What Is Torrenting? How does It work? - A Complete Guide

Last updated: April 8, 2024 Reading time: 15 minutes
What Is Torrenting

Summary: Torrenting is the process of downloading large files through peer-to-peer-based connections. These connections are mostly established within “peers” to “seeders” and to the “swarm.” user needs torrent clients and torrent sites to make this happen. Just make sure you are downloading torrents safely and anonymously.

Torrenting is a distinguished file-sharing process that involves numerous individuals (peers) in the downloading process.

This procedure utilizes P2P technology to distribute torrent files among thousands of users. However, a torrent file is a computer file containing metadata related to the files and folders to be shared. You might listen to torrent and BitTorrent as synonymous terms, but they are different.

BitTorrent is a file transfer protocol that helps break down torrent files into small bits to make downloading faster.

Similarly, numerous terms describe the torrenting process, and you need to understand them before working on the torrent.

How to download torrents

Downloading torrents involves simple steps:

  1. Install a torrent client and search for reputable websites that host the type of torrent you desire. The best torrent clients are uTorrent, qBittorent and Deluge.
  2. Configure your client’s download settings to indicate the download folder.
  3. Open the torrent website you have identified and search for the torrents you are looking for. Only select the torrents with the highest with highest ratings and check the comments section to find out if they are legit. 
  4. Download the torrent to your device via your torrent client.

Commonly used terms

  • Peers: The individuals (torrents) sharing a torrent file in a peer-to-peer network.
  • Seeders: Those uploading parts of a torrent file and downloading it.
  • Leechers: The torrents just download and do not upload anything in a file-sharing process.
  • Swarm: A group of people is involved in downloading and uploading the same torrent file.
  • Tracker: As the name implies, the tracker in a torrenting process is a server that locates the peers of the same torrent file in different areas. They connect the torrents (peers) and help to direct data packets between them.
  • Torrent Client: Torrent client is the program that enables and manages the file-sharing process using the BitTorrent protocol. These BitTorrent clients arrange the disassembled torrent file handling its upload and download while providing statistics about the torrent.
  • Indexers are websites with torrent files and information about the host. Users get the torrent file link at these websites, which another torrent downloader shares. Therefore, it’s a channel to get, share and request torrent files.

How does torrenting work?

Torrenting is a technique to upload or download files via the BitTorrent protocol. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol that divides files into small pieces, allowing users to simultaneously upload or download them from multiple sources (peers).

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing

Unlike the conventional server-client model, a P2P network is decentralized, and participants can act as both a server and a client. The users create an interconnected web of peers, each receiving a piece of the shared file. In this case, each peer is a supplier and a file consumer. This is contrary to the client-server model, where a single or a few servers (suppliers) serve many clients (consumers), which could sometimes lead to server overload.

There are many P2P file-sharing protocols, but BitTorrent is the most famous. Initially, the internet was designed as a Peer-to-Peer network until the late 1980s when the concept of firewalls emerged. Later in the 1990s, when organizations started to use the internet commercially, the client-server model became popular until today.

The BitTorrent protocol

BitTorrent is the most popular P2P protocol owing to its efficiency through ‘trackers and swarms.’ The protocol works by dividing the torrent file into pieces and sharing it among peers. Peers with a piece of the file on their device are members of a ‘swarm’. They can simultaneously download and upload the pieces across the network. After downloading the entire file, a peer becomes a ‘seeder’. Any torrent that does not have a seeder is considered dead.

A ‘tracker’ then monitors the peers downloading or uploading a particular file. It keeps track of the peers taking part in the torrent, together with their IP addresses and the parts they have. A torrent file contains a URL that connects the file to a tracker or multiple trackers. After that, a torrent client uses the URL to contact the tracker, which responds with a list of peers.

The information describing the file’s contents is stored in a hash within the torrent file. When peers connect, they use the hash to determine the file pieces missing from their device. Once users gain multiple pieces of a torrent file, they can initiate and maintain multiple transfer sessions while exchanging pieces of the file with multiple peers. This explains why torrent downloads start slowly, increasing as more file pieces are downloaded.

The original distributor of a torrent file is the original seeder once they upload it to a hosting site like The Pirate Bay. The torrent file contains all the information needed to access the shared data. Torrents today have largely replaced torrent files with ‘magnetic links.

