BitTorrent made easy

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BITTORRENT used to be a dirty word but because it makes it possible to distribute large files without dramatically sapping network bandwidth and server time, it is slowly becoming popular among organisations that want a cheap way to distribute their data.

It is not surprising that the open-source communities were the first few to adopt the use of BitTorrent – you can find most distributions of Linux and OpenOffice.org for download via this system.

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OpenOffice.org is an office suite – the main and probably only good competition to Microsoft Office – and is one of the best seeded (hosted) and fastest torrent available for download, we usually use it to test if our BitTorrent connection is up to speed.

We just cannot imagine downloading it from a regular server anymore.

In the game space, even Blizzard Entertainment – the maker of World of Warcraft – is testing BitTorrent as a viable option for releasing their beta programs.

According to Blizzard, it is considering BitTorrent because downloading files from the Internet can be time consuming and is often limited by the host’s available bandwidth.

But by using BitTorrent, the user will not be limited by any one host’s capabilities – instead the files are distributed across a wide range of users, allowing for a quicker download for everyone.

When you download a file via BitTorrent, you also become the host for it and will upload the file to other downloaders also known as peers (or “leechers” if you download the file without uploading it).

So, as more people download the file, there is no additional burden on the computer hosting the file (also called the seed), which was the bane of the client-server model.

And once you complete downloading the file, you too can seed the file, making it possible for others to download the file even faster, which is why it is possible to download really big files in a jiffy.

Your clients

While we cannot thank Bram Cohen (he’s the guy behind the BitTorrent filesharing system) enough for his great idea, the BitTorrent client designed by him leaves a lot to be desired in terms of usability.

But because he was kind enough to make the code for his BitTorrent system available to the public, there are tons of other BitTorrent clients that will fit anyone’s requirements.

Due to space limitations, we decided to elaborate only two of our favourite clients – namely Azureus and BitComet. For a more detailed comparison of the clients, visit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_BitTorrent_software.

To actually begin downloading files, you will have to first get the torrent file (.torrent), which contains information about the files to be downloaded. It also tells your PC which server (also known as trackers) it should monitor for a list of other computers that are seeding and downloading the files.

A number of sites host these .torrent files – for example, we go to
www.gameupdates.org
for game demos. There are plenty of others, which are just a Google search away.

The right thing

BitTorrent is a community effort, so please do not switch off your BitTorrent client immediately after completing a download.

Sure, no one can stop you, and you will save on your electricity bill as well as wear-and-tear on your PC, but the only reason you are getting really great download speeds is because there a lot of people who continue seeding files long after completing their downloads.

And because our broadband connection uses ADSL technology, which has higher download than upload speeds, we end up downloading a lot more than uploading files.

So, the right thing to do is the keep your BitTorrent client running as long as you think is right – most clients show the download / upload ratio, so that you can decide for yourself if you have uploaded enough.

Also, practise caution and always scan the files you download for malware.

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