What is BitTorrent Protocol and How Does it Work?

BitTorrent Protocol

What thing first comes into your mind, when you hear the word “Torrent“? Illegal? Piracy? crime? The word “Torrent” carries such negativity in our society. Though it is true that “BitTorrent” is mostly used for piracy (sharing copyrighted materials), but “BitTorrent” itself and its use is not illegal (under certain circumstances). BitTorrent only got its bad name because of some unethical users, who use it for the self-gaining purpose.

You might wonder that BitTorrent is mostly used for sharing copyrighted materials (games, music, movies), how using it can be legitimate and legal? Most folks over the internet consider that using BitTorrent is illegal- it is NOT. There is so much misconception in people about the word “BitTorrent“. So, we decided to write this post explaining why there is nothing wrong or illegal about the word “BitTorrent“. Here, we are going to explain in detail about, why BitTorrent got its bad name and why using it is not illegal.

What Is BitTorrent Protocol?

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (“P2P”) file sharing communication protocol used to distribute a large amount of data and files over the internet. It is one of the most common protocols for transferring big data over the internet. For example- TV shows, movies, games etc. As of today, BitTorrent is responsible for a total of 25% internet traffic over the globe.

The BitTorrent protocol was designed by Bram Cohem, a former computer science student at University of Buffalo in Apr 2001. The first official version released on 2nd July 2001. The latest version available was released in 2013 (BEP v3). As of today, BitTorrent has approximately over 300 million active monthly users.

How Does BitTorrent Work?

BitTorrent protocol is used to take the stress of transferring a large amount of data from one server and distribute it up among multiple smaller computers in the network. To establish BitTorrent protocol, a user needs a BitTorrent client. Some of the popular examples of BitTorrent clients are µTorrent, Vuze, Transmission and qBittorrent.

User joins to BitTorrent “swarm” by adding a .torrent file into the BitTorrent client. Swarm is nothing but a group of computers downloading and uploading the same torrent file. After adding a torrent file, the BitTorrent client connects to “tracker” as listed in the .torrent file. The tracker is nothing but a special server which keeps track of all computer which is participating in the same torrent. Tracker shares the IP addresses of all available computers with other BitTorrent clients in the swarm.

Once connected, BitTorrent clients start downloading the files in pieces. Pieces are usually in non-orderly fashion and rearranged by the BitTorrent client in proper order. All the pieces are of the same size, for example, a 20 MB file can be downloaded into small 20 pieces of 1 MB each. After downloading efficient data, the torrent can start to “seed“. So, users who do not have the full file yet can act as a seed. Seeds are the users who are connected to swarm and uploading the torrent file to peers, even after the torrent download finishes. Peers are nothing but the users who is downloading torrent from the swarm.

torrent working

So, more popular the torrent file is, more seeds will be created and faster the download speed will become. This is the beauty of BitTorrent, it takes the burden of the uploading large file from one server and distributes it among thousands of users. But for a torrent to become complete downloadable, minimum one of the users in the swarm must have a complete copy of all files in the torrent. If the torrent has zero or no seeds, it can’t be downloaded as no user has a complete torrent file.

There is also another aspect to look out before downloading torrent- “Leechers“. Leechers are the users who intentionally throttle their upload speed and only sticks around as a peer until the torrent download completes. After downloading they remove the torrent and exits.

Drawbacks of BitTorrent Protocol:

  • Less convenient: BitTorrent is less convenient for inexperienced users as they required third-party BitTorrent client to function.
  • Slow for small files: Torrent file usually takes some time accelerates to its max speed, so it is not convenient for small data.
  • The creator has no Control over the network: As it is Peer-to-Peer file sharing service, the creator of the torrent doesn’t have control over the network. The speed depends on the number of seeders, leechers, and peers at given time.

Also Read: How to Hide Data Behind Images?

BitTorrent isn’t Illegal

Using BitTorrent isn’t illegal or crime; it is a beautiful technology and will continue to grow in future. Many Linux distributors use BitTorrent in order to provide their ISO files to users; it also saves their money on bandwidth. A great example of BitTorrent implementation is a game- “World of Tanks”, a free to play the online game. The developers are happy because they can save money on bandwidth and spend it on bringing new features to the game.

You can also host a free music, movie or game on BitTorrent, a free method to share the data across the internet and people who are downloading it, will also help in further distribution. Wikileaks had also used BitTorrent to distribute data and took the load off their servers.

This is it! There is nothing illegal about the word BitTorrent. It only got its bad name because of some people who used it for self-purpose- like sharing copyrighted material (music and movies).


“Using BitTorrent is not illegal, sharing copyrighted material is”.

I hope you liked this post. If you got any question or suggestions for future posts feel free to comment down below. Stay tuned for future updates.

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