A very basic primer on torrenting

Mouse chemical-induced neurons. Credit: HongKui Deng.

Torrenting is done with small files called torrents.

These files are not the actual files you’re looking for, but they are like a recipe to get them.

They contain the following important information: A unique identifier called the “hash” and the addresses of some “trackers”, servers (computer in a datacenter) that keep track of the people who currently share “the actual files you’re looking for”, at this very moment.

Actually this is all that is needed. The rest can be gathered by connecting to said people. So instead of the torrent files I mentioned, many people have started to use text links that contain only this information. And we call these “magnet” links.

They look like this:

A magnet link

Okay, in order to download “the actual files you’re looking for”, you need a “torrent client”. A torrent client can run on your computer (uTorrent, Transmission, Deluge) or for a reasonable fee, on a remote server (put.io, bitport.io, seeder.cc).

Your torrent client will process the torrent file or magnet link, connect to the tracker and ask for some ip addresses of people who are right now sharing those files. Then it will connect to those people and start downloading the files in small chunks. When the download finishes, your client will put those chunks back together in the correct order, so you’ll have a perfect copy.

The swarm of a single torrent

The group of people who are currently running a torrent are called “the swarm”. You will not connect to all of them, but maybe to 20–40 of them. These will be called your “peers”. Some peers will have all of the shared files. These are called “seeds” or “seeders”.

Seeders have finished downloading and are only uploading right now. They are very good people, who make this thing of ours possible. The peers who have not finished downloading yet are called “leeches” or “leechers”. They are not bad either, because they are also uploading what they have.

You will also become a leecher once you join the swarm and a seeder once you finish downloading. This is of course if you keep the torrent running after the download finishes. (It’s considered rude if you don’t seed at least a little.)

In order to find a torrent, you’ll need to go to a “torrent site”. The torrent site is actually just a database of torrents. They are under constant attack from copyright people, so they come and go. I don’t want to name names to keep this article relevant in the coming years. You can usually find the most decent torrent sites at anytime by looking at the most popular posts of this awesome blog: http://torrentfreak.com.

Better add some ad blocking extensions to your browser before visiting those sites if you don’t want to be blinded by porn/gambling/junk software ads (Chrome: Adblock, Firefox: Adblock Plus, Safari: Adblock.)

If you did not install ad blockers, please don’t be fooled by the huge download buttons, or other deceptive ads which look like site elements. They are actually ads. The actual torrent download buttons are always the smaller ones. You’re looking for the words “download torrent” or “magnet link” or an icon with a horse shoe, representing a magnet.

Let’s see some tactics. In these screenshots you need to hit the green area to get the torrent:

As you can see they’re mercilessly going for accidental clicks. On a torrent page, it is usually obvious where they want you to click, and it is usually not a good idea to click there.

Also don’t be fooled by phoney search results which take your search term and act like they found the perfect copy. They’re also ads.

And don’t ever try googling “totally hot movie title torrent” and visit those sites. If the results are not from a known torrent site, they’re usually traps. They can hijack your browser, even maybe your computer, I don’t know. Only go to torrent sites in the article I mentioned on Torrentfreak, and you’ll be alright.

On a torrent site, you make a search, you receive some results and pick one of them to download. Be sure to pick the ones with the most seeds and/or leeches, because these are the good copies. You can usually sort the results by the number of seeds/leeches by clicking on the column heading. Never pick one with zero seeds. It’s highly unlikely that it will complete.

Also notice the titles (or filenames) of the torrents. There is much information there. The filename tells you about the quality of the copy, the format of the file and which group released it. Go for DVDRips, BDRips, BRRips. Stay away from CAM’s, TS’s (Here’s more info). Don’t ignore the file size. Don’t download huge 22GB rips. You’re not there yet. Go for 1–2GB rips. You’ll see strange words like KORSUB (means, Korean subtitles are burned into the video), 5.1 (Audio is surround sound, there is a chance that you will not hear it with stereo speakers), R5 (Video is from a DVD, but sound is from a movie theatre), 720p, 1080p (These are resolutions. the vertical edge of the screen is 720 pixels long), Proper, Repack (The previous attempt at releasing this thing was done by noobs. This is how it’s supposed to be.)

Manage your expectations. You will usually not get a good copy of a movie which is in theatres right now. There are exceptions to that. Sometimes someone from the studio leaks a screener or a work copy. These can be missing CGI, or even whole scenes. The best quality copies come after the movie is released on DVD or BluRay.

The act of torrenting starts when you give a torrent file or a magnet link to a torrent client. All torrent clients accept these and start looking for peers.

Now “the list of peers” is public information. That’s where it gets tricky. Not only filesharers join the swarm. Copyright watchdogs, opportunist lawyers, even governments might log your IP address too. Then they might send a letter to your ISP and your ISP is obligated to match the IP address with your account and forward the letter to you. The letter might be written in very scary language, it might first threaten you with a $600.000 law suit, but then offer you a way out for just $600 without litigation or it might just ask you t0 never do it again. This changes from country to country. In some countries nobody cares. The letters which use threatening language and ask for money are scams. Legal action usually targets torrent site owners and their big contributors. And by that I mean the guys who upload the torrents to those sites, not you.

If you’re getting too many letters, i suggest you start using a remote torrenting service for peace of mind.