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Tuesday, 18 April 2017 17:38

What is Torrenting?

By: 

One of the first things a person does after booting up a brand new PC is download a different web browser, especially if you’re on a Windows platform. Unless your system came with a torrenting client pre-installed (which is highly unlikely), using a typical client-server approach to data transmission is pretty much the way things go.

Most files get downloaded from servers that are usually always switched-on, and thus readily available, because they serve as central points of contact for any user (aka “client”) who wishes to download files.

This method of transmitting data using a client-server architecture does have one major risk a user should know about: if servers go down for any reason at all and there’s no current mirrors of the server in question, you’re pretty much out of luck.

There is no way to obtain files in such a case.

However, it’s said that more than a third of the world’s Internet traffic now runs on BitTorrent. Not just PCs and Macs, but also many advanced routers now support BitTorrent tech for uploading and downloading files.

Torrenting takes a peer-to-peer (P2P) approach when transferring files. Instead of maintaining data in one central location, it relies on users (aka peers) to send and receive parts of a file, as needed, directly to and from each other.

Because there is no concept of a master directory for P2P file sharing, an index of records is maintained centrally, in locations known as “trackers.” These trackers keep an eye on peers that are supplying and requesting data.

However, trackers may not necessarily track every single file shared using BitTorrent. These trackers cannot be considered to be “universal” or “comprehensive,” much less “authoritative.”

The process of using BitTorrent  technology to transmit files is usually called torrenting. The protocol is standardized and has resulted in a variety of BitTorrent  apps being developed and utilized on a large scale (even on mobile devices).

However, the distributed nature of BitTorrent doesn’t necessarily mean a file will always be available to download, from one source or the other, whenever you wish.

Depending on the number of peers that a torrent has (which often corresponds to the popularity of a torrent’s content), a user may have multiple active sources, or none, for the time being.

How Does Torrenting Work?

Unlike browser apps and similar kinds of software, where finding download links is a straightforward affair, in the case of torrents, locating sources can get a bit tricky.

If you already know exactly what you want, such as a disk image of a freely available Linux distribution (like Fedora or Ubuntu), it makes sense to go to the vendor’s website, where they’ll give instructions for downloading the necessary files using a torrent client.

Torrenting involves the use of  “.torrent” files, which are plain text files that provide information to the client app about the contents of that torrent, like:

  • Which trackers to use
  • Different file sizes
  • The trackers’ URLs 

Torrent files do not contain the actual contents that get downloaded, they only point your torrent app in the correct direction, so to speak. The client’s app then creates the necessary structure in your PC’s file system, as per the hierarchy given in the torrent file.

Often many files are downloaded simultaneously, depending on the number of connections that get made.

Each torrent has “seeders” and “leechers”.

Seeders are those who have a complete copy of the torrent in question. They just upload parts of the torrent as and when needed, to other users requesting those parts.  Seeders don’t need to download anything (for that torrent) because they already have the complete copy.

Now for leechers, unless you’re the first uploader, all new downloaders start off as leechers. That means you’ll often be simultaneously receiving and sending different parts of the same torrent, while you’re completing a download.

These parts may come from seeders or even other leechers.

In case you don’t have an idea of where to get the files that you need, it’s time to use a search engine. Anyone can use web search engines, such as Google and Bing, but did you know there are search engines specifically meant for torrents?

 

Unfortunately, here is where things start to get a little problematic.

One of the most popular search engines for torrents, Torrentz.com, became practically useless several months ago when its homepage indicated that it no longer functions as a meta-search engine. Just a few days ago, another big torrent search engine, Bitsnoop.com, had to cease operations as well.  

This isn’t the first time file-sharing platforms have been targeted

Why You Should Deal with Torrents Carefully

Many users will remember having used Napster at some point of time. Like BitTorrent, Napster was also used once upon a time to share files and was wildly popular back in early 2002. However, some of the problems applicable to Napster, have plagued torrents today as well.

Given the distributed nature in which files are kept and the fact that most Internet users keep changing their IP addresses from one session to another; this system provides a mild degree of anonymity when sharing content.

Why? Well, it’s because no one has a way of determining the actual identity of the source where you’re downloading the file from, even if the corresponding torrent file was obtained from a reputable source, such as Fedora, Ubuntu, Internet Archive, etc.

This anonymity is in sharp contrast to when you see a padlock icon in the address bar of a browser, upon visiting a website that has been secured using SSL. That security certificate provides a degree of authenticity about the actual identity of the website and its owners.

In the case of torrents, this mild degree of anonymity gets misused for illegally sharing copyrighted material.

Copyrighted material is often in the form of:

 

 

Many users get a copy of these items free of charge and often get away with it without raising any alarms. Naturally, organizations such as the RIAA are up in arms over the resulting loss of revenue.

Hence, law enforcement agencies have become increasingly vigilant about the misuse of such software, as torrenting often amounts to an infringement of intellectual property.

In many jurisdictions of the world, laws have been passed against search engines which enable the discovery of illegally shared copyrighted material.  These rules ask ISPs to restrict access to such services. We do not advocate sharing copyrighted material, whether via torrents or any other method.

Also, if you deliberately want to share something by masking your identity, doing so may raise a few eyebrows for those monitoring the network, whether it’s your ISP or the government. However, it is true that a user’s actual IP address is visible to other peers of your torrent.

Which is slightly risky, because you have no idea about the trustworthiness of the peer who now knows your IP.

 

In Conclusion…

VPNs can do a good job of providing a strong level of privacy while using the Internet for torrenting purposes. For a more general (and current) overview of what VPNs are and how they work, here is a handy explanation of what goes on behind the scenes.

Source : cloudwards.net

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