Torrenting, a method of downloading and sharing files, is becoming increasingly popular. Although torrenting has been around for decades, many internet users are starting to discover it or the first time. Getting started with torrenting can be a bit confusing for a newcomer, as there is a fair amount of terminology and rules you’ll need to know before you can effectively torrent anything. If you’re wondering what torrenting is and how to download files with it, this guide is for you.
Below, we’ve broken up our guide into several parts. First, we provide a quick start guide for those who just want to get started. We then provide a general overview of what torrenting is with some helpful graphics and information, including demystifying the terminology and providing some guidance on torrent legality.
How to start torrenting - Quick start guide
For those looking to get started on torrenting right away, here’s a quick guide on how make this process work. We suggest you read further down for a more detailed guide on what torrenting is, how it works, and other important issues on the topic.
Step 1: Download a torrent client
Click here to go to the uTorrent website and download the uTorrent client. After installing, you can open the uTorrent client. You won’t see anything happening yet, however, as you won’t have any files available for upload or download.
We recommend uTorrent for its ease of use and simplicity, but you can use any torrent client.
Step 2: Find a magnet link or torrent file to download
To find a file, you can head over to any one of the many torrent websites available. Here, I'm downloading a torrent file for Ubuntu:
Clicking on any one of the versions downloads a .torrent file onto my computer. Clicking on the file opens up my uTorrnet client automatically:
From here, I decide where to save my downloaded torrent file, and then click "Ok" to get the download started.
As you can see, my download speed is pretty good:
uTorrent also shows me my upload and download stats:
If you decide to use a magnet link from a website, you may have to copy and paste the link into your torrent client. For uTorrent, that involves opening up File > Add torrent from URL and pasting the URL into the empty space:
You’ll get a new screen indicating where to put your torrent download. We suggest putting your torrent files in their own folder. Click OK. The client will then begin the process of looking for peers to download your torrent.
What is torrenting?
Torrenting is a type of file sharing in which all users on a network not only download bits and pieces of files from each other but share those files with others on the network. This process is also known as “peer-to-peer” file sharing. The basic idea is for individuals to share files with each other, as opposed to downloading them from one centralized location. There are several different peer-to-peer file sharing methods. Torrenting takes a unique approach to this method, which we will explain below.
To better understand how torrenting works, we’ll need to define a few key terms first.
When you torrent files, everyone on the network either sharing or downloading files is considered a “peer.” This is the essence of the concept of a peer-to-peer network. As long as you are on the network, and sharing files, you’re considered a peer.
When using a torrent network, if you are sharing parts of a file, you are considered a “seeder.” Many torrent networks and communities place a significant amount of emphasis on sharing and being a seeder.
Torrent networks only work effectively when everyone that is downloading files is also sharing those files. For example, if only a small minority of people on the network shared files, the network would crash. Your computer can only accept a limited number of connection requests from others. File downloads would be slower than with a normal FTP site, and it would make the peer-to-peer file sharing process useless.
This is why many sites and torrent communities have certain sharing ratios as a requirement for being part of that network. What that means is that if you are a part of a torrent network, the network administrators may have software in place that monitors everyone’s seeding and downloading percentages (for example, you share 60% of the time, and download 40% of the time). Some have a set criteria for what’s required, which can vary among different torrent networks.
If you find you get kicked from a torrent site or that your attempts to download no longer work, it may be because you simply were not sharing enough.
When you download files from others on a torrent network, you’re considered to be “leeching.” However, in the torrent community, this term can also be used as a negative. If you do more leeching than seeding, being called a “leech” is a bad thing. Being a leech can get you kicked from a torrent network.
For more information, check out our article on Seeders, Leechers, and Peers.
When you go to download torrents, you do so by using a torrent client. Note that torrents are not the same as regular files downloaded through a website that hosts the file. You can only download torrents using a torrent client. The reason has to do with how torrenting works - by breaking up the files into smaller parts, with each peer network sharing different parts of the file in what is often known as a “swarm.”
The torrent client helps connect you to however many peers it can that are sharing the file and downloads pieces of the file from different people at once. This aids in making torrents faster than regular file download methods.
Popular torrent clients include:
However, there are many different torrent clients on the market. Almost all are free, although some do come at a cost for increased services. Nevertheless, in general, you’ll find no reason to pay for a torrent client and can find one quite easily that will help you get started downloading torrents.
When looking for torrents, you’ll most likely use a torrent website first. There are a large number of torrent websites around that list where you can find different files to download through a torrent. Perhaps the most famous and most notorious of these is The Pirate Bay.
