What are Torrent files? Are Torrented files legal, illegal, safe?

Torrent files are small files that contain information on how to download a larger file using BitTorrent protocol. The protocol, unlike HTTP/HTTPS, needs a torrent client for downloading the client. We’ll take a quick look at how BitTorrent works and if files downloaded using them are legal and safe.

what are torrent files

What are Torrent files and BitTorrent protocol

BitTorrent is a protocol that helps you in downloading large files without having to be troubled by bandwidth. The structure of the protocol also provides for resume support. The resume support means you can pause downloading at a point and resume downloading from the point where it was paused. If you stop downloading in the middle, you may have to download from the beginning or from the point where you stopped, depending on the BitTorrent client you are using.

BitTorrent employs more than one server (in this case, called peers, as they are interlinked directly, without the need for a server to control them: see image above) for downloading files to your computer. And as long as you are downloading, you are also part of a BitTorrent network. While downloading the file, you are also uploading it to some other client that is seeking the same file for download. Even after your download is complete, if you keep the torrent client open and do not remove the torrent from your torrent client, it continues uploading (seeding) the download so that others can download it from your computer (without knowing its IP address and location).

The very base of the BitTorrent protocol is to share computers for providing large downloads using give and take formula. There are already a swarm of computers (peers) that contain either the download file in full or in parts. When you download a torrent file, you download information about the whereabouts of the file, the main link, the encryption method used (if any) and similar information. Once your download starts, you can see your client downloading it in parts from different computers that can be home computers too. Like if someone is downloading the same file, he or she is also uploading (seeding) the file to another computer from where you can download the file at a faster pace. The ideal ratio, according to BitTorrent protocol creator, should be 1:1. That means, if you download a file using others’ computers, you should be able to give it back to the community by way of letting your Bit Torrent client upload the file for a while. Most BitTorrent clients show you how much of the file you have uploaded infield that may be marked either “upload” or “seed”.

The main advantage of this system is that people are active participants, and hence the network grows which, in turn, results in lesser bandwidth being used. Imagine if a single server was used and too many people tried to access it, no one would get it as the server would crash.

Read: What are Peer to Peer Networks (P2P).

Are BitTorrents Legal or Illegal

The answer to this question is both Yes and No. It depends on upon what you are downloading. While some sites offer only legitimate content whose copyright they hold or things that are in public domain, many offer pirated movies, music, songs, and books, etc. You should check with the law of your land to see what you are downloading is legal. The responsibility of downloading illegal files rests completely with you as the people who run websites hosting BitTorrents can easily get away in the maze of computers by claiming innocence.

Are BitTorrents Safe or Unsafe

Most of the Bit Torrents are safe as the well-known Torrent sites check it out before hosting them for downloads. However, not all sites are safe. Some may willingly distribute malware while some others may not be aware (they may not have checked the parts of file they are hosting) as malicious. Besides, if a BitTorrent client is uploading from an infected computer, the chances are that your downloads may be infected.

I suggest you always deep-scan scan both the .torrent files and the final download with an antivirus to see if they are safe for use.

How to download Torrent files

The process to download torrent files is easy. All you have to do is to run a search for Torrent files. You may go to advanced search and ask the search engine to look for files with .torrent extensions. This brings you to the search engine results page where you can download a .torrent file containing more information about how to go and get the original download. If you have a Torrent client installed already, all you have to do is to double-click on the .torrent file to open the torrent client which then downloads the entire file, all the while, uploading it as well.

I used simple language, avoiding technical jargon, to make it easier for everyone to understand this subject. The complete technical terms, in case you are interested, are available on Wikipedia as BitTorrent Technical Glossary.

Look forward to your comments!

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN