What is Torrenting?

If you have never downloaded a torrent before, you may have a few concerns. People often associate torrenting with piracy and, although it is the primary use, it is not the only one. You can find lots of free content ranging from open-source software to independently produced movies and songs.

However, before using a torrent program to start downloading files, you may want to know more about how this process works.

Torrenting Is Done Via P2P

Torrenting is used for downloading content from other computers or servers. But, instead of downloading the file from a single source, you are getting it from a large pool of other users.

A Peer-to-Peer network

It all happens using Peer-to-Peer file-sharing. The protocol used to share files brings both advantages and potential risks. Understanding the pros and cons of torrenting should help you be careful and avoid some risks that are related to this activity.

How Do You Download a Torrent?

There are many different terms used when discussing torrenting. You may read about peers, seeds, leeches, magnet links, etc.

A torrent file being downloaded

The word torrent is the first one that you need to understand. A torrent is simply a small file containing metadata about the file or folders that you plan to download. It is the first piece of information that you need to start downloading files through a type of software that is usually known as a BitTorrent client.

When you visit a website that indexes content that can be downloaded through a BitTorrent client, you typically download the torrent file, which is then opened by the client.

In some cases, you may copy and paste a magnet link, which contains the same basic information and allows the torrent client to begin downloading the file.

The Basic Process of Downloading a File

As mentioned before, you need a BitTorrent client to start the whole process. This is the software that manages your downloads and uploads. There are a few popular options, such as uTorrent.

There are also many sources for finding torrent files and magnet links. Piracy sites are some of the most visited sites on the web. However, some ISPs block access to these sites or throttle your network speed if you visit them frequently.

On the legal side, businesses, independent artists, and open-source projects may provide a torrent file or magnet link on their websites. Content that is offered by the creator can be torrented legally.

Stages of the Torrent Download:

  • After downloading a torrent or pasting a magnet link, your software (client) connects to trackers. These trackers are the programs responsible for coordinating the connections between torrent users.
  • The client begins downloading bits of data from other connected users. When you have downloaded all the data, it is compiled into the complete file that you intended to download.
  • When you download a file, you are getting the file from other users that have the data that you require. By default, the torrent client seeds data back to the torrent network, allowing you to contribute to the distribution of the content. Leeching without seeding is considered bad form, as seeders are a necessary part of the entire process. You should always contribute by seeding torrents because, without people seeding the files, there is no data to download.

Potential Risks of Torrenting Content

There are three primary risks associated with torrenting. The potential issues that you may face include penalties from your ISP, legal action from content owners, viruses, and other malicious threats. However, it is possible to limit your exposure to these risks.

Part of the reason why people download torrents is to get pirated content, such as movies, TV shows, and games. However, your IP address is exposed when you start to download.

Content owners, such as movie studios, often hire people to find illegal torrents of their content and report the IP addresses of the leeches and seeders. This information may make its way to your ISP. In some cases, ISPs ban users who are caught torrenting illegal content. If they do not take away your services, they may throttle your Internet speed.

Some users have also received legal threats. However, these rarely result in prosecution and are typically used to discourage illegal downloading.

While rare, it is also possible to download viruses through a torrented file. Your anti-virus software cannot scan the file until is compiled by the torrent client. Your exposed IP address may also open you up to attacks from hackers.

How Do You Torrent Safely?

Downloading this type of file safely requires you to add a little extra protection in the form of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN helps you avoid detection by your ISP and shields your IP address from other users.

A VPN masking the traffic of the user

The VPN provides you with a virtual IP address and masks your traffic through various servers located throughout the globe.

In the end, torrenting can be illegal or legal and safe or unsafe, depending on your preferences and the steps that you take.