It’s important to understand that while torrent websites often are on the receiving end of negative press, lawsuits, and government takedowns, most of the sites do not host any files. Unlike traditional download websites where files are stored on a website’s servers and delivered through a file transfer protocol (FTP), torrent sites provide links to where those files are located. This brings us to the next concept you’ll need to understand.
Magnet links and torrent files
When downloading a torrent, you’ll use a torrent website to find the link to the file you need. As stated, that link is not located on the torrent site but shared among different users on a torrent peer-to-peer network.
When you find a file on a torrent site you want to download, you’ll begin the process by using either a magnet link or torrent (.torrent) file. These two files are different but serve very similar purposes.
A torrent file sits on a server and works to help your torrent client find the bits and pieces of the file located on other people’s computers. The torrent file helps handle the file compilation as it’s getting gathered from multiple sources and, upon completion, helps combine that file back into one complete and usable package.
A magnet link, however, cuts out the middleman. Magnet links work directly to find the hosts sharing the file, allowing the file to start downloading and compiling without the use of a torrent file. Additionally, magnet links will also search for file locations on the network where the file can be downloaded without using torrents. This means you may be able to use a magnet link and find a file served up through a more traditional FTP method as well.
The benefit of a torrent file is that it will help start the download faster. However, torrent files do take up space on the hosting servers, and the use of torrent files may be more likely to get a website in trouble. With magnet links, the download process is slower as the client searches for peers on the network who have the file, but with the added benefit that the magnet link searches for more than just torrents to download the file. If the magnet link finds other download locations, such as FTP, it will attempt to download from there as well.
Regardless of whether you’re using a torrent link or a magnet link, your download requests (and uploads) are handled by a server known as a tracker. The entire purpose of the tracker is to help the torrent clients regulate which computers should be connecting to each other, and where files should be going. As you can imagine, with a lot of people on a network, sharing bits and pieces of different files, the process can get pretty complicated.
However, every torrent file comes with a code that indicates where it should be going and what larger file it should be part of when it’s finally pieced back together. The tracker ensures that all files you are trying to download from other peers on the network successfully make it to your computer.
As the terminology around torrenting might suggest, torrenting can be fairly technical, as many computer-related processes often are. However, here’s a graphic to help explain what torrenting might look like, visualized:
This image, credited to the Doug Vitale Tech Blog, provides an overview of how torrenting works. As a newcomer, there are four main things in this image that you’ll need to pay attention to:
- Torrent Site Web Server
- The Beatles (all of the other individuals on the network)
In this example, Alice is a representation of you, the individual looking to download files through a torrent network. Alice is acting as a seeder and a leecher attempting to access the torrent site web server to find either a magnet link or a torrent file she wants to download.
After finding the type of torrent file or magnet link she wants, she copies the link or opens that torrent download using her torrent client. The torrent client connects to the tracker server and begins to look for where it can locate the file Alice wants to download. The torrent tracker locates John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the network, and finds that each of them has the file Alice is looking for. The tracker then works with Alice’s torrent client to begin downloading bits and pieces of the file from as many people that have it as it can handle.
As Alice is downloading from the network, she also starts sharing to it. Any file that she has partially downloaded is made available to others, so even if she only has half of the file downloaded, others can start leeching it from her. Additionally, if Alice has a file others are looking for that no one else has on the network, as long as the file is in the proper location on her computer, she can start seeding it on the network.
Is torrenting legal?
The legality of torrenting is a very complex issue. In general, torrenting is legal, as the process of peer-to-peer file sharing is completely legal in all countries.
However, file sharing of copyrighted material that you do not own is illegal in most countries. While in many countries it is legal to download a version of files that you already own a copy of, it is illegal in most places to share those files with others who do not have a copy themselves. This is usually referred to as illegal file sharing__.
Flixed.io does not support illegal file sharing or piracy of any kind.
The laws can get pretty tricky when it comes to different types of torrenting, however. For example, torrent streaming, in which you only stream the torrent content and do not download the entire file, may be legal in some parts of Europe, but not legal in the United States.
However, our advice should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult with legal professionals if you have any concerns over the legality of the torrenting that you are looking to do.
Can I torrent without seeding?
Yes, you can! Please check out our guide on How to Torrent Without Seeding.
Sam Cook • Author
Sam Cook is a full-time content strategist by day, a part-time freelance content writer since 2015. In another life, he was a high school English teacher for nearly a decade. Based in sunny New Orleans, he writes long-form educational content on technology, including Insurtech, Fintech, HRtech, and content streaming.
Desiree Wu • Editor
Desiree is a full-time Honours Business Administration student at Ivey Business School at Western University. She also served as an Editorial Intern at Flixed. Desiree is based in London, Ontario.