What is a torrent?

What is a torrent?
Most likely, you’ve heard of a torrent, used a torrent, or at least seen that term on the internet somewhere. And whether you have actually used them or not, a lot of people don’t know what it actually is. Let’s talk basics here…

What is a torrent?

When you hear the word “torrent” in the tech world, it usually refers to a computer file that contains metadata holding various information. A torrent file normally comes with the extension .torrent but it does not contain the actual contents to be distributed.
This information will then be used by a BitTorrent software such as uTorrent, Transmission or BitTorrent for the “real” distribution – which essentially allows for users to easily download torrent files to their personal computers.

In retrospect, due to the ease of use of BitTorrent technology, many torrent users end up downloading copyrighted materials unknowingly. This is of course frowned upon in many countries and some have been prohibiting illegal torrents by means of incarceration. Now, that doesn’t mean all torrents are unsafe for consumption. There’s plenty of legal torrent sites out there which you can use. Check out our own list of these legal torrent sites below.

How does a torrent work?

In short, a torrent file acts as the key to initiating downloading of the actual content. When someone is interested in receiving a shared file (i.e. books, music, documents, etc.), they must first obtain the corresponding torrent file – by either downloading the .torrent file directly or by using a magnet link.
A BitTorrent software is then required to open this file/link. Once the BitTorrent software scans the torrent file/link, it’ll then need to find the locations of seeders which are sharing the corresponding file. To do so, it will attempt to connect to a list of defined trackers (from the torrent file metadata) and attempt a direct connection. If it’s successful, the appropriate content will then begin transferring.
 
Note: A torrent download can be done in fragments, so in reality you’re actually downloading bits of pieces of the full content which is later reassembled when all of the pieces are received. 

Why is torrenting dangerous?

Downloading torrents can always be dangerous due to the fact that other peers will be able to see your IP address. Lots of production and record companies hire people to go in and report all these IP addresses being found downloading torrents so that they can be passed along to ISPs. The ISPs will then liaise with law enforcement agencies to prevent the file from being downloaded further, which may include incarcerating the operators or users.
 
Connecting to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) would allow you to change your IP address and keep you anonymous while downloading torrents. This is a crucial tool to use when downloading torrents so that your ISP does not know what you are doing.