What are Torrents? how do Torrents work? what are Seeders, Leechers? and everything you need to know
If you are reading this article, you are probably already familiar with the terms Torrent or BitTorrent and have most likely heard of websites like The Pirate Bay. These terms are famous ( on infamous ) as a gateway to downloading TV series, movies, and more for free. And while it gained its notoriety as a means for piracy, there is a lot more to the world of BitTorrent and this article aims to enable a deeper insight into this.
When you visit a website or a streaming service, the data you receive is sent from a server, the central source. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol, which means the data is sourced from multiple devices connected to the network. This creates a decentralized network where you receive data from multiple sources, while also sharing the data you have downloaded, to other devices on the network.
Many different components are used to enable the working of this protocol, in the way we use it today. Every file shared via BitTorrent is divided into small chunks of data, to allow the file to be sourced from multiple devices. How does the system know which devices contain which part of the file you wish to download? This is where torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay, Kickass and others come into play.
Torrent Websites / Indexers
These websites primarily act as an index for torrents (files shared via BitTorrent). These indexers compile a list of torrents, their descriptions, and details on where to find them and are a place where users come together and create a community around the content. This community has been the key ingredient for the most well-known torrent sites today.
A tracker is a server that directs data to and from users, assists in connecting peers to each other, initiating downloads/uploads, and maintaining statistics. In short, they are responsible for maintaining the peer-to-peer network. The enabling of peers to upload and download data at the same time enables faster file sharing. Since most indexers also maintain their own trackers, these two terms tend to be used interchangeably.
Peers, Seeders & Leechers
Owing to it being a peer-to-peer network, every user connected to the network is referred to as a peer. A peer in the process of downloading a file of the network is termed a leecher. A peer that continues to upload the file once it has completed downloading is termed a seeder. For a torrent to be downloadable, at least one seeder has to be connected to the network. If a file has 0 seeders, it cannot be completely downloaded as no peer would have the complete file.
The last part of this system is the application that lives on your system, the torrent client. While a tracker enables the transfer of data, the client does the heavy lifting. The client is responsible for managing your torrents, connecting to your peers, maintaining statistics on your end in addition to managing the download and upload of files.
More than just a piracy tool
With the number of torrenting related crimes reported, it is assumed that torrenting is illegal. At the end of the day, BitTorrent is just a file-sharing protocol. The act of torrenting itself isn’t illegal, the sharing of the copyrighted material is. There are plenty of communities and legal users of torrents. Many community-driver Linux distributions offer torrents for their ISO files. Even a popular gaming company uses a custom BitTorrent to share updates for some of its games, leveraging unused bandwidth and lowering its own bandwidth costs. Wikileaks also used BitTorrent to distribute a large number of files without having to pay for hosting said files.
BitTorrent might be used as a means for piracy, but it is a useful tool with many legitimate uses in the present and the future.