Like a torrent file, a magnetic link contains hashes of the file pieces, the total number of pieces, and the tracker URL. Magnetic links work more like conventional web browsers and web links because they launch the torrent client to deliver the information directly instead of delivering it as a file that the torrent client must open.

Public trackers Vs. private trackers

Trackers act as the phone books for BitTorrent. A torrenting client uses trackers to get a torrent’s list of peers. There are two types of trackers; public and private.

Public trackers have no requirements or restrictions, and they are used in most torrenting websites like The Pirate Bay. In Public trackers, anyone can become a peer and download torrent files. On the other hand, private trackers are more restrictive, and an existing member must invite you to start torrenting. Also, they emphasize seeding files to maintain an excellent download-to-upload ratio. As a result, private trackers are faster because only a few people download more than they are uploading (leechers).

Why are people Torrenting?

Torrenting is how people download music, videos, applications, games, and images, mostly of larger sizes. Not just downloading, but many individuals share files on their computers.

Some of you might wonder why people use torrents instead of that traditional downloading. One of the primary reasons is that the torrent files, which are present for everyone, are provided by anyone who has paid or might have gotten it through hassling means. Due to this reason, torrent files are generally present in conventional downloading.

Besides, torrenting has a few significant perks, which have boosted the use of torrenting extraordinarily.

  • The P2P uses a decentralized process, meaning the file you download is not hosted on a central server. Therefore, if one downloading source lefts or deactivates in between the downloading process, you can complete the downloading process with other sources. Besides, the regular downloading procedure involves only one central server; you cannot complete the download if it gets down.
  • You don’t need to restart the downloading from the start if your internet disconnects suddenly for any reason.
  • It is a noticeably fast downloading method compared to the regular downloading process.
  • You can easily find, download and even request any file.

Increasing the Legitimacy of Torrenting

As discussed before, torrent sharing is a fast and effective way of downloading and uploading large files. However, the name “torrent” probably gives a general spring to mind that it involves something illegal or ignoring copyright laws.

But with the overwhelmingly increasing popularity and feasibility of Torrent sharing, it is steadily moving into the mainstream.

Torrenting downloading mainly involves illegally extracting music, films, and games. Therefore, Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Diablo III, has adopted torrent technology. They have incorporated the torrent process in the online version of their games to be a default way of downloading for individuals.

Another included feature is the option they provide to the players to choose if they want to participate in speeding up the downloading of others by contributing any of their bandwidth.

Similarly, torrent websites (indexers) now stream video and music to the mainstream. Now, many websites have numerous ready-to-download torrent files that are all legal and free from copyright issues.

Why are Torrents a better way to download

When a file downloads from a website, it is usually drawn from a single server. This technology is ancient and straightforward, resulting in slow downloads and limited availability due to geographical restrictions.

On the other hand, torrent files are much more innovative than enduring file-sharing technology. While torrenting, when a file gets downloaded, it is drawn by several users instead of servers. Each peer part of the file swarm benefits their bandwidth to make the file available for download, instantly increasing speed.

Also, if a user downloads a torrent file, they must upload it to other peers. This is why this technology is widespread and better than any other technology. It means the number of peers in a file swarm, the stronger it will be.

How to torrent safely

The best way to torrent safely is by using a VPN. It encrypts your connection and masks your identity to keep you anonymous while torrenting. However, you must be cautious because even with the most robust VPN, you are still vulnerable to malware and malicious links. The steps below show how you can torrent anonymously and securely.

  • Download and install a reliable and trustworthy VPN such as ExpressVPN
  • Make sure the kill switch is ON.
  • Connect to a server in a P2P-friendly country.
  • Check for IP leaks to ensure your VPN is working.
  • Launch your torrenting client and start torrenting.

Is Torrenting Regarded outside the law?

Torrenting laws are different in different countries. In some states, torrenting is legal, and some view it as illegal.

For example, in Switzerland, torrenting is regarded as a legal process until the downloaded material is not used to make some profit. Thus, a Switzerland national can easily download every sort of content, and also, they don’t have to worry about copyright trolls.

Likewise, in Spain and the Netherlands, torrenting is banned and illegal. However, there are no laws regarding copyright protection in Mexico, making them a safe and secure place for torrenting.

