Fast and efficient, the BitTorrent download protocol makes it easy to download large files… and share them with other users. And if some people use it for pirated content, its use is perfectly legal.
There are several ways to download files from the Internet. The most common is direct downloading. A link to the content to be retrieved is made available to Internet users on a Web page. A simple click on it triggers the download directly from the Web browser. This simple and practical principle implies that the server that hosts the content made available is sufficiently powerful to support many simultaneous downloads. Otherwise, in the event of an influx, the downloading process will be greatly slowed down.
The BitTorrent protocol was developed in the early 2000s to counter this phenomenon. It is based on the peer-to-peer (P2P) exchange system. Here, each computer that downloads the file becomes in turn a server. It assumes the role of a seeder, allowing other users (leechers) to download data from the file it has already retrieved. The more sources there are, the faster the file can be retrieved by everyone. This method is not very useful for small files, but it is very useful when the content to be downloaded reaches several hundred megabytes or even tens of gigabytes. In this case, the final file is split into several segments, faster to exchange, and more convenient to host.
This principle of exchange and sharing has long suffered from a sulfurous reputation, due to the fact that it is widely used to download pirated films, series, games, or software in particular. Torrent downloads are very closely monitored by the Hadopi (high authority for the distribution of works and the protection of rights on the Internet). But, as is often the case, it is not the tool that is at issue, but rather its use. Fortunately, BitTorrent is not limited to downloading illegal content. It remains a comfortable solution for many free software editors or creators who wish to make their works available on the Internet as quickly as possible.
How does downloading with BitTorrent work?
Downloading via the BitTorrent exchange system requires two elements. First, you need to get your hands on the file with the .torrent extension that refers to the content you want to download. A simple search in the Google search engine will surely lead you to a site that offers the desired content. This .torrent file often weighs only a few dozen kilobytes. It only contains the information needed to start downloading the desired file, such as the IP address of the server that acts as a relay with the machines where copies are available, as well as data to secure the download (to prevent a smart guy from introducing a virus in the process). This file also indicates how many pieces the final file is cut.
Once this .torrent file is recovered, you need to use specialized software to open it and start downloading the desired content. There are dozens of them, most of them free, such as BitTorrentX, µTorrent, qBitTorrent, Transmission, Deluge, Tixati, or Vuze, to name a few. When all the segments are repatriated, they are automatically assembled to reconstitute the original file. By the way, each downloaded data is shared with other users. And this sharing lasts as long as the application is running.
How to download torrents with µTorrent?
You’ve found the .torrent file on the web that leads to the content you want to download? All that’s left to do is start the download on your computer. For this practical sheet, we use the famous µTorrent software, simple and practical, which exists for Windows as well as for macOS and Linux. All the steps are described with the Windows version, but you can easily adapt them to other operating systems. Generally speaking, all torrent software is used in the same way, and you can perfectly well opt for the excellent BitTorrent if you prefer without feeling like you’re in unknown territory.
- Start by downloading the latest version of µTorrent that is suitable for your operating system.
- Double-click on the installation file. After a few seconds, a Windows Security notification will appear. Don’t panic. The µTorrent installer contains items that Windows considers potentially unwanted (such as advertising tools). Click on the notification.
- In the window that appears, click on the Protection History link.
- In the new window, click on the Low option next to the alert.
- Then click on the Actions button and choose to Allow on the device. The µTorrent installer is now authorized. You can run it normally.
- Click on Next, Next again, and then Agree.
- In the next window, click on the Decline button to refuse the installation of additional software.
- Click on Decline again in the next window.
- Finally click on Next, Next again, and Finish.
- µTorrent opens. Click on the File menu and choose Add Torrent.
- Select the .torrent file that you have previously downloaded with your Internet browser and click on Open. For our example, it is the ISO image of the 20.04 version of the Ubuntu Linux system.
- In the window that appears, check the option Save in placed at the top left. Here you can see the folder where the file you are about to download will be saved (by default the Windows Downloads folder). If you want to change this location, click on the gray button at the end of the line and designate a new folder.
- When everything is ready, click OK. The download will start immediately.
- While the file is being downloaded, several pieces of information are displayed: the elapsed time, the estimated time remaining before the end of the download, the amount of data received (Receive) but also the amount of data sent (Send). This is the principle of the BitTorrent protocol, the files you download with µTorrent (and only those) are also available to other users. You can also see how many connected sources are sharing the same file as you.
- Once your file is completely downloaded, it remains available to other users. You can see the list of “clients”, i.e. other users who are downloading it thanks to you, by clicking on the Client tab of µTorrent.
- Your file will be located in the folder that you have designated before. Be careful, if you move it, it will no longer be shared with others. To use it, quit the µTorrent application. You can always restart it afterward to activate the sharing again.
Please note: as long as the µTorrent app is running, sharing of downloaded files will continue. If you need the bandwidth of your Internet connection to send data, simply quit the µTorrent app.