need to be careful when downloading any client from the internet. For instance, the most popular BitTorrent client, uTorrent, has ads. It also comes pre-installed with other programs, some of which are regularly flagged by antivirus programs. Even the official BitTorrent client suffers from similar problems.

On the other hand, there are BitTorrent clients like qBittorrent, which is open-source, has no ads, and is completely free.

To get qBittorrent, head over to the official website, grab a version that’s compatible with your computer’s operating system, and install it.

During installation, qBittorrent may ask for administrative privileges like a firewall exception. Grant these privileges, as qBittorrent is open-source and has a bustling community that keeps the project safe and free from any malware and vulnerabilities.

Image of qBittorent homepage

If everything goes right, you can start downloading torrent files right away. But before you do, you need to configure some options to ensure faster downloads without hogging up all the available bandwidth.

How to configure the client for maximum speed and efficiency?

If you are new to torrent clients, the many different options they offer can seem daunting. To be fair, there are quite a lot of configuration options in qBittorrent, but you don’t need to tweak every setting from the get-go.

The only settings that you need to tweak from the very beginning are the download and upload speeds. Configuring these settings is important because downloading and seeding torrents at the same time can quickly eat up your internet bandwidth. The situation can get worse if your internet connection has many concurrent users.

To ensure that your torrenting isn’t consuming all the bandwidth, set the upload speed to a respectable minimum. Of course, this minimum will be different for different users. For instance, if you have a connection with a 5 Mbps upload speed, limiting the uploads to 1 Mbps is a good choice.

On the other hand, if your connection supports upload speeds north of 10 Mbps, it would be ethically wrong to set the minimum speed as low as 1 Mbps.

Remember, don’t be a leecher. Torrenting is a peer-to-peer effort where different users contribute. This is why you should also contribute a respectable amount of data at a respectable speed. A general rule that makes things easier to remember is to seed as much as you download.

If you are rocking qBittorrent, go to Options > Speed > Global Rate Limits and set the download and upload speeds that you want.

While you can change a lot more, if you just want to start downloading torrents, this should be enough. These settings are all you need to do to ensure your torrent download is fast and efficient.

How to use BitTorrent to download a torrent?

After installing and configuring your torrent client, you need to find some torrents to download. You can find torrents by either visiting a specialized torrent site or searching for torrents on a torrent search engine.

But before you download any torrents, it is better to enable a VPN to hide your identity. So, download a VPN like ExpressVPN and install the app. Then, use the app to connect to a remote server.

Where can you find torrents to download?

If you have no idea where to find torrents, torrent search engines are a good place to start.

Torrent search engines, as the name suggests, allow you to search for torrents by name. They’re just like a Google search, except for torrents. As always, there are both good and bad torrent search engines. Some of the better ones include Solid Torrents, Snowfl, and Veoble.

Finding torrents on torrent search engines isn’t without its faults. Because torrents and piracy go together, many people use these search engines to find copyrighted material to download. To curb piracy, ISPs block these search engines in some countries. If you happen to find yourself in such a situation, a VPN like NordVPN can help you unblock websites.

Finally, companies like Ubuntu also publish torrent links on their official website. But these companies are the exception and not the rule.

Head over to a torrent search engine like Solid Torrents. Use the search box at the top to search for public domain files. Public domain files are open to everybody, so you won’t be pirating by downloading those.

Once the results show up, you can either download the “.torrent” data file or grab a magnet link for the file you want.

Technically, both the “.torrent” file and the magnet link do the same thing. They tell the BitTorrent client the number of seeders, where to find them, and how to arrange the different pieces of the file you are downloading into one.

In the case of the “.torrent” file, this information is pre-compiled into a file that you can download. A magnet link, on the other hand, fetches this information automatically for the torrent client.

So, either get the “.torrent file” or click on the magnet link to start the process. If you’ve downloaded the “.torrent” file, open it, and the torrent client will automatically load the necessary files.

You can find both the “.torrent” file and the magnet link in front or under the search results.

Website homepage of Solid Torrents

How to stay safe while torrenting

Torrenting is entirely user-dependent. If you engage in downloading or seeding a downloaded file, everyone participating in that peer-to-peer process can see your real IP address. This can open you up to many online threats, including malware.

Furthermore, if you torrent regularly, your ISP can send you a warning letter. Even worse, copyright holders can send you a cease-and-desist letter if you infringe on their copyrights.

To solve this issue, you either need to use a proxy server or a VPN.

A VPN can mask your identity online, so you can torrent anonymously. VPNs not only hide your IP address from others but also help you unblock websites, allowing you to torrent more freely.

Illustration of a VPN

Therefore, whenever you download a torrent, it’s always a good idea to use a VPN from a trustworthy VPN provider. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are among the best VPNs on the market.

Conclusion

BitTorrent is one of the best ways to share large files over the internet. The protocol works by breaking up files into small pieces and allowing users to share these small pieces among themselves.

Because the protocol works so well for large files, it’s the go-to method for sharing pirated content. Unfortunately, due to this, many associate BitTorrent exclusively with piracy.

Though it’s synonymous with piracy, BitTorrent is legal to use. The protocol is just a way to download files and nothing more. So its use for illegal purposes comes down to user choice.

Finally, due to the peer-to-peer nature of the protocol, BitTorrent exposes the identities of its users. VPNs like ExpressVPN can resolve this situation by masking your IP address. So, use a VPN if you want to torrent. For more information about some of the best VPNs for torrenting, check out our VPN review page.

Published on: October 1, 2021