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July 11, 2015

Bittorrenting 101: How Leeches and Seeders Can Work for You

by John_A

Vuze_ScreenshotWhat if there was a way for you to share files with friends and family that didn’t involve physically sending them a DVD or CD, emailing, text messaging, or using Facebook? What if you could send entire home movies, large image files, or even a folder with hundreds or thousands of the images your holds the rights to in it? Well, you can, with P2P file sharing.

What Is Bittorrenting?

Bittorrenting refers to the transmission of data using a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol instead of centralized servers. Distribution of content is thus decentralized. For example, let’s say that you want to download some music. You buy a song on Amazon or iTunes. Amazon or Apple act as the central server. You get the music from them. (But don’t share what you have bought!)

But, what if you didn’t want music from either of these two companies? What if you wanted to download or share music that is authorized for sharing by the copyright holders, or that is in the public domain – some Baroque music written in the 1600s and performed many years ago? (You should know that new performances or sound recordings of music written many years ago may be protected by copyright, because there are usually at least two copyrights in sound records: the song or composition, and the performance or sound recording of it.)   You could buy it from somewhere, but there’s no copyright on it. You could just download it from a friend, but how? Bittorrenting is how. Instead of going to Amazon, you reach out to a friend directly and he transfers the file to you.

But, instead of transferring the entire file, he gives you only a small piece of it. And, there are 10 other people out there with the same song. Each of them gives you a piece and, collectively, you end up with all the pieces of the song. A software program helps you arrange all of the downloading and “assembly” of all of the bits and pieces you’ve collected.

Why collect bits and pieces as opposed to the whole song, all at once? Because it’s faster. Each user only has to commit a small amount of resources to help you out. Are you excited yet?

Some Common Words and Phrases

Before you dive into the world of torrenting and file sharing, you’ll have to get some of the lingo down.

Let’s start with a “peer.” A peer refers to either an instance of a piece of software running on a computer that interacts with other software programs for the transfer of files. A peer can also refer to individual users.

A “client” is the technical term for this software. So, for example, you can download a very good client from Vuze’s client installs on your computer, helps you find and download files, and it also scans those files for viruses or other malicious code.

A “torrent” is what you’re searching for – that’s the file you’re looking for via Vuze or a torrent search engine. Torrents are small files, only several hundred KBs in size. They contain information that allows you to download the target file – a music file, game, book, or video, for example.

A “seed” refers to a user (and individual, like you) or client (the software) that is uploading or sharing target files. A “leech” refers to a user or client that only downloads files, but rarely or never shares them with others. In the world of P2P file sharing, this heavily frowned upon and can get you banned or blacklisted from many different communities.

A “swarm” refers to all peers sharing a torrent. A “tracker” is a server than coordinates the location and downloading of files, but is not directly involved in the data transfer process and does not retain a copy of anything being shared.

The Legality Of P2P File Sharing

Files sharing has gotten a bad rap over the years. But it’s a legitimate way to share files with a large number of people. It’s fast, efficient, and free too (aside from the cost of downloading the client).

Still, you should always verify the copyright status of any file before downloading it. It cannot be overstated: never download or upload anything that is protected by copyright without the authorization of the copyright holder. You could end up getting sued or going to jail.

Irma Campbell has a head for technology. With a passion for helping others understand what tech can do for them, she enjoys blogging about the basics and how-tos of a variety of useful apps, software, and more.

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