Torrenting For Idiots Pt. 1: “Is it like Limewire?”

If you’re like me, you’re a complete moron. I make no attempt to hide the fact that I’m a few marbles short of a full jar. If that sounds like you too, then this guide is for you. Trust me, if a dipshit like me can grasp the concept of torrenting, you can as well.

DISCLAIMER: I do not condone or encourage piracy in any form. This guide simply serves to discuss a method of peer-to-peer networking.

File sharing has taken some pretty interesting turns over the past two decades. I remember seeing fansubbed animes being distributed on physical media during some of the smaller conventions back in the day. Now, anything one could ever want is just a search away. Torrenting took off as an easy-to-use method for sharing files with relatively low bandwidth usage. It also enabled the ability for incredible download speeds and, due to the nature in which it works (multiple peers sharing bits of data), it made it rather difficult to track. This has made torrenting especially popular with the “pirate scene”.

What is a torrent? In vastly oversimplified terms, a torrent is simply a file with a shopping list and an address. It doesn’t contain any actual media within it. Think of it like the table of contents at the front of a book. When you download a torrent and open it with a torrent client, it tells your computer, “Hey, you can find ______, _______, and ______ by going to ______ address.”

To open a .torrent file, you’re going to need a torrent client. There are literally dozens of them, all with their own capabilities, features and limitations. Which client you choose is entirely up to what you’re looking for, but I’d say the most popular clients would be BitTorrent, uTorrent, and qBittorrent. (Images in this guide are from the qBittorrent client.)

The qBittorrent window.

“I’m noticing a lot of unfamiliar terms”, you’re probably thinking to yourself. Don’t worry, we’ll go over all of them now. You should familiarize yourself with them before actually attempting to torrent anything. To help you understand how this all works, I’m going to use what I call the apple orchard analogy.

Bob has an apple orchard. Bob likes to share his apples with others who want to start their own apple orchards. This makes Bob a seed, or someone who has all of the pieces and is actively sharing/uploading. When Bob wants to start sharing with someone else, he puts the apples into equal-sized buckets, to make it easier to share. These are called pieces, and there can be thousands in a single torrent.

Now, Bill contacted Bob and asked for apples to start his own apple orchard. Bob agreed and is now sending Bill apples in buckets. This makes Bill a peer, or someone who actively downloading the content. Once Bill has made his own apple orchard, he stops being a peer; if he decides to also start sharing apples like Bob does, this will make him another Seed.

Cindy comes along and contacts both Bob and Bill, asking them both to share apples so she can have an apple orchard. Both agree and start sending her apples. Because both Bob and Bill are sending apple buckets, they care share the workload and don’t have to distribute as much. Furthermore, Bob decides he can only share 6 buckets a day. This means if Cindy only got apples from Bob, she’d only get 6 buckets maximum per day until she completed her apple orchard. However, because Bill is also sending her apples and he’s able to send 10 buckets a day, Cindy can now feasibly receive 16 buckets of apples per day, greatly speeding up the process. This is one of the advantages of torrenting; by getting pieces of a torrent from multiple different sources, you can feasibly achieve incredible download speeds.

Unfortunately, Cindy isn’t a very nice person. Once she gets the apple orchard she wanted, she cuts all ties with Bob and Bill and doesn’t share her apples with anyone. This makes Cindy a leech, or someone who downloads but does not upload or has extremely poor upload stats. The terms peer and leecher are frequently used interchangeably, but leech has a negative connotation to it. As such, the best practice is to only refer to someone as a leech if they do not share the content after downloading. We’ll talk more about this practice later, but for now, let’s continue.

Bob and Bill have been at the apple orchard game for a while, and they’ve made a few friends who now also have apple orchards. To continue sharing their apples in an efficient manner, all of the apple orchard owners decide to create a directory that anybody can look at and instantly get contact information (think of it like a phone book). This is known as a tracker, and it’s sole purpose is to keep track of who is uploading and who is downloading. It’s very important to note that the tracker only contains IP addresses which your torrent client can connect to; it does not store your actual personal information. Torrent files usually contain multiple trackers attached in order to ensure you can always find a seed.

Another term that I very rarely use is the swarm. The swarm is just a name for all of the seeds for a torrent. Think of it like a swarm of bees. Each bee is a seed, and they all fly together, yada yada yada. There’s not a lot of occasions I’ve found where I’ve wanted to use the term, so I won’t dwell on it.

By now, you have a general idea of how torrents work and the terms the community uses.

In Part 2, we’ll cover how to create, download, and upload a torrent.

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