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Tutorial: Downloading with torrents

In this tutorial you will learn how to download with torrents. You might think: Binaries4all is all about Usenet, why a tutorial on torrents? The reason for this is that we see more and more company's that create for example open-source software making their product not just available on their website, but also as a torrent. Why do they do that and how can you download with torrents? We'll explain it all in this tutorial.

How do torrents work?

Imagine that a company develops an operating system, such as Windows, Mac OS or Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a free operating system based on Linux. Every six months they release a new version which many people want to try out as soon as possible. They go to the Ubuntu-website and download the cd. This puts a heavy load on the servers hosting the Ubuntu-website, especially since Ubuntu has millions of users world-wide!

To make sure the servers don't give way under the load, the creators of Ubuntu advise to download the cd using BitTorrent instead of directly from their website.

Torrents work as follows: the seeder(s) of a torrent (for example the creators of Ubuntu) have the file that is to be shared (in this case the Ubuntu cd) on their computer or server. The BitTorrent software of the seeder creates a torrent-file (very small file) that the seeder can put up on a website. It also splits up the file in many small parts. Downloaders open the torrent in their own BitTorrent program. Imagine that there are 100 parts and there are 100 people (leechers) downloading the torrent. The seeder's software will send every leecher a different part of the file, so combined they'll have the whole file. If every leecher would share his or her part with the other leechers, they can all retrieve the complete file without the seeder having to send it to every leecher individually. This make a big difference in terms of data traffic and processing power for the seeder. In theory the seeder could even shut down his computer or server once every part has been downloaded once, because the leechers could exchange the parts amongst each other afterwards. However, in reality it doesn't work that way, for example because of leechers who shut down their computer without uploading a specific part to someone else first.

What is the difference with newsgroups?

When downloading with a torrent, your computer simultaneously spreads several parts of the file to other leechers. This is not the case with newsgroups. When someone posts something to a news server, that server will automatically exchange the data with other news servers and anyone with access to any of those servers can download it. Binaries4all has several tutorials about downloading from newsgroups (Usenet), for example the tutorial Introduction for beginners (Usenet 101).

What's better: torrents or newsgroups?

Torrents versus newsgroups? Torrents and newsgroups both have their own features. In the example of Ubuntu: they do offer torrents as a means to downloading, but the creators themselves don't post it in a newsgroup. That's why new Ubuntu-versions appear later int he newsgroups, because a volunteer first has to make the effors of downloading the torrent and then posting the files to a newsgroup (which is allowed by the creators of Ubuntu).

On the other hand using torrents has the disadvantage that it's often not possible to downloading with the maximum speed of your internet connection, contrary to newsgroups. Furthermore using torrents you can only download the complete file if every part of it is still being seeded by one or more computers. This limitation does not apply to newsgroups, because those files are often available for a longer period (hundreds of days compared to several days).

How do I obtain such a torrent-file?

In the previous example of Ubuntu, you could fine a torrent file on the Ubuntu-website.

There are also other websites which offer torrent-files. Please note: some sites offer torrents of copyrighted material. We strongly disadvise you to use these: even if it's allowed to download certain copyrighted material according to the law of your country, when using torrents you're automatically also uploading the parts that you have to other users, which makes it illegal. So do not do this.

How can I download with torrents?

When you have obtained a torrent-file, it has to be imported in a BitTorrent client. On Binaries4all you can find a tutorial for the following popular program:

How can I download from newsgroups?

You can download from newsgroups with a newsreader. Binaries4all has several tutorials on downloading from newsgroups, for example Introduction for beginners (Usenet 101).

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