Torrents are great for downloading and sharing files. Unfortunately they get a bad name because they’re usually used for downloading copyright movies, TV shows and other copyright files. It is not illegal to download and use torrents, however when used to download copyrighted material it is.

Understanding Torrents

how torrents work

Torrents

First a little explanation on what a torrent is and how it works. A torrent is a small file with the file extension .torrent. This file contains a list of files that are to be downloaded and other information that your torrent client will use. The torrent client will take this information and find other people download and uploading the same torrent. Once the torrent client finds some people it will start downloading pieces of the file from them and then put all the pieces of the file together once it’s done downloading. When you have some pieces of the file downloaded, your torrent client may start to upload pieces to other people. That’s pretty much how it works, a bunch of people sharing files to and from each other. Once you’re done downloading, you will become a seed and people will start downloading from you. You can stop the transfer anytime you like, it is however considered courtesy to seed back what you downloaded, at least to a certain extent.

 

Using a Torrent Client

Now that torrents have been somewhat explained, lets talk about the torrent client. Two clients that work great are Transmission (Mac) and µTorrent (Mac & PC). In this article I’m going to talk about Transmission as it is my favourite and in my opinion, the best for Mac.

transmission options

Transmission Options

Transmission is a free, lightweight application with some pretty powerful features. If you’re new to torrents you can rejoice because it is very easy to use. When you initially get Transmission installed there are some settings you probably want to set up.

So firstly we should tell Transmission where to download the files. Open Transmission go to the menu bar, click Transmission -> Preferences. In the preferences window go to the Transfers tab and select where you’d like all your torrents to download. I suggest somewhere you’ll be able to find it easily… maybe the Downloads folder. I also have it set to delete the small .torrent file once the download is complete. Another setting you might like to check is to have Transmission check your Downloads folder for new torrent files and automatically start downloading when it finds them.

Now that Transmission is set up the way you want, we need a torrent file. There are tons of torrent sites out there. To find one simply google “torrent sites“. There are also a lot of different torrents out there. Lets say I wanted to download a torrent containing Ubuntu, but when I searched for it I was presented with 40 different files. Which one do I choose? I want to download the right one on my first try. If there were any comments about the torrent I’d read them to make sure it was what I was actually looking for, as well as if it was good quality. Then I’d check the ones with the most seeds, as more seeds usually mean faster download speed. I’d also check the peers to make sure that the peer to seed ratio is not to high as the more people trying to download (peers) the file the longer it’ll take for me to get my file. As you can see from the picture below, the first torrent had 3006 seeds and 59 peers (leeches), while the second had 0 seeds and 8 peers (leeches). The first one is downloading fast and the second one hasn’t even started yet.

torrents with transmission

Seeds vs Peers

Seeds are people who have completely downloaded the file and are now uploading it to anyone who wants it. Peers are people who are currently downloading and uploading, but aren’t at 100% yet. So lets say one torrent has 50 seeds and 3 peers, and the other had 3 seeds and 50 peers. The one with 50 seeds is going to download a lot faster. Usually the best quality torrent is the one with the most seeds.

Once you’ve downloaded your .torrent file, open it with Transmission. Your files will start downloading. When it first starts it will most likely start off very slow, this is because your client is looking for more people to download from. The more people connected and uploading to you, the faster the download will go.

If you have more than one torrent running at a time you can also set different priorities for each one. Another great feature is the speed limit mode, which you basically enable to stop your torrent from taking up all the bandwidth. I use this when I’m watching Netflix so that my movie isn’t constantly buffering.


Want to learn a whole bunch more about how torrents work? Here are some resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrent_file