Definition of a Torrent

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The BitTorrent protocol provides a decentralized method of file sharing in which each computer downloading a file simultaneously uploads that file to others. Unlike traditional file sharing, in which each downloading computer connects to a dedicated server, BitTorrent allows files to be downloaded more quickly as more users connect. The term "torrent" can refer to several aspects of BitTorrent, such as an individual torrent file, the specific client used to download the content, or the protocol as a whole.

Torrent Files, Trackers and Clients

  • Using BitTorrent to download a piece of content requires a torrent client and, in most cases, a torrent file. Torrent files contain information about the desired content and a list of trackers -- sites that track other users who have that content. Torrent clients open torrent files, read their information, connect to other users and download the content. Some torrent clients also offer alternate systems for operating without torrent files or without trackers. Downloading content in this manner is still referred to as torrenting, even when no torrent file exists.

Seeders and Leeches

  • The BitTorrent protocol works by connecting people who have a file -- known as "seeders" -- with peers who want that file. In many other types of peer-to-peer networks, computers downloading a file act only as "leeches" -- peers that download content without re-sharing it. With torrents, however, peers re-share parts of files as they download. Once a peer finishes downloading, it becomes another seeder. Within BitTorrent, "leech" can refer to a user who download more than he uploads, or to any peer that hasn't yet become a seeder.

Uses of the Term "Torrent"

  • The word "torrent" has several different definitions. In some cases, it is used as an abbreviation for "BitTorrent," referring to the protocol as a whole. Other times, it refers to a torrent file or to the concept of downloading content via BitTorrent. These multiple uses can cause confusion, as the phrase "download a torrent" usually means "download content through a torrent client" rather than referring to downloading a torrent file.

Legality of Torrents

  • Torrents, like other peer-to-peer file sharing methods, often have a justified connotation of illegality; many people use BitTorrent to distribute and download pirated movies, games and other media. Some media companies and Internet service providers monitor torrents in order to send warning notices or to take legal action against pirates. Not every torrent contains illegal material, however. Even some major companies use torrents as a legitimate download method, since the protocol reduces the load on company servers. For example, Blizzard Entertainment distributes some content, such as game trailers, via torrent.

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