Most countries smirk upon torrents and have regarded them as illegal. Generally, torrenting is considered to be unlawful where there are strict copyright laws. These countries have also imposed severe penalties in money and imprisonment on anyone found guilty of copyright violations. The users at first receive warnings from service providers and DMCA and are later fined and even imprisoned.

Benefits of P2P file-sharing and BitTorrent

BitTorrent is notorious for sharing copyrighted files without permission. However, some networks based on BitTorrent share legitimate files. Even large corporations use the BitTorrent protocol to distribute large amounts of data to many customers. For instance, MMORPG online games use the BitTorrent protocol on their downloaders to reduce costs and server load.

P2P file-sharing involves a vast network of peers, each handling a small portion of the file. Hence, it can be a cost-effective way of distributing large amounts of data to many people. The conventional server-client model is expensive, and costs keep increasing when the number of users increases.

Risks of torrenting

Torrenting copyrighted content is illegal in most countries. However, if you are a torrenting enthusiast, there are many legal torrenting sites where you can download files without copyright infringement. The enforcement and consequences of illegal torrenting may vary depending on local regulations.

While it is unlikely you will go to jail for downloading torrents, website hosts and distributors have in the past faced criminal prosecution. A good example is the infamous prosecution of The Pirate Bay’s founders. In the US, copyright holders may directly or indirectly take legal action against illegal torrents. However, this is not common, and very few copyright infringement lawsuits are related to torrenting.

Torrenting without a VPN

Torrenting without a VPN exposes your IP address and torrenting activities to third parties. Also, your internet service provider and government agencies can monitor your browsing activities and put you under surveillance. In other countries like the US, the ISP is under a legal obligation to share torrenting activities with third parties like copyright holders. Therefore, you need a reliable and trustworthy VPN to mask your identity and torrent anonymously.

What happens if you are caught torrenting?

The enforcement and prosecution of copyright pirates are sporadic. While penalties can be extremely high, there are slim chances of going to court. Today, copyright holders hire law firms, popularly known as copyright trolls, to go after pirates.

Copyright trolls monitor large torrenting websites to spot identifiable IP addresses, then use them to locate the copyright pirates. They then serve offenders with settlement letters via email, mail, or even door-to-door. Usually, they use intimidation, shame, and fear to convince perpetrators to pay because the letters are not legally binding. Mostly, they threaten to sue for an abnormally high amount of damages but only ask for a small amount in the settlement. Here’s a complete guide on what happens if you are caught torrenting.

Torrenting is both legal and illegal. The difference between the two is as follows:

  • Torrenting is when you download a file with expired copyright, which is now in the public
  • Torrenting is legal when you download a file and give a license granting permission for file sharing and distributing.

Illegal Torrenting

  • Torrenting is unlawful when you download a file that violates copyright and is not open to the public.

Pros And Cons Of Torrenting

Like every other thing, torrenting also has both positive and negative sides. The pros and cons of torrenting are as follows:

Free and Easy

Torrenting is an open process and doesn’t cost you anything. A simple setup does it and, in return, gives you access to a vast abundance of information.

An excessive number of files

Torrenting websites are in abundance. All these sites offer many downloadable files, making it easy for users to find and download their desired files.

No point of failure

In torrenting, there is no central point of failure. Even if the connection fails so still, you can download the file from other servers.

Exposure to Viruses

Torrenting puts your system at risk of malware and viruses and can easily expose your system to viruses because the file’s contents are hidden at downloading.

Risk of trial

Downloading a copyrighted file can put you at risk of legal litigation. You can be fined and even sent to imprisonment in extreme cases.

The possibility of getting exposed

Your IP address is public to everyone using the same torrent web during torrent. It increases the chance of getting detected by websites blocking or tracing torrent traffic.

Difference between torrenting and streaming

There is an emerging trend of people ditching torrents for pirated online streaming platforms like Kodi. Whether this is legal or not depends on your country. It is legal in India but outright illegal in the UK. No precedent in the US, as no one has faced legal action for watching content from an unsanctioned source.

