In your internet travels you may have come across files with the file extension .torrent (sometimes .tor) and wondered what they are. Often a torrent is associated with a movie, popular music, or computer software, but it can be used in conjunction with any computer friendly media which is available for download. So what is a torrent and how does it work?
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A torrent is a data file which contains all the information necessary to download another file using peer-to-peer technology. For example, I might have an old version of a Linux operating system that people want but can't get from the original authors any longer. I can offer this software package free for download using a peer-to-peer program to facilitate it. In order to do this the P2P needs to know where to find the files, what the file size is, and so on. All this information is located in the torrent file.
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More Info Regarding File Extension Torrent
The biggest advantage to using the torrent, as opposed to a conventional peer-to-peer, is speed. With a torrent, the more users downloading the same file the faster it works. Using my example of the Linux operating system, if I were the only user downloading the file the server would send every byte to me directly. But with multiple users working on the same file, the server breaks it up and sends different bytes to each user. Your computer is capable of opening multiple data streams and is able to communicate with all the other users at the same time. In effect, all the users are swapping the data the server sends them, thus the increase in speed.
To open a torrent and download the appropriate files, you need a torrent client. A torrent client is as easy to use any any other peer-to-peer software, and in many cases it's even easier. Four of the most popular clients are uTorrent, Bittorent, BitSpirit, and Azureus. They are all pretty straight forward and easy to use with just a few settings to deal with. If you have any problems with them, it will most likely be with using the right port on your router or dealing with NAT redirection. The help files for your torrent client should be able to work you through this if you run into trouble.
Of course, there is one other problem not related directly to the operation of the torrent or the client. That's the issue of legality. Most of the media available as torrent downloads just happens to be what's currently hot with the movies, the game culture, or the music scene. The majority of these files cannot be downloaded without violating anti-piracy law, and various government agencies around the world are working overtime to fight torrent piracy. They have even been known to set up false trackers and torrent files to catch the unsuspecting user.
The good news is that there are torrents which can be downloaded legally. The Linux operating system I mentioned is a great example. Other examples could be open source software, indie music and films, and media from government agencies which is always free in the public domain. If you're the creative type, you might be able to put together your own work to share as a torrent.
If you decide you're brave enough to give it a go, get on the internet and get yourself a torrent client. After it's installed you can use your favorite search engine to find available downloads. Since there are literally millions of them floating around out there, you should be able to find something that suits your interests.