What is BitTorrent and How it Works?

When someone says BitTorrent, piracy is the first thought that strikes the mind. But the fact is, it is more than just a platform for downloading your favorite or popular stuff.

Basically, BitTorrent is a protocol, which facilitates downloading of popular, large sized files and at the same time utilizes very less bandwidth. It is absolutely free to use, and the best part is, there is no spyware or annoying advertising pop-ups. Unlike other platforms that are available for downloading files, BitTorrent sets itself apart by offering maximized data transfer speed as it gathers the requested files from the people who already have them. This way, downloading large files like movies, TV programs become faster.

How Conventional Client-Server Downloading Happens

In order to have an understanding of how BitTorrent is different from other file-serving platforms, it is important to have an idea about what happens when a file is downloaded from a website.

When you visit a web page and click on the download link, the web browser on your computer (acting as client) sends a request to the server to transfer a copy of file to your computer. This file transfer is generally handled by internet protocols like FTP or HTTP.

The file transfer speed depends upon a number of factors like the protocol used, the traffic on server, the number of clients downloading the file etc. The download speed would be slow if the file requested is large, popular, and its demand on server is high.

Understanding Peer to Peer File Sharing?

In the conventional file downloading method, we have our web browser working as client. In the peer to peer file sharing, instead of web browser, a software program is used to locate the computer that has the file of interest on it. Now in this case, the request for downloading the file is not passed to the server, and is instead sent to normal computers (like ours) and they are termed as peers.

peer-to-peer-file-sharing

When you run the software (for peer to peer file sharing), it looks out for the computers that have the same software installed, connected to internet, and has the file that you request to download. And when the software successfully locates the computer that has the requested file, the download begins.

In some cases, people immediately disconnect after downloading the file of their interest, thereby restricting others to obtain that file from their system. This causes bottlenecks in the file sharing process and is termed as leeching. In this case, the number of computers that the software can locate to search for the requested file reduces.

What is BitTorrent and What it Does?

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file transfer protocol, where a group of computers participate in uploading and downloading the torrent file. Unlike other peer-to-peer downloading systems, BitTorrent adopts the tit-for-tat principal, which means that for receiving the files, you have to make them available for downloading too. This way, the problem of leeching is tried to be sorted out. And the advantage is, more files you share with BitTorrent, faster would be your downloading speed.

What exactly happens?

  1. When you open the web page that have the file of interest, click on the link; the BitTorrent client software sets a connection with tracker for finding out the computers (peers) that have BitTorrent installed, with the file of interest.
  2. The tracker then performs the job of identifying the swarm (the connected computers that have the file of interest and are engaged in the process of sending or receiving files).
  3. Once the file of interest is downloaded and your computer still runs the BitTorrent software, others can have the advantage of downloading that torrent file on their computers. By doing this, you raise the chances of increasing the downloading speed, next time you download any file from BitTorrent. This way, you will rank high in the tit-for-tat system of BitTorrent.

how bittorent works

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Glossary

Leeches: These are the users who download files to their computer using BitTorrent protocol but do not allow others to download it from their computers.

Seed: A seed is a computer that has a complete copy of file to be downloaded.

Swarm: A group of computers that is engaged in uploading and downloading of files simultaneously.

.torrent: It is a pointer file that directs you to the computers from which the file has to be downloaded.

Tracker: All file transfer processes that takes place with BitTorrent protocol is handled by a server called tracker.

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