Legally speaking, uploading copyrighted content to share with others is illegal regardless of the country. Unlike torrenting, where copyright trolls can see users’ IP addresses in a torrenting swarm, streaming directly transmits the video to your device. Therefore, it is difficult for copyright trolls to enforce the law. However, there are chances that the website could be logging your IP address on their servers and handing it over to copyright trolls or law enforcement agencies. In addition, if a VPN does not protect you, your ISP could monitor your traffic and know the videos you are streaming illegally. Furthermore, the security risks of illegal streaming and torrenting are similar, which include phishing threats, malware, and intrusive ads.

Usenet – The Torrenting alternative

Usenet is a premium service with a monthly subscription fee of $10 -$20. The files are stored in a centralized server, and the download speeds are faster than torrenting. Unlike torrenting, where connections rely on device information when connecting to peers and trackers, Usenet is more private, and connections are SSL-encrypted.

Additionally, downloading a file does not make you a seeder, so you can’t be accused of distributing copyrighted material. Usenet also consumes less bandwidth and computer resources. Unlike torrenting, where a file remains available as long as it has seeders, Usenet files are available for around 1200 days after the posting date.

The future of torrenting

The online streaming industry is booming, and legal streaming platforms are taking the central stage as alternative sources of entertainment. Today, many people have subscribed to paid streaming services like Netflix because they are more convenient and legal. Also, some countries have passed and implemented laws against torrenting by;

  • Imposing heavy penalties on copyright pirates
  • Monitoring user activity
  • Blocking access to torrent websites

Despite the challenges faced by torrenting over the years, it is still the most popular file-sharing technology, and it is highly unlikely that new technology could take its place. Also, it has an edge over streaming platforms because it allows sharing of all file types.


Clients download and share files using torrents, a P2P file-sharing technology. Trackers and other users are connected via small metadata files. Decentralization enables faster downloads and efficient distribution. During the process, users become both downloaders and uploaders. Although torrents can serve legitimate purposes, they may also violate copyrights.


It is a high-bandwidth server that provides users with super-fast download and upload speeds to eliminate wait times. This is ideal when you want to back up data to the cloud or share large files.
The torrents you are downloading are not visible to your ISP. However, your ISP can see that you have visited a torrenting site and the file size you are downloading. Therefore, they will most likely know that you are torrenting. However, you can protect your privacy when torrenting with a quality VPN to change your IP address and encrypt your traffic.
Torrents do not contain viruses, but some shared files may contain malware. Ensure you use robust antivirus software to scan any file you download from a torrenting site before opening it. Also, only download torrents from popular websites and always read other users’ comments to find out if the file is safe to download.
Here are the most common reasons why your torrents fail to start downloading.
1. ISP blocking BitTorrent traffic or throttling your traffic
2. The firewall blocks your connection
3. The tracker is offline
4. The torrent file failed the integrity check
5. Your internet is not working.
You can find torrents on BitTorrent trackers, which indexes torrents uploaded by users. You just have to download a small torrent file; your torrenting client will find other peers downloading or uploading the same file.
Here are a few examples of how you can legally use BitTorrent.  
1. Independent content creators can post their content on BitTorrent for free and reach a wider audience.
2. Files and materials whose copyright is expired can be legally downloaded on BitTorrent.
3. You can legally download open-source software like Linux distros.
The consequences of illegal torrenting vary depending on the country’s laws and the breach itself. It is doubtful that you will go to jail for torrenting. In most countries, torrenting is a civil offense, so they impose fines and monetary compensations.
Yes. If you have installed a BitTorrent client on your device, you can use public trackers to search and download torrents. You will be downloading files from other peers who have downloaded them. However, public trackers are not as safe and private as private trackers.
Google Drive doesn’t support torrenting. Still, downloading a file from a torrenting site and uploading it to Google Drive for sharing purposes does not make it a torrent. However, it is illegal if the file is copyrighted because users will download copyrighted content.
On its own, BitTorrent cannot install additional programs on your computer. But, the torrenting clients may come with some additional programs like adware. Also, use reputable torrent clients and avoid any options to install additional software during installation. Additionally, download torrents from reputable websites.

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About the Author

Rebecca James is an IT consultant with forward thinking approach toward developing IT infrastructures of SMEs. She writes to engage with individuals and raise awareness of digital security, privacy, and better IT infrastructure.

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