Beginner’s Guide to BitTorrent

I’ve been asked by many friends and coworkers in the last few months about how to get started with BitTorrent.  I’ve explained the basics several times to several people with mixed results and kept telling myself that I should just compile my advice into a blog post.  So here goes it.

As with anything else I post, what I try to get across may not be the *best* way of doing things, but its the way that I have found that has worked.  In this case, it has worked for me for over two years with only a couple of encounters with malware. 

Before getting into it, I would like to say the following:  DON’T DOWNLOAD ILLEGAL SOFTWARE.  I didn’t tell you that that is what you should use BitTorrent for, so don’t do it!  Also, USE A VIRUS SCANNER.  If you don’t already have one running, you’re insane, and you should install one immediately.  AVG is a very good and reputable freely available scanner, so get that now if you don’t already have one.  This is not to say that you will be dealing with viruses frequently, I know I haven’t, but its a smart move all the same.

Now that you are convinced to stay legit on your software licensing and protect yourself from undesirables, let’s get started.  First you need to understand what the BitTorrent network does differently from Kazaa, Limewire, etc. 

In those older apps, you would load up your connection and then search the community for the files you wanted.  Once you found what you were after and saw that several people were hosting the file, you’d double-click on it and begin to stream it down to your hard drive from those users. 

BitTorrent doesn’t provide a means of searching for what other users are sharing directly.  Instead, you’ll use what is called a Torrent Tracker to search for what you are after.  A Torrent Tracker is a website that hosts Torrent files.  Search for what you are interested in, and download the Torrent (.torrent) file that matches.  That file isn’t the thing you were after, its merely a description of that thing.  This is important.  You will need a BitTorrent Client to open the file, which will then connect to the P2P network of users and begin downloading the item(s) you were initially searching for.

Sound complicated?  Its not really, I promise.  Let’s get started with something concrete.

I want to download the new installer for Ubuntu Linux 8.04.  It is COMPLETELY FREE AND LEGIT software that is perfectly legal to download.  The problem is that the official Ubuntu site is freaking slow when I try downloading the installer ISO.  BitTorrent to the rescue!

First we need a BitTorrent Client, so go grab a copy of Azureus.  It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux (Thanks to Java) and the site has options at the top for how to install in the appropriate platform. 

Now that that is installed, go to isoHunt, a Torrent Tracker site that is clean in regards to its ad content, and search for Ubuntu 8.04.  One of the first listings I see is what I’m after and I click to download the .torrent file.  Depending on your browser, you could opt not to save the file, merely open it, and let your OS open Azureus automatically since it will have an association with .torrent files. 

Once the client loads up and is opening your .torrent file, it will ask where on your hard disk to save the data.  Specify a download directory and watch the bits start streaming to your computer!  That is essentially it. 

Feel free to look into alternative client applications, tracker sites, etc., but be aware that some sites are Not Safe For Work and some clients don’t do as much to protect your computer from sniffing as Azureus will.  And as always, feel free to comment and ask questions. 

Happy downloading!

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