Torrenting is one of the oldest file-sharing mechanisms, with the development of P2P file-sharing occurring right around the boom of Usenet. While Usenet has declined in popularity due to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) not providing free access along with DMCA takedown compliance and privacy concerns, torrents have done quite the opposite. Grabbing a torrent may seem easy enough; after all, you just get the magnet link or .torrent file, paste it into a client, and download, right? Technically, this is the correct approach, but anyone can see precisely what you're downloading and uploading at any given point in time.
We will review how to download torrents in a manner that is safe and efficient. Every detail, from picking a suitable torrent client to the download process to privacy concerns will be addressed.
Step 1: Install a Client
Although there are some in-browser torrent clients and even some “seedbox” services that grab torrents and provide them as direct download links, it's in your best interest to download and install a torrent client. You will get more reliable service, and you eliminate the chances of your activities being logged.
Torrent clients' target demographics vary considerably, from those that cater to beginners to clients that demand advanced experience. For your online safety, one designed for beginners is best. You should also avoid paying for a torrent client. The P2P community is based on the ideology that everyone deserves access to online materials, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Keep in mind that some clients are only available for specific operating systems. Here are four clients that are great for beginners, along with their operating system requirements, their most notable feature, and whether they contain advertisements.
- qBittorrent: Windows, Mac, Linux clients available; lightweight and high-speed downloads; No ads
- Deluge: Windows, Mac, Linux clients available; one of the oldest and most customizable clients; No ads
- uTorrent: Windows, Mac, Android clients available; created by BitTorrent for beginners specifically; Contains bundled software in installation and ads
- Vuze: Windows client only; has huge repository of plug-ins and premium version streams media as it downloads; Contains ads that can be removed with “Premium” subscription
We encourage you to visit each site and decide for yourself which client to get. Due to the simplicity of qBittorent, we will use this client for the tutorial. First, click the link to it above. Click the “Download” menu item on qBittorent's site. Navigate to the operating system you're using, and download the corresponding file.
Run through the installer. Read each screen very carefully, especially if you chose a client that includes “optional bundled software,” which is often adware. Once the installation is complete, clicking “Finish” should open the client. If not, find the shortcut to it and open it that way.
Step 2: Download a Torrent
You will need to pick out a torrent you wish to download. Do not actually start the file-sharing process yet. You'll need either a magnet link or an actual .torrent file. Remember to check copyright laws in your country and locality to ensure the torrent you select won't put you in breach of the law. You can also look for “private trackers,” which are usually invitation-only and based on specific content niches. Here are some of the most common public torrent search engines.
- ThePirateBay: Famous torrent search engine based in Sweden that has been around for a while.
- YTS.mx: More modern torrent search engines focused on visual media. It is known for its great user interface and responsive administrators.
- 1337x.to: While technically a “private tracker,” 1337x.to is usually open to the public. It has a huge library of content, but your upload and download activity will be monitored to ensure you're contributing as much as you're using.
- LinuxTracker: While less popular than the general torrent search engines listed, this one focuses on legal torrents containing open-source Linux distributions.
For demonstration purposes, we'll grab a torrent from LinuxTracker. Go to the site, and scroll down to the “Top Torrents” section. Click the click of one of them. You'll see that there are two options: you can download the torrent or click the magnet link.
What is the difference between downloading the torrent file and clicking the magnet link? There isn't really a major difference between the two, except for that you'll have an extra file sitting on your hard drive if you select the .torrent file. In most browsers, clicking the magnet link will automatically prompt you to open it in your torrent client.
If you click the magnet link for that Linux torrent, you should see such a prompt. Allow it to open up your torrent client, and you should see a popup with its information, asking you to confirm everything.
You still need to configure privacy options before continuing! Don't start your download yet!
Step 3: Set Up a VPN for Privacy
Due to BitTorrent's open nature, anyone can see what you're downloading or uploading. Trackers will show your public IP address, and this is monitored by “copyright trolls,” or law firms that specialize in attacking torrent users. Even if you plan on downloading solely legal torrents, a VPN is always wise to use. Torrent clients often have vulnerabilities reported by security researchers, and VPNs add another barrier between you and malicious users.
A VPN essentially serves as a proxy for all of your Internet traffic. You send a request by visiting a website, downloading a torrent, or something similar, and the VPN server grabs your data and sends it back to you. This is all done in the background. Of course, there will be some “latency,” or lag time between a request and receiving information since you're adding a third networked device to the mix.
Nonetheless, suffering these small delays could save you from life-ruining lawsuits, hackers trying to steal your money and identity, and countless other threats! That's why having a reliable VPN that doesn't log is absolutely crucial.
Things to Look For in a VPN
You can research the options available and find the best one for you. Using an “offshore VPN,” or a VPN that is headquartered and has servers in a foreign country, is usually the best bet for torrent users. You should also look for VPNs that allow torrenting. Some companies have strict “no P2P” policies and enforce them. Of course, you should only consider VPNs that have been in the business awhile and do not log your activity.
Finally, also look for a VPN that offers a “killswitch” feature. This means that the VPN client will prevent traffic from flowing if the VPN is switched off, preserving your anonymity. For added security, see if your torrent client offers the ability to “bind a VPN” to it. This simply means that it allows you to have a killswitch on the torrent client end as a second security measure.
Some Reliable VPNs
After purchasing a VPN subscription, follow the installation instructions carefully. Open up the client, and connect to a server. Make sure the VPN actually connects by checking your public IP address. The easiest way to do this is just Googling “what is my IP address?”.
Step 4: Begin Your Torrent Download
By now, we've found a torrent, clicked the Magnet link, set up and verified our VPN installation, and turned on its killswitch. You're now ready to safely and anonymously download a torrent.
On the popup from your torrent client from when you clicked the magnet link from your browser, there should be an affirmative button. A clickable button with text like “OK” or “Confirm” should be there. Click on that, and your torrent should begin downloading.
Step 5: Use Ethical Torrenting Practices
Some torrent users follow the “smash and grab” approach. In other words, they leave a torrent running until they have finished downloading it and then kill the torrent. This practice is considered unethical, since you're using others' resources but not providing your own.
Ensure you have at least a 1:1 ratio of content downloaded to content uploaded per torrent. Failing to do so on a private tracker will get you banned. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence on public trackers, which is why many users seek out private trackers.
A Torrenting Wrap-Up
By now, you should have the basics down. You should have a torrent client installed and have downloaded a torrent via a magnet link (or through a .torrent file, if you chose to do so). You also now know that it isn't considered acceptable to just grab a torrent and not seed it, regardless of whether it's a public or private torrent.
Most importantly, you should now have a VPN that will ensure your anonymity as you go forward with BitTorrent. Just a small amount of money a month can ensure that your P2P activity remains private. Just a single “copyright infringement” settlement sets the average torrent user back anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000, according to Mother Jones.
Have fun as you explore the vast world of torrenting, respect the rules, and protect your privacy!