What are Torrents and How do they Work? A Complete Guide

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Torrents are a tool for freely sharing data online, but also nothing less than a symbol of piracy and copyright violations. The term “torrent” is widely used to describe the act of downloading and uploading a file (usually a movie, song, or book) using a red dot to dot.

But how does it work more concretely? Are torrents safe? Can you measure yourself in legal problems? Let us answer all these questions in our torrenting article.

What is a torrent?

A torrent, also known as a “torrent file”, is a small file that contains a trace of where the actual file you want to download is on a wide network of different computers. It may sound complicated, but it’s actually much simpler than you think.

Basically, a torrent is a small file that is used in what is called a torrent client to allow others to “tell” “Hey, I’m trying to download and upload this specific piece of content to and from you.”

The torrent file can be used to share multimedia files, such as movies, music, books, etc. with others, something called a peer-to-peer or “P2P” network.

What is a torrent client?

A torrent client is a program that uses a torrent file to see who else has the file it wants to download. The client gets data from all those computers, and little by little adds small packages of the file that you are downloading to your computer. The torrent client also uploads small packages of that file to those other computers. This is what makes up a P2P network.

Typically, the torrent client is a piece of software that connects people who download and upload a certain file to each other, using the file to determine which file should be shared.

What is the best torrent client?

It depends a lot on what you need. If you want a simple interface, BitTorrent is a good choice. If you want no ads and a respectable range of features, qBittorrent may be better.

But in general, we recommend using uTorrent. It’s fast, reliable, easy to navigate, and has enough advanced features to keep everyone happy. Here’s a quick rundown of the three most popular torrent clients:

BitTorrent is the original client, with a lot of time on the market and reliable features for its users. Nothing flashy, just a respectable option to be your torrent client.

uTorrent is based on the BitTorrent infrastructure, but takes it a bit further. For newbies, its design is a bit better, making it easy to navigate the tool and download torrents quickly. Also, it has many useful features like a built-in search bar to search for trackers.

If you know a thing or two about networking and the Internet, you’ll like uTorrent even better. It has advanced options, such as manually configuring the bandwidth to be used by a file you are downloading, or forcing the start of a torrent download if an error occurs.

Bittorrent isn’t the simplest torrent client, but it’s not overly complex either. It is compatible with all operating systems, and it does not have a monetization scheme, since it is developed by a non-profit company. Plus, it has cool features, including a media player, a torrent search engine, and tons more, so it’s a good choice if you don’t need the advanced features of BitTorrent or uTorrent.

What are Seeders and Leechers?

Seeders and leechers are words used by different parts of the P2P network. When downloading, the client is called a leecher, because it “sucks” (leech in English) the file of others. When uploading, the client is called a seeder, because it provides seeds for others to download.

Normally, you are both a seeder and a leecher when using a torrent client, since you are simultaneously downloading and uploading parts of a particular file. When you complete a file download, it turns you into a seeder, since you are no longer downloading the file, you are only uploading part of it over the P2P network.

How do torrents work?

Torrents work using the P2P system that we have described. First you start by downloading a torrent or “tracker” file.

A torrent client uses that little tracker to see who else has the file you want to download, say a movie, and pulls data from all those computers, slowly adding little packets of the file you’re downloading to your computer.

While you are downloading various packages from the archive, you are also uploading packages that you have already downloaded to other people like you, making your computer a small server as well. In this sense, those who share the file (also called “seeders”) are acting as small servers to download the file, with the help of the client.

This download process continues until you have completely downloaded the file or stop sharing the file with the torrent client. To stop a file from uploading, you usually have to stop seding (sharing) the torrent manually.

Where do you get the torrents?

In order to use torrents, you must first have a torrent file. There are several websites that host these files and are known as torrent websites. A well-known example of this type of website is The Pirate Bay.

But be careful, many torrent websites contain copyrighted content. It is usually illegal to download and share this content, so always make sure to stay away from these types of files. Some torrent sites, including The Pirate Bay and KickAss Torrents, have been shut down by law enforcement to stop the illegal sharing of copyrighted content. Even though the act itself of downloading torrents is perfectly legal and not all the files on these websites are copyrighted.

Are torrents legal?

Yes, the act of torrenting is legal. This means that being part of a P2P network and downloading and uploading packages of a particular file is legal. However, downloading copyrighted content is illegal in most countries.

Downloading copyrighted content is considered a copyright infringement. This is better known as piracy, with people participating in copyright infringement sometimes called pirates.

However, whether or not you get punished depends a lot on where you live. In most countries, especially in Eastern Europe or Latin America, torrenting is illegal but torrenting laws have hardly been enforced. Therefore it is a common practice in those regions to use torrents without any security measures.

In the event that you are tracked down and caught, you can receive a hefty fine. However, only a small number of people who download copyrighted content have been fined or sued. This doesn’t change the fact that if you get caught downloading illegal files like in Germany, it’s quite likely that you’ll get a hefty fine in your mail.

What are the risks of using torrents?

There are a couple of risks you should be aware of when considering torrenting. The most common problem you can have with a torrent is downloading a virus with (or instead of) the file you really want. It was much more common in the early 2010s, but it can continue to be a problem if you’re not careful. These are the biggest risks you can run into when downloading torrents:

  • You can download a file that contains copyrighted content. This is considered illegal in most countries, and you can get into serious legal trouble when you download copyrighted content.
  • You could download a virus instead of, or in conjunction with, the file you are trying to download.
  • Hackers can target torrenters in many ways. However this is no longer as common as it used to be.

Read on to learn more about these risks.

Risk 1: Accidentally downloading copyrighted content

Using torrent clients to download copyrighted content, such as movies, songs, books, or video games, is illegal. You are getting copyrighted content without paying, so it is outside the law. Even if you are somewhere where no copyright laws are enforced when torrenting, it goes without saying what will happen in the future.

It must be said that the act of torrenting itself is not illegal, and it is the reason why torrenting still exists after so many years. When you narrow it down, torrenting is simply for file sharing, so the entire infrastructure (clients, trackers, and even some private websites) are not inherently illegal.

Risk 2: Downloading a virus

One of the biggest risks when downloading via torrents is that you bring a virus. Since the downloading and sharing of torrents is in a gray area, the files are not regulated by the companies. This means that it is quite likely that you download malware instead of, or with, a torrent.

Therefore, it is always important to use a proper antivirus program when doing anything online. Software like Kaspersky can protect your device from all kinds of unwanted malware, like spyware and ransomware.

Risk 3: Hackers causing trouble

Torrenting gets a bit of a bad rap around the world, so it’s normal for people to start associating the act of torrenting with everything bad about the internet, including hackers.

While you put yourself at risk by mindlessly downloading torrents, we have scoured forums and news websites to find hackers taking advantage of torrents, and actually found nothing.

For some perspective: Virtually any software, especially programs that connect to the Internet, can have flaws that expose your computer.

Hackers are much more successful with phishing campaigns, which is when they pretend to be someone else, sending fraudulent emails or blatantly copying a website and snooping on personal information.

So hackers won’t necessarily be your biggest concern when torrenting. But viruses, malware, adware, and legal issues are a possibility, and they can even be used by hackers.

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