Many people have downloaded movies, music or TV shows over the last few years. If you have done this, then you probably used a torrent. The phrase ‘torrent’ comes from a down pouring of rain where there are countless droplets. But this is not about raindrops, ‘torrent’ in this case is about drops of Internet files. Torrenting is estimated to be about half of all Internet traffic on the web. It is huge.
Torrenting is not downloading a single file directly from the web. If you want to download the complete James Bond movies it starts with a torrent file usually named after what you are downloading. However, that is not the whole story. The torrent file name just lets your computer know what you are looking for and so your computer searches for the name of the file. To read that file you need a client like µTorrent which manages the download and assembles the file.
Assembling that file is, however, a really complex process. When your file gets transformed into a torrent, it gets broken down into thousands of tiny pieces, or drops. Then, the torrent file lets your computer know where to find each piece or drop of the original file. These drops are spread around the world. One might be on a computer in Ukraine, another in Panama, but the client lets your computer download them all separately and then reassembles them on your computer.
Now, when each piece of data is safely downloaded on your computer, your computer will then start sending it out again sharing the parts of the file you have. At the same time, it looks for the drops you don’t have.
Torrent: Tracking system
To achieve this, your computer needs a tracking system. This is typically achieved using a server, which keeps track of the specified initial torrent file and discovers who’s got which piece or drop. This gives you a real-time map showing you where all the different parts of the file are distributed. This has a few technical benefits. Unlike direct downloads, a single torrent can serve literally thousands of users without any significant load on the tracking server. If a few nodes go down, the network is not compromised. This is a really strong way to distribute large files across computers spread far and wide.
Law & Order
The reason that this system operates is that it is theft. It is stealing copyrighted material and you and other users do not want to get caught. Single people or users are easy targets for legal consequences. Lawyers sue the individual hosting the file and legal ramifications can be very costly indeed. Fines are high. This is exactly what happened when people were using Napster and other apps many years ago.
Modern torrents mean that the files are shared between thousands of people and this makes the lawyer’s task of suing virtually untenable. Lawsuits still happen but it is now much harder for copyright owners to sue. So, it has become very rare indeed. Law agencies can also go after the tracking servers, but systems like Magnet-link mean you don’t always necessarily need a tracking server. The current situation is the result of a twenty-year arms race between Internet pirates and the entertainment industry. We are experiencing a crazy circus and who knows what will come next?